So, regrouping, I'm driving alternately fast and slow along a highway in Arizona. Sheriffs grin and wave. Cyclists are giving it their all. I'm singing ZZ Top pretty loudly and poorly: "She don't love me, she loves my automobeeel." The course is 27 miles out and back. It's hilly, with some respectable grades at different spots. There are some good technical turns/descents in it. In some locations one feels as if one is in the desert. In other spots, it's decidedly mountainous. Still other places feel like a combination of mountains and desert. It's warm and humid - lots of cloud cover and raindrops early in the morning. Remember, we have no A/C in the car.
I got pretty brave, pretty fast on the trip out to the turn-around point. This was the honeymoon phase. I zoomed way ahead of the pack, got out and waited for them to catch up to me. It only took one surprise for me to learn which side of the hill to stand on if I didn't want to be startled to death when they approached! Every time I let them catch me, I could see the Badger was still in the pack. At the crest of the first long climb, there were 7 of the 50+ still together. All the 60+ had peeled off the back. The Badger was the oldest in the 50+ group and he was in it strong!
Finally, I decided to head for the turn-around point. With all the volunteers and support team members likely to be there, I wanted to get the lay of the land and set myself up for my duties to be performed. I needed to put myself on open land on the side of the highway he'd be on after the turn-around. He'd spot me as he approached the turn-around and he'd know where to find me after he made the turn. I drove miles and saw cyclists who were in categories that pushed off earlier than the old dudes. My odometer suggested the turn-around point should be near. I saw no gaggle of volunteers. I saw no tent. And then suddenly, it came into my view. "It" was one small orange cone, one woman dressed in colors that completely blended in with the landscape, and a few cases of bottled water. I've seen garage sale signs that caught the eye better than this turn-around point toward which men would be hurtling downhill at maybe 35 miles an hour. On bicycles. A young man was seated on a picnic cooler on the side of the highway where I intended to position myself. I stuck my head out the window. "Oh, say it isn't so!" "I'm afraid this is it, lady. A lot of racers went down already because they can't tell this is the turn-around and they're flying downhill at it."
The honeymoon was over! I parked, got out and began to pace, a bottle of water for him in each hand. No way to let him know. About the time I thought they should approach, I looked up the hill and they came into view. Still 7 of them! He was still in it. As they came closer, I could pick out his red and gold. I witnessed things happen that I didn't have words for then. Believe me, in the ensuing year there has been much discussion about "why did you . . . ?" and "what happened when . . . ?" I now have words for the events.
The Badger did not see the turn-around until he was nearly on it. He was the 7th of 7 and he was in his biggest gear, flying. He managed the tight turn, braking hard, but had to unclip his left shoe in order to balance himself and remain upright. I am no cyclist, but I knew instinctively that he took that turn harder, sharper than he would have wanted to. The woman with the water bottles managed to hand one up to him, which was fortunate, because I did not deliver my bottle to him. Mine skittered across the highway as he grabbed for it. I know he saw disappointment in my face because he said, "Don't worry. I got one." This while he was shifting furiously to get into a climbing gear as the leaders were already attacking the climb. He and two others got dropped. He was still 7th of 7. The last thing I heard: "Limes, follow me. Stay close." I ran for his discarded bottles, picked up a few that didn't seem about to be claimed by anyone else, and got in the car. The next 26-27 miles were where I learned everything and also learned that I knew a lot, from listening to him. For years.
No more figure eights around the pack. I got behind him and stayed no more than 50 feet away for the rest of the race. As we took off from the turn-around, we climbed sharply. I saw him join up with number 6. He caught him! I saw them join up with number 5 - they caught him. For the next 27 miles, a race I understood unfolded before my eyes - because I'd listened. For years. On the climbs, when the others rose and his rear was still in the saddle, I knew they were working harder than he was. While he worked hard and pulled numbers 5 and 6 up the hills, they sat back on his wheel. I knew what I was seeing. These guys were going to be satisfied simply to have finished the race. They were no longer racing. I saw the Badger try to tempt them into forming a pace line. But no.
As the miles went by, I shot very poor pictures from inside the car. They are not good photography. They simply show him working at it for miles and miles. They are very dear to me. I wondered why he stayed with the two road toads, not understanding that the rest of his pack was too far ahead for him to catch. I perfected the art of handing off a water bottle from a moving car on my first attempt!
My odometer told me we were fairly near the end. I saw the 1K marker. I knew he was going to finish the race, which was stupendous in and of itself. I spotted the canopy over the finish line. We were just about done with this rodeo. Then I saw the red car drift across the yellow line. Straight toward him. He was starting his sprint finish, going for fifth position in his category. Perhaps his jaw was already jutting out. Or maybe that red car made it jut. It occurred to me in my automotive cocoon that the Badger just might . . . . . no, he blinked first and took 6th.
As we hung around waiting for the results to be posted, I saw it again - he was gregarious. This made me realize how happy he was doing what he was doing. All the way back to Las Vegas, it was, "Limes, I'm going again next year." "Did you see when . . . . ?" "How about that racer who . . . ?" I was proud of him. And I was proud of me.
On the Monday I returned to work. David and the home dudes couldn't wait for me to get settled, offer the photos, and tell the story. "Limes, how can home dude do that?" "We were thinking about him at the time the race was going on." Thanks, homes. Everyone left the office, finally. David came out looking pretty serious. "Limes, did you think he really might have faced off that car in order to take fifth?" "David, it occurred to me that he might. Badgers are not known to tolerate nonsense. Especially at the finish line in a sprint."
In my ears right now: Queen. The Badger doesn't like them. Here's my dedication ~ We Are the Champions.
Something that charmed me: "Limes, I'm going again next year. I'll do ____ differently. I'll attack that hill coming out of the turn-around way differently. I'll practice that descent the day before . . . ."