This ended up being a long post because I cover a lot of ground with it. If you just want the gravy, I have a header down below, highlighting it.
A friend of ours with several decades of continuous sobriety, 37 years I believe, recently lost to her second battle with cancer. She and her husband were fixtures in the local recovery scene and she survived her husband by several years. Her funeral was yesterday and I like to think there was a little party in heaven when they were reunited. I saw so many people I haven’t seen in years... it was some kind of special.
An AA funeral, at least in our neck of the woods, is almost always a lesson in how to throw a party at a funeral and yesterday was that. We celebrate the lives of the friends we lose. The place was packed. Including by her late husband’s brother. I was visibly moved when he introduced himself. Same voice, same mannerisms… it’s like I got to see my friend, just for a few minutes, in his brother. I’m misty typing this a full fourteen hours later. I’ve prayed multiple times that God sees the effect those two people had on not only my life, but so many others. When I moved to Flint to stay, with my then girlfriend, now my wife, the Flint AA scene welcomed me in as one of theirs, almost instantly. Bob and Ann were at my 3rd Anniversary party, thrown by my wife at a local restaurant. This is why I love AA. A person is lucky to feel that close to maybe a dozen people in their lifetime. I know hundreds that well. I feel blessed just to be a part of it all – and the only credential needed to join that club was a desire to beat a disease. What a gift.
After, I headed home and got ready to ride. My buddy, Chucker, had robotics with his son, so he needed to ride at 4 pm. I put it out to the gang thinking nobody but Chuck and I were going to wait that long to ride. Jonathan pinged back that he’d be there almost immediately – he’s a pastor at a local church, so his weekends are tricky – but it worked out this week. I knew it was going to be Chucker, Jonathan and me, but I figured there wouldn’t be too many more. I was way off. I met McMike by chance out on the warmup lap (we both did a warm-up of a few miles to make sure we were dressed appropriately for the 46° [7 C] temperature).
Jonathan showed up as he said he would, so it was McMike, Dale and John, with Chuck and I, we had a solid group.
I chose a good route to knock out all of the headwind first – all west and south, followed by all east and north. I had to remind myself to just hold on till we got to the headwind – Jonathan is the quintessential cyclist. Zero excess upper body weight and powerful legs. The Force is strong in that one. McMike is still a Nationally Ranked athlete, even at his advanced age he can hammer any of us B Groupers into the ground. Chucker’s been on a diet lately and has spent much of the winter staying fit outdoors on one of his bikes (he’s a bit of a nut). I’m me… John’s new and Dale is a solid B Grouper but has a history of rough springs, so I was a little worried they wouldn’t be able to keep the pace with four hammers.
Dale dropped off the back within six miles. At eight I looked back and he was nowhere to be seen. We were pushing a pretty hard pace into the crosswind, a solid 18-20-mph, and I had an ugly feeling. No matter how much of the lane you take, with six cyclists, there isn’t enough lane to get a full echelon draft, so you have to hold on till the headwind, and relief. John was next, after a pull up front, nine miles in, I could literally see it when he popped. He took a slow half-mile up front and on his way back, his head was slumped. He turned around and took his toy home.
And now I present to you; The Gravy.
That left the four of us and it was time to go. Each did his share up in the wind, and it was all hands on drops to stay as aerodynamic as we could into the wind. My winter body got in the way a little bit, but I settled in quickly. The pace quickened from a reasonable 17-mph to near 20 – and that was workin’ into the wind. Fourteen miles and change in and our headwind time was over. We had a little cross headwind to deal with after we turned around to add another 3-1/2 miles to our loop, but as we headed northwest on S. Durand Road, the pace built in a 21-mph crescendo uphill until we hit the solid downhill section that lasts for almost a mile and a half.
See, McMike has this baby ring thing about the spring. Say that four times, real fast. He won’t come out of that baby ring for a few months as he builds his base. We young whippersnappers had it in us that we were going to get his ass out of that baby ring – and that section of Durand Road was where it was going to happen. Chuck was up front with a solid cross-tailwind and he put the hammer down. The pace quickly lit from 21-mph to 27. We were hammering down the road at a really nice pace. No way he was still in the baby ring as we rounded the corner to Miller Road. I took my turn up front, with a crosswind, and checked on the way back after my mile… The big dog got a scrap. He was in his big ring.
The next seven miles were a little on the rough side. More crosswind than tailwind, north of 20-mph the whole way. I’d struggle at the end of my mile-long turn up front but would quickly recover at the back of the group. I always enjoy the complexity of riding with solid, experienced cyclists. It’s a beautiful thing how smooth a competent group is.
As we got going after stop sign to make a left, heading north with a fantastic tailwind, I mentioned that we had indeed gotten McMike out of his baby ring and we all had a laugh. McMike responded silently by putting the hammer down again. 25-26-mph and I had a grin stretched across my face… we were moving! We were in the home-stretch of our 31 mile ride and I felt good. Certainly on the edge, we’d managed to bring a 17.9-mph average up to just north of 20, but I wasn’t in danger of thinking I didn’t have enough (or possibly too much… roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy).
As we made our last right turn to head home, the pace stayed strong at 22-mph, and we pulled into the driveway with a 20.3-mph average. Our first fast ride of the year, with full arm and leg warmers, winter hats, and vests on. We were all high-fives and fist bumps after that one.
Friends, I ate well and slept even better after that day. Morally, physically, then as a bon vivant. NACHOS, baby. I’m full. It’s as good as it gets.