The Way of the Widdershins

The Way of the Widdershins (8 December 2007)

I told Carney it was the rongway to ride to Monroe. Do you think he listened to me? Hale no, he made a joke of it. He even named the event the Rongway Ride to Monroe sponsored by The widdershins way is a route that requires the riders to pedal in the opposite direction that the sun travels across the sky. It’s bad luck, and I told him so. “Don’t go against the sun.” I said. “The way of the widdershins goes against nature. Counterclockwise travel is contrary to the ebb and tide of the universe, it’s antithetical to time. You’ll get sucked into a black hole, and you’ll be sorry.” I knew firsthand about the way of the widdershins because the last time I circled round that way a rattlesnake clamped down on my nose in church. Deacon O’Dougald told me not to put that rattler in my face unless I was pure in heart and mind. Only then would the rattler refuse to strike. After the rattler sunk his fangs into my left nostril, Deacon O’Dougald just shook his head and said, “It’s the way of the widdershins.” There’s a lot of truth in that ancient maxim.

Before this week’s anticlockwise misadventure, I called up Jess Brown, the WBL’s web wizard, and told him the bad news. He gasped and said, “But that’s the way of the widdershins.” Jess, despite his name, is not an Anglo-Saxon arsehole, but rather of backwoods Celtic origins, with one or two barbarians clunked into the tribe’s woodpile at some point in the past, barbarians I might add who were more than likely eventually slow roasted over an open spit while our Gaelic progenitors from many moons past danced around the open flame (the earliest rendition known of the river dance). Our female forebears were probably sitting on the outskirts of the circle of light waiting for a big slab of sizzling barbarian flesh before consummating the mating festival by the light of the full moon.

In other words, Jess, like me, is a fire breathing, tongue wagging, moonshine-making, banjo picking, snake handling Pentecostal who wipes his feet at the door, tips his hat to the ladies, doesn’t cuss in church, and treats his hound dogs like family. Though we may not ride fine horses, sip mint juleps on the front porch, or take part in fox hunts with a gorgeous gaggle of red-coated dandies, we like to fight, we respect our mamas, and we love our land. Many in the Gaelic clan have been holed up in Appalachian foothills and the Blue Ridge Mountains for several centuries in agrestic bliss, and though some solipsistic secularists in the girded abbey of academia call us ignorant hayseeds, toothless rednecks, rusticating rubes, and ill-mannered illiterati, we can outrun ye, outride ye, outflank ye, and outsmart ye. We can most assuredly out drink ye, and then kick ye in the shin with the point of our boot. And if ye cross us, our family, or one of our clan, we jest might run a hot poker through ye gullet or drag a sharp blade across ye throat. If you’re lucky, we might only hack off an appendage.

We also understand what we must do to protect ourselves from the curse of the widdershins, and wise ole Jess did what any good Celt would do: The morning of the event on 8 December 2007, he sharpened his meat cleaver, tied on an apron, stuck a sprig of mountain laurel behind his ear, stuffed a ball of twine down the front of his pants, put a four leaf clover in his right boot, kissed the cover of Finnegan’s Wake, took a shot of Irish whiskey, and went outside his house into the gray gloom of the early morning light. He headed straight for his big rooster. The big rooster started flapping its wings in wild wonderment and shrieking like a burning devil, as if it understood what horrible fate was about to befall it.

When he arrived at the start of the ride I pulled him aside and said, “Have ye got it?” He said, “Yes,” and unzipped his jersey so I could see. He had a chicken foot dangling from a string around his neck. I nodded my head in approbation and said, “How’s the rooster?” “He’s fine,” Jess said, “except he can’t hop around as well on one leg, and scratching in the dirt is completely out of the question. I’m also afraid that his days of being the big clucker on the block, the cock-of-the-walk so to speak, are over too. The lady hens just cackle at him now when he stumbles around.” Jess seemed despondent so I reached in my stuffed pocket and brought out my bloody bandana. I unfolded it and revealed my lucky ham hock inside. I reached out and touched Jess’s shoulder. “My pig’s no better off my Gaelic brethren. It’s the way of the widdershins,” I whispered.

We Gaels welcome pedal bangers of all colors in the rainbow, all makes, all creeds, and from any corners of the globe, whether part of our clan or not, at our Saturday morning wintertime ritual in Athens—our pedal bangers’ ball. About 90 ruffians, wiseacres, jailbirds, nutcases, singineers, goat herders, freemasons, potters, fabulists, loudmouths, sorcerers, U.G.A. enthusiasts, womanizers, menninizers, mendicants, hermits, socialites, drunkards, teetotalers, viragos, virtuosos, bricoleurs, chronphilics, cognoscenti, folklorists, highwaymen, lawyers, liars, and lovers signed in to ride against the tide on the 8 December 2007 Rongway to Monroe Ride sponsored by The one common thread running through this panoply of multicolored asphalt skimmers, whether rich or poor, young or old, skinny or stout, is that every last one of us are pedal banging lunatics. A pedal banging lunatic is a slightly touched person who likes to stomp on the pedals while the blacktop scuds away underfoot in endless succession like a movie reel that has slipped off its tracks and just won’t stop spinning. We pedal bang in freezing cold, blustery winds, mizzling rain, dense fog, mind melting humidity, and desert drought. We pedal bang with bankers and beggars, sinners and saints, the intelligent and the benighted. We meet an epic challenge head first and march out each day with our battle boots on. Call us insaniacs if you will, but we much prefer the cognominal tag of “Zealot.” That one word moniker covers a lot of ground.

