Best Friend of Steel

We bond with our equipment, at least in part, through what we endure with each other. Mine bears the harsh burden of abuse because I want only worthy things, and I am consistently clumsy. Sixto Rodriguez III, my wheeled friend of steel, has survived much of this heavy-handed attrition, albeit with two front triangle rebuilds. His story will elucidate my near-human adoration.

Named for the regrettably obscure folk singer, Sixto was enlivened in the subterranean shop of R&E Cycles, whose brand name is Rodriguez. Our inaugural excursion stretched from Seattle to Washington, D.C., though I had dreamed of extending the trip to Christmas in Key West.

In reality, perhaps I should have turned around after my last night in Republic, Wash., or at least paused to reflect. My cursory cruise through town revealed a forlorn thoroughfare inhabited by a few locals loitering in front of a closed business. I noted cafes, coffee shops, and bars. Returning, I saw the stragglers had organized into a lumpy line. I decided to be cooler than I felt and ask why. When the group turned to face me, they revealed their answer wordlessly. Behind them a temporary sign read “Republic Brewing Company,” the first of its kind since Prohibition. It was opening day.

After teetering back to the yurt I had been instantly invited to stay in, I spent three days laughing, learning, and bonding with Republicans. Near the end of the third night, the brewery’s lengthening shadow told me it was time for Sixto and me to hit the road. I bid new friends farewell, exchanging numbers faster than the national debt clock, and rode refreshed into woefully insufficient light looking for a campsite. A half-hour on, I spotted the scantest fragment of flat ground as a passing train illuminated the roadside terrain.

Camping so close to the tracks meant that rest would be shaky at best, but noting the location of the flat spot in the enveloping dark, I made a decisive right turn down the slope. A hidden drop and massive rock launched me over or through a fence with prepositions and nouns mixing midair. I landed midway to my campsite, head downhill, Sixto entangled above me like a lost sheep. Other than a bruise and self-healer here and there, I seemed intact. By the light of a dusty quarter moon, Sixto looked shipshape, and I flopped atop tree roots for a restless night.

Photo courtesy of Justin Skay.
Photo courtesy of Justin Skay.

The train clanged by again at 4 a.m., and I sat up stiffly, feeling pains I hadn’t the night before. I reached up and touched dried blood above my left eye, the broad burn of road rash on my right leg. At first light, sighting down Sixto’s top tube, I detected a shallow crease on the left side, as if a child had hit it with a hatchet. Bummed but unbroken, we heaved sorely up the steep slope to the road, and limped over Sherman Pass to Kettle Falls, where I found a hardware store and bought a straightedge.

The tube was bent. I had months to go, and no inkling of full repair. Not wishing to purchase a rubber mallet for three whacks, I resorted to carefully kicking the side opposite the crease, afraid to re-bend or break the weakened tube. I finally stomped it as close as I dared.

Regaining some momentum, Sixto and I blew into Montana past lumbering bears foraging berries and towering sunlit spires adorning Going-to-the-Sun Road. Over the Divide, down and east, relentless prairie winds pushed us over 300 miles in three days along the bank-full Missouri, her spillways shuddering with excess snowmelt.

The stale sigh of the Midwest brought more corn than I cared to see again, having survived 17 years in that part of the country. East of Omaha, we joined 20,000 other cyclists on an organized ride traversing the corniest of states: Iowa. For six days we utterly dominated both lanes of snoozer views. Friends joined and left our ride, corn yielded to forest, and cold fall rain made Florida sunshine seem a clammy world away. Washington (state) to Washington (D.C.) started to sound round enough. Our final three days to the Capitol were spent mucking through a soggy trail along a canal barely distinguishable from it.

My welcome was as sodden as the final slog to it. Whichever posh quadrant of D.C. I’d popped into, someone smelled out of place. In damp shorts, a crinkled, musty wool shirt, and stained ball cap covering greasy, tangled hair, I bellied up between a mover and two shakers, drank three $7 pints in silence, and listened to my barstool companions’ talk about their futures.

For me, the future necessitated a painful separation. Sixto and I had been together every minute for five months, rarely more than a reach away. He had provided shelter, comfort, and access; I had fixed him repeatedly, and he me. Now dismembered, Sixto went west to the bike doctor’s laser, whose true eye told us my foot had failed to accurately align. So, for $250, R&E rebuilt his front triangle, and Sixto II was born.

Reunited in Seattle, Sixto felt closer than ever, even only half himself. Far from languishing in local bike life, however, we would test our friendship out there repeatedly in ensuing years. During tribulations in Utah’s Canyonlands, even as welds cracked and crumbled, indestructible bonds of friendship were forever cemented, first with the second, then third iteration of my most treasured two-wheeled tool of endless exploration.

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