Read an Excerpt
By Todd Hafer
ZondervanCopyright © 2004 Todd Hafer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMen Versus Mountain
This is way worse than running suicides, Martin," Bart Evans groaned. "This is the kind of thing that could kill a guy for real! Dude, I thought he was tough as a hoops coach. But this is, like, another level of pain."
Eighth grader Cody Martin nodded grimly. I'd rather run a hundred suicides than do this, he thought. Why did I let Coach Clayton talk me into this? He rose up from his saddle as the road steepened. Each downstroke on the pedals of his 12-speed felt as if it would be his last. His quads burned, like they had been soaked in acid.
"If I peddle any slower," he mumbled, "I'll start going back downhill. I can't believe Coach made this sound fun."
Bart snorted weakly. "Coach Clayton is the devil. 'Scenic ride,' my foot, which is aching so bad I want to cut it off, by the way. 'Majestic ride, carving right through a historic Colorado mountain pass. Breath-taking rock walls so close to the road's edge you can reach out and touch them.'"
"Well," Cody offered, "it would be scenic, if we weren't blinded by pain."
The duo grew silent as they rounded a switchback and were hit by a stiff wind.
I should have suspected something when Coach Clayton dodged Gage's question, Cody thought. Gage McClintock, the track team's best 400-meter runner, had asked the distance coach, "Mountain pass, eh? I don't like the sound of that. How steep a mountain are we talkin' here?"
Coach Clayton, a six-foot-four scarecrow of a man, had laughed derisively. "Mac, don't be such a wimp. It's only a fourteen-mile ride. We're not talking about a leg of the Tour de stinkin' France. Not even a toe of the Tour de France. For cryin' out loud, I'm doin' the ride on my old mountain bike. You guys all have road bikes, so quit your whinin'."
"Besides," he added with a wink, "when we finish up in Woodland Park, I'm gonna buy you the best donuts anywhere. And then we get to ride down. I'm tellin' ya-you'll feel like you're flyin'!"
Flyin'? Cody thought. A snail could crawl faster than this. I'm gonna topple over any second now, I just know it. It's just a matter of physics. It's not possible for a bike to go this slow.
Cody knew that if he crashed, he was going to leave significant portions of his hide on Ute Pass. His cycling shoes were locked firmly in the toe clips, and he wouldn't have the time or energy to release them, especially if he biffed when he was up off the saddle. He raised his head to study the terrain ahead. His heart deflated like a balloon. Just ahead was the meanest hill of the ride.
It has to be two hundred yards long, Cody thought. And it's straight up, no switchbacks!
He heard himself whimper. Bart had pulled ten yards ahead of him moments earlier, but now Cody saw him maneuver his bike off the shoulder and execute an ungainly dismount. As he stood on the roadside, his legs buckled, and he had to lean on his bike for support.
"Forget this," Bart spat, as Cody ground by him. "I'm walking my bike up that monster hill. I'll walk it all the way to Woodland Park if I have to. My quads are Jell-O, dude."
"And if I live through this," he called to Cody as the distance between them stretched, "I'm gonna be a sprinter. No more of this distance stuff for me. It's too doggoned hard!"
Bart Evans, a sprinter? Cody smiled. I don't think so. If you had any speed, dawg, you wouldn't be here.
As Cody hit the hill's halfway point, he heard Bart again, his voice faraway and hollow- "What are you trying to prove anyway, Martin? What are you trying to proooove?"
I hate you Bart, he laughed to himself, grimly. I was just about to get off my bike and walk too, and you have to go and say something like that. Now I have to keep going. What am I trying to prove? I don't know, but I guess I'll figure that out when I get to the top. If I get to the top.
He was two-thirds up the hill now. He shifted his weight to his left and drove the pedal down, hoping to generate enough momentum to bring his foot back to the top position again. As he completed a slow revolution, his front wheel wobbled. Panic rippled through his body.
The panic was followed by a welcome rush of adrenaline-or maybe it was sunstroke. In either case, he clenched his jaw and willed himself to pick up his cadence.
I don't know if I'll ever get to the top of this hill, he resolved, but I'll eat asphalt before I get off and walk.
Cody closed his eyes and uttered a two-word prayer, "Strength-please." Then he blinked a drop of sweat from his left eye and began straining against the hill. Only fifty yards to go, but I am so worked.
He slumped back to his saddle. Can't stay up anymore-legs will cramp if I do. But down on the saddle, I can't generate-any-power.
