Days 105-108 (Athens, Are You Who You Say That You Are?)

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I’m sitting here about twenty miles north of Athens in some small Georgia town trying to recollect the events which unfolded that led to one of the most stimulating weekends on this trip. To try and translate those events to the written word would dramatically do an injustice to said events.

I rode into town with Ronnie and had the privilege of touring the University’s academics museum. The majority of the museum was dedicated to the football team. I was mesmerized. People in Georgia take their football seriously. I didn’t really take it that seriously, however I was blown away by the vessel in which all the trophies and memorabilia are held. A giant glass dome delegated the amount of light that would bounce off each ring, bronze statue, and crystal football. It reminded me of a church. The facility houses the team’s locker/workout rooms and contains a treadmill which allows an athlete to run at 0% gravity. Basically, if they have an injured knee, they can enter this giant plastic bag, which will render them weightless, and they can run with absolutely no impact on their knees. It was space age and only cost a mere $280,000. All I could think about was how much $280,000 worth or pizza would look like. I surmised it was a lot.

Once the tour was over, Ronnie drove me around town for a bit. We drove past all the iconic locales of Athens. The 40 Watt was the most surreal. Patton Oswalt has a live album he recorded in that venue almost a decade ago. I have listened to that record (Feelin’ Kinda Patton) easily over 50 times. It Is the pinnacle of comedic genius. Take Bill Hicks, The Fantastic Four, H.P. Lovecraft, and a gallon of funny juice; put them all in a blender, and then you have Feelin Kinda Patton. To see the building that housed such hilarity was actually a really big deal for me. I’ve only been in this town for a few minutes and I already feel it. All I need is for Michael Stipe to drive by in his convertible and whisk me away to an impromptu B-52s concert at a farmer’s market.

Then I met Matt. Matt is my couchsurfing host and spiritual guide through the Athenian Cosmos. He shreds guitars and slays demonic souls with the power of his rock. All while fathering a poufy little cat named Stella. Matt lives with two brothers Mason and Rackley who are percussionists that lay waste to the drum set in their living room. It’s only fitting that in such a predominately musically influenced town, I couch surf with three musicians.

This weekend was the Twilight Criterium. Basically that entails cyclists from all over the globe to come to Athens and race through the city streets well into the night, while thousands of drunk onlookers cheer them on. There is an unbelievable amount of energy beaming from every street corner in anticipation of the race. In the meantime, there is a three day music festival taking place throughout the city. Crashing cymbals and reverberating guitars flood the streets, bursting out of every bar, theater, and coffee shop in town. I lost count of the bands I saw this weekend. But I remember the ones that blew me away.

1: Sam Sniper: Mason and I went to the Terrapin Brewery tour on Friday. There I met Bill Bacon. Bill is the drummer for Sam Sniper. With a name like Bill Bacon, something told me they’d be worth seeing. In a dimly lit bar that would put Tom Waits to shame, Sam Sniper took the stage. Maybe it was the right level of beer and marijuana coursing through my veins, but the first note swept me away. Elements of Brian Jonestown Massacre mixed with serious country jabs on par with Bill Monroe collided with intricate melodies that superseded space and time. Let’s just put it this way: this afternoon I saw a homeless guy panhandling on the sidewalk. Later that same night, I saw that man at the Sam Sniper show throwing money on the stage. That’s how hard they rocked.

2.) Roadkill Ghost Choir: they played like they gave a damn. Just coming off a tour with Band of Horses is enough to cause any group of twenty somethings to play with all the more energy. The front man caused a tornado of childlike tantrums, poetically scripted suicidal implications, and raw passion all rolled up like a nice little sushi roll dipped in Cobain soy sauce with a hint of J Mascis wasabi. If Thom Yorke got lost on the Appalachian Trail, he would emerge several months later covered in mud and calling himself ‘Roadkill Ghost Choir’.

Later that night I was introduced to Matt’s girlfriend Liz, Mason’s girlfriend Rene, and everyone’s friend, Yo. After Yo and I introduced ourselves, he immediately climbed a tree in the middle of downtown and swung from branch to branch like a howler monkey. I knew I was in good hands. I found a girl who taught me a thing or two about a thing or two and we ended our evening with hollers or invincible magnitudes. Athens gave us the key to life and we revved that engine until daybreak.

The next morning we collected ourselves, and after a delicious breakfast of stuffed avocados, we decided the next course of action would be to repeat the same process. This weekend Athens was a hibernating beast that would emerge from its cave tonight at the beginning of Twilight. For the time being, we perused the city streets, played some pool, hung and out on the Georgia Theater rooftop. I felt like a king on top of that Theater, but I knew this was an artificial feeling as it was not my castle.

The barriers went up and the race began. Bike after bike passed us with determination. Some parts of the track are nearly pitch black while other are flooded with light. This causes a flurry of wrecks. People watch the race just for that reason. I never understood that. As a cyclist, the last thing I want to see is people crash. That’s why I don’t understand people who watch NASCAR just for the wrecks. You drive a car, why would you want to see someone get in a life threatening crash in theirs? I understand not everyone watched it for that reason, but the few who do, boggle my mind. Anyway, the race was overwhelming. I had no idea where to look. Do I watch the race? Do I watch the band inside? Do I stare at the plethora of unrealistically beautiful ‘heddy’ girls as Yo would describe them? I did all three, burned myself out and loved it. I don’t know who won the race, but I do know that everyone in Athens won at life that night.

There’s a lot that happened that I can’t remember right now. I’m always missing something. It will hit me when I’m coasting down a hill or pushing up a mountain. It’ll hit me and I’ll smile. I loved Athens. I loved the people in it. I think I will for a very long time.

Spending the weekend with Matt, Mason, Rackley, Yo, Rene, and Liz caused a higher concentration of laughs, hugs, and deeper reflection. I am forever indebted to that core group of people for exposing me to the lighter side of life. We all have our demons and we all try our best to cope with them. But for this one weekend, the entire city puts all of that aside, grabs the closest person and holds them as tight as they can while hundreds of cyclists whiz past, jockey for position; cleansing the crowd with each lap.

There is something in this mountain air I cannot describe. All I can do is inhale it and dance with a pretty little gal in cowboy boots. This is a town full of over educated alcoholics. A town of talented musicians fantasizing about that perfect set as they wait their next table. A town that knows what it is. Everyone else can come by and try to figure out what it is. Just be sure you can accept your fate when it chooses for you to stay. You’ll have no say in the matter.

My friend Kevin introduced me to this song. I think it describes Athens quite well:

                                                                                                                                                

Stats:

Miles: 19.29

Time: 1:48:19

Calories: 901

Total Ascent: 960 ft.

 

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