Monday, October 24, 2016

Remembering Kevin Richards as prologue to the tale of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000.

A more recent photo.

My friend Kevin Richards died on October 23, 2016. Cancer took him at the ridiculously young age of 58, and to be completely honest, I'm heartbroken.

We'd seen less of each other these past few years, but remained solid. I'm an only child, and especially for a period of 15 years or more, Kevin was what I always imagined a brother to be -- and so he will remain, forever and always.

Very different animals, Kevin and me, but in the way life often works, opposites attract. Our acquaintance began in the late 1980s at the package store where I worked, and was renewed when the Public House came into existence in 1992. He became a fixture there, and not only in my own three-sizes-too-small heart.

If the pub had a Mt. Rushmore, Kevin would be one of the four faces.

Beer obviously was a shared theme, and then a bit later, bicycles. Kevin often rode motorcycles, but human-powered transport was a better match for his innate, personal zen. Going for bicycle rides -- and refueling afterward -- suited him well. I helped get Kevin into better beer. He definitely got me into a bike saddle, and some of the best times ever.

A group of pub-going cyclists gradually came together, and one late summer's day in 1999, Kevin and I rode to the top of the Knobs via Corydon Pike's switchback grade. We stopped to sag at Polly’s Freeze, the venerable ice cream haven. An earnest discussion began. Might we venture a biking trip to Europe?

And -- heaven forbid -- have a few fine ales in the process?

The planning began. We booked hotels at three beer-oriented urban venues in Belgium, along with rental bikes for day trips radiating from each stop. Faxes (!) and e-mails were sent, and the itinerary came into shape. As the calendar turned to June, 2000, there were five of us ready to make the journey, and it proved to be a classic.

A beercycling group was born, and my European travel instincts were reborn. During all my previous journeys to the continent, I'd been dodging bicyclists while walking between train stations, never stopping to consider how much fun it might be to ride myself.

Correction: Actually, never stopping to consider that I could do it. Kevin patiently taught me the art of the possible on two wheels.

The 2000 trip proved to be the first of seven European bicycling adventures in nine years, with the last occurring in 2008. Kevin was with me for four of the seven, and without his guidance, I'd have lacked the confidence to "lead" the other ones, although in fact all these trips were genuine group efforts.

By 2003, I was able to take my bike apart and reassemble it, pack it in a hard shell case, ride it all the way from Frankfurt to Vienna (meeting friends along the way), and get the bike and me back home without incident after a month on the road.

As a humanities major with almost no technical aptitude, I've never been more proud of myself, and eternally grateful to Kevin for showing me how. He and I wrote, orchestrated and performed those beercycling trips together, and while the cast revolved, each time out we functioned as a band of brothers (and on a couple of occasions, sisters).

Last spring, standing in his usual nook position at the pub, Kevin began prodding me in his gentle but firm manner.

Had I been riding?

Was I going to?

What was my problem, anyway?

One day, Kevin notched it up. We needed to get the band together again, and start planning a trip. It might be a simple reunion, or perhaps even a finale, but we needed to do it soon, before we got too old. The chat lasted an hour, and I went right home and told Diana it was inevitable; there'd be another ride somewhere in Europe in 2017.

Alas, if there is one, Kevin won't be there. The cosmos had a different sort of ride planned for him. At this precise moment, I don't know what any of it means, except that my thoughts turn to past triumphs.

This story of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000 was first written for the old FOSSILS newsletter, circa 2001. With a few revisions, expansions and contractions, it was posted to Potable Curmudgeon in 2007, and later to NA Confidential. This time around, I'm scanning the photos for added spice, and will be reposting the series from October 24 through November 1.

My "After the Fire" weekly columns of October 24 and 31 are supplanted.

Next: A beer orientation in Brussels, and our arrival in Tournai.


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