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Hopkins Trail Can’t Dissuade 11-Year-Old

July 14, 2008

By Rick Dunaway, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Jul. 13–An unlikely cycling hero emerged on Saturday in Hopkins, Mo.

He didn’t make it to the medals stand. Heck, he didn’t even compete against the clock. But I gained a lot of respect for the little guy I gathered up and brought home with me at the end of the 102 Valley Bicycle Race and Tour in Hopkins, Mo.

It was nearly a last-minute decision I made to take my grandson, Austin Foran, with me to the event. I had flirted with the idea of riding the route before my daughter called me mid-week from Kansas City to ask if I would mind watching him for the weekend while she spent the weekend in Kentucky.

I didn’t mind a bit, especially since it had been way too long since we’d visited. Despite just a one-hour distance between us, my daughter’s busy schedule, combined with my own, makes those get-togethers painfully infrequent.

“But,” I added at the last minute before she hung up, “can he bring his bicycle?”

So Austin arrived on my doorstep on Friday afternoon with his single-speed, 20-inch mountain bike — not at all what a person would want to ride on a road tour. Still, I gave him the option, and he heartily agreed, despite not riding all spring due to a blown back tire.

Hours and another popped inner tube later my wife and I finally discovered the cause of the problem and in the early morning hours I had his bicycle back in riding shape, thanks to the inventory and round-the-clock hours of a local big box store.

By 6 a.m. I had made the coffee that would keep me awake on the hour’s ride north to Hopkins. The house was still quiet, but I was startled to see him over my shoulder, having set his mobile phone alarm to make sure he didn’t miss the adventure.

“I’m ready,” he declared, likely unaware of the intensity of the adventure awaiting him.

So Austin, my wife and I found ourselves at the starting line of the more leisurely tour portion of the event. I had decided that we would tackle only the shortest, eight-mile route, since my wife was still recovering from knee surgery and Austin’s bicycle was … well, not the best tool for this job.

We reached the four-mile point, my 11-year-old guest furiously pedaling up the rolling hills and catching his breath down them, as I kept a steady, slow pace on my brand new road bike. Others around Austin’s age pedalled furiously, too, but one by one they were collected by the “sweep,” the truck that shuttled weary riders and their machines back to the starting point before their goal was completed.

But not Austin. At this four-mile point, where I was prepared to make an about-face and return triumphantly, I looked over my shoulder at Austin and my wife, Pam, for a consensus.

It was a split vote. Pam, the sane one of us, opted to return. I then looked at Austin. I did my best to advise him of the length of the course and the inadequacies of his bicycle, but to no avail.

“No, Grandpa,” he said, pointing ahead. “There’s more of the course up there.”

So we trudged on, Austin pedaling furiously, at times gasping for breath, as I enjoyed a slow-paced ride and some quality time with my grandson.

“We’re probably almost there now,” he proclaimed a short time later.

I looked down at my bicycle computer. We were only 8 miles into our now 18-mile route.

“Um … not yet,” I said, worried that I had a long, emotional morning ahead of me.

But it didn’t happen. After each half mile and before every hill that we faced with trepidation, I looked over at my compatriot and asked, “Do you want to stop?”

“I’m going to finish it,” he repeatedly said between gasps for air.

By now the dreaded “sweep,” that flat-bed truck that follows the slowest riders and sits ready to gather them up, defeated and exhausted, was slowly following us. Behind the sweep I saw an ambulance, lights flashing and always at the ready.

Nevertheless, we trudged on, and Austin finally got a break from the dreaded hills with a nice, five-mile flat stretch as we turned northward on Highway 148 south of Hopkins.

A sheriff’s deputy was parked alongside the roadway, monitoring the crossing at Highway 148. I smiled and winked as I rode by, pointing backward toward the

ambulance.

“You must think this old man is going to have a heart attack,” I joked as I pedaled by.

Instead, my heart swelled with pride as I watched Austin pedal to the finish line ahead of me, victorious. And on a heavy, 20-inch, single speed bicycle no less.

I mentioned his gallant effort to tour organizer Maurice Peve as we visited after the event, and Peve decided Austin deserved a medal for his performance.

Within a few minutes, we were packed and on our way. His bicycle, which was too short to fit on our bicycle rack, had to be wedged between the rear floorboard and rear bench seat of the car on the trip home. I looked back to see him lying across the back seat, his bicycle serving as a metal blanket as he slept, exhausted, clutching the medal in his hand all the way.

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Copyright (c) 2008, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

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