By the time you read this we’ll have been underway for at least seven hours, and the early travel buzz will be wearing thin. We’ll be east bound and down, loaded up and rolling with a tankard of espresso, a giant plastic bag filled with beef jerky, chocolate, and three huge cigars that none of us knows how to smoke, and we’ll be several hundred miles closer to Austin than we were when I tapped this out.
I got the news that Jack Pritchard had died and they were holding a Gatheration Omnium for him that consisted of a Prologue ride with a few miles of his beloved dirt roads, followed by Stage 1, an early morning breakfast at the Omelletry, the place he frequented like clockwork every morning at 6:45 AM for the better part of forty years. Stage 2 will be a trip to the CAF in San Marcos, where we’ll commune for a bit with the old airplanes that he had such an affinity for, ending with Stage 3 at the Polonia Cemetery.
“Gatheration” is the kind of word Jack would have used, and probably did use. He was a pedaler of bikes and a smith of words, many of which were one-off creations, fitted up for just that one particular sentence, and never used before or since. A gatheration is different from a gathering, those quiet affairs where people in fine clothes and coiffed hair do and say things in hushed tones or listen to elegant music behind paintbrush-thick makeup and beet-red, drunken noses.
A gatheration is a gathering, all right, but the bastard child of a love triangle between demonstration, aggravation, and tarnation. That combination was Jack, through and through, or at least the Jack I knew. Gatheration, indeed. I hope when I die I get a gatheration, too. Jack would have scorned a memorial service. He probably would have scorned a gatheration as well, especially if it were his.
The last time I drove from California to Texas was never, so Jack’s passing seemed like a darned good reason to rent a car, throw the bike in the trunk, and then cajole my two sons to join me. They will take turns keeping me awake, and would utilize the Googlifier to figure out proper cigar smoking technique. We might have some good father-sons discussions, peppered with the occasional argument and tamped down by at least one good roadside plate of Texas barbecue.
You can’t go home again, and it’s a good thing because even though I grew up in Texas I was born in Princeton, and to make that long a haul we’d need something stronger than beef jerky, and something more like a box of cycling performance supplements from Shanghai.
But Jack’s passing made me think about the pivotal time in my life when I bought my first bike, Jack working behind the counter at Freewheeling, and what a short jump it had been, going from bike commuter to full-blown racing addict.
The things I’ve done in life have all stemmed from that first bike and the unusual people it anchored me to. Faces I’ll never see again remain fresh and set in amber; Jack’s is one of them. Others that have cropped up on Facebook, though impossibly old, haven’t erased or even dulled the razor crispness of memories from days gone by, silly days, maybe, worthless days, maybe, wasted days, definitely, but my days nonetheless.
I’m going to Texas to do penance for my cycling sins, to pay homage to a man who deserves it, to stand in the stead of those, far-flung, who can’t go or won’t, to trample out the vintage of some road time with my two sons, and to ride those few dirt miles into Lytton Springs, roads we pounded long before we knew there was anything strange or unusual about putting skinny tires on lumpy roads, before we knew that every road had an end, before we knew that ours did, too.
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