Scott Mercier: A ride with dad
Special to The Aspen Times
My relationship with my dad has always been complicated. I know that’s not unusual. Maybe it’s the mix of idolatry, fear, love and hate. I have two dads though, a Telluride dad and an L.A. dad, so it’s doubly complicated.
My parents divorced when I was 4 and my sister and I moved from Los Angeles to Telluride with my mom. The distance made it difficult to get to know him. We would spend half of every summer with him in L.A., but he was working a lot, so we didn’t see as much of him as we would have liked.
In my teenaged years, I started going on rides with my dad when we’d visit in the summer. My dad has one speed on the bike — 100%. He hates to get dropped, so sometimes it’s 110%. I was probably 16 the first time I dropped him. He was seething with anger, but also had some pride. I had a chip on my shoulder and like to torment him, so I thought it was funny.
Our relationship took a turn for the better when I graduated from high school in 1986. We decided to do a three-week ride from Telluride to Washington, D.C. It was an adventure, and we had 24 hours a day of uninterrupted time together. This was well before cell phones and the internet.
Riding a bike cross country gives an acute sense of the scale of the United States. Surprisingly, it is not all downhill from the Continental Divide to the Mississippi River.
In Jefferson City, Missouri, an aggressive and impatient driver came too close and spent too much time on the horn. I gave him the middle finger salute and he stopped his truck on the off ramp while he debated whether to come back for us or not. My dad was about 50 yards behind and he and the guy were staring at one another. The driver eventually decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, but that night my dad was livid. He said, “Scott, there is one rule. You don’t do anything that will get my ass kicked!”
Tighty-whities under your chamois is never a good idea, and as a result, my dad developed horrific saddle sores from the chafing with about 700 miles to go. To be honest, I’m not sure how he was able to continue riding, but there are few people I know who are as tough as he is and he just stoically endured the pain.
Somewhere in the mountains of Kentucky we were out of water and stopped at a small shop to ask if we could refill our bottles. The shopkeeper said the tap water was not good, but that he had a well and he asked his son to fill a jug for us. His son had graduated from high school that year just like I did. We sat on their front porch and talked for 20 or 30 minutes while our dads did the same.
As we rode off, my eyes welled up with tears. Circumstances of birth had given us distinctly different life paths. I was headed to U.C. Berkeley while he was heading to the underground coal mines of Kentucky.
About 33 years ago, my dad and I were an anomaly in this part of the country, and in many ways, dad is still an anomaly. He’s 80 now and has aches and pains everywhere, but he still rides his bike four or five days a week.
I hadn’t ridden with him in years, but this past Fathers’ Day weekend my son and I were visiting him in L.A. and we got to ride together. He’d had eye surgery a few days before our visit and wasn’t supposed to exercise for a week, but he wanted to ride with his son. He rides with flat bars and pedals, but is still just as stubborn as ever.
I don’t know when my dad will ride off into the sunset. Hopefully it’s years from now, but when he does, I’ll always remember our time spent together in the saddle.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a senior financial adviser in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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