Returning the Favor
Last Saturday morning I was zipping west in the Subaru along the route of the Cottonwood 200 bike ride when I saw a group of cyclists huddled by the side of the road. They flagged me down and noticed the Sweetpea bobbling on the bike rack as I pulled the car off the pavement. Relief flooded their faces. I was an angel sent by the cycling gods.
One rider stuck his head through the open passenger window and described how his group had come upon a lone cyclist curled up next to a bike in the road. The downed rider didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten there. He had no idea what had caused the crash. Everyone assumed he had a concussion. Someone needed to take him to the hospital. Then the rider stopped talking and looked expectantly at me. “Has anyone called 911?” I asked. He replied, “We tried, but he refused it,” then quickly insisted, “You have to take him to the hospital.” I glanced over my shoulder to see the others protectively circling a bloodied man seated by the side of the road. Aw, hell.
Everything had seemed so straightforward the night before, when a ridiculously hot and windy forecast convinced me to drive into the Flint Hills instead of riding the entire 80-mile first day of the Cottonwood. The plan was to ditch the car at a SAG (Support And Gear) and ride the prettiest stretch of prairie in out-and-back loops, staying within 20 miles of the car. I love the Cottonwood 200, a three-day group ride held every Memorial Day weekend, but I don’t do well in heavy wind and heat.
“Better safe than sorry” had driven me right into an emergency anyway. Any other time, I’d have called 911 on the cell phone. This time, I looked once more over my shoulder and saw the face of the stricken man for the first time. He was standing feebly on one leg and looking back at me through the rear window. I recognized him even with his bloodied face and swollen forehead. Holy cow, it was Ken.
Three years ago, Ken saved my butt on a difficult ride when, for eight consecutive days, the heat index soared above 100F but the organizers refused to support the shorter routes they’d advertised. Ken held impromptu meetings nightly in which he laid out alternate routes. The group met him each morning before dawn and rolled out in formation. I came to think of Ken as our Rogue Leader, and us as his Rogue Squadron. Without Ken, we’d never have finished the ride.
And that is why, last Saturday, I patted the passenger seat and told Ken’s protector, “Bring him right here.” I didn’t even spread a blanket to catch the drops of blood. I drove him directly to a Topeka hospital where we both entered the ER clad in Spandex. I called his wife and made sure the security guard stashed his bike properly in a locked closet before going on my way. Later that same day, I swept two other riders who couldn’t finish. On Sunday I helped organize the SAG gear and food, and on Monday I volunteered at a SAG stop. I didn’t get in many cycling miles, but I did pay it forward and that was rewarding in its own way.
Hey, Ken–now, we’re even.