Authors: Jeff Stone
Hú Dié groaned. “Is he always like this?”
“Pretty much,” I said.
I glanced down at my bike’s display unit.
Twenty miles per hour.
I wasn’t even pedaling that hard.
“Push it some more!” Hú Dié shouted.
I began to hammer. The speed on my display began to rise.
Twenty-two miles per hour.
“Whoo-hoo!” Jake shouted.
“How are you doing up there, Ryan?” Hú Dié called. “You want me to pull for a bit?”
“Huh?” I shouted over my shoulder.
“Pull,” she repeated. “Do you want to draft off of me like I have been drafting off of you?”
“No!” I shouted. “I like it up here. I’ve got plenty left in my tank.”
“Is that all you’ve got,
?” someone shouted, and I realized it was Phoenix. I glanced behind me to see him veer out of the line and begin to catch up to Hú Dié.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” she shouted. She tried to veer out of the line, but Phoenix sprinted alongside her, cutting off her exit.
“Going somewhere?” he asked. I saw that his eyes were flashing with green fire.
Hú Dié scowled. “This is dangerous, Phoenix. Get back in line.”
“How about I make my own line?” he shouted, and he shot forward, passing me.
“I don’t think so!” Hú Dié growled, and she shot past me, too.
I looked down at my display. Twenty-eight miles per hour.
We rounded a turn, and Jake pulled up behind my rear wheel, drafting. “Holy cow!” he shouted. “Those two are nuts!”
“You know it!” I shouted back.
“Let’s get ’em!” Jake said.
“You want me to pull?” Jake asked.
“No—I’m enjoying this.”
“Bonus!” Jake cried.
I shifted gears and let my legs rip as we rounded another turn.
From what I remembered of the map, we were probably halfway back to the shop. I looked over my shoulder at my mother and saw that she was now much closer behind us, driving the same speed we were riding. She didn’t look happy.
I glanced at my display again.
Thirty miles per hour.
“Yee-haw!” Jake shouted. “Giddy up, cowboy!”
I continued to hammer. I could see Phoenix in the distance with Hú Dié drafting off of his back tire. I once read that the person drafting expends as much as 30 percent less energy than the person pulling in front.
“Look!” Jake shouted. “They’re slowing down.”
When I’d raced a cyclocross bike against Phoenix in Texas, he’d sprinted by me, but I soon passed him again. He could ride faster than the wind, but only for a short distance. Me, I could keep a faster-than-average pace all day.
“Is that the shop?” Jake asked.
“Where?” I shouted.
“Ahead of Phoenix and Hú Dié. It’s a little difficult to see with the rain, but I’m pretty sure that’s it. Let’s show them how to finish a race. Take me home, my man!”
“Roger that,” I yelled, and I sprinted with all I had.
My mom honked her horn.
“She wants us to slow down!” Jake shouted.
I glanced at my display.
Thirty-five miles per hour.
“Don’t worry about my mom!” I shouted. “Just focus on catching Phoenix and Hú Dié.”
Phoenix and Hú Dié were now only fifty feet ahead of us, and I was closing the gap fast. Hú Dié glanced over her shoulder and flashed a brilliant smile, then rocketed around Phoenix.
“Look at her go!” Jake shouted. “Yeah, baby!”
Jake and I blew past Phoenix, too, and I saw the fire go out in his eyes.
We were only a few hundred yards from the shop now, and Hú Dié was beginning to slow. Even so, I knew I could never catch her. Jake, however, had been conserving energy by drafting off of me.
“Thanks for the lift, bro!” Jake shouted, and he blew past me.
I glanced down at my display.
Thirty-eight miles per hour.
I changed gears and began to slow, but I still kept my legs moving. I knew that cooling down after a ride was important. I looked back at Phoenix and saw that he wasn’t
even pedaling anymore. He’d given up. My mom pulled alongside him and they exchanged a few words.
