When riding the corn-lined byways of the countryside, one inevitably observes the flotsam and jetsam of the road. Soda bottles, beer cans, and crumpled food containers dominate this landscape. An endless parade of smiling plastic bags thanking you and wishing you a nice day. It’s no surprise to find an unmatched shoe, a child’s toy or a magazine. One often sees evidence of the land’s motorized inhabitants: discarded headlights, mirrors, hubcaps and tires. Air and oil filters. An abandoned scissor jack. Some less obvious items appear here, as well. The odd piece of lumber. A preponderance of men’s underwear.
Training rides afford one ample time to consider the life stories of these roadside finds. In most cases, a perfectly rational scenario can be imagined to explain how these things came to find their resting place. It’s a window into the lives of everyday people. A soda bottle, emptied of its contents, is given over to the wind. Empty containers from the drive-thru are released into the night. An emergency roadside repair can leave evidence behind. Sometimes, unsecured treasures make their own escape. These are easy and commonplace stories that easily satisfy any curiosity.
In other cases, it’s not so easy. Unlike a soda bottle, a bag of chips or a quart of oil, underwear isn’t exactly at hand. There is some effort that goes into underwear removal, particularly if large boots are in the mix. Especially while sitting in a car. What is the impetus for roadside underwear removal? Maybe there’s a rational explanation. “We were driving… and then, of course, I threw my underwear out of the moving car.” On the other hand, it’s possible that there was an emergency. “Dude, pull over! I’ve gotta get my underwear off!” The truth is probably stranger than any fiction I can devise.
The fact is that each year in Minnesota, volunteers remove about 26,000 tons of solid waste from 12,000 miles of roadway through MNDOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program(1). That doesn’t include hazardous or, ahem, biological materials that must be handled by qualified contractors. It’s estimated that over half of the trash we see on the road is discarded intentionally and the same percentage is food packaging(1). But you didn’t need me to tell you that. Also, eight out of ten times the person doing the discarding is male(1). Maybe the underwear mystery is solved.
Everything has a story. Some stories are simple, obvious and pedestrian. A rag, a bag, an Ashlee Simpson CD. Others are shrouded in mystery, shot-through with intrigue and carry an air of impropriety. Severed zip ties, a discarded hospital ID band, a half-empty bottle of bourbon. Whatever curiosity you happen across on your next ride, I hope it gives you an interesting story — something to ponder while you’re turning the pedals