Fast Times in the Summer of ’86

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It was the summer of 1986. July to be exact. I don’t recall the exact day, though I do remember it was right after Greg LeMond captured his first Tour de France victory. He was the first American to do so, and his win sparked a surge in road bike sales, just as Lance Armstrong’s first Tour win would over a decade later. At last, young cyclists such as myself had an American hero who could not only compete with the best European riders, but beat them at their own game.

LeMond turned twenty-five that summer, same as me. In fact, our birthdays were just days apart. Like him, I even had a French last name, Couture. Also like him, I had a passion for riding bicycles, though he took his passion to a level I’d never see. I thought that because we were both the same height (five-foot-ten) and similar in build, I might be able to at least approach his prowess in the saddle, discounting the fact that he possessed a Herculean VO2 max, where mine was just average. I was what you’d call a serious recreational rider. In season, I’d ride over one-hundred miles a week, sometimes in a group, other times solo.

It was a heady time for me. I was starting a career as a physical therapist and had just purchased my first house, an Eisenhower era, brick semi-detached in a solidly middle-class neighborhood called Glen Keith Village. Nothing fancy, but it was a start. Money was tight, so I learned to do my own bike maintenance on my all-steel celeste Bianchi. Weather permitting, I did the work in my backyard, a small, square plot of land, bordered by fencing.

And that’s where I first met a girl named Tiffany. I was on the lawn, adjusting my breaks, my back turned to the street, when I heard a female voice say, “Excuse me.” When I turned around, she said, “Don’t mean to bother you, but I’ve seen you out here before, working on your bike and I thought maybe you could help me with mine.”

She stood next to a blue Raleigh road bike dressed in shorts, a sleeveless top and tennis shoes. As noted, I’d never seen her before, because if I had, I would have remembered. I didn’t easily forget girls who looked like Tiffany. From her thick, dirty-blond hair, flowing past her shoulders, to her prominent cheek bones and aquamarine eyes, the girl gave me pause. “Sure,” I said, trying not to look too eager. “Let’s have a look.”

She rolled the Raleigh onto my lawn and spun the rear wheel. “See, it’s all wobbly.”

“Looks like it’s out of tru,” I said. “Did you have an accident?” She described her encounter with a curb. “That will do it.” For the next few minutes, I did some spoke adjusting to where the wheel was almost totally straight. “There’s no such thing as a perfect tru. Anyway, you should be good to go.”

She smiled and thanked me, then asked if I was “new to the neighborhood.” When I told her yes, she revealed that she had lived in Glen Keith Village for most of her nineteen years. She lived with her divorced mom, went to school, studying to be a medical technician and also worked part time as a medical secretary. She took up cycling, she said, “because I can stand to lose a few pounds.” Buff she wasn’t, but neither was she fat. Chunky is the way I saw her, heavy in the thighs and butt. Looks-wise, I went for the more svelte, athletic types. Even so, she was too pretty for me not to take interest.

She began to walk away, then turned around. “Look, can I take you to lunch or something? It was so nice of you to do this.”

“Not necessary, really. But if you’d like to go cycling sometime, let me know.”

She nodded. “Okay, I’d like that. But I’m sure you’re much faster than me.”

“Keep training, and you’ll get faster,” I said. “Besides, you might have another tru issue, and what better way to have one than to be riding with a guy who knows how to fix it.”

It was a parody of a pick-up line, and by her wry expression, it was obvious she got it, yet went along. “You know, you might be right. Are you free tomorrow?”

Tomorrow was a Sunday, and I had planned to do a group ride with my regular cycling buddies. “Sure, that works,” I said, rearranging my priorities. “I’m Kerry Couture, by the way.”

“Tiffany Winter,” she said.

“Tiffany…pretty name. And so are you, by the way.”

“Thanks,” she said, with a slight blush. “I’ll look forward to riding with you.”

*****

We left from our neighborhood just before nine. Typical for our region in the height of summer, the humidity was over fifty percent and the air temp hovered around eighty. By noon, we expected the mercury to climb by at least ten degrees. Our bikes were typical for the times, all steel, with down-tube shifters and straps hanging from the pedals. Disc brakes, electronic shifting, strapless pedals and carbon frames were either in the prototype stage or just an idea in some bike builder’s mind.

Tiffany said she had done part of the hilly to rolling route I had picked out. “The hills are my nemeses,” she said. “But then that’s the sort of terrain we have around here.”

