Peter’s random thoughts — Bearded Men Wanted

June 18, 2008

I’ve decided that our days on the road are simply too eventful to cover all the interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain odd experiences we’ve had, so this post is the first in a series devoted to some of the things that happen inside my head while I’m riding. When you’re in the saddle 7 or 8 hours a day, trust me, a lot happens inside your head. Not all of it is good, mind you: a substantial percentage is devoted to concentrating on each little pebble or stone or glass shard on the road ten feet in front of you, or on whichever guy’s wheel is one foot in front of you, or on just how much pain you’re in. However, once in awhile your mind wanders from such mundane things and shifts to things that range from the profound to the incredibly absurd.

I want to talk about the latter here. On our ride from Juntura to Nyssa in eastern Oregon, some three days ago now, we passed through a little burg called Vale, which is exactly the kind of town we encounter every day: small and dusty. There was, however, one thing in particular that caught my attention and got me doing a little thinking. Two hand-lettered identical posters had been placed in a store window in the middle of the town. They read:

Bearded Men Wanted


Patriotic Beard Contest

Seeing this sign made me think of two questions. First, why are bearded men wanted in Vale, Oregon? Second, what exactly is a patriotic beard?

Now, after much pondering I came to the conclusion that the first question has two possible answers: that there are many, many bearded men in and around Vale, Oregon, and therefore the contest organizers are looking for only the most spectacular beards in a well-bearded country, or that there are very, very few bearded men in and around Vale, Oregon, in which case bearded men are the equivalent of circus freaks. After further musing on this important subject, I came to the conclusion that the latter must be true. How did I arrive at this? Well, on an empirical level I don’t recall seeing any beards in and around Vale, Oregon. Even more importantly, we seem to be deep in Mormon country. Beards are discouraged among the Mormons. But then where are the bearded men for the contest?

The second question, namely, what exactly a patriotic beard is, seemed to me to be a much simpler one. A patriotic beard is either a beard that someone has dyed red, white, and blue, and that may or may not contain stars, or is one that has been groomed into some kind of iconic shape or figure representing the U.S. of A., like the Liberty Bell or Mount Rushmore or Elvis. I suspect the winner of the Patriotic Beard Contest is the one who manages to pull off the particularly difficult trick of succeeding at the three-colors-plus-stars dying process while retaining the beard’s carefully-groomed shape of the Statue of Liberty.

So here I was, riding along, thinking about the riddle of the Bearded Men Wanted for Patriotic Beard Contest. Another 30 miles down the road, just over the border in Idaho (on the next day’s ride), I saw a sign that read “Bearded Dragons Sold Here” (I’m not making that up — it’s honest-to-God true), which frankly confounded the whole subject so seriously that I proceeded to give up on the bearded man puzzle altogether and shifted my attention to the Snake River, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

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