Churches, “Our President” and the Wonder of a Two Lane Road
Steph’s ride has been emotional for me as I am sure that it has been for those reading this.
When Steph went down in 2007, I was terrified I might lose a friend forever and I was certain
that I had lost my riding partner with whom I had logged so many of the most pleasurable hours
of my life. I do not consider myself much of a blogger, but, I have enjoyed reading the posts
of others throughout the entirety of the Stephan Challenge. Thanks to all of those that have
brought the Challenge to life. Here is my small, though lengthy, contribution.
On Wednesday past, I completed my second leg of the Challenge. I fortuitously have ridden
in five states and was a bridge out and a ferry schedule away from a sixth. I provide some
observations and anecdotes.
I OBSERVED, first hand, that no operation as fluid as the Challenge succeeds without a strong
and steady helmsman like Lincoln and a cheerful and diligent crew like Maria, Antonio, Aggie,
and Shane. I LEARNED to appreciate the simple pleasure of a perfect spot for a picnic lunch
and a family fishing pond. I was REMINDED of the simple pleasure of a sugar cookie and plain
I OBSERVED that Pecan groves are flooded by elaborate irrigation systems and then allowed to
slowly dry out in the hot Texas sun. I learned that Cinco de Mayo is a major holiday in El Paso
and that waving to a camera while cleated to a pedal can be a recipe for a spill.
I LEARNED that Poplarville is the Blueberry Capital of Mississippi, and for that matter, that
blueberries grow in Mississippi. I LEARNED that Bayou du Batre is the FRESH seafood capital
of Alabama. MY mind wandered for several miles wondering if there was a FROZEN seafood
capital of Alabama. I LEARNED that some people still refer to Jefferson Davis as “our president”
and that some of those people refer to armadillos as possums on a half shell.
I OCCUPIED myself trying to come up with the perfect country singer stage name. Each of the
side roads along the Challenge route are named for the person that lives on it. Compare those
names to the combination of your middle name and the street you grew up on and voila…Hodge
I MET a real swamp person and marveled at the fact that he makes a living working crawfish
pots and catching bullfrogs. Further, I was fascinated by the fact that he goes “fishin” on his
day off! I MET a man that claimed to be a reality show star. When queried as to which one, he
responded “Swamp People and Swamp Bride”. He had a penchant for tall tales and long jokes.
I OBSERVED that prickly pear cactus can grow twenty feet from a Mississippi bayou and that
people in the deep south have an affinity for attack Dachshunds, miniature horses and longhorn
cattle. I even learned how those that are interested can determine the commercial value of a
prize bull! I ENJOYED seeing the stands of Longleaf Pine and a quick respite from the sun
under a massive Live Oak.
I WITNESSED countless small churches along four days-worth of two lane roads. I IMAGINED
the parishoners for whom the modest but impeccably maintained churches serve as the
backdrop for their entire social life. It was a calming backdrop to the sound of endless pickups
gunning their engines to pass the Challenge riders.
I was REMINDED of how peaceful a ride on a two lane road with friends can be and how quickly
life can change as I WITNESSED one of the young Challenge riders hit a pot hole, careen into
a passing pick-up truck, taco the front wheel, and land hard on the macadam. I SMILED as she
shook herself off and pressed on.
I was REMINDED of Steph’s incredible capacity for good conversation, humor, friendship and
fidelity; what some of us refer to as Beta spirit. It is the spirit to take a quick break to adjust a
brace and stretch a weary leg, and then without a word, ride on down the road. It is the spirit
to refer to a headwind as a cooling breeze. It is the spirit to spend a quarter mile on an uphill
grade pushing the gear shifter to eke out the last and biggest cog on the chain wheel when
there is a friend three feet behind that could easily assist. It is the spirit to encounter a bridge
out and cheerfully turn around in search of a detour. It is the spirit to stare down a ten mile
causeway leading to a steep bridge and slowly but surely crest the top and the natural smile that
comes with every challenging climb; a breathtaking glide to the bottom.
I WITNESSED the singular focus of a man on a mission. Each day for Steph comes with a
goal; be it another state, a certain number of miles “under our belts”, or a certain geographical
landmark. He is conscious of the schedules of the many Challenge riders despite his broken
brace, pressure sores, dehydration, sunburn, not to mention a body that constantly battles with
a stronger mind to press on. I WITNESSED the focus of a man determined not just to complete
his journey but to do it on schedule.
Finally, I was REMINDED of the reason that the Challenge exists. For Steph, I believe, it is
much more than completing a cross country ride, a dream that I know he has had for a very
long time. Beyond that, my few days on the ride REMINDED me that Steph is riding to pay
tribute to the RIC, an institution without which our friend Steph could bluntly be just a memory.
Witnessing Steph ride up the road, I can CONFIRM that miracles happen when world class
facilities, dedicated professionals, and a man that refuses to say “can’t” come together. In
honor of our friend, support the RIC!
Finally, to parrot Lincoln Baker, “It’s all good!” and Steph, “Be well.”