Ahead, Jake was about to catch Hú Dié. I watched in amazement as the goof-off kid who always came in second or third place in our mountain bike races passed Hú Dié, crossing into the shop parking lot an entire bike length ahead of her.
I heard Hú Dié’s and Jake’s brakes squeal as they slowed and stopped. I reached them as Hú Dié was bumping fists with Jake.
“Ouch!” Jake said, sucking wind. “What do you have inside your riding glove? Steel?”
Hú Dié giggled as she, too, struggled to catch her breath. “Just my fist. Congratulations!”
Jake was all smiles. “Thanks!” he huffed. “I couldn’t have done it without Ryan, though.”
“Yes,” Hú Dié said, “drafting off of him is like drafting behind a semitrailer. It is awesome.”
I smiled, breathing hard. “My pleasure.”
My mom pulled up in her car and parked beside us. She jumped out of the vehicle, into the rain. “What is
with you kids? Are you trying to kill yourselves?”
“Ah—” I began say.
“Save it,” she barked. “If I hadn’t already bought the plane tickets to California and your gear, I would cancel the entire trip!”
“I’m sorry,” I huffed.
“Me too,” huffed Jake.
“And me,” huffed Hú Dié.
My mom took several deep breaths herself and sighed. “Promise you won’t do something stupid like that again. I’ve seen firsthand what a bike wreck can do to a person, especially in the rain. I don’t want anything to happen to any of you.”
“Promise,” the three of us huffed.
“Thank you,” she said.
Phoenix coasted over to us, but he kept his eyes lowered. Rainwater trickled through the deep frown lines in his cheeks.
“What’s wrong, bro?” Jake asked.
“Nothing,” Phoenix said. “I just hate to lose.”
“That was not a race,” Hú Dié said. “It was a mistake. We should not have done that in the first place.”
“Whatever,” Phoenix said. “Road biking isn’t my thing. Maybe I shouldn’t go to California.”
“Oh, no, mister,” my mom said. “You agreed to go, and you are going to keep your word! Besides, you’re the team’s sprinter. Somebody has to cross the finish line first.”
“I’ll do it!” Jake joked.
Phoenix cocked his head toward Jake. His eyes narrowed slightly, and I saw a flash of green fire in them. “Is that a challenge?”
“Maybe,” Jake replied.
“That’s settles it,” Phoenix said. “I’ll see you in Cali.”
“Bring it, bro!” Jake said.
“Ryan! Over here!”
I looked across the terminal at the Monterey, California, airport and saw Peter cruising toward us, riding low to the ground. He’d gotten a new wheelchair.
I waved back. “Yo! Peter! Great to see you, man!”
I turned to Phoenix, Jake, and Hú Dié. Phoenix and Jake knew about Peter’s accident, but Hú Dié stood with her mouth agape.
“I guess I forgot to mention that my cousin’s in a wheelchair,” I said. “He was in a bad bike crash years ago and broke his back.”
Hú Dié’s eyes widened. “Your cousin is Peter
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s my mother’s maiden name—Hathaway. You’ve heard of him?”
“Of course! I have seen him in several different cycling magazines. Who could forget arms like
? He is a handcycling pioneer!”
Peter rolled up, and I noticed that his short brown hair was now a little gray at the temples, but otherwise he looked the same. His thick shoulders and gigantic arms looked like they might split his t-shirt any moment. We both smiled, and I gave him a bro hug.
“You’ve really filled out,” Peter said.
“I hit the gym when I can,” I replied.
“We need to talk about that. Introductions first?”
I turned to Hú Dié. She was blushing. “Peter, this is Hú Dié. She’s visiting from China.”
Hú Dié stepped forward and stuck out her hand. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“A pleasure to meet you, too,” Peter said, and he took her hand. “Hey! You have a strong grip!”
Hú Dié let go of his hand. “Sorry,” she said, looking embarrassed.
Peter laughed. “No need to be sorry. I’m impressed!”
“Um, thank you,” Hú Dié said.
