July 4th 2013

I really didn’t have any plans for the 4th, aside from my new tradition “The Freedom from Pants Bike Ride” which is a bike ride or parade where the participants bike around Minneapolis in their underwear.  It was the 7th annual, but my second ride. I blogged about my first experience last year.

I am really not sure what has come over me…aside from the desire to be outside, but I have started to ride my bike rather obsessively again. And the morning of the fourth, knowing I would be riding 8 – 12 miles with the Freedom From Pants Ride, I set out for what is now my usual 10-mile route.

When I returned from the ride and was at my apt. door unlocking it, my neighbor came out of his unit and invited me out to the patio for some bar-b-que and drinks. I grabbed some herbal iced tea and headed out to the patio. Once there, I was introduced to the neighbor’s friend and to his co-worker.

I really wasn’t all that hungry, so I just swilled my tea. They asked what I was doing for the fourth and I told them about the underwear bike ride. I could tell by the silence and the way the air seemed to just be sucked up out and away from the table that we were sitting at, that they might not be as keen on a parade of people stripped to their undies as I was.

The conversation shifted into shop talk and we chatted up about our respective places of employment. Neighbor’s coworker seemed somewhat evasive with a couple of statements he made that I figured he had a history, possibly criminal, but I didn’t cast judgment. I have my own history.

Neighbor’s friend and I exchanged  “piss off employment stories” which are, of course, the situations at the job that just you piss off.  The three of us; neighbor, his friend and I all had stories to share, yet I noticed that neighbor’s coworker didn’t share any tales.

The topic switched to the weather and neighbor’s coworker laughed at the way Minnesotans define “hot” and commented that the current “warm weather” Minnesota is experiencing is comparable to a nice April day in New Orleans.  I began to engage him in conversation about living in New Orleans and when and what made him move to Minneapolis. He laughed, looked over at neighbor and then began his story:

He had just been released from death row in Louisiana last October after spending 15 years incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

I was just blown away. I had spent some 35 days in a county facility; I can’t even imagine what 15 years would be like.

I moved over to the chair closer to him, extended my hand to him and said: “oh my GOD! Brother, CONGARTULATIONS! Welcome to your freedom!!” and gave him a firm, strong handshake. He laughed nervously as he shook my hand and thanked me. He began to share some of the tale. Not really all the details as to how he got there, but just some the basic. In a 6×8 cell for 23 hours a day that averaged over a 100 degrees in the summer, no air conditioning, only getting out for an hour of exercise.

He mentioned that this year was to be a lot of firsts for him…and he was relishing each one as they happened.

I suddenly felt so foolish thinking back on what I was bitching about just a few minutes earlier that was nothing compared to what this man had been through. And I told him this. He smiled and said he gets that a lot.

More neighbors came out to the patio to use the grill and a party atmosphere came over the patio.  One of the female guests asked me what I was doing for the 4th.  With the response I got from the first three earlier, I was hesitant, then proceeded with “um, ah, I…” And my neighbor blurted out “just tell them you’re doing a bike ride”

 I laughed and said “Ya. I am going on a bike ride” and cracked a devilish grin. The girl then asked me “Are you doing the Underwear Bike Ride?!?!”  to which I said with new found confidence  “The Freedom from Pants Ride?  Yes I am.” And she smiled and said, “So are all of us!” and motioned to the three girls and four guys that were around her.

The first three who seemed awkward form my announcement now voiced their admission that I wasn’t the only freak and now had company in my freakdom.  “Cool” I exclaimed.

The seven were waiting for one more to show, so I decided to head over to the pants drop start point for the ride. When I go to the area that was the start point last year, it was under construction and obviously not conducive to holding 350+ people.

A group of bikers in their undies passed by, so I started following them and asked them if they knew of the start point for the ride. They invited me to follow them.

We rode a few blocks just into NE Minneapolis to an open area by a White Castle and there were throngs of folks in their undies. Guys in bikinis, boxers, briefs, square cuts, lacy manties (man panties), tutu’s and  couple in skirts. Women were stripped down to bras and panties, boy shorts, granny panties and bikini swimsuits; although there were a couple with just panties and pasties covering nipples, so 7/8 boob was in view. There was a father and his young son in matching Batman boxer-briefs and capes. And a family of four with the two kids in baggy shorts, sunglasses and training wheels on their bikes.

