Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
There is that horrible, frozen moment when you know something terrible is going to happen and you are powerless to stop it. We entered the intersection on our bicycles at close to thirty miles an hour, my riding partner ahead of me.
The silver Audi struck my friend Wil dead center. He flew over the hood into the windshield and pin wheeled fifteen feet into the air. I knew, as he disappeared from sight on the other side of the car, that he was dead.
When I got to him, he was trying to stand.
Fast forward seven years. Three of us are returning from the Triple Bypass cycling event, Wil driving his pickup. He mentions the Race Across America - coast to coast as fast as possible. Years fall before my eyes.
June, 1976, and an incredibly naïve, painfully shy twenty-one year old leaves Pittsford, NY in a United Airlines 737 bound, eventually, for Eugene, Oregon. Bike, clothing.... Everything I'd need for the summer, in one bundle. Deposited by creaking school bus in Reedsport, I left two days later for Virginia. You read that right. Bikecentennial 76. My parents picked me up in Williamsburg mid-August.
Reading the Hobbit provides all of the relevant details. An unlikely participant, I had grand adventures, encountered all manner of despair (including the death of a rider on the road) and emerged changed forever. It was a demanding endeavor and I'll never forget it. In a sense, it made me who I am.
"Race Across America," Wil repeated. "It's a life goal. We should do it."
I'm in. I'll follow, lead and ride beside him because, once, I almost lost him.