Sunday, September 5, 2010


Impossible, this seems, but we saw it done---parts of it, at least. This event was like watching a movie out the windows of a train---first you’re here, then when you’re THERE, the whole thing has changed, the players have whizzed off for other parts, and you have to drive, walk and take a shuttle to get to somewhere else to see more.

Our friends gathered with the other family members and friends and fans before dawn, on the place by the river in Louisville called The Great Lawn. Even the b'loons are still snoring.

Then they awoke and rose up splendidly in the sunrise, to honor the Athletes:

It was there that the twenty-eight-hundred dived into the river, swimming out and round the island, back down past their diving point, on beneath the bridge, and emerging farther down the river. That was where our friends caught a glimpse of their fast-moving son, just out of the water and headed for his bike:

He was heading for the changing area, then for that vast wasteland of bicycles, seemingly standing too close to move between. And that was my main question: How in the BLUE HECK do they get out of that water, wet and dripping and feeling as if they’re carrying fifty extra pounds, get into biking gear and shoes, and manage to wrestle that great tin-pile of angles and curves into submission?

How do they pick their own from that bicycle boneyard without its grabbing and clinging and hanging up like a cascade of magnetized paperclips, only with sharp projections? What is the protocol for this---this huge clatter of handlebars and pedals, higgle-piggle like the pile of last-year’s grabby little Christmas-ornament hangers in the bottom of the box, snagging onto each other for dear life as you cuss and jiggle and pull. The whole thing looks as if one false move would send the whole bike-pile into a black hole of twisted parts---a stack-of-jacks-from-hell, never to be right again.
But who am I to question the ability and confidence of folks who can swim several miles, jump out and onto a bike, ride A HUNDRED AND TWELVE MILES, then run a whole Marathon? They can move the Earth, on grit alone.

We didn’t go to the river early; we settled for driving to La Grange, parking way-to-gosh out of town, walking way uphill to bus stop, deciding to go back for folding chairs, back down hill, got chairs and his spare straw hat for me, back up hill, onto shuttle, (bought cowbell from guide shilling souvenirs), out at courthouse, around the block to meet our friends waiting for a lunch
table at the pub.

We were seated in about 30 minutes; they two had the Irish breakfast, with its usual bangers, gammon, eggs, mushrooms, and boxty (a neat little potato/cabbage cake, made, I presume, from last night's Bubble & Squeak). They’d already tucked in when I remembered to make a picture.

Chris had eaten about half his Fish & Chips---that slab of cod was enormous:

Mine was a lovely Chicken Salad sandwich, herby with rosemary and thyme, rich with Dijon---so hefty a sandwich I shared it with Ben---I didn't get a picture. It was standard. You know---bread---stuff in it.

The train comes through Main Street several times a day---the tracks are embedded, and it's just a part of the town's charm. I stood THIS CLOSE, facing the long rattle of boxcars as they passed, with my arms out and my eyes fixed ahead, in that so-familiar railroad-town childhood posture which, if you stand still and just BE, after a moment the train is standing still and you're flying sideways with the breeze in your hair. Haven't done that in forty years, and it was magnificent.

When I am old, I shall wear purple, with a straw hat that DOES go down over my ears in the blazing sun . . .
We came out of the pub to see the riders whizzing past down the next street, and we all found a place at the long line of barriers, ringing our cowbells. Chris had somehow looped the strap of mine around the handle of his huge plastic go-cup of tea, and so my entire ringing time was spent waving that huge, heavy mug, clanging that bell for all I was worth.

The other three deserted me fairly soon, for seats in the shade, but I was determined to see Our Guy, plus, all the bikers passing were smiling and giving me thumbs up and fists-in-the-air and yelling “THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!" as they flew past.

The crowd around me slowly dwindled as the long line of bikers just KEPT coming; I felt a distinct crick forming in my neck from looking left for the next and the next, and the SUN WAS BEATING DOWN. After a long time, I felt a cool spray on the backs of my legs, as Chris hosed me down with SPF 50-something, then rubbed it in.

Still I stood. Still I rang, looking fervently for the blue shirt, then the bike number. My folks would drift up for a clang or two, then back to their shady spot. WAYYY after while, they all gathered round, and I noticed that I was the only person still standing on that whole block. “Time to go,” they said. “We’ve missed him.”
So we folded our tents, turned left and down the block, and as we stepped into the next street to turn the corner, Lil shouted, ‘THERE HE IS!” in time for us to get a blue-blur glimpse of his back as he shot down the hill. No time for a picture, but we all saw him, and that’s what we came for.

We drove them back to his hotel to get their car in Louisville, so they could get a little rest before going back to see him cross the finish line. We headed home, wending our way through blocked streets toward I-65 for an hour-and-a-half. And even that was a serendipitous event: we passed through the old, beautiful neighborhoods, with the great houses---I felt as if we were in Pollyanna's town, or maybe even Mary Poppins' neighborhood.
Once we were on the highway, it was smooth sailing into a beautiful afternoon. We stopped and had our dinner at Jonathan Byrd’s in Greenwood, and so home.
And when we woke, this was in our e-mailbox:

A whole day and into the night, and he FINISHED!

And this was around his neck, as he slept and slept and slept:



Chesapeake said...

Oh, Rachel, what can one say? You just bring all the sights, sounds, and smells of that 22-hour-day right back. It was such an intense experience, and now you have put it in print for us to savor and keep close. Thank you. You are in awe of our IronMan's experience; I am in awe of your writing skills.

Southern Lady said...

Told as only you could tell it, Rachel ... I know your friends and their son will treasure this. It gave me chill bumps to see that picture of him crossing the finish line -- what an accomplishment!

Tonja said...

You just loved everything about this...being with friends, the food, the bicycles, the running and the cowbell! Loved reading about this...have never seen it except on TV. I like your version better!

Kim Shook said...

I've lost another comment here! I thought that I'd left one earlier. My laptop is giving me fits! What I said was that you put it as well as Jim McKay ever did! I am so in awe of these athletes. Chesapeake (Rachel says that we should meet - we are close geographically and she's says we are simpatico), what a remarkable son you have! Tell him congratulations from an admiring stranger in Richmond!

Chesapeake said...

Kim, thank you for the kind words. Please beg Rachel for my email so we can talk directly!

We are still in awe of what himself accomplished that long day as well. But threatening him if he ever wants to do it again! Haven't worried so much about him since we lost him in high school!

Kat said...

What a wonderful time. Lots of good memories.