 

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Just like last year, I pulled up, got off my bike and stripped down to my undies, putting my clothes into my saddlebag. It is rather exhilarating to just strip down like this outside, which I used to do a lot of when I lived in the desert in CA. I guess the real exhilaration is the fact that there are few hundred around me doing the same thing.

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I chatted up three guys that were hanging in the street waiting, as I was, for the ride to begin.

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After about 20 minutes, some guy on a mega phone announced the start of the ride and the route. We mounted up and began to ride down Central Avenue towards the Third Avenue Bridge into Downtown Minneapolis.  We crossed the bridge, I saw the folks from my apartment complex and we exchanged “Woo-hoo’s!” as we biked along in our undies.

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Once Downtown, we made our way over to the Plaza of The Hennepin County Government Center, were we took a quick break to allow all the riders to catch up after crossing the bridge.

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We then made our way over to Nicollet Mall and then down to Grant Street and into Loring Park; where we took a half hour or so break and partied in the park to the music that was booming off a trailer that some dude was hauling behind his bike.

I enjoyed conversation with a few, but with one guy in particular who was participating in his first ride.

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The call came to ”Mount UP” and we began to ride through the park and began what was I felt,  to be the first of a few errors in the ride. Instead of going a few hundred yards around the smaller end of the lake, the leaders crossed over the bridge in Loring Park, which is a narrow path with two small 90 degree turns enclosed in a wrought iron fence.  This design is to slow bikers down to prevent them from speeding across the bridge. And slow us down it did; however the mood was jovial and the group that was around me as we made our through the turns and across the bridge commented on my physique, my undies and my anatomy. Did I mention WHY I love this ride??

Once through the bottleneck we made our way down Hennepin Avenue into Uptown, which is a couple of mile stretch. Now, as I say we “ we made our way along…” I mean that we took over the entire lane of traffic, FOR BLOCKS! Some bikers would assume the role and form a chain across a cross street to prevent any cars from getting into the street. It’s like a Critical Mass Bike Ride only here everyone is stripped down.

One of the things I enjoy most as this ride meanders through the city, is the reaction from the people passing in cars or walking on the sidewalks. It usually takes them a minute before they realize we are all in our underwear. And when this dawns on them they usually pull out the camera phones, smile, laugh or start clapping or cheering us on.

Once in Uptown, we rode over to Lake Calhoun via Lagoon and some people stripped off what little they were wearing and jumped in the lake. This area is a popular beach spot and I am always amazed at the brazen nudity. I noticed that a couple of families with kids passing by stopped and sat down and just observed all the shenanigans.

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People passing by, especially the teens seemed freaked out by the amount of naked and underwear clad people that they proclaimed a “oh HELL NO!” and stopped along the outskirts to observe.

I just stood by my bike and observed the reactions from the people walking along the bike path. I chatted again with the guy who I met back at Loring Park. The wax in has stash had come out from his dip in the lake, and his once cool looking handle bar mustache fell flat against his beard.

As the sun set and darkness began to fall, bikers started to move south on the bike lane as the final stage of the ride began to Powederhorn Park to watch fireworks. At 36th St. we headed East towards the Park.

Last year we took 31st Street over to the Park and entered from the northwest corner, down the hill onto the soccer fields. This year we entered the park from the southeast right into the main traffic of people flowing into the park. This left to some confusion and I got separated form the group, I biked through the park and all these people and made my way over to the soccer field. Some other dude was following me. There were negative comments made some by people in the crowd, but I just ignored them and rode on.

Once at the flat area of the fields, I was expecting to see the throngs of bikers we were with just with a few minutes back. None showed. The guy who followed me and I decided to head back to where we entered the park to look for the other riders. We made our way back around park in the opposite direction from where we came. By now it was completely dark. We met up with some of the group, but nowhere near the amount of riders that the group once was. I hung out for a while and talked with some of the folks, but it just didn’t have the vibe it had earlier. I decided to head home, so I bid adieu and wished folks a Happy 4th and they did to me. I put on my pants and biked home feeling extremely over dressed in my baggy shorts..

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