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« Irrational Fear | Main | KT Tape »

Moving Target

Paul Theroux wrote a series of essays in a book titled “Fresh Air Fiend.” One of the stories is called “The Moving Target,”

It starts out by talking about a traveler named Nathaniel Bishop, who in 1877 rowed a small boat from upper New York State to New Orleans. A distance of 2,600 miles.

On arrival in New Orleans, as the exhausted Nathaniel Bishop tied up his boat, a group of young drunks approached, mocked him, swore at him, and threatened him with violence. Theroux commented:

“This, I have come to think, is a very American reaction, rewarding eccentric effort with scorn and violence.” 

Theroux then goes on to write about a man named A F Tschiffely who in the 1920s rode a horse 10,000 miles from Buenos Aires to New York City.

His two-and-a-half-year journey took him over the Andes, through Central America, across deserts, swamps, and jungles. However, his worst part of the journey was traveling through the United States.

Cars would deliberately swerve close to scare him and his horse. He had bottles thrown at him, and shouts of “Ride ‘em Cowboy.” In the Blue Ridge Mountains, a driver sideswiped him injuring his horse’s leg. Then honked and waved in triumph as he drove away.

After two more serious incidents, Tschiffely had to abandon his ride in Washington, DC and finish the final leg to New York by train. Theroux goes on to write about intolerance towards cyclists and runners, or anyone engaged in any form of exercise in public.


After reading these accounts of how things used to be, I am reminded of a line from the 1969 movie “Easy Rider.”

“Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.”

Isn’t that the truth? Haters are “Equal Opportunity” bigots. It is not just about race, and it probably never was. It is simply prejudice toward anyone appearing different, or doing something different, or behaving differently than the perceived norm.


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Reader Comments (6)

i wish i could remember the story and names better, but i heard a radio interview sometime in the last year with an English cyclist who'd just completed a round-the-world ride.
He said that the worst part of the trip was crossing the USA, where he was frequently harassed by (mainly) pickup truck drivers, mostly west of the Mississippi. (if anyone reading this knows this rider's story better, please pass it along.)
Your observations, sadly, are in line with my own experiences over the years. Whether you ride a bike or a horse, or maybe wear unfashionable clothes, or participate in non-mainstream activities, or have an education, you are subject to someone's derision just because you're "different." This is America.

September 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

I now ride almost exclusively off road partly due to this very same thing. Around here (NorCal) we call them “D...... Bags in a Dodge “ It’s sad when others want to drag you into their gutter.

September 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRich Trethewey

Kinda like those ‘cheaters’ on ebikes are being treated by some.

September 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom Murphy

It's the same thing here in Scotland Dave.

September 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterStephen McAteer

But it's particularly evil to define being born black as "different", just as it's evil to define being born female as "different". At worst I can say (as did the horse rider) "it's not worth my life, I'll stop being different". But non-whites and women etc can't actually do that (or it's unreasonable to suggest it, sex changes and skin bleaching are an awfully lot more serious than "get on the train")

In that sense I'm lucky not to have been born in the US, because Aotearoa and Australia have their problematic elements but almost without exception to nowhere near the same degree as the US (like-for-like, anyway). I've only once had something thrown at me, I rarely get run off the road, and I've never come close to being shot when I get bolshy with offending motorists. And I'm one of the "will ride regardless, will ride on the road" cyclists. I've ridden both the north coast and the middle of Australia, as well as bits of rural Queensland... they're actually nicer than the cities. Albeit you have to be aware that given the choice between driving off the road and running you over a road train will splat you ... but that applies to cattle, camels, motorbikes, cars, smaller trucks...

October 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMoz in Aus

I second the opening comments from my fellow Australian above. But IME it's common to be harassed, abused, and attacked by idiots in cars here.

I think I've even been shot "at" by hoons in a ute (pickup) in the country. I'm not sure, but there was a loud crack from the car as it passed me on the opposite side of the road then stopped about 200 metres further along. It wasn't a backfire or mechanical fault. I could see them looking back at me. I'd dived off the bike into the long grass at the verge, but with little hope of escape if they came back. I'm pretty sure they didn't shoot *at* me, just into the air to give me a fright. They succeeded.

They left a cloud of dust and tyre marks down the road as they took off, fishtailing down the road. I was a long way from any town or phone reception and never reported this to anyone but my wife when I saw her some time later. It was only later that I started to shake. Scary.

It took a while before I felt safe on the road again, but guns aren't common here (mostly in the country) so I put it down to bad luck and resolved to never go back to that area. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a place where guns & gun violence are normalised.

I've never experienced anything but courtesy from drivers in extensive riding in Europe & Japan, and some small rides in other parts of Asia. My theory is there's something about anglophone culture that's deeply wrong—perhaps just generally being on the "right" side of imperial history.

October 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra

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