My friend Greg had hit the wall about four miles from the top of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and every time I looked back, he was a few more feet behind. Greg is a trail runner, but had been sitting at sea level for all but the last 21 hours, and had gone through a hectic couple weeks during which training had gotten pushed off the schedule when more important life matters popped up.
I had kept going my pace up the Bright Angel Trail, just wanting to get our 25-mile day over with and start putting back the calories I had burned, plus a couple extra thousand for the road.
With each step forward toward the South Rim, I repeated the words
A mile to go, and Greg was a few minutes behind. As I passed through the last sandstone arch, a few hundred feet of trail to go, I stopped. I was being that guy, the guy who walks off, leaving someone behind when they’re not fast enough. It is rare that I am that guy, able to actually walk faster than one of my friends. I stopped and leaned against the wall next to the trail, waiting for Greg to show up so we could top out together. Then I walked around in circles like a 7-year-old who had to pee really badly but couldn’t find a bathroom. But Greg and I walked the last couple hundred feet to the top together, and then I ate three ice cream cones like a man on death row.
Do you have a friend like this? They like you enough to call you to go climbing together, or hiking, or riding, but don’t like you enough that they will slow down their pace for you? My friend Maynard wrote a piece for Winning Magazine back in the early ’90s, called “Half Wheel Hell,” about that friend who would ride next to you and always keep half his front wheel in front of yours, even when you pedaled faster to catch up so you could talk, dammit. The essay was so popular, Maynard made it the name of his second book, Half Wheel Hell and Other Cycling Stories.
With two of my friends/climbing partners, I am always the guy 100 feet behind. No matter how hard I train, I will never keep up with Chris or Lee when we go climbing together. They both have the internal speedometer of a cheetah, and they have two gears:
1) Sitting and drinking coffee
2) Walking at 4.5 mph with a pack full of climbing gear
All I can do is step in front of them the first chance I have, and get in the way, slow them down to 3 mph or 2 mph. Sorry, dude, Tubby’s going to walk in front of you and be the cruise control here. Please accept my apology. We can talk about something as we walk up to the climb, because I won’t be wheezing blood up the steep part of the trail.
Funny thing, neither of them has ever said, “No, Brendan, why don’t I carry the rope and the rack, and your food and water, because I’m way faster than you and I get tired of waiting.” That would be way better.