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The Herald, Friday, December 22, 1989
Think back a bit
With tales from the road on temporary hold, I'd like to address things here at home.
Sometime in August, I passed through the first anniversary of this column's existence. I neglected to thank the readers who have made it immensely rewarding.
The other issue at hand is, of course, Christmas. During this season, it is fair and expected that one should wax reminiscent. Santa annually delivers bicycles that will foster memories far into the future.
When I'm out on the road, I am steadily approached by people who examine my equipment and say, "Yep, I'll never forget my first bike. It was a shiny red one with a bell on the handlebars and..."
The important thing is to watch the person's face during the story. Remembering that long-gone bike always returns them to an easier, perhaps happier time.
In October, I was called to give my Rock Hill to Utah slide show at the Presbyterian Home, a retirement center in Clinton. The residents applauded the presentation and then swamped me with bike memories. One lady patiently waited her turn to tell me about her first bike and its great big solid rubber tires, a tremendous technological advancement at the time. We won't say how many years ago that was.
My barber claims to have owned just one bicycle in his lifetime. In a deal that reminded me of the Little Rascals, he traded a goat for the bike.
Even Elwood Young, formerly of Wheel Estate, drifts away when he talks about that one special bike. By now he has seen a trillion two-wheelers and he has access to the best equipment in the world. Still, there was that old green one ... well, you know the story.
My childhood Christmas dreams were answered by the arrival of my Mattel Stallion, a chrome plated motorcycle replica. It had a wide motorcycle-type seat with big squeaky shock absorbers underneath. It turned out to be so heavy I could hardly pedal it up a decent hill, but I sure looked great pushing it.
Here is this year's Christmas wish list:
*I wish for everybody to get the bike of his or her dreams (a slim proposition).
*I hope all that sleek bike clothing fits perfectly well (a fat chance).
*I'm sure all those bike computers and other gadgets will install easily and work properly (an even fatter chance).
Above all, remain humble. I'll never forget racing down Pendleton Street wearing a new jersey, new cleats and new tightly-clinched toe straps. When I got to the intersection of Pendleton and Charlotte Avenue, I forgot all about being in 12th gear with new cleats and straps.
There was traffic coming on Charlotte Avenue. I came to a complete stop before I realized I couldn't get my feet out of the pedals. Slowly and gracefully I fell right over in the street, a replay of the old "Laugh-In" tricycle gag.
At the time, the house on the corner was a day-care center and the yard was full of screaming kids. After I fell over, the kids lined up along the fence and howled like Beatles' fans at the airport. I have never been so thoroughly embarrassed. The moral of the story: how well you are dressed has no bearing on your ultimate performance.
Nor will that new titanium megabike turn you into Greg Lemond.
In 1985 I rode the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 100-mile trek from Spartanburg to the top of Mt. Mitchell. It has been deemed the hardest organized ride east of the Mississippi River, and one of the ten hardest in the nation.
There I was crawling up the mountain on a triple-chainwheel touring bike. I had the lowest gear in the crowd,but I had already strained both of my undertrained knees. Suddenly I heard a chain clattering and I turned around to see a man in his mid-50s. He was riding a tank, an English three-speed town bike with big wire book baskets beside the rear wheel. The man was wearing loafers, polyester golf pants, a rain jacket and a tweed driving cap like Jackie Stewart used to wear on TV.
He said "Gooday," like Paul Hogan, and breezed past me with a few smooth strokes. I was so flabbergasted I had to stop.
The man was smoking a pipe. The puffs came over his shoulder like the exhaust from a locomotive and I could smell his cherry blend long after he was out of sight.
When I finally reached the top I asked about the man, just to be sure I wasn't hallucinating. Everybody knew him. He's some sort of professor who rides a bike everywhere he goes. He does the Assault every year "just for fun."
On that day I learned a lot about myself. I also saw that fancy equipment is nowhere near as important as we try to make it. With a Christmas bike, it is often the memories that will outweigh the performance.
Merry Christmas and have a happy and safe New Year.
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