Just as he was ready to give up, Cody felt a strong hand in the middle of his back, pushing him ahead. For a moment, he didn't have to strain alone against gravity and fatigue. Some benevolent force was aiding him.
Okay, I'm pretty sure this is a miracle, he thought. He glanced skyward. When I begged for help, I didn't expect you to send a miracle, Lord, just a little more muscle power. But I'm glad you did. Thanks.
"You're almost there, dude," a voice told Cody, "and once you crest this hill, it's candy."
Cody looked to his left. Drew Phelps removed his hand from Cody's back and made a fist. "Come on, Code. You're tougher than this mountain. Bring the pain."
"Bring the pain," Cody managed to wheeze in agreement. "Thanks, Phelps. For a minute there, I thought you were God."
"Do you really think the Lord would call you 'dude,' dude?"
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, dude-" Drew said with a chuckle.
"Thou art crazy, dude," Cody said.
Drew smiled and increased his speed. "Code," he called over his right shoulder as his thin but muscular legs churned like pistons, "go hard and count to twenty and you'll bust this hill. See you at the top."
Cody leaned forward as he began to count. He eyed the top of the hill. "Twenty more seconds," he whispered to the hill, "and you're mine. Well, mine and Drew's."
"You weren't lying about these donuts, Coach," Gage said, finishing his third honey whole wheat oval and brushing the golden crumbs off his legs.
Coach Clayton acknowledged the compliment by raising his blueberry muffin and saluting.
Cody and the rest of the Grant Junior High distance men flanked their coach at the Donut Mill's Liar's Table, the only table big enough to accommodate six eighth-grade tracksters and their lanky leader.
Cody shoved half a bear claw in his mouth and chased it down with a slug from his quart carton of chocolate milk. He watched Drew rise slowly to his feet and head to the front porch, which paralleled Woodland Park's main drag. He followed Drew out the door and they stood together, leaning on the porch rail, watching pickup trucks, dirt-encrusted Audis and Saabs, and the occasional Winnebago cruise by.
"Not a bad ride," Drew said. "A little short, but a decent workout all in all."
Cody wagged his head in disbelief. "You probably think root canals are a little short, too. I thought this was a way-hard way to begin the season. I thought I was in better shape."
Drew nodded. "I think that's Coach's plan. Help us see how far we have to go."
"Well, I have a long way to go."
"That's okay. Just be patient."
Cody studied his friend's face. "I guess you know all about patience," he said. "What was it like-being sick for almost a year?"
"It was like, uh, being sick. For almost a whole year. It was hard. But it was good for me."
Cody frowned. "Good?"
"It taught me to be patient. To pray, and wait for an answer. And it made me thankful for every mile, every step I had ever run. And I vowed that if-when-I could run again, I would treasure every step. Every dusty, lonely mile. Every race."
Cody stood upright, grabbed the porch rail with his left hand, and grabbed his right ankle with the other. Warily, he pulled his leg up and back, to stretch his quadriceps. He winced at the deep-set pain. "I'm glad I don't have to race right now. My legs are shot."
Drew turned toward Cody. "What doesn't kill you-"
"I know-makes me stronger. Believe me, I've said that a thousand times this past year."
"And you're still here."
"I guess so. Hey, thanks for the help back there. I really needed it. I wasn't sure I was going to make it."
Drew nodded slowly.
Cody laughed. "You could tell, huh? It was that obvious?"
Drew didn't answer, which was all the answer Cody needed. "I guess it's like Coach said during basketball, 'Fatigue makes cowards of us all.'"
Drew frowned and headed down the porch steps. He stretched his hands to the sky. The way he moved reminded Cody of a cat-relaxed-smooth.
They looked east, studying the pass they had just conquered. "I don't know that I agree with Coach," Drew said flatly. "Fatigue doesn't necessarily make you a coward. Fatigue can bring out the warrior in a person, if you know how to face it. If you're prepared for it."
"Well, I sure wasn't prepared. And I sure didn't feel like a warrior. I felt like a little old arthritic grampa, trying to climb Pikes Peak on a tricycle."
Drew took a long draw from his bottle of Gatorade. "But inside you, you had the warrior fire. You just needed a little spark to ignite it-or maybe reignite it. That's all I was trying to do. Start the spark. That's what my dad did for me, you know. When I finally got better, he went outside with me one day-May 6, to be exact. We ran, well, trotted to the end of the block. That was all. Then we walked back. But that was the start. That was the spark. That's what I was trying to do for you."