She casino siteleri was right. One couldn’t ride more than two miles before encountering a hill, be it long, short, gentle or steep. “Keep at it and you’ll get better,” I said. I didn’t add dropping weight, something I’m sure she knew.

The twenty-mile route took us through four miles of suburbia, then down a quarter-mile descent into a watershed area with a four-square-mile reservoir at its center, surrounded by woods and steep hills. Light motor traffic made it ideal for cyclists. I let her take the lead so I could get an idea of her pace. Mine on a good day was in the upper teens, a huge gap from the maximum thirteen-mile per hour pace she was keeping. Ordinarily, I’d have been bored to tears riding with someone at this languid pace. Of course, it was all relative. My pace to a pro rider or even an amateur racer would seem languid.

We weren’t yet out of the watershed when I heard a pop. It was her rear tire. After we pulled over to the curb, I felt the tire to confirm; it was indeed flat, with a nail sticking out of the rubber. “It’s a good thing you’re here,” she said, “because I’d either have to walk home or hitchhike back.” Hardly anybody owned cell phones then and there were no pay phones for miles around.

“You should always carry at least one spare tube,” I said.

She reached into her saddle bag and pulled out her lone tube, neatly rolled up. “I do, but I can’t change a bike tire,” she said, looking embarrassed. She also had a frame pump and two tire irons that a rider needs to remove the flat tube from the rim. “All” she lacked was the skill.

“Here, watch me,” I said, and proceeded to take her through it, step by step. Changing a bike tire can actually be harder than changing an automobile tire. It’s that last step, getting the tire back on the rim, that can foul things up. I advised her to practice at home.

“I feel like you’re becoming my own personal bike mechanic,” she joked, after I put the wheel back on.

“You’ll get my bill next week,” I said. “Us mechanics don’t work for free, you know.”

“Do you take credit cards?” She stood by her bike and grinned, totally onboard with my glib sense of humor.

“Cash only.”

“I’m just a poor student living at home. But my lunch offer’s still good.”

I nodded, knowing that she was serious about that. “Okay. Meanwhile, let’s get going.”

We had just emerged from the watershed area, heading north, when I saw in my handlebar-mounted mirror a group of cyclists coming up behind us. When they got within a few bike lengths, I knew who they were–the same guys I had planned to ride with until Tiffany came along. “Kerry!” one of them cried as he came up parallel on my left. “A new riding bud?”

“Yeah, she’s a lot prettier than you guys,” I said.

He nodded. “I see that.” Dave Krause was his name. A nice guy, though, like the rest of us, he enjoyed the game of good-natured ribbing. “Watch out for this guy, he descends hills like a madman,” he warned Tiffany. “Thinks he’s Greg LeMond.”

“Thanks for the head’s-up,” Tiffany said, playing along.

LeMond was one of the fastest descenders in the peloton. The guy careened down mountains at close to sixty miles an hour. How anyone could control a road bike going that kamikaze speed was beyond me. “He exaggerates,” I said, pulling my bike even with hers. “What he meant to say is that I wish I could ride a bike like LeMond.”

A mile up the road, we came to our first significant hill, a quarter-mile stretch that I estimated to be over a ten percent grade. With the standard gearing of the time, it could be a grind. It was for me because my bike was equipped with the standard 53/42 tooth, double crank and a six-cog 12/25 free wheel in back. Tiffany had a triple crank on her Raleigh, which included a 30-tooth small ring, the so-called granny gear. She took the hill in the saddle, while I stood, mashing the pedals in a low cadence. I could have surged ahead, though chose to stay behind, giving her encouragement. She needed it, because even in her granny gear, she was breathing hard. “Steady cadence. Come on, you’ve got this,” I said.

“Like I said, hills are my nemesis,” she said between those heavy breaths. Up and up we went, one RPM at a time, cranking it out. Finally, the grade eased up and then became gently rolling, much to her relief. “Whew, that took all I had.”

I gave her a thumb’s up. “But you did it. It gets easier the more you ride. It’s all about conditioning.” She nodded, though I detected a measure of skepticism written on her pretty face.

Except for a few more short hills, the ride to the rest stop I had in mind was an easy roll, the last stretch of it a two-mile gentle downhill to Talley’s, an independent convenience store that had been in this semi-rural part of the county for decades. Frequented by cyclists stopping by to refill their water bottles and grab an energy snack, Whalen’s featured a roofed güvenilir casino patio attached to their white wood building where you could sit and relax on comfortable plastic lawn furniture. We leaned our bikes against one of the stone walls, slipped off our helmets and sun glasses and then sat at one of the five round tables.

