The other day, a buddy of mine, Tom Draffen, commented to me about how he has me in his 'trained-with' list. This got me to thinking about those special folks who I've chalked up to as training partners, mentors, friends, or even just cool people I've met through cycling.
The first person that comes to mind is Andrew Werth.
Sadly, Andy left us in 2009, but happily, I was lucky enough to spend some of my teenage summers cycling with him on the roads of Washington D.C. and Maryland. My first bike was a kids bmx style bike, but when I was old enough for my parents to let me loose on the open streets of DC and partake in the group-ride scene we had, it was Andy who 'loaned' me his original Masi Gran-Criterium bike. I remember that bike with the same intensity you would remember a fourth-of-july celebration. The frame had a smooth, powdered cobalt-blue finish. The Gran-Criterium logo was bordered by small, detailed flags of various european countries. The seatpost and quill stem had an elegantly aged chrome finish; they looked in good condition, but had only enough minor scratching and loss of luster to show that they were indeed original parts. The Masi had an 8-speed Record group installed, but the frame was designed for an older kit, so you had to spread the rear fork slightly to get the rear wheel to drop in properly. Thank goodness the steel frame would allow for this! What a great first racing bike this was, and Andy always referred to it as my bike, like he knew how I had wanted my very own bicycle and the magic bond a 14 year old can have with their first major thing 'of their own.'
Eventually I would outgrow the Masi, and on my 16th birthday, my parents got me a new-used bike. While I stopped riding the Masi, I still rode with Andy. Andy showed me the ropes to group riding at all of the main-stay meetups in the city: Hains Point at Noon, The Goon Ride, 7AM, 10AM, and even took me on some of DC Velo's impromptu century rides. There was never any instruction given, per-say, about how to ride properly, but Andy had this sort of teacher's aura about him, where you couldn't help but want to pay attention to what he did and then imitate him. Sure, I would ask about how a paceline worked and he'd give me a great run-down of the mechanics, but most of what I learned from Andy didn't come from verbal direction. You couldn't help but want to ride a bike like Andy Werth because he was popular, friendly, fast, safe, and respected. Somewhere in there you can draw many parallels to his personality, because as good of a bike rider and business man he may have been, he was an even better friend, bikes involved or not.
Eventually I went off to college and had a layoff from cycling during the summers in order to work for book and pizza money. I got back into cycling for fitness when I was 22, and for the first time in my life, made new cycling friends at my new home in Fairfax. I met many good and great friends on my own, but cycling always seemed 'different' from when I was 15 years old and meeting up with Andy to do the 10 AM ride in Rock Creek Park. I used to chalk it up to nostalgia, but I think now that I just had it really good and am envious of my 15 year-old self for being fresh to the sport, riding up hills like a madman, and most importantly, having a riding buddy like Andy.