I received an email from George Stone today. George is a hero for a number of reasons, like raising a houseful of redheaded children, and by being one of those men who always has an answer, but today, George is looking out for another hero, and a long, tough, record-setting ride this hero of mine took fourteen years ago.
As I sit here, I’m thinking how all of my real-life heroes are chained together, but that’s for another day. Pat Irwin, today’s hero, is epic. Now, the first epic thing about Pat is that he doesn’t seem to know he’s epic. He casually reels off accomplishments that you and I will never even consider. I met him through another great man, Woody Deutsch, who was Pat’s employer at the time, and I expect Pat’s primary sponsor, although I don’t know that for a fact. Pat was busy training for bicycle rides. In particular, he was interested in the really painful ones, the ones that require a melding of man and machine that really should call for a surgical procedure to get off the bike when the ride is over.
Pat’s a quiet, humble guy, so much so that it’s a good thing he had (has, I hope) a crazy Blue Heeler, named Blue, of course, and Blue took it upon his mid-sized canine self to serve as Pat’s PR committee. “Come here, person… Come here and meet my guy. Over here…” That’s how I met Pat at any rate. I was hanging out in the world’s greatest bike shop, and the dog made the introductions. Oh, sure, Woody made the introductions, but that was after I was fetched by the dog.
The first time I supported one of Pat’s rides was at the 24 Hours of Canaan, in West Virginia. Pat rode laps up and down a mountain for 24 hours, with only short stops each lap, while his girlfriend at the time (Hi, Pam) and I learned exactly how cold it gets in the mountains in June. I survived through purchasing a long sleeve event shirt that I wrapped skin tight around my completely unhealthy layer of lard. The combo did not make me comfortable, but it kept me warm enough to stay ambulatory. I’m really not sure how skinny little Pam made it. I guess the bright yellow sleeping bag helped, but more likely it was the fact that the sleeping bag kept sliding down the steep slope where we were sitting, and she was forced time and again to climb back up to our perch. If I recall correctly, Pat came in second in the solo division, behind a true legend of off road ultra endurance cycling, John Stamstead. Maybe it was third, but it doesn’t really matter. He did the whole thing solo, while I watched dozens of relay teams struggling to finish. Epic.
The second ride I was supporting was Pat’s record attempt to ride the long axis of the state of Tennessee. Woody was there, as were Vollie and George Stone, myself, and Dan Schoolfield, who was serving as the official for the ride. Again, memory is a fleeting thing, especially when it comes to accuracy, but I remember leaving Memphis early one day, and showing up in Kingston the next, roughly thirty and a half hours later. In between, I saw a secondary-road path across the state through a long day, and saw a lot of nothing except reflectors on the back of the bike during the insanely long night. I saw a near-dehydration due to a condition Pat wasn’t yet aware that he had. He figured it out on a later ride. I saw the sun go down on an incredibly fit human being, and saw the sun rise on the same human being, miraculously transformed into something even more athletic. From the chase van on that second day, you could easily pick out individual fibers of muscles that had churned as lean but unified masses the day before. Who knows how much of himself he consumed to keep going?
Keep going he did, like a metronome, like a machine, at 17.25 miles per hour, for hours on end. Having done a weak and chubby version of a long ride, I can’t even imagine how he found the sheer mental strength to do it, but I am grateful that I was there to witness it. That effort has served as a motivating benchmark for me in the years since, even though I hear rumors that some of the rides Pat has undertaken since then would make that ride look like one of mine by comparison.
Which brings me back to George… He sent me a note to let me know that, somehow, Pat’s record-setting ride never managed to make it into the official records. I hope that one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen is not lost to the ghost of misplaced paperwork.
I know that there will probably be some way to substantiate Pat’s claim, even though it’s probably not that big a deal to him. For those of us who witnessed the ride, it’s a very big deal indeed, and for myself, I’m digging through old time-coded video tape, from my video of the ride. Now where did I put that box?