Ribs and Whiskey/Right as Rain (Days Fifty-Nine and Sixty)
I’ve always believed that everyone has a chance in this world. That everyone has an opportunity to make the best of their situation, whatever it may be, to shape their lives in the way that they see fit. Some may see challenges that others don’t, and the same can be said for opportunities. What I’ve found in this part of the world, though, is that sad syndrome of what can happen when hope is lost. When generations upon generations have lived in a depressed state and they’ve just begun to accept that things are just going to be the way they are. Some people just stop trying to grow. Others have a deliberate ignorance about them, it seems, and have found that a closed minded approach is the way to dull the senses. So, when I remember this symptom of the difficult lives of some, it helps me get a sense of compassion for those bearing it, even if some of them look at us pedaling through like they’d like to shoot us or maybe they simply don’t wave back. Maybe they turn their dogs loose as they see us coming. Yes, Day Fifty-Nine was interesting.
Great to have Steve Camposan riding with us for a few days. He’s going to take over for Mama Bear and Papa Bear as SAG once we get to Charlottesville, but he jumped ahead to meet up with us for a few days as a guest rider. It’s beyond appropriate, given his background and the fact that he served in combat with Kevin and Jesse. Stevie-Boy, as he’s called (or Sierra Bravo) is a very intelligent lad. He’s got a knack for being able to fix things and tweak things and is usually doing so before others realized it needed to be done. I think he’s just got a natural curiousity for how things work. Regardless of the reasons, he’s a stand-up guy if I’ve ever met one. Having him present for this stretch was key, as we were definitely in some back woods territory and saw things that I didn’t thing existed. I know a bit about Stevie-Boy’s background, and while I don’t know everything (and I’m not at liberty to discuss that I DO know) let’s just say that my understanding is that, as a soldier, he was very brave and even more effective. His situational awareness is off the charts; keen senses make him a tremendous asset, but it’s also an excellent understanding of the complexity of human tendencies. Maybe it’s because he’s complex himself!
We were seeing what would be the steepest hills we’d seen, though we’ll continue to negotiate this terrain for several more days past Sixty. But, the saying goes, what goes up must come down. So…we also had some exhilerating descents. Some of these were 17 percent grades, and it was muggy by 10am. We had 75 miles on the course on day Fifty-Nine, so it wasn’t like we could just sprint through it. Those hills were a great challenge, to be sure.
Dogs and dogs. Seven incidents with Canines on Day Fifty-Nine. Several of them were Pit Bulls, and I’m really counting my blessings that none of us have gotten bitten. Once, we were saved by the SAG vehicle, as Papa Bear was coming through just in time to block us. If you’re familiar with basketball or lacrosse, think of it a ‘pick’. Albeit, it was a moving pick, which is illegal in those games but fine with us as we managed to get away yet again. I sort of felt like we were Bo and Luke Duke (you know…Dukes of Hazzard?) because they always seemed to get away. Or, maybe it’s because I was in Hazard County? But, let me tell you, Daisy Duke was no where to be found. That part is straight-up fiction.
There was a section that was not on the map, but due to Mama Bear’s deductive reasoning, we found a was to pass through an area and keep on schedule. We found ourselves on a loose gravel road that went seemingly straight up. Fifteen percent climbs throughout the three mile path, and it was the same on the other side going down. It was fun, and it’s even more fun now that it’s over. We were fishtailing all over the place, and I’m baffled, once again, that no one wrecked or even puntured a tire.
The last part of the course was beautiful, yet a bit conflicting; we cruised by a river that rolled alonside our path for abourt twelve miles. As scenic as it was, it’s still tough to see part of it disrespected and uncared for. Parts of it were littered in a reckless way, trash and slop in places that would have been otherwise beautiful. It was a small stretch, but still it struck me that it had been in that condition for some time, and there it would stay for quite a time to come. Don’t they realize that, while they might not live in Beverly Hills, they’re living by a river in the mountains?
