I was eating frosted flakes at Lee’s Motor Court when Fred delivered the shock. He was hanging up his riding cleats.
“I’m done,” he said. “I couldn’t walk this morning.”
His legs were fresh but his back, which had been bugging him since Gettysburg, was out. That day the riders had done 90 miles and, being a little stiff, Fred did some stretches. That’s when the trouble began – something went wrong and progressively got worse. The stop in the town “where the battle wasn’t” (that’s what a billboard says as you drive in) claimed a significant casualty.
Fred is our leader, the reader of those fold-out state maps, the booker of motel rooms, in short, he’s the guiding force behind this whole quest.
My dad arrived for coffee a couple minutes later. He was speechless.
He dismissed any talk of junking the ride.
“I’d be mad as hell if you didn’t make it to the end. If I was in your spot, I know I’d want to finish the ride.”
The riders’ wives, however, did not share Fred’s enthusiasm. The quest’s future hung in the balance during a flurry of early morning phone calls. Only Fred’s powerful ability to persuade Lois prevented the quest’s premature end. He was able to convince her that he could hang around in the sag wagon for a couple of days and postpone the treatment that he most certainly needs and deserves prevented a premature end. So we made ready for day 14.
Fred suggested that I might ride in his place, and so I pulled on some thermal underwear and got on my dad’s spare bike. Fred took up sag duty. No complaints, no moping – he encouraged us, lent me gloves and a vest, and studied the route while he waited for us.
I rode my standard 50 in my usual way: starting out behind my dad, then surging ahead, before falling back. When I was behind, I noticed that my dad makes Mr. Bean like noises, which I assumed are him clearing his throat. When I was flagging, my dade rode close behind me, and though he wanted to go faster, he stayed there, just to make sure I was doing ok. My dad, when he rides behind anyone, has a tendency to yell things like, “CAR!!!” when a car is approaching from behind. The thing is, it’s hard to make out what he’s saying because of all the noise of that approaching car. So the warning serves to simply startle, and I found myself swiveling my head around. Then I learned to just let the yelling blend into the background. I quit at Wagner, where we lunched at Two Spurs. He went on for 25 more miles.
My dad got a bottle of Jim Beam and now we’re drinking it in the motel. And we will raise a toast to Fred’s back.
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