A prayer for Owen Meany

I was talking to a guy. “Man,” he said, “I’d love to get on my bike and take a long trip!”

To which I said, “What are you waiting for?”

The sun rises and the sun sets, and with it goes another infinity of opportunity. The timing will never be perfect. Nor will the gear, the financial situation, the fitness, the route, the job, the family, none of it will ever mesh so perfectly that loading up and rolling out is effortless.

To the contrary, all those things will do everything they can to hold you back.

Instead of asking that guy what he was waiting for I should have said this: “Do it! How can I help?”

We clambered down the creek bank this morning and got out at a respectable hour, 7:50, after a beefy breakfast of eggs, cheese, English muffins, and coffee. The heatstroke from the day before had been quenched with repeated applications of Gatorade. Best of all, we were only riding 35 miles. Most of it was uphill, but nothing too tough, and having a full day to camp and take it easy would be the perfect recovery regimen for my raw ass, sore shoulder, and for the aftereffects of heat exhaustion.

I was expecting the worst when I slung the pack on, and surprised to find that it had reverted to its old, pre-heatstroke self, that is, I hardly felt it at all. Next up on the monitor was the screaming cat. How bad was that going to be? S’prise … the cat was all purr.

This continued the entirety of the brief ride, making me think that ditching the bibs and putting the weight on my back had been a great idea after all. After a while we got to La Posta TT road where it intersects with Old Highway 80. The memories came flooding back! This was the turn of death on the Boulevard RR, may it rest in peace, a slab of road that had gored my ox more times than I cared to remember.

In the words of Dave Worthington, “When you made that turn after the Staircase of Death, it was time to stow all personal belongings in the overhead bin, put on your seatbelt, return the trays to their upright position, and kiss your ass goodbye because there was going to be turbulence of the worst and most violent sort, jarring and bone-shaking perturbations that you’d remember the rest of your life.”

This was the road race where Derek the Destroyer had “Learned to Stop Losing and Love Phil Tinstman Being Sick on Race Day.” The pavement where Rudy Napolitano had flayed all comers and where Greg Leibert had won more races than on any other course.

My memories were less glorious and were more along the lines of flatting, quitting, barfing, getting shelled, flailing, cursing, and only two times coming close to having anything resembling a respectable result. And yet …

When you are out touring on your bike and revisiting ghosts of Christmas past, you sometimes find that they weren’t the macabre frights that you remember them. We cruised down to the old starting line at Live Oak Springs. The dilapidated restaurant that used to serve as race registration and General Place for Everyone to Shit at Once had been refurbished and was under new ownership.

My ACA map had said there was a campsite but I didn’t see it. “Do you know where the RV park is?” I asked a guy in the parking lot.

“It’s over there. You gotta ask that guy.” He pointed to a brokedown RV that had a Rottweiler frothing at the mouth.

“Oh.”

“Or you could ask Romy, the guy who owns the store. He lets bikers camp out back for free.”

“Really?”

At that moment Romy came out. “Can we camp here?” I asked.

He looked me over. “Sure, no problem. All I can offer you is a bathroom, no showers or anything like that. But no charge, I only ask that if you need anything you consider buying it here.”

This too is what happens when you go out in the world on a bike. You run into people who are nice for no particular reason except that they are human. We pitched our tent and made a late lunch-early dinner. Romy also had plenty of slots to charge our devices and a sink out back with hot running water.

I went inside and a man entered with his daughter. They ordered burgers and then walked outside to wait. I followed them.

“Where you coming from?” the man asked.

“LA. We’re riding to Houston to see my dad. He’s getting up there.”

“I saw you guys earlier today out on the highway. That’s a lot of bike riding.”

“Yes, but it’s going to be a lot more. What’s your name?”

“Rodney.”

“You live around here?”

“Yes, I live up on the reservation.”

We got to talking. He had been a drug addict, an alcoholic, and had spent time in state prison. “I don’t want that stuff anymore,” he said. “I found Christ and the obsession went away. Nowadays I wake up early, watch the sunrise, read the Bible, you know, I appreciate every day for the gift that it is.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said. “I’m an alcoholic too. My church is outdoors, though, on my bike.”

“We all find God in our own way,” he said. “Good spirits are everywhere.”

Then he invited me to church when I was coming back through town. I got his number and told him that if it was on a Sunday I would join him.

“Can I say a prayer for you?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“Dear heavenly Father, bless Seth on his trip to see his father, give him health and happiness, and bring him safely to see his aged father. Guide him through the weather if it is foul, and send him sunshine and gentle winds when he needs it most. Give him safe haven from evil spirits and turn every heart towards him, for he is a gentle man full of love, a man of God. Amen.”

I didn’t know what to say. So I let my tears talk for me.

END

Route: Alpine-Pine Valley-Live Oak Springs
Mileage: 35
Elapsed time: 4 hours
Pack weight: 35 lbs.
Elevation: 3-4k

10 thoughts on “A prayer for Owen Meany”

  1. What a wonderful way to start my day. Sounds like you have the wind of love at your back!

  2. I, too, passed through several bike race course on my bike which brought a flood of memories and the juxtaposition of my slowness and relaxed state with the desperation and high speed of racing. I noticed and felt so much more.

    I never had anyone say a prayer for me or reveal themselves so much to me, though. You must have a special kind of energy or spirit to bring that out in people.

    Thanks again for posting. Looking forward to reading these when I get home from my 12 hour ER shifts.

  3. I left you my “bible study prayer” on your last adventure. Very Touching, and very genuine.

  4. Rusty Widebottom

    Some readers of this blog might pause to wonder if Seth is prone to hyperbole and exaggeration. Personally I am calibrated by his description of the Boulevard RR, having contested it myself a few times. I am convinced that last long climb up to the start/finish is haunted by the many souls lost along its length, like so many Jacob Marleys chained to their bikes, warning me to re-examine my life both on and off the bike. And Seth’s description of the, uh, facilities at Live Oak Springs ain’t no joke either.

  5. East San Diego County is just chock full of good people! (Two less when you two go down the hill to El Centro!)

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