I was thinking the other day of one of my old buddies, Peter Cowley.
Peter was a co-worker of mine at Stone & Webster. We soon found we shared a love of the outdoors, backpacking and bicycling, as well as some other not so savory forms of entertainment.
Peter taught me most of what I know about backpacking, and I’d say every 4000 footer I climbed was with him. He was a very conscientious hiker, never taking unnecessary risk.
Bicycling was another story. Peter was of the school of thought that brakes were for beginners. I have distinct recollections of riding with him down mountain passes in Vermont, well actually not with him, since he was out of sight almost instantly since it was against his religion to use his brakes on downhills. I’d catch up to him miles later, and he would be fine.
There were a group of us that had an annual sick-out at S&W. We would all simultaneously develop a disease that resolved itself within 24 hours. While it ran its course, we would meet in Falmouth, take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, cycle around the island, and return. This was remarkably salubrious for our health, since we were all able to return to work the very next day. On one of these excursions, we met a couple of women (I think we referred to them as “honeys” in those days) who also had bikes and randy young devil that I was, I engaged in chatting them up, at one point suggesting that they ride with us. My friend Craig, quickly took me aside, and uttered one word, “flip-flops.” Took me a while to figure out this cryptic utterance, but the gist was that my new friends were wearing flip-flops, hence were not serious cyclists, and the rest of my buddies had no intention of cycling around Martha’s Vineyard at glacial speed just to support the off chance that I might get lucky with one of them.
Things were extremely slow at S&W in those days, and one day Peter and I found ourselves sitting across from each other with nothing to do. So Peter suggested we take a ride up to Marblehead. We had both bike commuted that day, so we just went down to the bike rack and away we went. I have to admit being a bit uneasy about this, but Peter had a long history of pushing the envelope. Somehow or other, our midday absence was noticed and we were in the corporate doghouse for a while after that.
Our first tour together was to the lower part of Nova Scotia. We drove up to Bar Harbor and took the overnight ferry to Yarmouth. Fairly uneventful, except that this seems to have been before sunblock was invented, or at least before we deigned to use it (probably for the same reason as brakes). In any event, pictures of that trip involve us with backs that looked a lot like the topping on a pepperoni pizza. The high point of the trip was a stay in Kejimkujik state park. There was an island in the middle of the lake you could camp on so we rented a canoe and made for it. Going was a bit choppy, and I recall thinking that since all our gear was in this boat, capsizing would be a very bad thing. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and I was glad to have done it.
The next big adventure was travel to the Dominican Republic. We got off the plane in Santo Domingo, and as we were cycling out of the airport, Peter’s rear wheel started making awful sounds. Turns out his rear wheel bearing had disintegrated. So, I’m thinking, oh well, end of bike tour, since the chances of finding a suitable replacement seemed slim to none. So we limped along to the nearest town. Next morning, amazingly enough, we found a “bike shop” which was an outdoor affair, with most of tire inventory hanging from tree limbs. The proprietor pulled out a brand new Shimano hub, extracted the bearings, and sold them to us. That fellow really deserves hero status in my book.
It was on that trip I came face to face with ethnic stereotypes. I was talking to a native and he asked me if Peter and I were twins. I first thought he said “hermanos” (brothers) but in fact it was “gemelos” (twins). I know all bearded Irish descendant gringos look basically the same, but I didn’t think we looked identical.
We seemed to have kept our laissez-faire attitude toward the sun which in the tropics is far dumber even than Nova Scotia. After several days of being a crispy critter, Peter decided he wanted to go into Santo Domingo. I decided to stay put on the beach, trying to avoid the sun wondering if this was what sun poisoning felt like. Managed to survive that one too, and in the future helped my dermatologist earn a comfortable living.
Peter finally got a job in Fitchburg and moved out to Leominster. He met a girl in the cycling club out there whom he eventually married. We went out there a few times to cycle with them, she didn’t seem to like us very much. He had kids, probably grown up by now. And he probably uses his brakes now.