Biking with Steve …. the following is a heartfelt excerpt from a very good friend , a friend that goes way back to 3rd or 4th grade!  Steve moved down to southern Maine 6 years ago, so consequently we don’t get to ride our bikes together that often. Every year though when I make it to the southern Maine coast for a bit of rest and relaxation I contact Steve to get together and get in a few rides.  Usually Steve has to work, however he most always takes time off to spend quality time with an old friend.

On Thursday I’m taking the day off and I will be doing a bike ride.  Mark and I have done many rides together, but our rides now are far and few in between, each ride could always be our last, and we never know what to expect.  We grew up together, classmates, teammates and have been mostly on the same teams.  However, when we bike we go at each other, we race, we pace, pushing/pulling, drafting and chasing. He climbs better, I descend faster, rarely do we go easy.  All of our rides start out the same, an easy gentle slow paced warm up but by the end we both know and have come to expect that our ride will not end up like when we began our ride. We’ll be pushing like there is no tomorrow…because there might not be.

Our time on the bike means more to me than a simple bike ride; we’ll talk about many things…work, family (the kids and grandkids), the past, the future, the rides(past and present), the games, our health, and our wealth (non monetary), but mostly now we talk about how much “time we have left”. 

We often talk about it in quarters, 0-20 years, 20-40, 40-60 and 60-80…it seems that we are nearing the end of the 3rd quarter, me I’m a hockey guy so it’s the 3rd period.  Both of us are approaching 60 years old, me being 2 weeks older, which is the excuse I use when he beats me up the hills, ( if you think we are over the hill, just try to follow us over the many hills we’ve climbed together).  I’m sure and I hope that our lives go into overtime or double overtime….We’ll see!!!  We both have a lot to lose and neither of us likes to lose, that’s the way we have always been, we play to win, we work hard and we ride hard (at least in our minds).  One thing for sure is that we are there for each other, true friends like brothers  and this ride means more than all the previous rides, I’m sure it will not be our last ride!!

I think in a short amount of writing Steve has captured the essence of true friendship so poignantly … riding is a nice metaphor for all the trials and tribulations that people/friends go through in a course of a lifetime…The important thing is to always get back on your bike with friend and go for a ride…no excuses.  I know Steve probably thinks I do more for him than he does for me… to that I say; “We both do so much for each other, I’d say it’s equal.”  A year or so ago Steve wrote me a personal letter after learning that I was struck by a pick up while out on a ride in Fort Kent.  Fortunately I wasn’t seriously injured, as I sustained 4 fractured ribs and abrasions, bumps and bruises.  As luck would have it or Divine intervention,  I was hit by the west coast mirror of the pick up.  Another 6 inches and I’m sure I may have been killed or seriously injured.  I believe we both realized then how fleeting life is and not to take anything for granted.  

” Dear Friend,   I am  writing to you today to let you know that our friendship is of great value to me.  It started way back and continues still today with as much enthusiasm as ever.  You have instilled in me great values, your drive has always inspired me especially in the world of sports.  It always seemed that I had to work a bit harder than others to get to and stay on top, I always played against bigger, faster and stronger (sometimes) opponents. Whether it was on a field, court, ice or on the road I always did my best with what I had.  In life I had 4 brothers who I learned a lot from, you are like a brother to me, we have done a lot together, rode many miles, ran on many fields and shared great times.   You have helped me out many times, the camp, employment, money and countless bits of advice.  I am very grateful for all of this.  I don’t have many people can turn to in times of need.  You have “always” been there, I will “always”  be there for you.  I know our time and visits are numbered, we probably have less than 100 times that we’ll see each other, so let’s make every one count.  

Take care my friend,  Steve.       

