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The view from Neahkahnie Mountain was spectacular: clear blue Oregon sky, rugged coastline, steep basalt cliffs, lush conifers, the Coast Range in the distance. A nice place to start a bike trip.
Bill Walton stared at the layer of summer fog hovering offshore and then turned to survey my yellow Schwinn Varsity, with baby seat, kickstand, generator light and balding tires.
"You're going on that?" he asked, raising his red eyebrows.
I nodded, wondering how I'd let myself get talked into this venture—a two-day, 150-mile bike trip on the winding, mountainous Pacific Coast Highway. I was accustomed to riding three blocks to the 7-Eleven.
It was August 1977, two months after Walton had led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA championship. Blazer-mania was rampant in Oregon and Walton was king. I was 35, a journalist and not exactly in Olympic form.
"Go slow, Bill," I urged as we eased onto the highway. A sign read BICENTENNIAL BIKE ROUTE. A big logging truck barreled by, nearly blowing me off the shoulder. "This doesn't seem like fun," I said.
Bill was riding his $1,000, custom-made, super-lightweight Falcon touring bike, a gift from a cycle shop near UCLA. His wife, Susan, and their 2-year-old son, Adam, were going to follow us intermittently in a Mercedes. A six-man film crew would shadow us the whole way, shooting footage for a documentary on Walton. I was the pinch pedaler—there was no time for practice laps, it was just mount up and go—called by the film crew only the night before to fill in for a friend of Bill's who had pulled out at the last minute. We were wired with mikes.
"Wait up, Bill," I yelled. "I want to ask you about the time you..." It was too late. He was far ahead, his long legs pumping like the pistons of a well-oiled machine. I suddenly got the picture: I would be playing catch-up bicycle the whole way. Ahead, I could see a Winnebago slowing down, an Instamatic aimed out the window. Oregon's state monument was rolling by.
I rode 10 tough miles into the wind before seeing Big Red again. He was relaxing beside the highway, sipping apricot nectar, picking blueberries and shying away from the Instamatics. His bike was lying in the tall grass.
"For a thousand bucks, seems like your bike should have a kickstand," I said, huffing to a stop.