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The Herald Friday May 3, 1991
Friend takes on road test
Rusty Wilkerson trained me in the art of bike touring in 1979, with an eight-day ride from Rock Hill to Melbourne, Fla. I tagged along and suffered and complained, all the while learning the ropes of a rather imprecise sport.
Rusty's best trick was to say, "The motel is over this next hill." One day that strategy worked to keep me quiet for 20 miles. Twelve years later, I would call on this technology to goad my friend, Bruce Lucas (alias B.L.), home from Rockingham, N.C.
B.L. was my designated partner for an upcoming tour to Surf City, N.C., and back. His vacation schedule matched mine and he asked to go along under the pretense of, "I just want to be able to say I have done it."
Over the years B.L. has shown me his steadfast determination to do what he said he would do. Also, he has worked out in a gym for two solid years with profound results. The athletic ability is there. He kept me abreast of his training--a 40-miler, a 70-miler, a 50-miler.
What we needed before the big trip was a shakedown ride. We arranged a two-day overnight thing to Rockingham.
We left Lancaster on a cool morning barreling eastward, joking like clowns. After thousands of miles of solo touring, I had landed a co-pilot. This was fun.
From Cheraw on U.S. 1, there are some monstrous hills on the way to Rockingham. Grinding through these mini-mountains, we were still able to laugh.
At 77 miles we hit Rockingham and took our pick of the 6 million available motels. We ordered out for pizza and B.L. remarked how good he felt after such a long ride. We retired early (as touring cyclists do) and awoke to face wet streets but a clear sky.
On this second day, B.L. taxed his training. The second day of a tour is the test of physical readiness.
Bad news. The transition from weight lifting to long-distance cycling is greater than either of us had imagined. On Day One, B.L. had burned his reserves, and he hadn't trained enough to teach his body to slowly burn fats and carbs at the same time. What follows is physical and mental torture.
Through the hills again, he gradually got slower early in the morning. We tooled along as B.L. verbally threatened to die every five minutes. He said, "If I make it back from this thing alive, I'm gonna get a map of every flat road in America, especailly the ones with a tailwind." As the day wore on, he eventually asked if the next town had a bus station.
Enter the Rusty Wilkerson approach. I had the map, and I kept saying, "Only eight more miles...." In fact it was 30. "This is the last big hill." When we would get to the next cliff I'd say, "I forgot about this one."
B.L. is a smart guy, and he knew where we were. Still, I think my bantering helped. The bottom line was that B.L.'s own determination saw him through a miserable day. I knew all along he would probably rather die than come up short. His lamenting was not real anyway. He said, "It's not any fun to suffer if you can't complain about it."
We made it back home, but B.L."s last comment was, "If you write anything about me, tell 'em I'm hanging my riding shoes up. Ol' Brucey Baby is not cut out for this." (I know better.)
It was a learning experience for both of us. Bruce learned he hadn't trained enough, and I learned that maybe I'm better designed for this than I had thought. I had never before ridden somebody to death.
My upcoming tour will be made alone, a setback after test-driving a great partner who gave it his best shot. That's OK. By now I know how to travel alone, and Bruce will be back. He is one man who refuses to give up.
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