Part I: The Approach
WHY, by the author’s standards, just getting to the race is a real victory
“Hey Burnsville, get back here, HEY BURNSVILLE!,” shouted the slurring middle-aged drunk sporting the 80s style perm-mullet above the country music and the roar of the NASCAR event on the big screen as I made a quick, decidedly unmanly, but wise exit out the door of the roadhouse shack. Such was my departure from a god forsaken place that apparently regularly fuels the local losers with gallons of cheap generic rice beer (aka Bud light), especially on a Friday night. The cretin drunk in his simplicity was referring to the shirt that I was wearing, a standard 50/50 China-made “T-shirt” with the name of the bike race on the front and the many sponsors on the back, of which “Burnsville Subaru” was emblazoned in big bold letters across the back shoulders.
The fact that I would risk getting myself into such a dicey situation reminiscent of the “classic” scene from the film, Deliverance (the 1972 blockbuster starring Burt Reynolds) illustrates the extent of my desperation. I had left Duluth well over six hours before in an effort to get to the race site of the 12 hours @ the Thunderdown in the Underdown in the allotted four hours, with the idea being to set up my modest tent and to relax and simply enjoy the picturesque surroundings, before getting a good nights sleep. I was pumped because I had gotten out of Duluth earlier than I had anticipated and thus I was thinking that I would get to the site by 8:30. Instead, because of a key bridge being out of commission, coupled with my lack of any accurate local map apart from a bare-bones one that I had quickly copied onto a bit of scratch paper and my propensity for mild dementia, I had become completely and utterly lost among the myriad of country roads that criss-cross north-central Wisconsin. Initially, I had driven by the scary looking Roadhouse about an hour earlier and I was fairly certain that I was near to the race course. So on the second time around, against my better judgment I parked my little sedan amid the big trucks with their dual exhaust systems and their tattered patriotic flags and went inside to ask for directions. Armed with a pen and the paper that held the brief and sketchy handwritten description of the vague directions to the race venue, my quickly preconceived survival plan was to pass myself off as a lost ATV rider, a brother of sorts. In an effort to gain further acceptance, I would convey a ruse to the uncouth ruffians that a good beer-drinkin’ local buddy of mine was meeting me for a weekend of fourwheelin’, drinkin’, smokin’ and shootin’ stuff and that he was waiting for me at this place called “The Underdown” or the maybe itz called “The Underground.” Note: When I really needed to practice communicative accuracy and precision on that fateful night, I was never able to fully express the exact name of the race course; was it the Thunder bolt at the Underground or the Underdown with Thunder? In any event, I gained access without much fan-fare as the all male bar-flies were glued to the big screen TV where a stock car race was in full bloom. Working through the fog of smoke, I made my way up to the bar and approached a portly rather pleasant looking younger man; he seemed outwardly to be an amicable fellow and more importantly he was seated apart from a more rag-tag group of noisy ner-do-wells. Capturing his attention away from the screen, I explained to him the false scenario about being from up near Superior coming down to party with my old huntin’ buddy at The Underdown or maybe it was called The Underground. I ended my soliloquy with, “So do you know where I can find this “Underdown or Underground” place? He had seemed both receptive and coherent, so I was confused in that upon finishing my narrative he simply stared at me in a matter that conveyed a complete lack of cognizance. It was an extraordinary moment, for as I looked into his dark beady eyes I felt a strong connection to Java man of antiquity. Then he began to mutter in a guttural sort of bestial kind of ape-like fashion. Discerning that the man was so completely intoxicated that he was incapable of any form verbal articulation other than the most basic of primordial grunts and gestures, I reluctantly made my way over to the more rambunctious group of five or six.
