The full moon shining high over downtown Indianapolis this week inspired memories of a bicycle ride I did fifteen years ago at this same time of year—on the weekend close to the October full moon. With fear and trembling, I had signed up for the annual Cochise Classic, a challenging event sponsored by the Tucson-based Perimeter Bicycling Association of America. As its name indicates, the PBAA encourages people to ride around geographical features, around mountains, cities, counties, countries. Any circuit can qualify so long as it is at least 50 miles.
The Cochise Classic back then had five rides for people of varying ability. The tour all around the county was 252 miles, with a shorter option of 157 miles. The Tour around Potter Mountain that I was doing was 97 miles long. Two shorter rides completed the weekend’s list of events.
The headquarters was (and still is)) in Douglas, Arizona, a border town that had once been an important mining center. We spent Friday night before the ride and Saturday night after the ride (if we stayed over) at the Gadsden Hotel, which even fifteen years ago had faded significantly. The lobby with its forty-two feet long Tiffany window was once billed as Arizona’s grandest public space. My room on the mezzanine had an impressively carved, heavy oak door, but the house phone didn’t work because it had been pulled loose from the wall.
One hundred sixty three cyclists had signed up for the 2001 Classic: 44 for the 252-mile circuit; 18 for the 157-mile trip, 66 for the 97-mile circuit that I was making; and 33 for the short tour of 45 miles. One of the riders was introduced, an 80-year-old man named Reece Walton who was registered for his eleventh riding of the 252-mile classic. The previous year he had done the loop in 22.5 hours. The fastest riders did it in just over twelve hours, averaging more than 22 miles an hour.
And here I was, proud that as I turned 70—by reason of strength four score and ten, to use the biblical phrasing—I was planning to ride 97 miles.
Early in the ride, two of us found that we were traveling at the same rate and for the next 70 miles we helped each other by regularly changing the lead and sheltering the rider behind from the wind. My companion for the day was a nurse from the area, much younger than I, and a skilled cyclist who was well-versed in the routines of the road while cycling in the Arizona desert.
During the last 10 miles she was fading even more than I and insisted that I continue on and let her finish at her own speed. The posted finish times indicated that she came in only a couple of minutes after I did. I was the 45th finisher (out of 66 who started), averaging 15.3 miles per hour.
The next morning, as I headed for home in Sun City West near Phoenix, I attended the Sunday Eucharist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tombstone. Built in 1881, this little church described itself as the oldest protestant church in the Southwest. The congregation consisted of some two dozen people and the music of the liturgy was enlivened by the powerful voice of a young African-American woman sitting in the pew ahead of me.
The peace of the moment was shattered, however, as the pastor began his sermon. In an even voice, he announced that earlier that morning the U.S. Airforce had begun the aerial bombardment of Afghanistan. Then he read a prayer asking that God send peace into the world. As he made his announcement, the sun, it seemed to me, went behind a cloud. I wondered—and this was fifteen years ago—if it would ever again really shine upon the world.
Note: The 2016 Cochise Classic was ridden October 8. Fifteen people completed the longest version, 165 miles; the oldest was 63. Eighty-one cyclists finished the 95-mile circuit, the oldest being 72. Eighty people, one listed as 99 years of age, completed the 47-mile ride. Fifty-one riders, including a person 99 years old, are listed as finishers for the 27-mile ride.