A Queen for the day and forever
In August 2012, the multi-day Bicycle Around Minnesota (BAM) ride was to begin in Park Rapids. Friends were making travel plans for this long journey when one of them suggested that we ride together. This was too good to be true because car-pooling was something I greatly preferred to a lengthy and lonely ride from Minneapolis. To my delight, my friend suggested using her vehicle, a SAAB 9-3 station wagon. Now this was a car that I coveted with a capital “C”, especially since I had no new sob stories having lost my beloved 9000 CSE to a blown head gasket four years before. SAAB owners are a bit quirky. They do take to heart the old SAAB advertisement to “Find Your Own Road.” Maybe a bit unrealistic about matching their aspirations to their experiences, but being a bit Don Quixotic never seems to trouble them. In fact it does the opposite - it inspires them. So taking a road trip with a fellow SAAB enthusiast had unknown possibilities.
She arrived that morning with her bike on the roof top carrier and I would make introductions to my wife who had never met her. We attached my bike, and threw my bag into the car. Then, without warning, she handed me the keys and said, “you drive.” My wife was fully aware of my obsession with SAABs and especially the 9-3 station wagon. It is not hard to imagine her thoughts as I waved goodbye - smiling from the driver’s seat, my bike on top and another blonde next to me. Not good. But the trip was on and not much farther than after passing 694, we agreed that the day was young and too precious to waste taking the interstate. We didn’t have a practiced understanding of Google maps back then and plotted our course going west for a while and then north and repeating that till we got to one of several landmarks. We eventually reached Park Rapids arriving later than most of our friends and a bit glazed over from the cross-country tour and non-stop discussion. We unpacked, set up tents and started to go about what bicycle tours are all about – becoming kids again.
The next morning, the ride would begin with us pedaling in large and small groups and sometimes by ourselves or with strangers that we would meet along the way. Our inner kid kept emerging and the bicycle was the perfect time machine we each possessed. Some kicked in quicker than others but when it happened it had an infective quality that spread rapidly. Laughter and smiles led to fantasy. One day we assembled into a group to take on a wicked headwind. The men moved in unison to the front like a Blue Angels jet formation and with cheers of support we all pushed forward. Onward we would go when along side came what would become known as the Minx Missile (TDF analogy + petite woman). She would pass and forge ahead for a bit until our peloton consumed her. This would happen again and again until finally we asked, “why don’t you just join us.” We came upon a rest stop, which had a drawing contest for what reason I cannot remember. However, my friend won a diamond tiara. It was what you might find in a dime store with fake sequins, lots of glued-on frosty particles, a feather or two all attached to a plastic and metal hair band. She quickly attached it to her helmet and without much adieu, the crowd kneeled proclaiming, “All bow to the Queen.” She smiled and motioned approvingly to acknowledge our allegiance as we hopped back onto the bikes into the grueling wind. By now our group was a disciplined wind-fighting machine passing regularly in our wake those less fortunate. Repeating the announcement of “on your left” seemed poor form as we passed. So being kids again, and to make good of our situation, the announcement spontaneously morphed into “Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The Queen is coming, all bow to the Queen,” And as we passed each bicycle group, they hailed to Queen Kathy in her tiara surrounded by her knights and ladies of the court while doing a perfect parade float wave for her new subjects. Even the Minx Missile joined the court. This would go on for the remainder of the day eliciting much needed smiles from everyone and onto the evening when she wore it to the evening dinner, which turned into her royal banquet. Our fantasies would continue with sleeping on a Roman watch tower high above the encampment, participating in Ben Hur chariot races and observing the Wizard of Oz witch’s legs dangling outside her tent sans ruby slippers after one too many “Three Sheets to the Wind” ales.
Some of my friends have similar and different recollections of that BAM ride and our Queen. However, our different embellishments all come back to how well Kathy wore her crown while giggling, smiling and gesturing. A few years would pass where I was away from biking to only return and discover Kathy with a serious health diagnosis. We would continue seeing each other on hikes, at art museums and friend’s gatherings talking food and sharing glasses of wine. Upon greeting her I would always announce the arrival of the Queen with various flourishes and bows. She’d always smile. In hindsight I’m not sure whether she was showing her appreciation or just trying to be polite hoping I would forget her moniker.
At Kathy’s recent memorial service, I had a nursery rhyme melody going through my head as I listened to friend’s remembrances. If I could have remembered the words, I would have sung this rhyme for her gathering.
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp stomp)
If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it
If you're happy and you know it, do all three. (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)
I will look for Kathy on my time machine nurturing the kid in me, chasing fantasies and finding my own road. There is where the Queen lives forever – clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!