schoolmates

He gave her a ride to and from high school each day in his convertible Beetle. When weather permitted, they’d put the top down and enjoy detours to delay their inevitable arrival as long as possible. They didn’t know then how precious — how rare — was their friendship.

After graduation, he joined the army and made it his career.

She married another soon after, from whom she divorced 20-plus years and two children later.

When he retired from the military, mutual friends invited her to a party in their hometown to celebrate his new life.

They had not communicated since high school, so were busy catching up when she asked, “What became of your old VW?”

Some years later, we were having coffee in their kitchen, she and I, when she said, “I want to show you something,” and she shared that story as I walked beside her to their barn.

She opened its wide doors, and, after my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, there, among the utilitarian clutter of their busy ranch lives, was a dusty old VW.

His answer to her question ten years earlier? “I still have it. I think of you whenever I see it, so could not let it go.”

We cried, she and I — happy tears — because … well, I choke up a bit even now, reliving that scene.

I spent two days on their ranch, enjoying their stories, and, hopefully, helping them create new ones.

I could have substituted any of the as-moving stories of couples I encountered in Apple Valley, California, Salisbury, Connecticut, Bar Harbor, Maine, Manhattan, Kansas and New York, Nashville, Tennessee, Marathon Key, Florida, the Kaibab Indian Reservation in Arizona, and in countless other communities to which the bike has carried me since early 2016.

There are many payoffs to perpetual, solo bike travel, but the most uplifting is yet another I’m not clever enough to have anticipated, much less invented.

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