In late May, 1995, Joe Parkin, professional mountain bike racer for Diamondback Racing, travelled to Durango to compete in the Iron Horse Classic. I was the Head Team Mechanic for DBR and tagged along to fettle his bike and share jokes. The Iron Horse had started in 1972 as a challenge between two brothers; one, a cyclist and the other, a steam train engineer. Could a cyclist beat the train from Durango to Silverton? Yes, as it turned out, and a classic tale of man against machine was born.
I left Joe at the start in Durango (elevation 6400 feet above sea level). The bike was ready – tires pumped, chain oiled – and headed up Highway 550. I was mindful of our parting words.
Me: You set?
Joe: Yeah, get me a hot chocolate and have the car warm, eh?
Few words, even fewer needs. Joe was a self-contained man in the best sense, a product of his experience. His odyssey had included leaving for Europe in 1986 and making his living as a road racer in Belgium; his book, A Dog in a Hat chronicles the experience. I headed up Route 580 over Coal Bank Pass (10,700ft) on to Molas Pass (10,900ft) and glided down into the caldera where Silverton lay, bright and chilly on a late May morning. I had a good idea how long it would take Joe to pedal 50 miles uphill with no oxygen, so I wandered down Main Street in search of a coffee shop. I passed a small museum that housed a printing press that had operated from 1875. It had been the only press on the Western range of the Rockies for close to twenty years. Looking back from the present, where everyone, owing to the Internet, can be a writer, critic, editor, and publisher, I was struck by the power that the owner of this machine possessed, for good and ill.
With ten minutes to go before the first riders would materialize, I got Joe’s hot choc, with whipped cream, and my café mocha and headed back to the minivan. Leaving the engine on and the heater going, I walked the two hundred meters to the finish line. Riders were coming in, but no Joe. I counted placings, watching for a man who had commanded respect in Flanders.
But not today. He finished. I took his bike and got him into the passenger seat. I removed the front wheel of his bike, stowed everything in the back and got in behind the wheel. Joe sucked on the hot chocolate, cold hands around the cup; his work shift over, the clock punched.
My mocha was pretty good, too.