I got a new coat for my upcoming bike tour to Texas. It’s made of wool and is thick and stays warm even when wet. I’ve worn it a bunch but haven’t yet had the chance to test out its rainworthiness.
I had gotten a message from Dave, who I haven’t seen in over a year. He has been on the ropes for a while, with a bad neck injury that has made a lot of ordinary stuff close to impossible. But he started to get better and about six months ago he got back on the bike.
I was looking forward to seeing him. I’ve been riding great, awesomely in fact, and was more than eager to help my ol’ buddy along the hard, gradual path to recovery. That is what friends are for.
The night before, I was in Long Beach, and Dave’s text had said, “Let’s meet at Malaga Cove.”
“Okay,” I wrote but what I really thought was “Fuck.” Because I’d have to be on my bike by 4:30 to get there by six. Still, I normally get up at four, which means five, and anyway Dave is a busy guy and plus he is on the long, hard, grueling road to recovery and I didn’t want to throw a wrench in this fragile process by whining about an early start.
I left Long Beach at 4:30 and it started raining, which was perfect. “I can test out my coat!” I thought excitedly. After a few minutes of hard rain I was mostly satisfied with the test but the rain wasn’t finished raining. Turns out the coat isn’t what you would call waterproof.
This didn’t bother me because in a few minutes I’d be getting a text from Dave. It would say, “Dude. Too much rain for this worn out old shoe. Next time!”
I hadn’t eaten much the night before despite a solid five hours of bike commuting, and I’d left so early that morning that I was ravenous by the time I got to Lomita. I stopped and ate three donuts. There was the blessed message on my phone from Dave.
“Thank dog,” I said, because even though my jacket was toasty warm, my feet and hands were cold af. There is only so much coat testing you can do before you want a hot shower and a warm blanket.
“Here,” the message said. That wasn’t what I’d been hoping for but I knew that we’d be doing a run to a coffee shop where he would want to quaff lattes, eat breakfast burritos, and then go home due to bad weather. But it was important for him to at least say we had started.
I grumbled all the way to our meetup. Dave looked at me when I arrived. “You look like Sasquatch,” he said.
He didn’t look like Sasquatch. He didn’t even look like someone who’s been a near-invalid for the better part of six years. He looked damned good, and pretty trim. Still, I know a thing or two about the long, hard, grueling road to recovery. It is a long, hard, grueling road and he had just started down it. I was proud of him for having gotten this far and proud to be there to help him out.
We hit Paseo Del Mar and the rain began to pound. Really pound. I looked at Dave out of the corner of my eye because the rain was a) wet and b) cold and c) fucking cold. “Seth,” he said, as I inwardly smiled at the inevitable words coming next.
“Yeah?” I said sympathetically.
“I gotta …” he was fumbling for words now.
“No worries, Dave,” I consoled him.
“Put on my rain jacket.”
“Right,” I said.
He put on his rain jacket and the rain redoubled. We had seen zero cyclists but there were at least two confirmed idiots out that morning. The temperature kept dropping. My feet were sloshing in my tennis shoes. My hands were purple.
“Well,” he said. “Can you educate me about Chaucer?”
So I began to tell him the little I knew and after a short while that seemed like a thousand years we got to Long Beach. Dave, whose road to recovery has been long and difficult and filled with obstacles, seemed to be doing well. I was helping him as best I could but mostly behind him.
We got onto the bike path. “Let’s go to the pier,” he said cheerfully. “It’s not far.”
“Okay,” I said, but what I thought was “Can we turn the fuck around now?”
The pier wasn’t really anywhere near but I had to remember I was helping my ol’ pal on his grueling road to recovery and doing an important rain test on new coat day. “Hey, you know what?” he said.
“What?” I said. Sometimes it is hard to sound cheerful when you are helping someone on a grueling road.
“We are gonna have a hell of a headwind when we turn around.”
He was wrong of course. We had something a hundred times worse than “hell of a.” I got on his wheel and tried to hang on. He is still very weak and on a very long, very hard, very grueling road to recovery but he was able to pull me at 20 mph into the battering headwind.
We got to town. “Dave,” I said.
“Can we stop for a latte and a breakfast burrito?”
He wrinkled his forehead. “Sure, buddy. If you need to, that’s fine.”
We stopped. I was shaking from cold and from hunger and general weakness. “What do you want?” I asked Dave as I walked up to the window.
He looked thoughtfully as he considered the menu and for the first time all morning I felt real hope. He was going to order the breakfast burrito, triple latte with whipped cream, ham and cheese croissant, and a couple of eggs over easy. I was guaranteed a solid hour of sit-down time and recovery.
“Decided?” I prodded him.
“What’ll it be, pal? It’s on me.”
“I’ll have a cup of hot water.”
I laughed. “Sure you will. What do you want?”
“That’s it. Just a cup of hot water.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said “Hot water, please, for my friend.” The cashier nodded. “That’ll be an extra twenty five cents,” she said.
Dave gulped down his hot water and I chugged my triple latte while wolfing down my breakfast burrito and croissant. We got on our bikes and headed back into the wind. Well, Dave headed into the wind. I headed into Dave’s rear wheel.
As we got near home Dave looked back. “You okay, buddy? Your face is green.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied.
He nodded and pulled some more, eventually depositing me at my front door. “Take care,” he said. “And good luck with that coat!”
“Thanks, man, you too.” I waved and he started riding off. “And good luck with your recovery!” I shouted.
But he didn’t hear me because he was already sprinting away.