Tiffany took a few sips from her water bottle. Then she said, “So, those guys who passed us, the ones you ride with, do you compete against one another?”

“At times, we do,” I said, unwrapping one of my oats and honey energy bars. “Neither of us ever raced, at least officially. But yeah, it can get competitive.”

“Have you ever crashed?”

I nodded. “Nothing serious. Road rash. A few stitches once.”

“What’s a few?”

“Fifteen. Seven in one forearm, eight in the other.” I showed her my “battle” scars.

She grinned incredulously. “You call fifteen a few?”

I shrugged. “I was lucky. No broken bones and I was back on the bike in less than a week. Still bandaged up. But, what the hell.” She shook her head, looked at me like I was nuts. Truth to tell, I enjoyed it, thinking that she might have me pegged for some kind of bad-ass macho man. But it was all true, an over the handlebars crash while descending a hill. People like me hate layoffs, even when common sense, if not your doctor, says you should.

“Look,” I continued, “ride long enough and hard enough, and you’re going to crash at some point. For racers, the chances increase exponentially.”

She told me the crashes she saw watching the Tour de France on TV. “Pro racing does look like dangerous business.”

“A tough way to make a living,” I said. “As a physical therapist, I’ve helped a few bike racers with more serious injuries get back to racing.”

She smiled, a warm, precious smile that lit up her pretty face like neon. “So now I’m with a guy who not only can service my bike, but can help me heal if I’m injured. Guess you’ll charge me double for those services.”

“No, just dinner as well as the lunch. But maybe we could go by the barter system. My therapeutic and bike maintenance skills in exchange for something from you, something I can’t do myself.” I was only half-kidding, curious what she might say.

“Kerry, you leave me with the impression that there’s nothing you can’t do yourself.”

“A jack of all trades, I’m not. Just a guy who rides bikes and helps injured athletes heal.” I bit into my energy bar, watching her, presumably thinking about my “offer.”

She crossed her chunky legs and pursed her lips. “Well, I can think of at least one thing. Do you cook?”

“Barely. Nothing fancy.”

“Okay, well, my mom taught me to cook, so I could fix you a nice meal.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “But I’m hoping you’ll never need physical therapy in the first place, least of all for a bike crash. Just be careful out there.”

Minutes later, we were on our way, headed west on Long Green Pike, a two-way (one lane each way) road that ran through acres of picturesque farmland–red barns, white-frame farm houses, white picket fences, grazing cows and, on occasion, groups of deer scampering over the fields and across the road. No major hills here, just rolling terrain, where you could hammer like a beast with a decent tailwind. However, there was virtually no shoulder and the traffic, while not too heavy, typically traveled at between forty and fifty miles per hour. From Talley’s, it ran two miles to Long Green Road, our next turn. Two miles, while a relatively short distance, could be a harrowing experience given the conditions. We rode single-file, with me in front, keeping a pace that Tiffany could manage. “This is freaking me out,” she said, in reference to the vehicles speeding by, cars and also wide-bodied trucks.

We were over to the right as far as we could go, and the vehicles gave us a wide berth, crossing the center line and then moving back when they passed us. Still, it made her nervous, made even worse when we came to a traffic clusterfuck, two vehicles, one behind our bikes, the other in front on the other side of the yellow line. The car behind us couldn’t go around us without crashing into the car in front (I’d even seen double clusterfucks, cyclists on both sides of the road, holding up traffic). We’ll pull in here,” I said, glancing behind me, and then pointing to the driveway of a farm house. We stood beside our bikes, waiting for the traffic to pass. “I’m not used to this kind of traffic,” she said. “I usually stick to paved trails or residential areas. I feel almost guilty holding you up.”

She looked like she was about to cry. “Hey, it’s okay,” I said. “Traffic can unnerve you if you’re not used to riding in it. It scares me sometimes.” I wheeled my bike up close and put an arm around her. “Really, it’s okay.” We had gone about a quarter mile, three-quarters of the way to the point of no return. I went on to explain that the next road on our route was less than two miles away and had canlı casino much less traffic. “But if you want to turn back, we can.”

