I grew up playing sports. There wasn’t much else to do in my small hometown. I loved basketball and continued to play it in different leagues until my late thirties. That was about the time they stopped using peach baskets and put up metal rims. Once running up and down the court became too much for my aging body, I found an alternative sport. Cycling, or bicycle racing to be more exact. This fueled my competitive nature while allowing my knees to remain intact. I bought a decent bike, joined a local cycling club, bought an even better (ridiculously expensive) bike and began to ride with other like-minded athletes.
I quickly learned that cycling with the fast guys required a lot of effort and training. I vowed to train enough to be able to stay with the other riders on our weekly, and soon to be daily, rides.
I joined a racing team, Straight Up, along with a couple friends with similar goals and dreams. We trained diligently and dreamed of the Tour de France. Watching it at least. I was too old to compete with the pros. Fortunately, in the U.S. I could compete against people in my age bracket. I was amazed to discover there were racers older than myself and most of them could drop me in a flash.
I originally met one of the members of the Straight Up team at a local ride sponsored by the Joliet Bicycle Club. I don’t remember the year or anything, but it was one of the typical training rides we treated as a race. We would try to prove who was the fastest and strongest rider by dropping the slower riders. After a few years of intense training, I could now hang in the pack with the strongest riders. After one ride I introduced myself to one of the new riders. His name was Bill Hough, and he was a pretty strong rider. Especially considering he had a rod in his leg from a skiing accident. I don’t remember how long he rode with a broken leg, but eventually he recovered. He was easier to keep up with when he had the broken leg. After one ride I asked him where he worked, and he replied modestly that he worked for a small company. He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t press for more information. Later, I learned the small company was one of the largest chemical distribution companies in the world and had been founded by his grandfather. Bill’s pockets were pretty deep.
One summer Bill Hough, Gordie Carrier and myself decided to spend a couple weeks in the Colorado mountains training in the same area where a lot of the pros did their riding. Most of our training was done in Illinois – not exactly known for its mountains (or large hills for that matter.) We piled into our vehicles, loaded with bikes, golf clubs and fishing gear and headed West. We decided on Aspen as our base camp. If you check a map of Colorado, you might notice a place called Independence Pass. It’s one of two ways to get to Aspen – unless you fly. The pass is at an elevation of 12,095 feet. Try walking around in air that thin sometime. It’s not easy for people from sea level. Since the pass was there, we decided to ride across it. Bill and Gordie made it across with no problems. I was not as skilled. I don’t like heights and even worse are the edges where the road drops off into an abyss. It took me several attempts, spread over a couple years, to reach the summit. The only reason I made it was because Bill and Gordie escorted me up the pass. I wanted to abandon the race, but they wouldn’t let me. Finally, I made it to the top. I might have a photo somewhere to prove it, but take my word for it. Getting up might have been the easy part because now it was over twenty miles into Aspen on a road which was never straight for more than ten feet at a time (slight exaggeration there). If you think going fast down a mountain in a car is terrifying, try it on a racing bike with skinny tires at speeds approaching sixty miles an hour with the wind blasting your face and bugs splattering your sunglasses.
The core group of Bill, Gordie and myself visited Colorado several times over the years. Other people would join us, but those stories are for another blog. I learned more about Bill and realized he loved adventure. He traveled the world. He spent a couple years in Australia when his company bought a competitor there. One year Bill and Gordie spent several weeks in Italy training with the Italian racers. That would have been nice. Racing around Italy with all those Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
Bill often talked about his family adventures in Alaska – a place he visited every year to go fishing, hiking, grizzly bear wrestling and other dangerous sports. I did my world traveling through Bill’s adventures. His family owned places in Montana before it became fashionable, and one year he invited some of us to stay in one of the condos. We rode our mountain bikes up the ski hills, hiked to a waterfall, did some fishing in Yellowstone and other places. I learned I was the world’s worst fly fisherman. Thankfully I never caught anything. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get the fish off the hook. But at least I didn’t drown.
Bill reminds me of the man in the beer commercials – the world’s most interesting man – Dos Equis, I think. He is certainly the most adventuresome man I’ve ever known. If he had a YouTube channel, I’d watch every episode.
Eventually, we got older and the racing team folded. Though we still cycled as much or maybe even more than before, it changed to a less competitive sport. We all retired – Bill moved to Florida. You know how it is when life gets in the way. Bill’s sons grew up, had kids and turned Bill into a grandfather. Personally, I relish the role of grandfather, and I think Bill does, too.
I don’t have much of a presence on Facebook anymore. I still check it occasionally if only for the latest photos of the grandkids – my official ones and Phoebe and Phineas, too. Yesterday I was checking it and noticed a post from Bill. Unfortunately, his oldest son had passed away. At an early age, I might add. I never really knew Bill’s sons, but I do know they inherited his sense of adventure and love of people. Parents are not supposed to bury a child, but it happens much too often.
Bill is getting older, but I don’t think he’s slowing down much. I hope he continues to be the most adventurous man I know. If I could only talk him into starting his own YouTube channel. That’s how I get to see the world these days.