After the pace subsided from Big Buff and my concerted efforts to erase him from our memory a question was raised from one of our esteemed guests. It went like this, "What about Charlie? (as the young man looked over his shoulder, seemingly searching for Farrow). I responded simply, "Charlie who?" The young lad gave me a puzzled look, while I rotated to the front for one more pull.
As some of you may remember, I ran several pieces a while back called, "Ridin' with Hondo". These installments described the exploits of the always exciting Hondo as I desperately tried to keep up with him not only on the bike, but in life as well. Well, those times, they have changed. As the sun sets on a career of bike riding and racing, Hondo now seeks every advantage available to him as he still rubs elbows with some gravel racers who know how to mix it up at the front. This past Sunday would be no different as Hondo showed up for the ride bright and early with a "secret weapon".
Talk of a long ride circulated the email addresses of the northern chapter DBD for almost a week. Arguments, disagreements, and the like were tossed around as a ride was finally settled on. The attractive component to this ride would be special guests invited by DBD member and 'Heck of the North' director, Jeremy Kershaw. Mike Dietzman, Shawn Miller, and Matt Ryan would flex their muscles on this hundred miler. These are top notch gravel grinders. When the talking subsides and the throw downs begin, these guys can really BRING IT!
|Early morning joy!|
This brings me to the focus of the story. When it comes to "bringin' it", Hondo has been suspected of everything from illegal root juice consumption to electric motors hidden in his bottom bracket. I noticed a peculiar ease at which Hondo rolled upon our small group. His machine seemed quieter and he seemed to be spinning his cranks in an almost effortless fashion. Then it struck me, he was running the unheard of roadie tire set. These things had to be about 10 mm wide with a slick surface that can only be found on NASCAR tires. Holding back rudeness, I politely inquired about his decision making, "Are you really going to run road tires on a 100 mile gravel day?". "These things are so fast! And, they're a lot lighter than those!! (pointing at my tire selection). As you may recall, put downs from Hondo are not uncommon and I've learned to roll with them as the general passing of the day usually proves my point, causing Hondo to either change his story or simply fabricate some unrelated truth, again making me feel inferior. Nevertheless, I muttered something about him changing flats later, he didn't hear me.
|Men, moving through the rays.|
Our group formed up, we shook hands and rolled out. I quietly wondered how long it would be before these men would begin to test the depth of the DBD. It seemed that as soon as the gravel began to pass under our tires the pace began to lift. Monitoring my effort I drifted back to Hondo, I barely paid attention as he pointed out how hard I was working compared to how effortlessly he was spinning. I wondered when he'd compare himself to Contador.
|Getting comfortable on the gravel.|
|Just a little rest.|
I asked Hondo if he expected any more delays once he was ready to roll. He assured me that things would be better now. The group pushed on for what seemed like, maybe ONE MINUTE before it happened, ANOTHER BLOW OUT!!! Hondo nervously giggled as he pulled over again. Now, embarrassed I quickly began talking to some of our guests about the gear choices and the attractiveness of their rigs. I reminded Hondo that the next abrupt sound I hear from him better be the report of his revolver. This gained a few chuckles from the group as I knew in their minds they were saying, "HERE, HERE, CAPITOL!" Hondo attempted to save face by pleading with us to push on. Upon hearing those words I quickly snapped a foot in and began to push off when I noticed I was alone. "Oh, they're waiting for him", I thought. I stopped and fumbled with my limited kit.
Finally, after a slow change and a great deal of assistance from Mike Dietzman we were under way. The group moved with a sense of urgency, almost as if there was a desperation to make up for lost time. I stayed near the front, while Hondo, eyes down, stayed on the back.
Then, without warning, Shawn Miller announced, "Charlie's off". Without a glance I moved to the front and lifted the pace. Big Buff followed suit and dropped in on my wheel. Together we knew what had to be done. It was and is the bond among DBD'ers, when words need not be spoken. Buff pulled through as I felt myself approaching 90% effort. Minutes passed until finally the young Shawn inquired, "What about Charlie?". "Charlie who?", was my response as I rotated back to the front. With an open view in front of me, blue sky and grey gravel, I strained my ears, wondering when the report of his revolver would come. I knew it would, it had to, yet nothing...
|Waiting the mandatory block distance, while Hondo changes out flat #1.|
The remaining group rolled into Duluth, this writer, Dietzman, and Miller (Big Buff nursed a slowly leaking tire home a little earlier than the rest, but with honor after a MONSTER pull through a trail section), all laughing, back slapping, and congratulating each other on a great effort. Hondo's name never came up...So sad...Yet, I feel nothing...