Cook: All the river, half the road

Cook: All the river, half the road

May 14th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Reporting from the Boulder of the East, here's a double espresso of outdoor news.

Once again, Ben Friberg's going where no stand-up paddleboarder has gone before.


This July, Friberg - who is to stand-up paddleboarding in Chattanooga what Reggie White was to football - and two others will race the Yukon 1000: the longest paddle race on earth. With this, you carry a shotgun.

"Five hundred miles across the Yukon Territory, then 500 additional miles across Alaska," Friberg said.

In years past, the race (should we really call this a race?) has been limited to canoes and kayaks. So Friberg called the race director, and had a friendly and convincing chat: you know, explaining how they'd survive a bear attack, or freezing temps, and ways they can carry all their gear on a stand-up paddleboard.

They'll be like a floating Dick's Sporting Goods: sub-zero sleeping bags, emergency phones, mosquito nets, solar chargers, enough food for Lewis and Clark ... and a shotgun. (Da Bears!)

Friberg's estimating two weeks to complete the race. Most teams don't finish. Can't imagine why.

"The SUP team hopes to average approximately 100 miles per day once they get in sync with the river, themselves, each other, and the northland frontier," Friberg said.

Men get all of the TV limelight, the Timex endorsements, the cover of Sports Illustrated without having to wear bathing suits that look more like 5-pound fishing line.

Yet there's one sport that seems to close the gender gap in ways others don't - or can't - like a natural equalizer.

Road cycling.

Last year on the streets of Chattanooga, the U.S. Pro Cycling Championships made history: It was the first time women and men raced together on the same day, and the first time an equal purse was paid out - same prize money for women as for men.

Sure, it's not the 19th amendment, but it sends a message about the potential of gender equality that cycling possesses, while locating that message here in the Scenic City.

"Take the smallest, shortest, leanest girl and she has an equal change of keeping up with the tallest, biggest dude," said Andy Sweet, owner of Hub Endurance.

Inside his Frazier Avenue bike shop on Tuesday morning, he sat drinking black coffee next to two fast and lean women who ride our city streets.

Amy Phillips: a member of the Pepper Palace Pro Team who's racing in next weekend's U.S. Pro Championships.

Ali Whittier: an amateur cyclist who races and trains here locally.

"Women are riding with men," Whittier said. "They're out there racing, and feeling comfortable."

"I love the sport," Phillips said. "To be able to get on your bike and go ride."

"There's a lot of freedom with it," Whittier added.

"It's a very liberating sport," Sweet said.

There's something gently feminine about cycling. The meditative grace of the spinning wheel, the empowering open road, the community. And no Ray Lewis.

CNN recently claimed that cycling has replaced golf as the business person's sport, 36 miles of a group ride replacing 18 holes as the backdrop for forming relationships, establishing connections, making deals.

Just the other day, Whittier was in a business meeting, and recognized the man across from her ... not from the board room, but from their group ride.

"That happens a lot," she said.

On May 22, Sweet is hoping to sponsor a screening of "Half the Road: the Passion, Pitfalls and Power of Women's Professional Cycling."

Trouble is, Carmike Majestic will only screen it if enough tickets are presold, and the deadline is tomorrow, Thursday.

Visit to reserve your $12 seat.

"What a perfect film for our city," Sweet said.

For every male-female integrated group ride, there's also a level of deep sexism within the pro sport. The film, which examines this, has also spurred an online petition: Create a women's-only version of the Tour de France.

"If we hold up half the sky, where's our half of the road?" director Kathryn Bertine says in the film.

That's why Sweet is donating all of the proceeds from sponsoring the film to Southeast Youth Corps, an area nonprofit that is partnering with Girls Inc. to create a summer bike camp for girls.

Because remember, bike riding is about one thing. Take it from a woman who knows.

"Joy," Phillips said.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.