Back when I was a young spring chicken, my Grandfather convinced me to go on a bicycle trip with him, a 1700-mile loop around the inside of California. I was hesitant because frankly it seemed intimidating, but he had his ways of being persuasive. It’s been roughly 25 years since then, and a few years after we lost the old man. I have enough stories about that trip to fill a book, most likely, except that I’m not sure there’d be a story arc to make it all work. Someday, perhaps.
Last night the trip came to mind and I was sharing some of the little stories with my younger son. One I didn’t bring up is the one I wanted to share here for today. It involves a beer. And what a beer!
I have never been a regular drinker. I haven’t had anything in years, just because of not wanting to drink around my kids. And back then, on this trip, I wasn’t a drinker either. But there was this day.
It was a hot day, so bright that the sun seemed to have forbidden the clouds from appearing. We were biking on the eastern side of the Sierras, north of Bishop. I want to say it was near Mammoth Lakes, but that information escapes my memory and I have yet to dig out my journal from that time. When you’re biking up a mountain and the way is long and the day is hot, sometimes (ok, perhaps, often) you’ll start to wonder why you’re doing it in the first place. My water bottle had gone hot from the heat, becoming a tea of water and the taste of plastic. Not a store for miles. Grandfather, when he biked, took a slow and steady pace. He was already well into his 70s and still healthy. Neither of us biked fast, and we needed to stay close together.
The road seemed endless. Cars would pass by, slip around a corner, and I’d think for a moment that perhaps we were near the top. Then I’d see the car through the trees a bit further up, still going. Inwardly I’d groan. I’d be drenched with sweat, but in truth it was such a hot and dry day that it would have felt a blessing to feel sweaty. Yet still Grandfather pedaled on, as resolute as the times where he’d see a mosquito set upon his arm and tell it, “go ahead little buddy, get your dinner.”
It took hours of biking. you start to forget what a beautiful scene you’re in. Nature is throwing its glory in your face and all you can think about is a soda. What went on through his mind, however, was not likely a soda. He’d be more apt to daydream about sherbet. He pedaled on, I followed, both our bikes laden with 4 panniers apiece full of our gear and food.
When he finally saw the campground, it was like an oasis appeared in the desert. I doubted my eyes. But there it was, right at the mountaintop, our camping location for the night and an end to the long trip up the mountain. There would be other mountains to conquer, but we’d save those for another day.
When we rode into the campground and got off our bikes, another camper came up to us, curious. He was a heavyset guy, mid-40s in age, with a thin mustache and wide eyes and an RV. He asked Grandfather about our ride. The two of them chatted for a minute while I just felt relief for having arrived, but still overly hot. I looked for a water fountain, but then the guy said the magic words:
“Want a cold beer?”
It was like he was offering me jewels. I didn’t even like beer that much, but we said YES. He went and got us a pair of icy cold cans of beer, straight from his ice cooler. In my hands, it was a gift from above.
That is still the best beer of my life, that can on the mountain top, that cheap can of Trader Joe’s beer. The hot day fled from us.