Country roads, take me home
June 30, 2017 § 10 Comments
I don’t suppose Interstate 10 is a country road, much. The first stretch of our drive from Los Angeles was white-knuckled, especially the part outside Palm Springs where three 18-wheelers were tangled up like spaghetti, creating a 10-mile traffic jam in the other direction.
Midnight driving on the Interstate before the July 4 weekend is not for the fainthearted.
Woodrow and I took turns driving, and Hans rode shotgun for 21 straight hours, punctuated with a couple of quick naps, keeping us entertained and awake. He read aloud the entirety of “The Importance of Being Ernest,” replete with hilarious fake accents. Somewhere in New Mexico we took turns reciting our entire family genealogy, American side and Japanese.
That got us well past El Paso, and made me realize that you should tell your kids everything you know about your relations. The story of my granddad Jim and the banana boat from Brownsville to Galveston, and the tale of my great-great grandmother “Ottawa” Jane are ones that will, hopefully, make it down to another generation. We chewed beef jerky, drank coffee, and ate chocolate cigars.
Past Fort Stockton we got out to whizz and were greeted by the balmy 109-degree temperature. “At least it’s a dry heat,” was the running joke.
The whole thing was worthwhile though because, tired and hungry in Austin, we pulled up to Mom’s house and were greeted by huge plates of barbecue. A vegetarian mother hath no love for her son like buying him plates of barbecue, and that was followed by Mom’s homemade berry pie, Mom’s homemade brownies, and Mom’s homemade peach ice cream.
At 5:30 the next morning I got up, shaved, had three cups of coffee, and pedaled off to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop to meet the dozen or so riders who had assembled for the Prologue Stage of Cactus Jack’s Gatheration. Along the way I detoured by the Red McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, at whose railing I had for the first time in my life, in 1982, locked up my first bike. At the bike shop there were some faces from my dim past, guys like Jay Bond, Greg Hall, Tom Paterson, and Kevin Yates, as well as people from Jack’s cycling past who for some reason or another I had never met.
“It’s not that hot,” I said as we rolled out of town, earning looks of disbelief from my compatriots.
“Just wait,” Kevin said.
Our ride took us out by the old Nuckol’s Crossing race course, where the Tuesday nighters generated bike racing tales for decades until development finally put an end to it. The fields were green, the headwind was stiff, the sky was blue, and we swapped Jack Pritchard stories as we pushed on towards Lytton Springs.
Jack loved a good dirt road, and no ride was complete without one, in his estimation. As we turned off onto the white caliche of the country road leading into Lytton Springs, memories flooded back. Hot, dusty, days out in the Central Texas boonies, no cell phones, hand pumps, racing bikes on skinny sew-ups, low water crossings, dogs that came at you out of nowhere, clouds of white dust that covered you from head to toe, snakes, hawks, buzzards, bone-jarring washboard bottoms, washed out corners, chugholes and “lots of texture” as Greg said, and almost always a cold soda pop at the end of the dirt road adventure.
Hours and hours riding with people, the pleasantries and casual conversation was always gone after the first hour, and you were left with long hours in the saddle in which you actually talked. This day we did, too, reminiscing about races, about the antics of Jeff Fields, Scott and Randy Dickson, John Wike, Terry Wittenberg, Bob Lowe, John Ethridge, Billy and Ruth Riffe, Rick Kent, Jerry Markee, Kevin Callaway the Good, Mike Murray, Mark Endres, John Bartle, John Howard, John Ethridge, Brooke Watts, the Tour of Texas, Will Rotzler, Sue Kidwell, Mark Edwards and his famous Doctor Dad, Marco Vermeij and his lantern rouge interview in the 1994 Tour de France, even a stray story about Roger Worthington, and of course many a memory of Jack Pritchard himself.
We got back into Austin around 1:30 and I had to keep tapping the side of my head to make sure my brains hadn’t melted and drizzled out my ears. It was dizzyingly, achingly, mind-fryingly hot. I reflected on a few hours well-spent in reminiscence, genuflecting, as my friend Robert Doty would say, at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.
I realized that the country road into Lytton Springs didn’t take me home, but it took me back, and that was almost as good.
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