Jake extended his hand and stepped up beside Hú Dié. “Hi, I’m Jake.”
“Nice to meet you, Jake,” Peter said, taking Jake’s hand. Peter’s hand completely engulfed Jake’s. “Ryan’s mother has told me a lot about you.”
“Uh-oh,” Jake said.
Peter smiled. “I meant that as a compliment. She’s actually told me a lot about all of you.” He turned to Phoenix. “Especially you. Phoenix, I presume.”
Phoenix shook Peter’s hand. “Nice to finally meet you, sir.”
“Call me Peter or Coach,” Peter said, “anything but
. It makes me feel old.”
“Yes, sir,” Phoenix said. “I mean, Coach.”
“That’s better,” Peter said. “I hear you’re our sprinter, Phoenix.”
Jake scoffed good-naturedly.
Peter looked at him, then back at Phoenix. “Do I detect a little friendly competition?”
“There is no competition,” Jake said. “
the man.” He laughed.
“Sounds like a rivalry to me,” Peter said. “That’s healthy among teammates. However, you must agree to respect my decisions. I will select roles for each of you, and you will perform those roles. Road racing is a team sport.”
“Of course,” Jake said. “I’m just messing with Phoenix. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.”
“Me too,” Phoenix said.
“And me,” Hú Dié said.
“Likewise,” I said.
“Perfect,” Peter said. “Let’s get out of here.”
We headed for baggage claim, and Peter turned to me. “About your physique, Ryan. You might want to lay off the upper-body workouts. You’re not planning to race handcycles, too, are you?”
“No,” I replied.
“Then all that mass you’re carrying upstairs is just extra weight. We’ll see if we can come up with a program to help you tone it down.”
“No way!” Hú Dié said.
We all turned to her, and she blushed.
“Er,” she said, “what I mean is, the wider Ryan is, the better we can draft off of him. He pulls like an ox.”
Peter looked surprised. “Is that so? I always figured you were more of a sprinter, Ryan. You seemed to like the limelight.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think I might like pulling better.”
“I can’t say I blame you,” Peter said. “Pulling was my favorite, too. I enjoyed dictating the pace, and the scenery is much better up front. You can see the entire countryside when you’re leading the pack, whereas in the middle of the peloton you mostly see the back of some other guy’s bike. Did you know that I used to pull for your dad?”
“I just found that out. My mom showed me some old pictures last night.”
old,” Peter said with a laugh.
“Sixteen years,” I said. “I wasn’t even born yet.”
“Well, to you, they’re old. To me, it seems like yesterday.”
We arrived at the baggage carousel and grabbed our things. The airport was tiny, and two minutes later we were outside in the comfortable afternoon breeze. It was twenty degrees cooler than the ninety-degree temperatures we always had in Indiana in July. Unlike the flat terrain of central Indiana, the land here was very hilly, making for a nice change in scenery, too.
“Perfect temperature,” Jake said. “Awesome views. Why would anybody live in the Midwest?”
“Beats me,” Peter said.
In the parking lot, Peter wheeled up to an old minivan that I remembered from my last visit. “Load your bags into the back and climb in,” he said. “Take any seat you’d like except the passenger seat.”
As I stacked our luggage behind the rear bench seat, Jake leaned over to me and whispered, “
is going to drive this thing?”
“Sure,” I said. “It has special hand controls.”
“Where is the ramp for him to get inside?”
“He doesn’t need one. Watch.”
I closed the rear door as Peter opened the driver’s door. He positioned his chair next to the driver’s seat, locked the chair’s brakes, and hauled first his torso and then his legs into the van. Next, he bent down and unlocked the chair’s brakes and removed the quick-release wheels, pulling the wheels into the van and setting them on the floor in front of the passenger seat. He removed the seat cushion from his wheelchair and folded the chair up like an accordion. Then he cranked the driver’s seat all the way back and pulled the cushion and chair over himself, setting both on the passenger seat. Finally, he cranked his seat back up and closed the door.