This past Saturday was the Harpeth River Ride, the annual century for my local group, the Harpeth Bicycle Club. This was my fifth River Ride, but it was different this time. For one thing, I didn't do the century, and for another, I had a new stoker on the back of the tandem.
That's Dan Dillon, from the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes (TNABA -- pronounced "ten-ah-bah"). He and I rode the 42-mile option ... although my bike computer clocked it out at almost 45 miles ... I demand a refund!
The HBC has been working with TNABA for most of the year. On Tuesday nights, we ride around the Nashville Motorplex track for about an hour on tandems. It sometimes gets competitive out there, with tandems zipping past one another, and the TNABA athletes yelling smack at each other. It's definitely a blast.
Besides a little "hill" work in the parking lot at the track, this was the first time that Dan and I had ridden in the "real world." Some of the hills on the 42-mile (or 45 ... but I'm not complaining) route were pretty harsh, but Dan just chugged up them like a trooper.
On the first steep hill, riders on singles were clipping out of their pedals and walking. Dan heard the sound, but didn't know what it was.
"What (pant-pant) is that (pant-pant) clicking?" he said.
"Riders (pant-pant) getting off (pant-pant) their bikes," I answered.
That was when I realized that I wasn't really doing a good job. Sure, we were moving pretty quickly along the course (45 miles), but I owed Dan more than just muscle and the ability to steer -- I owed him the chance to enjoy how beautiful this world is.
You see, it's not finishing the bike ride that is the goal ... it's doing the ride and enjoying it.
So I began to give Dan a running commentary ... sort of a guided tour of rural Davidson and Williamson counties. I told him about the long-horn steers in the field on Bear Creek, the dusty construction for the 840 extension in Burwood, and how the oaks came together in a perfect canopy over Old Harpeth. I waxed poetic about the bright red tin roof and complementary flashed brick on a farmhouse, the fields of soy behind one of the rest stops, and what the Natchez Trace looked like from one of the bridges. I told him about the flowery shirts the volunteers were wearing at the Margaritaville rest stop in Leiper's Fork, and the pink flamingos and flourescent fish decorating the doors of the port-a-potties.
As we turned onto one road, Dan asked about the flowers growing wild there. I had never really noticed them, but he had smelled them ... like Daredevil, his other senses were heightened, so that he was catching things that I -- going by sight alone -- had been blind to. I immediately regretted not washing my jersey.
We slowed a bit, and I tried to smell the flowers. Later, we passed into some shade and Dan mentioned how much cooler it had just gotten, and I started paying attention to that.
And so it went for the rest of the ride -- me trying to make up for his lack of sight, and Dan helping me overcome my own sensory overload. It was a good ride. We both had fun and worked out muscles that needed to be woken up.
I live in a world of plenty, where it's easy to lose track of the things that are really valuable. I'm going to try to appreciate some of these things just a little more. It may be painful, like drinking from a firehose, but we owe it to ourselves to do the best we can to absorb all of it.