Part Two: Whiskey, Thickets and Bushy Eyebrows from Guest Contributor Jeremy Dunn
There is a stick running up my pant leg. I’ve just stepped into another unruly bundle of sticks. I can no longer move. The back of my neck is burning bright red because I can hear some Belgians laughing at me. I twist at the hips and can feel that my backpack is now entangled as well. And just as suddenly I’ve forced my way through a narrow path connecting two parts of the course.
Somehow the Belgian courses are harder to navigate than what we generally see in the U.S. They are more spread out and certainly do not make for optimal viewing, which is why I’m forging my way through the underbrush to a new part of the course. It turns out it works, but the path will need to be worn down a bit more to be effective, for as I stumble out of the underbrush the last of the women are rounding the corner. I do take a bit of pleasure when I see the same snide Belgians starting to stamp down the twigs after they realized what I was up to.
The day becomes another wonderful blur, like the feeling you get when a nice whiskey hits home. It does not even have to be a nice whiskey, it could just be a whiskey, but the feeling starts out the same: warm and familiar. There are faces that bring some recognition throughout the day and make me feel this way. Jonathan Page out there slogging it out with the best of them is a good, comforting example. People are cheering for him in a broken Belgian sort of way. Then there are the other weird things that make the racing here all the better. A broken shoe lies abandoned next to the course with a strange piece of metal sticking out of it. The bratwurst are still terrible and delicious at the same time.
The ladies race is still where it’s at. I’m going to stand by that one. While the Men’s race is certainly something to behold, it is nearly impossible to watch as throngs of Belgian fans lining the course are not into letting passersby into their spots. Plus, the personalities of the Women are more apparent from the get-go. Something gets lost in the stoic nature of Nys, Peeters, Boom and the rest. Gabby Day sticks in my mind as she takes a spill late in the race, it is one of those spills that could end a race quickly as she topples off her bike and into a three foot ditch next to the course. She lets out a scream somewhere between a yelp and a battle cry, deftly maneuvers her bike out of the way at the last second and comes bounding back out of the mud pit losing almost no time at all. The whole episode makes me smile. As I look around at the raised bushy eyebrows near me I see that they are smiling too.
Side Note: Not sure if I realized it the last time I was here, but damn these old Belgian dudes have a lot of style; smoking, trousers tucked into the socks, strange hats and mustaches kind of style. So good.
Text and images by Jeremy Dunn.