Some of those tough-as-nails, steel-willed, pedal banging Zealots who decided to give it a go on this sultry December day (the forecasted high was a sweltering 70°) were: Michael Stone (16 year old chiseled from rock solid granite), Chris Blackmon (never known to whine), John Best (so tough that once he bit the head of a chocolate éclair), Joseph Collins (spits nails), Sarah Crenshaw (heart like a sledge hammer), Chris Chotas (plucks his eyebrows without pain pills), Stephen Dean (drinks whiskey without a chaser), Hunter Garrison (walks barefoot through the briar patch), Nancy Jones (never met a man whose arse she couldn’t kick), Brian Lord (cannot be contained), Buck Kirkland (eats peanut butter with his fingers), Jeff Shapiro (opens packages of bread with his bear hands), and Robert Parks (opens bottles of beer with his teeth). Looking around it was easy to see that those Zealots in attendance were a cornucopia of pedal banging fools, a sundry mix of assorted nuts.

In an amazing show of compassion and charity for the poorest sports’ heroes around these days, web wizard Jess Brown raffled off $25 to four lucky pedal bangers whose fortunes were about to change. Kim Potter, Chamblee Abernathy. Dale England, and David Spangler showed the luck of the Irish and raked in the dough. After the WBL levied its fair weather surcharges, tolls and taxes, road repair charges, beer money add-ons, and attorney’s fees including costs and expenses, each of the fortuitous four were left with a cold, hard .79¢ in his or her pocket, which was summarily deposited into the tip jar by demand.

After the lottery, the bell clanged, the bell tolled, and the whistle blew, and the orderly group of double filers ambled out Prince Avenue and cut a jagged line over to the outer reaches of Tallassee Road. The group cruised out Tallassee in a northbound direction as it penetrated into the piney woods of Jackson County on its insatiable drive to the wild blue yonders of Walton County and beyond. Turning westward at the terminus of Tallassee, the pack sailed downhill over the brown waters of the Oconee River, then arced back to the south as it set its sights on Statham. The group ripped across the shallow waters of Bear Creel reservoir and clipped along on the flat stretch into downtown Statham like the Cutty Sark with the wind at its back. At the one hour mark on the far side of Statham, the groupetto began clamoring for a pee break. Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. The pack had not even noticed that it was traveling backwards, anticlockwise, the widdershins way. Soon they would intuit that something was amiss.

The pack rolled through a thick stand of hardwoods—oaks, maples, ash, and elm—and the whistler yelled “PEE BREAK” at the top of his lungs. No sooner had the words rolled off his tongue than the pack rounded a corner and there was no tree in sight—the land had been clear cut to make room for another beautiful and creative housing development, one in which eight hundred houses are built and there are three floor plans to choose from. The vinyl siding of each and every house can be eyeballed from half a world away because the land is not befouled by tree, bush or hedge, or anything else of a verdure hue, except a green mailbox or two. What is left of what was formerly a forest are only six inch stumps protruding from the earth and dotting the countryside like little black whiskers. There was no blockage to pee behind. The women folk of the WBL were forced to crouch in a ditch. As a result of the breakdown in the pee-planning department, all the women on the ride were granted an extra point and the females immediately moved into a tie for first place in the Overall for WBL 2008. When Jess Brown heard of the 1-point bonus, he shook his head with regret and said, “It’s the way of the widdershins.”

While the women were squatting on their hind quarters, all the Zealots, adhering to the chivalric code of the Southern Gael, turned their heads in the other direction pretending to search for the lucky spot in the sky. Except Tom Palmer, who stared down into the ditch with a scandalous grin fastened on his face. I hope Tom won’t be handling a rattler anytime soon. When he was admonished for his salacious actions and wanton disregard of the morality code, Palmer grinned like a Cheshire cat high up in a tree and said, “I guess it’s the way of the widdershins.” He inappropriately added that “it was worth 1 point anyway,” then he stared off into the distance as if a complex calculus problem had suddenly gripped his brain.

After the unfortunate pee stop the pack wended its way to Gratis Roadand rode at a comfortable clip towards Monroe over the gently undulating hills coming at them in waves. The clouds burned away and the temperatures skyrocketed to over 100°. The heat may have contributed to what happened next.

