John Henke, A Friend Indeed [Manuscript [some] day]
The body is deceiving. It can feign strength when it has adventure to devour. It is like an old car that, with good oil, will run for miles and miles, but when it gets low everything begins to act up.
The heat sets in. They are in an eastern valley of the Rockies and temperatures rival the desert in California. Mirage-like heat waves seem only a hundred feet away, but as they crank, the road warmly swimming underfoot, cooking their water bottles, the heat waves remain in the same place. Wavering there in the distance as they chase after, their hydration leaves a trail long behind.
“Dude. This sucks.”
“This definitely isn’t the Rockies anymore. I mean the hills. Look at the hills now.”
They are green, but on the verge of beige. There is dirt the color of khaki, and there are bushes where trees used to be a hundred miles back.
“It’s not a wasteland or anything. But there’s not much here.”
“I just saw a sign,” Louis says pulling up next to Michael, his arm falling back where the sign is at their backs. “Vietnam memorial highway.”
“And it’s desolate.”
“Not much here.”
“I don’t know much about that war other than that people called it a mistake.”
“L-B-J, right?” Michael says.
“Lyndon Johnson, the president…”
“Oh right. Yeah, I remember.”
“How many kids you gonna kill today, is what people would say after L-B-J.”
Louis falls back and before long can be heard taking a phone call. Michael waits for confirmation of a place for them to stay.
“Great… No, yeah, we’re great with that… Okay, see you soon, John. Thanks.” A pause. Then: “so, he wants to know how we feel about taco salad.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said,” Louis says.
“Hey Louis!” comes the voice of an approaching rider. He wears a jersey with the American Flag and rides a bike with a rack and cooler he has rigged on top, just like Louis’.
It is John Henke.
“John!” Louis yells back.
“Guys! We’re still fifteen miles away!” He says as he comes to their side of the road. “I knew it was you, though. See that ridge up there? I came up on it and waited until I saw you. Then you came and I started down.”
The ridge is clearly another hill, and John is not being very funny when he says fifteen miles.
“Hey, you guys like taco salad?”
This is the first question he has asked. He is bubbling over with excitement.
“Yeah! We do!” says Louis attempting to match his enthusiasm.
“Great, hang on.” He pulls out a phone and hands them each a waterbottle from his cooler. “Hey, Judy. Judy… Yes, yes they are here and they want the taco salad. Yes… What’s that? No, another hour. Yes… Okay. Bye.”
Michael feels for another hour in his rubberized muscles and comes up empty.
“Taco salad it is! Ready?”
They ride, and they ride fast. John is pulling, breaking through the wind like a great steel locomotive. They hardly notice the ridge. They careen down the other side and into the southern outskirts of Colorado Springs. It is pushed up against the eastern mountains. It is quaint, in a way that feels peaceful, but large, in a way that says shrugs and says there are many generations and stories here today.
John doesn’t let up. His cyclometer reads twenty miles per hour on the flats and he is casual, he is steady. Louis and Michael dream of taco salad and watch it heap up on cold porcelain plates. They relish the opportunity to not have to trade off leading. Instead, they follow their newest friend’s persistent pace. His American flag jersey waves for freedom, friendship, and adventure ahead in their sight.