Soft pedaling a hard sell

During the past several years the popularity of bicycling has grown by leaps and, of course, the obligatory bounds. After extensive research into the situation I have decided there is no good explanation for this malady. Some people just like to ride around on bikes. Go figure. Last year my “friend” Randy Young talked me into riding a bicycle from Brady to Mason in the annual Prevaricator Race, which I expected to be extremely difficult and painful, but nowhere near as difficult and painful as it actually was. I promised myself I would never subject my body to such torture again. After all, I won last year, and have nothing left to prove. Now Randy is after me to ride again in this year’s Prevaricator on Labor Day, and defend my title. I thought I had an iron-clad excuse to avoid a repeat performance of self-flagellation, since I will be a judge at the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cookoff in Brady that weekend, but Randy cheerfully informed me that the cookoff will be over before the race starts, and I will be able to do both. Oh, Joy. The truth is that I am considering doing the race again, not because I am opposed to having a painless backside, but because I feel guilty when I think about what Randy, and a bunch of others, will be doing by the time you read this column. He’ll be spending three-and-a-half days, from August 2 through 5, riding 375 miles from Houston to Abilene in the Sixth Annual Chain Gang Bike Ride. And that one, although further and hotter and humider than the Prevaricator, benefits a very worthy cause. Charlie Middlebrook lives in Houston and teaches at Abilene Christian University in Abilene. He is an avid bike rider, and several years ago, on his 50th birthday, a younger friend of his, David Pratt, was chiding him on his age. Charlie challenged David to a bike ride from Houston to Abilene, and David accepted. Four other friends decided to go along, so the first Chain Gang consisted of six bikers. But they didn’t make the trip for nothing. Charlie had a dream of starting a program to help the inner city youth of Houston get out of the slums and make something of themselves, and he realized that this was an opportunity to raise some of the funds necessary to make that dream a reality. So the original six Chain Gangers drummed up some support, and used the money they collected to start the Small Steps Child Nurturing Center in Houston, which takes in unwanted and unloved children from about age seven down, and gives them a chance. Charlie later started the Impact Youth Development Center, which does the same thing for older kids. It’s difficult for most of us, raised by loving parents in wholesome environments, to understand what today’s inner city youth face every day. Avoiding drugs and crime, even staying alive, is often a struggle for these kids. Forget having a father who takes his children camping or fishing on weekends; most of these kids don’t have fathers at all. Charlie’s Small Steps gives them a chance to see what it’s like to be cared about, and Impact teaches them leadership skills and gives them the confidence they need to turn their lives around. And the system is working. Some of the kids from the centers go along on the ride, which gives them a chance to get out of the city and their stifling environment for a while. More importantly it gives them a chance to challenge themselves and push their limits. What these young people need more than anything else is confidence in themselves, and finding out that they can ride a bicycle 375 miles gives them a lot of it. Chain Gang riders are required to raise $500, or donate it themselves, as their entry fee for the trip, thereby allowing them to nearly kill themselves for 375 miles. The centers operate solely on donations, so there’s never a surplus of cash lying around. Charlie hopes to raise $150,000 this year, badly needed funds for a badly needed cause. Randy missed the first Chain Gang ride, but he’s ridden in the past four. He’s an outgoing person who loves kids, and he enjoys watching the children on the trip realize that they have potential, and can make something of themselves. I’ve known Randy for twenty-five years, and he’s one of the few politicians I know who really wants to help others. Randy’s problem is that, as a County Judge, ethics prevent him from actively raising money. But since I have no ethics of which I’m aware, and since I feel guilty for not making the trip myself, I can ask people to donate money, and maybe convince myself that I’m actually helping. So, if you’d like to make a tax deductible contribution to a very worthy cause, make your check payable to “Chain Gang Bike Ride,” and send it to Randy Young, PO Box 1268, Brady, Tx 76825. Every penny goes to the children. And who knows, one of the kids you help could become the next president. Then again, he may turn his life around and end up making a valuable contribution to society, instead. And if anyone has a good excuse to keep me out of the Prevaricator, I’m all ears, because I’m not all muscles . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who is training for the Prevaricator by trying to get plenty of sleep every night. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or email him at

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