Pack drover extraordinaire, the man for all seasons, Jeremy J.J. Wadkins, ignored instructions to turn and the well-marked sign that read: “GOOD HOPE 6 MILES. TURN HERE> DON’T MISS THIS TURN,” and sailed right by and pushed forward in an attempt to trick the pack into riding an extra 80 miles. Wadkins is a well heeled sandbagger, but luckily, a few of the sentient in the group realized after only 2 or 25 miles (estimates varied) that they’d sailed past the store. But Wadkins refused to heed their calls for help and kept pounding away at the front. Finally, Cesar Grajales lead a mutiny and turned the ship around. The pack, which had partly split, regrouped at the store stop and positioned the wind at its back. Wadkins, taking a queue from Palmer when quizzed about his obvious error, said, “Damn, must be the way of the widdershins.” Like Palmer, I’d advise that he not handle a serpent for the rest of the year.

The pack rolled away from the store and thundered down the road. Now it was time to let her rip. Matt Schectman, Little T, Lenny boy Slote, all took turns twisting the blade. The group was now traveling southeast, the retrograde circle almost complete. As the pack whipsawed down the flattop with the greatest of ease, Calvin O’keefe, rode up beside me, your Most Humble Chronicler, and asked, “Humble, what do your ride reports have to do with the ride?” “Everything my young grasshopper, everything.”

The last hour of this 4 hour 15 minute affair were chocked full of thigh twisting, joint aching, neck hurting, butt cramping rollers. These rollers heaved up towards the heavens in nasty angles, then plummeted back down into a yawning abyss. Only the toughest, the stoutest, and the truest in the group would complete the adventure in the front group. A few of those big-hearted, resolute souls included Big Scott Vitelli, Reminton Stone, Little Gina Voci, and hard man Matt Whatley.

As the front group of 50 rolled into town, Michael Contador Stone went to the front and turned on the afterburners. The mighty mite left no doubts in the others’ legs that this man can run with the big dogs. After Mighty Mite split the pack on College Station Road, Drew Red Socks Genteman took to the helm on River Road and inflicted more painful damage WBL style with only 2 miles to go. After Crowe cried, “Uncle,” Genteman finally let off the gas. The pack arrived home with 85 miles in their legs in 4 hours and 15 minutes. The average peed was 20 miles per hour, and when the final numbers were announced Carney said, “Spot on.”

After the event, two outliers were accepted by proxy into the Gaelic clan. Scott Thomas and Matt Schectman, both of questionable lineage, were admitted because of their prowess at pulling. (Thomas did have a few naysayers in the final vote due to the fact he is from California, but he did pass the test. The test consists of a photo lineup. There are six photos in the lineup. One photo is of the Zealot seeking to join the ranks of the Gaelic tribe. The other photos are of five, starving civil war veterans who have lived in the woods for over 90 days. Their skin is hanging on their bones and their eyes are only hollowed out sockets in their heads. In other words, they’re superfit. If the Zealot can’t be distinguished from the superfit Conderates, he or she passes the test. Thomas passed. We welcome Doubting Thomas into the fold.)

At the conclusion of the day’s perbangulations, smiles were once again stitched across all faces. There’s nothing like partaking in an epic adventure to make the mundane more exciting. It’s a recipe to keep the blood pumping through a person’s space in time.

Jess Brown ambled over after the ride, synapses sizzling with electric current and singeing the tips of his fingers and toes, and said, “My lucky talisman worked. We took the way of the widdershins and twisted, turned, and tied it, and morphed it into the luck of the Irish.” Jess changed into his lucky Leprechaun hat, his green jacket with matching nylon tights, his red leather belt with a brass belt buckle, and his pointy felt shoes, hoisted the bag of gold coins over his shoulders, and headed off for the far end of the rainbow, the emerald hills of Walton County and beyond.

The Humble Chronicler

Postscript: We are pleased to report that the big rooster has found peace and is now enjoying a life of leisure at Canyon Ranch Chicken Farm. Jess Brown, showing the creative drive and the true human spirit of the Gael, whittled a faux pirate’s peg out of a contractor’s pencil. He affixed the peg leg to the big rooster’s stump. He painted on an black patch over the rooster’s left eye, giving the fellow the debonair countenance of sea faring adventurer. It’s a look the ladies’ love. Sometimes, he stays in the henhouse for weeks at a time. He also collects disability checks for loss of a limb that covers his expenses at the Farm. He’s become a mini-celebrity in the community. Many swear he is a scion of the ancient warrior cocks of Northern Ireland, but I’m not so sure. I think he may be from gypsy stock from the lowlands of South Carolina.

Mr. Pig didn’t fair so well. With only three stubby legs, he couldn’t even walk. Three stubs simply could not support the heft of this fat hog. He ended up lying around in the mud all day and put on 100 pounds. He swelled like a balloon and became mired in a dark depression. He ended up as crunchy strips of bacon that I ate with my Gaelic grits.

Update on the Overall: The Women lead with 5 points.