Steve and I have biked all over;  Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina(spring training) and Italy and through it all he has proved over and over again that he is one of the toughest bikers I know.  Not long after having undergone a total hip and spine surgery,  Steve and I tackled Hurricane mountain road in North Conway, New Hampshire.   With an average gradient of 9.9% and the steepest 1/4 mile at 16.9 % it’s considered NH’s 2nd toughest climb after Mount Washington. We did that climb after riding up Bear notch, our return from Hurricane mountain was one of the longest 10 miles back to our vehicle, against the wind (like the Bob Seger Tune).  We were very Tarred!!!  Not only that Steve is just a plain hardworking and honest guy that has no quit in him (although there was that one time when…..) I’ll keep that story between me and Steve. 

Steve and I have shared many rides and special memories have certainly been made.  I remember the first few rides we went on, one in particular sticks out, it must have been 20 years ago and we didn’t even own road bikes.  We decided that we would ride the entire perimeter of long lake on our old Fuji mountain bikes.  40 miles in a torrential downpour, no matter we persevered and although we were soaking wet it was still a good ride.

 We often would ride in New Brunswick, Canada,  New Denmark in particular.  Part of the allure of this region is the 3 formidable hills, Klockladahl(18%) , Old Mill hill and Lucy’s Gulch and the fact that it is where Steves mother is from.  One ride stands out in particular, on this very warm day Steve and I bit off a little more than we could chew in terms of mileage and elevation gain.  With more than 1/2 our ride complete we both felt that familiar feeling of hunger followed by full on “bonking”.  No problem, the Brooks bridge diner was conveniently on our route just as our hunger pangs set in.  We entered the small out of the way diner but realized we had no money… no problem.  I confidently explained to the waitress our dire situation and she so graciously told us that our meal would be “on the house”.  Steve proceeded to order; 2 cheeseburgers, large fries, a coke and a piece of apple pie.  I felt bad and told the waitress we’d be back next week to pay our bill.  She handed me a slip totaling $24.95.  Steve was so full he could barely make it up the remaining hills.  We both went back the very next week only to see that the Brooks Bridge diner had burned to the ground, we both shrugged in disbelief, feeling a bit guilty.

Early on in Steve’s cycling career he would do the annual “Tour de La Vallee” a well organized cancer fundraiser here in northern Maine.  The local media and newspaper interviewed Steve before the start of the benefit ride, I was amazed at Steve’s eloquent explanation of how we cyclists could suffer a bit today, just for this day and that how our suffering today is nothing compared to how people with cancer have to suffer.  Even more amazing was how Steve proceeded to cycle not 100 miles but 150 that day!

This past summer on the weekend of our 40th class reunion Steve and I biked an average of 45+ miles for 3-4 days in 85 degree heat on gravel roads in and around our hometown of Van Buren and Long lake.  I could sense that as the day wore on Steve was getting a bit fatigued but he trudged on.  Only 4-5 miles away from my camp and the end of a long day out on the gravel and ATV trails my waits at the top of the climbs were becoming longer and longer.  At the base of Porcupine Hill I told Steve; “this is it Steve the last big hill, just pace it”.  I waited a good 10-15 minutes, still no Steve.  Maybe something happened to him, a mechanical, a crash or total exhaustion.  I began to worry, so down the hill I went to see how my friend was doing.  Almost 3/4 of the way down,  there was Steve on the back of a side by side bike fully loaded and Steve sitting comfortably on the back of the tail gate with that familiar sly grin as if he’d done something wrong.  As I approached the scene no words needed to be spoken, but Steve’s wry smile said it all as he and his bike were unloaded and we biked up the infamous Porcupine Hill together.  As we methodically pedaled that last section of our ride Steve coolly explained it this way;  ” I was hoping you wouldn’t come looking for me, but when I saw you coming down I knew I’d have to bike up that damn hill”.

Steve and I have logged many miles together, over the past 20 or so years.  Each ride being very unique and memorable.  We’ve shared many laughs and had deep discussions and solved many problems while on our bikes.  One of the things I’ve always told Steve after we’d make it to the top of a difficult climb was;  “Steve, do you know why we climb all these hills?”  My usual and consistent response was and still is; “because we can!!, and when we can’t,  we won’t!!”