Several years ago, I was road cycling regularly, participating at and leading most of our shop’s group rides, doing some solo training, and doing some other casual rides with friends. I stayed fairly fit, but at this point in time, I was pretty close to my mid-season prime, and had some legs about me. I started seeing an older gentleman show up for our group rides on occasion. I had seen him before, riding on his own, but he started tagging along on our Wednesday night “hammerfest.”
I gave him the obligatory once-over, the look that all roadies give to new members of their cycling group, not to belittle or offend, but to size up our new riding companion and his equipment. He was kitted out in Italian-made cycling garb, and his steed was a custom titanium and carbon Seven, with a full Campagnolo Record 10 gruppo. Upon this first glance, I could tell that he and I shared the same appreciation for very nice things. He straddled the bike, one foot clipped in, and was ready to ride… and was grinning from ear to ear. Interesting.
We didn’t make verbal pleasantries at first, we just introduced ourselves by exchanging pedal strokes and paceline duties. This interesting character, who was obviously a few decades older than I, was able to suffer with the best of us. Upon returning to the parking lot to complete the ride, I gave the obligatory, “Good ride,” and continued home. The entire way home, I wondered, “Who was that guy?”, like I was trying to find out the identity of the Lone Ranger, or another masked superhero from a black-and-white television series. I didn’t anticipate someone his age having the ability to ride that hard and hang with us twenty-somethings. I was impressed… and respected that greatly.
Over the course of a few years, the guy kept coming back to our rides. He always rode at a very-high level, and we forged a friendship. His style never changed, and his smile never went away. He began coming into the shop more often, and I had the privilege of working on his Seven. I glued his tubulars, installed his Campy Super Record 11-speed gruppo, and did other maintenance on the bike, from time to time. One day, he brought a lady-friend into the shop, to help her purchase some cycling gear. He introduced us, but he didn’t tell me she was his new flame… he didn’t have to. He had a glow about him that I hadn’t seen before, and it was obvious that he was really into this lady. We outfitted her with cycling shoes, clipless pedals, and some proper cycling attire… keeping it perfectly fashionable, of course.
A while after that, I received word that my friend had been hit by a car, knocked off the bike, and had broken his hip. He was hurt pretty bad, but I knew he’d make a comeback. It was a long recovery, but he was a resilient old bugger, and I was sure he’d ride again. I didn’t see much of him for a while, after all… if he wasn’t riding his bike, he didn’t really need any maintenance or anything that I could provide at the shop. Just recently, he stopped by the new shop I work at, and we exchanged pleasantries. I knew he had visited that shop in the past, so I wasn’t shocked to see him, but I was happy that he found me. He greeted me with that same big smile on his face, same gentle attitude, and he seemed extremely happy that we had the chance to talk, even for just a few minutes. I was glad that I would be able to work on his bikes again, and to be able to ride with him again soon.
Little did I know, that was the last time I would speak with him. Bud Phillips, my friend, was hit by a truck while riding his bike in our town. He was air-lifted to a local hospital, and is currently on life support, with little to no brain activity, and has been that way since Saturday. Barring a miracle, Bud will pass away soon after the machines are unplugged from his body, which will be any day now. Since Saturday, I’ve been waiting for word of my friend’s impending passing. Needless to say, it’s been a rough week.
Just last week, I wrote about the death of champion mountain biker Burry Stander (“Death and Fear in Cycling”), and how much of a tragedy it was, not knowing that the same tragic situation would darken the roads of our town, just a few days later. Cyclist versus vehicle incidents seem to be increasing at a staggering rate. I don’t know the exact situation surrounding Bud’s incident, so I can’t blame anyone for the accident. I will say that motorists today are more distracted, less patient, and seemingly less sympathetic to individuals who choose to exercise their right to take a more healthy, two-wheeled approach to travel. Bud is not the first friend of mine that has been on the wrong side of this equation, and I can say, without a doubt, that he probably won’t be the last.
But it needs to stop. I’m tired of losing friends.