Stoically calming my nerves and handing me a video camera-fitted helmet, maintenance men Michael and Goody beat out coffee as my Wednesday morning saviors.
Rusty, somewhat like my bike, I’d come to the takeoff point without a proper shirt, a dying camera, a worthless helmet and a prayer that I wouldn’t fall while clipping into my pedals. I hadn’t been on a bike in nearly two years.
It was “hump” day and Ride 2 Recovery cyclists were headed to “Fort Home,” a native-Fort Hood rider’s term, and then going another 70 miles to Waco.
Outfitted in multicolored parkas, the group looked like a bunch of weather-beaten bald eagles — majestic, noble, patriotic, a little intimidating and much, much too rare — as they glided effortlessly into riding formation.
The whoosh of 200 tires to pavement had a winglike sound as the group headed to Fort Hood for a ceremony at III Corps Headquarters, calling “hoorahs” and “hellos” the entire way.
A laughing veteran named Karlous Davis smiled at me, showing a gold tooth, and teased handle-bar mustached bike mechanic Michael about his tires.
Michael already said he felt like he had the best job in the world — cycling outside, traveling the country, hanging out with inspiring people — it was a rock star lifestyle without the drug problem.
Everyone seemed to know each other, and since I’m an Army-newbie, I figured most of them had run into one another in a veteran cycling group, or a brigade reunion, or maybe happened to wear too much camouflage at the mall and been spotted.
It was only when we stopped that I realized a lot of them had just met.
Nice strangers usually don’t grind each others’ gears as much as these guys jokingly did, which made for a warm, somewhat tough-guy, family-like atmosphere.
In a cycling pack, you get great “rear” views, but most attention is spent focusing on avoiding wrecks with the riders to your front, side and behind. I was near the back of the pack with Karlous, and I asked if he would sprint to the front with me.
We pedaled hard for almost half a mile — didn’t reach the front — but saw cars pulled over in a zombie-apocalypse-like manner with residents hanging out windows and waving.
Reaching Fort Hood, thousands of soldiers lined the roads, high-fiving cycling veterans and waving flags. It must have been what parades were like before television.
During his speech to veterans, III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley phrased it well: “From now until the rest of your life, you’ll always have a home here at Fort Hood in the Great Place.”