creative nonfiction writing class is so wonderful. i wrote a twelve page (!) personal essay about the tour de fat, and i really like how it turned out. i won’t post the whole thing on here, just my favorite paragraphs, along with some pictures from the event.
Riding into the park we were greeted by a man pedaling an enormous, magnificently vaudevillian tricycle contraption. He sat atop a wheeled box which seemed a whimsical cross between wind-up toy, puppet show stand, Victor Victrola, and rickshaw. The plaid-suited rider, with winged top-hat, perched high in the air under the shade of an antique umbrella. The man clearly powered the craft, but before him sat a scruffy old sideshow monkey, mimicking his pedal revolutions and steering the front wheel with the sort of eerie, unnatural movement one might expect from a creature in a horror movie. A banana on the end of a fishing rod motivated the stuffed beast, and a more-lifelike portrait of him ornamented the sides of the vehicle. Bubbles spewed gleefully out of the phonograph horn as we followed the fanciful pair through a grove of trees and into the municipal rose garden.
My friends and I planned our Tour experience for at least a month, preparing our costumes and bedecking our bicycles, with the eagerness of a group of junior high girls getting ready for a school dance. I fashioned bracelets out of de-greased bike chain, made matching earrings, and a necklace out of old cogs soldered together to form a pendant. My dad made me a belt out of a spent orange inner-tube, with a cog buckle. I cut a full-circle skirt out of hot pink pleather; luckily, the fabric store where I work is early to stock Halloween fabric, so by August the shelves had accumulated freak-fabric aplenty. Intended as my quirky take on a poodle skirt, the dayglo-PVC masterpiece was adorned with a small, shiny black pleather cruiser cut-out in one corner. Underneath I wore a fluffy pink, black, and red petticoat, and flamboyant green-and-pink-striped knee-socks.
Nikki was a punk pirate. She wore a red-and-white baseball shirt, onto which she patched a black “Kiss Me, I’m a Pirate” embellishment. Nikki doesn’t have a bike, so she rode my Schwinn seven-speed cruiser, Athena, which I decked out to look like a pirate vessel—“The Streaming Strumpet of the Sea.” I traced and sawed ship silhouettes out of cardboard, painted them and taped them to the frame, along with a helm that I hooked up behind the handlebars. Throngs of plastic pirate miniatures lined the front basket and handlebars, affixed with sticky-tacky, up in arms against one another in a stationary and futile skirmish. A plush mermaid graced the bow, on either side of which a pair of black balloons with white Jolly Rodgers bounced in the wind. Pirate-emblazoned fabric covered the grips. A little plastic pirate flag fluttered merrily behind the saddle.
Meandering through the rose garden, which served as atrium to the expanse of green grass that would be our playground, I started to notice bicycles the likes of which I had until then only seen in pictures. First, I noticed a genuine penny-farthing leaning tall against the thick trunk of a tree. One woman rode a colossal tricycle chopper, red with silver accents and handlebars whose grips were level with her line of sight. A crimson cruiser and wind-vane-helmeted rider pulled a trailer equipped with seven speakers, flooding the air with music that made the earth vibrate. There were cruisers galore, in various states of repair and décor. Sting-Rays next to unicycles next to tandems. Recumbents made an appearance, including two elevated, semi-recumbent bikes of questionable center of gravity, which looked like office chairs grafted to children’s bicycles. The most dazzling, impractical, human-powered vehicles littered that park, glimmering brilliantly and overwhelming the color-saturated landscape.
The people were no less stunning than their bikes. One pair of men chose to clothe themselves in children’s Winnie the Pooh Halloween costumes; there was Tigger, whose shorts gave the effect of hot pants and whose top was some hybrid of baby-tee and bra, with a headdress of disembodied-Tigger-head. Piglet disturbingly chose to wear a Speedo rather than the costume’s soft pink bottoms, which were cut into pieces and worn as thigh-warmers. Jointly, their effect was part drag show, part 80’s club scene, part insane asylum.
Countless men came to the Tour de Fat in drag, or, more accurately in most cases, genderfuck. Genderfuck is the term applied to people who intentionally dress in a gender-confused manner, or display exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics of both males and females, to parody traditional gender roles. For instance, one masculine-looking man wore pink fishnet stockings, matching velour short shorts, a flesh-colored spandex tank top with oddly-shaped breast appendages, and a comb-over wig.
After what seemed like hours of enraptured overstimulation, my gang lined up to join a bike parade that was about to begin. We slowly made our way to the path, drawn in by the cheerful cacophony of bike bells. I chimed in with Calliope’s bell, and Nikki sounded Athena’s squeeze horn; its unrefined clownishness sounded like a goose squawking amongst doves.
The procession was slow, and covered significant ground. We looped through Hyde Park and the North End, tying up traffic and making all kinds of racket. In some areas there were bottlenecks, and in other areas our allowed passage was nearly free-range; sometimes we had entire two-lane streets to ourselves, and we would spread out vastly. Riding through town was like being part of a mobile circus, a sideshow cavalcade. Onlookers lined the street, gazing on sometimes in amusement, other times in utter bewilderment. Hundreds of us waved, shouted and jingled at the crowds. To the often perturbed-looking citizens whose idling cars congested the side-streets, I blew kisses, because they needed our love the most.
Cycling down Harrison Boulevard, we passed by the Boise Tour Trolley, headed the opposite direction. I watched Malyssa make the trucker horn-honking motion at the trolley’s driver; he tooted dutifully. The tourists and sightseers riding in the string of trolley cars gawked at us, fascinated. I wondered if the conductor might diverge from his conventional script of historical landmarks to explain the meaning of this spectacle. I wondered if he might be at a loss.
Nikki and I wandered over to the bike pen, where vigilant Tour staff members let people test out some of their most anomalous creations. One bike had twelve ratty running shoes instead of tires—six shoes to form each wheel, laid heel-to-toe in circles. The most popular bike for daring Tourists to try was one that had eight wheels, and unless you’d seen it, you could never guess where those wheels are: other than the two wheels which touch the ground, part of the normal bike base, there are six wheels of progressively decreasing size reaching, in an orange-caged arc, from the back ground-wheel all around to just above the handlebars. Each individual wheel contacts the ones previous and succeeding, so when the bike is in motion, they all rotate.
Also inside the pen, there was a cruiser with an attached sidecar; a bike with car tires; assorted variations on the theme of disproportionately-sized wheels; and a tricycle tandem with one back wheel and two side-by-side seats above the two front wheels, and rear steering. One of New Belgium’s commemorative red cruisers, which they present to their employee owners upon one year of service, had a partial frame that could swivel in the middle, so that the front and back wheels weren’t always lined up. These twenty-or-so bikes looked like surreal, impossible objects, like if M.C. Escher designed bicycles and Sandy Skoglund put them together.