A reflection by Danny Schweers for June 2, 2023.
As Vikings cheered, riders grimaced their way over the cobblestones and up Monkey Hill.
The event was the first day of the Wilmington Gran Prix. Men, women, and children raced their bicycles about five kilometers around Brandywine Park, ending at the top of Van Buren Street after it passes by the Wilmington Zoo, hence the nickname, Monkey Hill.
I enjoy bicycle racing but had never attended a live event. As a photographer, I anticipated the riders would have pained expressions as they came up the steep hill and over the rough cobblestones. I was not disappointed.
I did not anticipate the Vikings, the group partying in a tent next to the race course. They were out in force, many with face paint, faux armor, wooden shields, and helmets with horns. Visually, they provided visual interest to my photos. Practically, they cheered the riders on and, in a few cases, helped push some exhausted riders up the hill, one all the way to the finish line.
Some riders clearly did not know what they were getting into. The professional riders crested the hill easily. Many rode the course two or three times, getting ready for the next day’s race. But others were clearly unprepared. They did not count the cost. Some, I imagine, did not make it to the end. Of those that did, several had to walk their bikes up the gradient. And some had the help of Vikings.
Were the Vikings an answer to prayer for some? I want to think so, that sometimes God gives us helpers with paint on their faces and horns on their heads. I believe that those sent to help us may frighten us. Those sent to help may not look at all like the adorable angels we might prefer at our side.
One determined woman refused help, waving it off. Perhaps wanting more of a challenge, she had a plastic crate on the back of the bike and was pulling a trailer. I could not tell what was in the crate but there were at least two children’s bicycles in the trailer! Her expression was a determined grimace but there was also a satisfied, victorious smile as she walked over the finish line. She was one the early entries, riding to raise money for the Urban Bike Project, a local non-profit that sells used bikes offers help with do-it-yourself repairs.
I am told that this race used to be of national importance. I am not bothered by that. It has always amazed me how seriously people make their amusements and games, too often taking the enjoyment out of them. I am not alone in wondering at parents who make their children’s organized sports a struggle for glory. I marvel at people who cannot play a game without getting angry at a partner who makes a dumb move, who cannot lose a game without feeling deeply disappointed, even wronged. I love it that at least some of this bicycle race was for fun and fund-raising.
Next year I want to see more Scandinavian seafaring warriors. I want to see riders dressed in costume — dinosaurs, aliens, cartoon characters, and superheroes. At least this year’s time trial ended with a dark-pink hairy ape!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danny N. Schweers chairs SsAM’s Communication Committee and is an active photographer and writer. Click here to visit his website and make a comment.