It was obvious to even the amateur anthropologist that these men were fundamentally obtuse albeit efficient beer receptacles, who define themselves by simply how many fights they partake in with similar species and animals they kill with their trucks and guns, so I was on high alert. Foolishly attempting empathy, as a lead into their uncomplicated group dynamic, I inquired as to who was winning the car race, “Hey guyz, whooze winnin’ da race?” Their alpha-chief—who really was the perfect stereotypical Hollywood version of the wife-beating redneck complete with a mullet that seemed to good to be true— declared with great gusto and fanfare, “Not the Subaru.” His henchmen, out of a sense of duty, although more confused than usual, laughed with him in artificial tones. I must have looked expectantly at one of the followers and he granted me, “It’s on your shirt, Burnsville Subaru.” At that point, realizing that I was the article of the head simpleton’s joke, I attempted to divert attention away from my T-shirt’s logo and to instead engage these rough uncomplicated drunken men in my story about meeting my ATV buddy for a weekend of good ole boy debauchery, but it was not to be as the chief redneck would not let me speak. He kept on and on in increasing volume about ” BURNSVILLE, Where is BURNSVILLE? Letz go to Burnsville! Letz go to Burnsville and get a Subaru!” Then in a flash that defied his awkward drunkenness and his ungainly girth, he grabbed the pen and paper from me and started to make squiggle marks on it in dramatic fashion. They were looking to provoke a fight; one could feel the nervous anticipation, the closing in on the victim (it was like being surrounded by a pack of Neo-Cons). I know because long ago I was unfortunately in a few similar situations where like minded Cro-Magnon Men had exerted untamed aggressions. After allowing him to mark up the descriptive piece of paper for a few seconds, I could feel myself losing control and had I been a younger foolish man I would have gone after him without any further ado (back in the day, I would have hit back hard w/o regard to the consequences, I got the scars to prove it). “Give me back my pen!” I asserted with enough confidence to force him to look up at me in surprise. Instantaneously, I could feel my mood change from one of middle-aged amusement, even slight embarrassment, given the circumstances, to a rising angry intensity, I could feel the adrenaline building to a dangerous level and then thankfully in the next instant I remember thinking, “Get the hell out of here!” So I turned and quickly walked out, sans pen and the map…
Of course, once outside I sprinted for my car and sped off down the endless road, obsessively and nervously looking in the rear view mirror for pursuing trucks with which I imagined were festooned with oil-stained Old Glories and NRA stickers. After calming down, I resolved to drive until I got to a town, any-town where upon I could attempt to figure out where I was in relation to The Underdown or was it the Thunderdown? It was 11:07 p.m. and I had been on the road for nearly seven hours and I was still lost! I drove on and on and on and then finally passed a homey looking resort that advertised in neon “English Pub.” I slowed down but drove past it as I was still a bit skittish from the Roadhouse affair and reluctant to give up on finding a town. Completing a regulation U-turn on the forlorn road I drove past the resort again and it looked to be a place not unlike something you would see near Telemark, WI or The Porkies in the UP; a resort complete with little cabins that had clearly seen better days, but was still holding on, if only just barely. I drove past it again, but quickly turned around and completed a third even closer reconnaissance. Finally content that this was a family sort of place and even perhaps a safe-haven, I went into the little tavern. As soon as I entered I knew that I was among friends. A fire worked itz magic in the hearth as there were several tables occupied by some older gents and the bar was about half full of men and women engaged in various conversations. A buoyant buxomly waitress with a pleasant smile, named Tabatha, asked if she could help me. I told her the whole sad truth and while she did not know the area she went for the tavern owner of whom she was sure would know of The Underdown or was it The Thunderground? He came immediately from a backroom, remembering my manners I offered to buy him a pint and while he drew me a good map to the race site offering useful commentary as he did his work, we sipped from two fine Guinness stouts via Tabatha. It was the sweet taste of salvation and redemption. As I asked for the bill, he said “it’s on the house, lad” and so I left the pub with renewed resolve and a broad hope for the future of humankind. But alas it soon became apparent that his directions did not take into account that the bridge was out!
Finding myself at the site of the broken bridge once again at 11:52, I felt the full weight of man’s insignificance within the context of the infinite universe. At that moment the realization that I was but a minute insignificant dot of sand upon a vast shore composed of billions upon billions of grains of sand was tough to take. I was almost played out. Turning the car off and walking up to the broken bridge I contemplated briefly the thought of jumping, then swimming the river and trying to hike it in to The Underground (no matter how bad things get, there is always bike racing), but according to the pub owner it was some five miles further down the road. I was at a loss; I felt defeated, I went back to the car and just sat there for a spell. As my mind calmed, there was a vague recollection deep within my psyche of a reference somewhere by someone to a County Road H or was it County Road C? I had passed by this “H Road” several times as well as the “CC Road.” Maybe if I got back on H or CC my luck would change, so I decided to drive until 12:30 a.m. and if I did not find it I would return to the broken bridge and set-up camp. Just as I was resigning myself to failure, as if sent by Providence, a car passed me with a load of bikes on top and I followed it straight away to the course…so it goes…As I began to put up my tent during the wee hours of Saturday morning it began to rain, at first it was just a mild drizzle, then a downpour, so it goes….stay tuned for Part II: The Race