Finally, we rolled into our Ninth State as we crossed the Virginia State line. It’s really hitting home that we just might make it after all. We checked into a hotel that had very kind people and no wifi or cell coverage whatsoever. It was perfect. We had plans to celebrate Mama Bear’s birthday, and the lack of technology allowed for a much more pure vibe in which to do this. After getting some of the best barbecue I can remember just across the street (almost everyone had the ribs, which were enormous and just fell off the bone) we played horseshoes (Papa Bear and Stevie-Boy got lucky and accidently beat Mince and me). Then, we set up a table in Kevin’s room and played cards and sipped some small-batch Bourbon we’d procured a few towns back. It was one of the best nights of The Ride; we were in safely without incident, we’d conquered a challenging course, everyone had a smile and a full heart, and we were celebrating Mama Bear.
I’ve learned some things on Fifty-Nine. Ignorance breeds hate. Be grateful for what you have and work hard to keep it, work harder to grow it. Create opportunity for other people, especially in your community. Southern Smoked Ribs are no joke and small batch Kentucky Bourbon is best served neat.
Right as Rain (Day Sixty)
The Kudzo is really amazing. It adds a lumpy, exaggerated texture to its unfortunate hosts. In full effect, it looks like a sea of cartoon-like giant monsters. Almost blob-like and wavy in nature. Seems like they could take over anything and everything if not kept in check. They almost look fake sometimes, they way they mimic their dying skeletons, once healthy trees.
Day Sixty started with a heavy rain. It was dumping. Also, we started on a three-mile hill that, in keeping with the them of our seven-day riding stretch, was quite steep. We rode in silence for the first twenty miles or so. If I hadn’t known differently, I’d have thought we were in a rain forest. Misty fog hung in the air, and rain slashed down through it without no signs of stopping. We climbed and climbed some more and the curvy nature of the road kept the finish line a secret. There’s just no way to know what the next corner will bring. Thunder growled overhead, but we didn’t feel threatened by lightening, since we were amongst massive trees and carving between high bluffs. It was magical. I looked over at Stevie-Boy, and despite the very challenging hill, he had a grin on his face. The lighting had a funk we’d not seen yet; adding to the rain forest feel was the damp darkness that surrounded us. It had a feeling of dawn, yet it carried well past noon. It would have been eerie if we weren’t all grinning at the sheer absurdity of it. Climbing those hills in the pouring rain…and enjoying every bit of it. Maybe it was because we’d noticed a renewed sense of welcome from the people we’d met. It was like we’d gotten our mojo back.
At one point, after the thunder had stopped, I heard a sound that I don’t remember hearing in some time. Utter silence. The locusts and other critters were dead silent. There were no barking dogs and no revving engines. The only sound I could hear was the swishing sound of my tires as I climbed to get a view of the mountains, a smoky element lurking between them. It was peaceful and it lasted for at least twenty minutes. Never forget it.
Then, apparantely church got out and it was the Daytona Speedway again, but it’s all good. People were waiving and giving us ample room, although Stevie Boy got drenched by a puddle driveby once. We were in great spirits all day. Poor Mincio. Imagine how he felt when it sunk in that he was now riding with not one, but two people who suddenly and without warning, just start singing a song. Yeah, Sierra Bravo has likes to get his singing on. He’s worse than me, or better, depending on how you look at it. Very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to ride with these two; there’s a special dynamic that happens when people have the history that they have. They’ve been through hell together and now they’re back. They want to see each other succeed, and the only things more memorable than to hear their stories is to imagine the ones that they both understand are not to be told.
At the end of our day, we took Stevie to the airport so that he could visit a friend for a few days before coming back to run the SAG vehicle. Kevin spoke to five-year old Amaya Williams on the return from the airport. Even though Kevin didn’t have her on speaker phone, I could hear her say, in her delicate, sweet voice, “I pray for Matt and you every day”. Thank you, Amaya. Please keep doing that, sweetie!
For Families of the Fallen....To The Limit,
Care Creates Community,