The Tour de France: A Reminder to Stop and Wave
Words by Jered Gruber
Images by Jered and Ashley Gruber
Let’s say the Tour averages 100 miles per day for three weeks. That makes a grand total of 2,100 miles. Now, imagine people stretched across every piece of those 2,100 miles. Sometimes, they’re stacked 3, 6, even 10 deep.
Here’s the leap of faith: now, imagine that when these people come out to watch the Tour de France, what they see of the actual race might last one minute of the many hours they spend on the side of the road.
And that’s not a problem.
The Tour is a roving carnival of sights and sounds and free stuff thrown from fast moving vehicles. It's a daylong party where the racing is a mere sideshow to a day out with family and friends, picnicking on a warm July day.
This used to baffle me—the idea of spending an entire day waiting for a race to come by and then disappear in the time it took to take a picture with an iPad. The more I watch it though, the more I realize just how pure and great it is, and I wish that I could spend a day with friends and family on the side of the road, just hanging out, watching the curious circus roll on down the road.
Take the caravan. The caravan precedes the race by about an hour and a half. It's comprised of about 20 different sponsors who travel in packs of five or so vehicles that resemble Mardi Gras parade floats, driving the entire route of the Tour and throw little pieces of junk at people.
I say junk in the nicest way, but it really is junk—a bucket hat; the cheapest, worst cycling cap you've ever seen; a pad for your phone, so it doesn't roll around on the dashboard in your car; a free of charge dousing by the Vittel water people; a shopping bag; Haribo gummies. Ok, those aren't junk. Those are delicious.
I looked askance at the caravan until one day, we participated in the arm waving, jump-up-and-down frenzy of trying to draw the attention of the junk throwers in hopes of getting what they were holding.
"I FORGOT WHY I WAS THERE FOR A SECOND AND WAVED MY ARMS AT THE HELICOPTER AND JUMPED UP AND DOWN, AND I FELT JOY IN THAT MOMENT."
We started out joking, maybe even making fun of it, but it changed within seconds. It became fun. We marveled at the little pieces of stuff we were able to get thrown our way, and we were happy. We smiled and laughed and regaled in the simple pleasure of catching two tiny little sausages tossed from a giant sausage truck. It was a 30-minute vacation from stress and work and crazy. We were blasted by the same song over and over (Uptown Funk), and it only seemed to get better as the trucks passed on and the years melted away. We weren't thirty-somethings in the midst of a four week work binge, we were 12-years-old again and ecstatic just to be here.
Some days later, waiting in a field for the race to pass by, I watched a little girl waving at the circling helicopters, hoping for them to catch a glimpse of her, zoom in, and voila, she'd be on television all over the world. That wasn't the thought process though—it was just - helicopter - wave - smile - laugh - fun - happy. What else could she possibly do in that moment—sit there? Watch? Do nothing? Waving was the only option.
It made me happy. I forgot why I was there for a second and waved my arms at the helicopter and jumped up and down, and I felt joy in that moment.
The kids set the tone. You can see it in all of the adults—they're taken back decades to a simpler time, and they wave and shout—and everyone is happy.
We don't see angry faces when we drive the route. We see happiness everywhere. Our arms get tired from waving at all the people, because nearly all of them wave at us. Who wants to be the person that DOESN'T wave back? I feel guilty when I don't return the good energy.
So we wave and wave and wave and smile and wave some more. I like that.
It's my favorite part of the Tour.