My month of quality time with friends and family in Colorado was drawing to a close. In less than 24 hours I would return to my solo ride in unfamiliar territory. Luckily, my buddy Harris would stave off the impending solitude by accompanying me to my next destination, Fort Collins.
Harris, a performance rider, was nice enough to slow his roll for our ride. He dusted off his trusty old Cross-Check, affectionately named Mariana, and agreed to haul half of my gear. This would be my first time during this tour that I had less than 20 pounds of junk tethered to my bike. Oh joy!
It was very quickly revealed that there was a huge difference in perspective between Harris and myself. I, freed of half my gear, remarked how I felt last as a feather. Our average speed, just around 16 miles per hour, was the fastest I had ridden this entire tour. Harris, accustomed to road bikes with titanium frames, laughed at how bogged down he felt carrying all this junk on an already-heavy steel frame. He was cool the whole ride, though I suspected he was getting antsy because we were going less than 20 miles per hour. So, basically, I was in heaven, Harris was in hell.
Our 60-mile ride to Fort Collins was pleasant. Clear skies, light car traffic and a slightly downhill route were all enhanced by mild tailwinds. We chatted the four-hour ride away. Perhaps on some level I knew that this would be my last ride with company for a while, so I got it all off my chest while I could.
During the ride we passed by several miles of road that were marked off for an Iron Man triathlon race. In many of the tows that we passed through, like Hygiene, CO, the townspeople were gathered along the route to cheer on the riders. It was fun to watch these hardcore athletes zip by on their ultra-performance rides. These determined triathletes were unphased by all of the distractions. You could tell that their minds had a singular focus; the finish line.
Our ride adjourned at the city park in Fort Collins. In classic touring fashion, we enjoyed a lunch of PB&J and beef jerky while seated on one of the many park benches. It was no later than 1:00 pm in the afternoon when we wrapped up lunch. Harris was eager to get back on the bike since his plan was to ride back to Boulder. By doing so he would complete his first century ride. Well, shoot, better him than me. Not only was the ride back going to be uphill, but there would be headwinds most of the way. Ah, but yo know what, it was good for Harris. He was going to be doing some 130 mile ride in just a few weeks. Sooner or later he was going to need to FEEL THE PAIN!
I was bummed to see Harris go. From the moment I announced that I was doing this trip, Harris was one of the most supportive people. You know, I just felt like he got it. Without his support this trip would not have been as stellar as it had been. I don't know what to say about Harris. I guess I'll just leave it at the fact that he rocks.
On my own again, I peddled to the home of Andy, a friend of Harris'. The night with Andy and his roommate, Brad, was encouraging. No longer among familiar faces, I could feel the loneliness seeping in. Luckily, these guys were great company. Andy was an incredible bike mechanic who was eager to learn about my tour. He was currently in the planning phase of his own adventure. Brad was an opera singer and theologian who was interested in pursuing a career in radio (the guy had an amazing voice). Over the course of the night I was enthralled by our stimulating conversation. Despite having only known each other just a matter of hours, we discussed all three dinner table taboos (religion, sex and politics) in a totally respectful, comfortable way. It was refreshing to have a real conversation with a couple of unique guys.
That night I got an unfortunate text from Harris. It turned out that one of the triathletes from the day's Iron Man race was struck by a car during the race. The text was a grave reminder of the high stakes of road riding. As a touring cyclist, there is some part of you that understands and accepts the fact that every minute on your bike could be your last. Rest in peace to Michelle Walters.
So, as my last comrade, Harris, rolled out, some of my concerns about solitude were quelled by making the acquaintance of these two good guys in Fort Collins. The great benefit I've realized about bike riding is that biking has to be one of the most common, generalizable parts of the human experience. I mean, who doesn't have some story about "this one time on my bike." I dozed off that night with renewed hope that road ahead would lead me not to isolation, but to camaraderie.