July 28, 1996...Rocket Man

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July 28, 1996

Burry Daddy, and life goes on...

We visited Mom for the 4th of July. Why? Don't know, it was Miimii's idea. She had a habit of writing checks she couldn't cash but we made it and it was a sweet gesture although we were very tired. As I recall, I had a bicycle race the weekend I returned to Virginia, and then a TDY, and then, we had to drive back to Indiana the next week. The TDY was cancelled, which gave me a little breathing room.

Oddly enough, we had a lot of laughs after Daddy died because we'd talk about him all the time. When my brother Darrel and I got together with my mother, we made her laugh so hard, so often, she'd lose control of her bodily functions. It was a little embarrassing.

Since the funeral, I woke in the middle of the night in my dark bedroom and felt what I interpretted to be death around me. It was like something was sucking my life away and I'd look up at the cathedral ceiling and feel like there was nothing in me or around me but fear and emptiness. Maybe I just swallowed my tongue. I never told Miimii about these little bouts which went on for a year after his death, because she was always sound asleep. I watched her sleep a lot, because she slept a lot.

On July 12, I drove to Roanoke to do the Virginia Commonwealth Games a second year. This time I was ready for the heat--better clothing, more (and colder) water, cooler helmet, and I came to the race hydrated. It wasn't necessary--Hurricane Bertha was bearing down on my home in Yorktown and it kept the temperature in Roanoke, 240 miles away, down to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. I needed this trip. I was pretty beat up from watching my father die for 10 days and needed the break. I pleaded with Miimii to come but she refused because of her job. I felt she could've made it if she'd wanted to.

I'd grown weary in our marriage and my father's death was one of the few times I felt close to my wife. After that it was back to me trying to perk her up and get her to take advantage of all the fun we could do while she flatly refused, then complained of being bored. I was bored too. Her job was her life--giving birth to a child was her second priority, the cats were 3rd, and I think I may have rounded out the top five somewhere.

Weightless bicycle>>> In the Blue Ridge Parkway race, I stayed with the leaders up the first climb, which amazed me because we were exceeding 16 miles an hour, riding up a mountain, and I was hanging. I was dropped on the second climb, was caught behind traffic on a fast descent, had to stop after my chain fell off at 20 miles, and finished the 40-mile course (with 5000 feet of elevation gain) seven minutes faster than in 1995. Seven minutes was a dramatic improvement. I was second for my race category and a silver medal. I phoned Miimii that night and even asked her if she was okay, because Hurricane Bertha was supposed to hit her the next day. She said over and over,"I'm okay". I wanted her to come to me, but I would've come home if she'd given any indication of hardship.

The next morning I turned on the TV in my motel room, checked the weather channel and what I saw nearly blew my mind. I saw a close-up radar image of a hurricane, centered directly over a map of YORKTOWN! It had slammed into Yorktown. I couldn't reach Miimii on the phone.

Spaceman>>> So...I did the Mill Mountain Hill climb again, beat my best time, and won a bronze medal. I'd stripped my bicycle down (top photo) to the bare minimum to save weight on the climb. Then I went home and apologized to Miimii who was pretty shaken. I knew I was in the doghouse when I saw all the downed and split trees on the drive home. How was I to know the hurricane would actually hit? By the time it hit Yorktown, it was a tropical storm, but it still created a tornado.

I did three more races on that same technical course in Smithfield that summer, pushing my fastest speeds up and up. When I first raced it a year before, I told Miimii it was so technical that if I could do the same average speed I did on my 40K races in Spokane, I'd be "God". The night before the state time trial Miimii and I went to my friend Rudy's house and I twisted my ankle in a volley ball game. I didn't want to play because I knew I could get hurt,

but it was a party, and Rudy was my best friend. On the very last volley, I ran across a yard of dry grass, turned, and my ankle didn't turn with me. I'd twisted my ankle--it was sore, but I got fourth in the state category 4, and even though this course included the usual Pagan River course in Smithfield along with nine extra miles added to the course, my average speed was higher than it had been on the shorter course. I was still improving. This above photo is the last time I raced there. The police told us we were disrupting traffic. Hmmm--seventy single riders in one-minute intervals on a Sunday morning, on a course with virtually no traffic...the people there disgust me. These are the same people who annually let two morning disc jockeys block a major traffic artery into Langley Air Force Base, during morning rush hour to promote their radio station, with police escort! Hypocrites.

Anyway, I looked a little silly in this race, but when you don't care what you look like, life can be fun. I did the 15 1/2 mile hilly, twisty course in 37min 7 seconds, taking over a minute off my best time, and beating my fastest times from my 40K races in Spokane. Either I was God, or God was quite a bit faster than I'd given Him credit for. I opt for the latter.

About one mile from the finish I was coming into a tight, 180 degree right turn, approaching a rider who'd started two minutes before me. I didn't want to pass him in the turn (too dangerous at that speed) and I didn't want to lose time by staying behind him up to the turn. It was crunch time and I didn't want to take prisoners. So I surged around him at 33 miles an hour, tucked into my aero bars, and took the turn in front of him at full speed. I was probably five miles an hour faster when I passed him, making him look like an 'also-ran'. Boy, that was fun!

At the finish I was talking to Miimii and a stranger approached us, looked at me and said, "Was that you who passed me in that corner?" I was puzzled and then said it was me. He said, "I thought I was riding a great race until you flew by...wow, you were really moving!" Well, it was a proud moment because my future ex-wife was standing next to me. I just wanted someone to be proud of me. I never felt my father was proud of me--he had been proud of the part of me that agreed with him, the part that fit the mold, but I never felt he was proud of the part of me that was totally different--my love of running and cycling, my humor, my quirky humor. He was proud of the "soldier", the military man, but the rest of me confused him. Just nine months before his death he saw me getting ready to go for a ride and said, with skepticism, "You won't be able to do that when you're my age." I replied, with a scowl on my face, "I'm not your age," and rode away. He just didn't get it. He never really knew me. He'd never seen me compete, he never saw how hard I tried to be good, he thought a real man would race on a heavy, rusted one-speed bicycle with upright handlebars like the one he had in his garage (covered in spider webs). Work harder, not smarter--it really bugged me, that attitude. So I was thrilled as a total stranger approached me and my wife, also skeptical of why I spent so much time doing what I did, told her husband,"You were incredible!" I guess I'll always wonder if I'm good enough, do I measure up? I was raised in an environment of guilt. But I still remember that one tiny, insignificant incident like the backside of my contact lens. I beamed with pride. Then I got fat. I like chocolate.