She hesitated, then said, “No, if I want to get better, I need to ride on these kinds of roads. Besides, I feel safe with you. Well, as safe as one can feel in this situation.”

Her face conveyed the sort of warmth and affection that gave me little pause in pulling her close and kissing her on the mouth. I pulled away, then said, “Hope you don’t mind, I just felt compelled to do that.”

She chuckled, shook her head. “Mind? I kind of wish you’d do it again.”

I did, and it was longer this time and intense enough to where I barely noticed the traffic whizzing by. I wanted to get closer, to press my body against hers, a less than practical wish under the circumstances. No matter, this was more than I expected. When we decoupled, she said, “That was so nice, Kerry. Just what I needed.”

I took her hand. “Are you going to be okay until we get to the next turn?”

She nodded. “I’ll be fine. No more freak-outs. I promise.”

She kept her word, although I could see by the cautious, tentative way she rode that it would take a while before she got at least semi-comfortable riding on roads like this one. I was relieved myself when we turned right onto Long Green Road. There wasn’t much shoulder here either, but the traffic volume was a lot less. A half-mile up the road, we were forced to stop for a cow crossing. We watched as close to thirty cows crossed the road, led by a couple of bearded farm hands in jeans and boots. We waved at them and they waved back. After we got going, a half-mile up the road, we saw Hendler’s on our right, a dairy store that made and packaged their own yogurt and ice cream. We couldn’t resist. So, while Tiffany watched the bikes, I went in and ordered two ice cream cones, which we consumed sitting at one of the tables outside. Sharing delicious, homemade ice cream on a hot day with a hot girl. Did it get any better than this?

I liked the way Tiffany licked it, twirling the cone after each lick, keeping it even all the way around. She grinned at me as she did it–kind of suggestively, in my mind, though I couldn’t be sure if that’s the message she wished to convey. Oh, those beautiful aqua-marine eyes…they seemed to sparkle like diamonds in the sun. And what a precious smile she had. “Looks like you’re thoroughly enjoying that cone,” I said.

“I am,” she said, pausing to respond. “Not to mention the guy I’m enjoying it with.” She smiled in that coy, flirty, girlie-girl way. Then she said, “In case you’re wondering, I like you.”

“I get that impression,” I said, “but I never take anything for granted. Well, almost never. Anyway, in case YOU were wondering, I like you, too.”

She kept her promise on the ride back — no more freak-outs, though it was obvious she was still traffic shy, as many road cycling newbies tend to be. Coming upon the aftermath of an accident didn’t help. Cops were on the scene, directing traffic around an overturned sedan. The driver had been taken to the hospital, one of the cops told me. Had we been in the vicinity when it happened, we could have ended up in an ambulance or worse.

When we returned, just after eleven, she asked if I had plans for the evening. “No, not really,” I said, curious what she might have in mind.

“Then why don’t you shower and come over around five or so for dinner. I’d still like to fix you a meal. Mom and I plan to grill something on the back-deck.”

Meet the parents (or her single mom in this case). In a few years, there would be two movies of the same name. Meeting parents normally came after a relationship had developed into something serious, or at least semi-serious. But Tiffani lived close by, so it made sense. After showering, I threw on a pair of khaki shorts, a blue T-shirt and running shoes without socks, and walked a couple blocks to her house, a semi-detached like mine. They were both on the back-deck grilling turkey burgers and fresh vegetables. Originally, the homes were built with a rear concrete deck. Some, like mine, still had theirs, while others, like the Winters, had their deck replaced with one made of wood. That was done, I learned later, when Tiffany’s parents were still together.

We were all in shorts and short-sleeves–summers were hot and humid around here. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” her mom Madelyn said. She shook my hand while holding a spatula in her other hand. “Tiffany told me you just moved in.”

I confirmed as much, as Tiffany drew me a warm smile while cutting carrots on a round glass table next to their grill. “Can I help with something?” I asked.

“Thanks, but no, you’re our guest,” Madelyn said. “Just relax. Wanna beer?”

“Maybe later, with the meal,” I said, sitting on one of the three deck chairs, doing my best to be discreet while admiring Madelyn’s long, shapely legs and cute derriere. Mom and offspring did not look alike, at least in terms of body type. Where Tiffany was chunky, the forty-something Madelyn was slim, smaller boned. She wore her swirl of frosted blond hair short, just above her shoulders. In my eyes, she had a sexy, flirty, older woman seductiveness about her, and I sensed that she knew it.

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