Back in the day when I was riding with Snake, pretty much every Saturday morning there would be a group ride and it seemed like almost anyone was bound to show up. Sure we had the regulars which I was one of, but there were people who would drive from all over to ride with us. This is the story of one of those riders.
I pulled into Snake’s drive way more excited about the ride than usual, there was going to be a new guy with us. He was not only a mountain biker, but had been a mountain bike racer in the past. He had stopped riding for a while and was hoping to get back into it with some road biking. The new guy had his bike in a stand and was polishing its glossy red surface with a rag. As usual I sized up the bike before I sized up the rider, foolish I know, but can’t help it. Nice bike, almost new, very clean. We had a decent turnout, “Bicycle Jimmy” was with us, along with a few other regulars.
He shook my hand and we were off. I mentioned that I had tried mountain biking but it was hard. He talked in length about his mountain bike racing exploits and shared some of his vast knowledge with us. I can’t remember his name, and I wouldn’t reveal it if I could remember so we’ll just call him the Smoker.
The early morning was eerily still, no one noticed us roll through town. We set out on the long flats heading towards the Southeast hills and this gave Smoker time to talk. He explained that he had been through a stressful time in his life, and he was quitting smoking, “Cold Turkey.” He mentioned this quite frequently. Despite the fact that none of us could care less. This is a bike ride not a group therapy session, but we heard about his divorce, his job, and his battle with the little white drug sticks.
We rode out to Garden of the Gods which is about 25 miles away, on the way back he jumped out of the saddle and rocketed up this long hill with a curve near the top. Thinking the chase was on I accelerated too giving him a ten second head start. He was a minute ahead of me as I made the turn near the top and I saw him standing on the side of the rode fiddling with this saddle pack. When I arrived he was desperately trying to light a bent cigarette.
“Hey man,” he said as he quickly turned and attempted to hide the fact that he was puffing away at a lit smoke. I struggled to catch my breath after the long hill climb then finally said, “Hey” to Smoker’s backside. He took a few more deep drags then threw the cigarette down in front of him and smushed it with is toe. Turning to look at me he realized that hiding the smoke wasn’t working.
“I was digging around in my saddlebag and found I left a cigarette and a lighter down there, that was my last one,” he explained.
“Sure,” I answered back.
“Lets just keep this quiet,” he said.
“Yeah fine,” I answered.
The rest of the group was with us shortly and in the next few miles I could see Smoker becoming more and more agitated. The sun was now in full blast and the temperature was quickly rising, but it wasn’t the heat that was bothering the new guy.
“I need a smoke,” he said after looking around and squirming on his bike, “Lets pull over.” We took a short break and he desperately searched through his saddle bag. “Man, I need a smoke, I don’t guess any of you guys have a smoke?” he asked. We all looked at each other with a bit of amusement, and shook our heads no.
We continued riding and he became more agitated about the heat. In about half an hour we passed through the small town of Equality and Smoker had to stop for cold Coke at this little gas station, convience store, bait shop, where the gas pump had been broke for several years. I had always wondered if this place was actually a business or just an old building, and after we went inside I still wasn’t sure. There was a group of grey skinned old people sitting around in a cloud of smoke watching fishing on TV, they didn’t look to happy to see us, and didn’t look like they could move either way. There were none of the conventions of a place of business, no counter, cash register, products for sale, I began to get nervous.
“Yeah,” the old man in the rocking chair said.
“Do you sell soda?” Smoker asked. The old guy pointed at a refrigerator with a sign on it that said, “50 cents.” I grabbed a soda and deposited 50 cents. Smoker also negotiated for a bag of ice, then asked to buy cigarettes.
“We don’t sell smokes,” the old guy said. Looking around the room every man and woman had a lit cigarette in their hand and a pack close by. Smoker was about to jump out of his skin.
“You guys wouldn’t sell me a pack, I don’t care if it’s opened?” he desperately asked.
Another old guy from the corner said, “I’ll sell you one smoke for a dollar,” with a smirk on his face.
“Fine, I’ll take it,” Smoker said and rushed over to hand the guy a dollar.
“I’ll take some of that action,” wheezed an old crone as she bent over in a coughing fit and sold Smoker another single cigarette. He bought one more, then borrowed a lighter. When he came out of the building he looked like the happiest man alive taking deep puffs on his drug stick.
“I’m not ready to quit yet, too much stress,” he explained to us, as he lit his second cigarette off the first one. He continued to offer excuses for his weakness while we waited for him to finish the 3 smokes. Smokers mood improved dramatically as we continued, he smiled and started telling stories about mountain bike racing. Snake gave me a nod and pointed back so I drifted away from the other riders.
“When we hit the flats I’m going to go to the front and put on some pressure, get on my wheel,” he said. Snake always considered himself a rider for the flats, he could climb well enough but he liked the controlled measured output of the flats and that’s where he would try to, “pour on the coals,” as he would say.
When we hit the flat Snake worked his way to the front and slowly began to accelerate to 20 mph. I looked behind and saw we had already kicked out a few of the weaker riders. Smoker was on our wheel and already breathing hard. Snake got on his aerobars and grabbed another gear. 21, 22, 23, it was just the three of us now, and Smoker was yo yoing out of my draft and sucking air like a steam engine. Snake looked behind and gave me a devious smile then hit 24. Smoker was gone.
Now it wasn’t normal for Snake to try to crush a new rider like this, he would often just ride his normal 15 mph average and keep things very civil, but I believe we were all a bit sick of hearing Smoker’s race stories and Snake wanted to see if he could back it up. We cruised the last few miles to town around 20 and saw Smoker had dropped completely off the pace. He was the last to show up and he still hadn’t caught his breath. He bent over his handlebars in the parking lot and tried to take long deep breaths before finally being able to talk.
“Out of shape, huf, huf, got to quit smoking.” We never saw him again.
PS Shauna celebrated 3 years without smoking last week. Now that’s something!