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I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned, Bill was already gone, off on the last 30 miles of the journey. No goodby, no thanks for filling in and it's been nice riding with you, no attempt to urge me on. I stood there, surrounded by alfalfa sprouts and organic apple juice, listening to one of the guys in the film crew ask me if I wanted help loading my bike into the back of their van.
"Hell, no," I said bravely, trying to rub some feeling into my legs. "I'll show him."
I pedaled off again, a sweat shirt wrapped around the seat for cushioning. The final leg of the trip would be the toughest of all. I rested frequently, looking for any excuse at all to gather my strength. In the west, a poet's sunset was gathering, splashing brilliant shades of orange and crimson into the Pacific. Some other time I would be able to enjoy it more.
"I'll do that," I said, not bothering to explain. I was in a race with darkness.
One last mountain, Cape Foul-weather, was left to climb. I paused at the bottom, a worn-out Sherpa at the last camp up Everest. I tried to get metaphysical, visualizing myself coasting down the other side.
It must have worked. After what seemed like an eternity, I cruised down a hill into the fishing village of Newport, the finish. There was no checkered flag, no crowd, just exhilaration. One small ride for Walton, one giant ordeal for me. I'd biked 150 miles, more than 100 of them alone. I knew the loneliness of the long-distance cyclist. If I hadn't exactly brought the road to its knees, I had at least survived.
I rode tall through the town toward the wharf where Bill was rumored to be waiting. "If he's not applauding when I ride up," I said to myself, "I won't let him be my hero anymore."
I shouldn't have worried. He was standing in the middle of the street, a big, crooked grin on his California face. He didn't offer a high five—that hadn't become popular yet and I may not have been able to reach it anyway—just a sincere pat on the back. "Nice damn going," he said.
I flipped down my kickstand, and we walked down the street to a restaurant where he and Susan and Adam had been waiting for almost two hours. A cameraman from the film crew handed me my unofficial but appropriate trophy, a large beanbag pillow to sit on.