Cody shrugged and headed back up the stairs. "Well," he said, without looking over his shoulder at Drew, "it worked."
"Okay," Coach Clayton said, snapping the chinstrap of his helmet, "now comes the fun part-going down the mountain. But it won't be fun if I have to scrape anybody's carcass off Ute Pass. So, inexperienced riders, stay back. This isn't a race. Watch for patches of sand and gravel, and lay off the front brakes! Watch for the school van in a lot just before Manitou Springs."
Cody said a silent prayer for everyone's safety and climbed on his bike. He tucked behind Drew as the group began its descent.
As he whipped down the mountain, Cody began to feel small and vulnerable. The speed accentuated the road's many ruts and divots, and he had to clench his jaw to keep his upper and lower teeth from rattling against each other. He knew that one misread turn or one unfortunately placed rock would catapult him from his saddle. That was the danger. But that was also the thrill.
When the road finally leveled a bit, Cody called ahead to Drew, who was about three bike lengths ahead. "D," he said, drinking in the mountain air, "how fast?"
Drew looked at his handlebar-mounted computer and then shot a quick glance over his right shoulder. "We hit forty-two on that last steep grade. We're at thirty-one now. We passed that RV like it was standing still-did you see that?"
Before Cody could answer, Drew cut in. "Uh-oh, here come a bunch of S curves. Prepare thyself."
"I art prepared," Cody yelled, giving his rear brake lever two quick grabs to get his speed under control. Following Drew's lead, he shifted his weight, first to the left, and then to the right, staying low in the saddle, his eyes studying the jiggling terrain before him. He marveled at how deftly Drew controlled his coal-black Miyata 12-speed. He tried to mimic every lean and follow every angle.
Cody sighed when he saw the van parked in a crescent-shaped unpaved lot outside of Manitou. The downhill ride had ended too quickly. Coach Clayton was already securing his bike on top of the van. Gage was gulping hungrily from a bottle of Gatorade.
Cody and Drew whipped into the lot, side by side. Cody's bike began to fishtail when it hit the loose gravel, but he brought it under control and just missed making Gage a handlebar ornament.
Drew and Cody had already loaded their bikes and changed from their cycling shoes when Paul Getman and Mark Goddard arrived. "That was tight!" Goddard said.
Getman rolled his eyes. "So tight that you screamed like a girl going down Motel X hill?"
"I was screaming because I was into it. And it wasn't really a scream. It was a primal war cry."
Getman spat on the ground. "Well, you got the 'cry' part right, anyway. Your pants dry, Markie? You doughboy!"
Goddard pulled his bike even with Getman's, until the two of them were nose to nose. "You wanna check?"
"All right guys," Coach Clayton said, stepping between them. "I thought when basketball season was over, I wouldn't have to hear any more trash talking. You two better save your air for the season. Distance men need all the O-two they can get."
Then Coach paused and looked around the lot, rotating his head like a tank turret. "Hey, where's Evans?"
Goddard shrugged. "I thought he was up with you guys."
Cody saw the worry creep into his coach's wind-lashed face. "No," he said grimly, "I told him to stay at the back of the pack, but within contact." He drummed his fingers across his helmet, which he held in his left hand. "Okay, here's what we'll do. Martin, Phelps, you hop in the van with me. McClintock, you stay here with Goddard and Getman."
"Keep your eyes open, fellas," Coach Clayton said as he nursed the van through a series of switchbacks. "Drew, you and I will watch the eastbound lanes. Martin, you scour the westbound-in case Evans crossed over for some reason."
As the van crawled its way up the pass, Cody prayed earnestly, Please, God, let Bart be okay. Please!
As they passed by the small town of Cascade, Drew shouted, "Hey, Coach, I think I see him up ahead! See that skinny guy? Isn't that him sitting on the side of the road up there?"
Coach Clayton leaned over the steering wheel and studied the road ahead. "Yeah, that's Bart. He looks a little forlorn. Man, I hope he's okay."
"Well," Cody said hopefully, "at least he's sitting up and not lying flat out and unconscious."
Coach pulled the van off the right side of the road. Cody and Drew leaped out, and Cody looked down the pass. "Okay, we're clear. Let's go for it!"
The duo sprinted to a grassy median separating the east- and westbound lanes, waited for a Jeep to pass, and then hurried to Bart, who sat cross-legged against a reflector pole, his chin tucked against his chest.
Excerpted from Second Wind by Todd Hafer Copyright © 2004 by Todd Hafer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.