Houston is a funny old town. People say that it’s the smallest town of 7 million they’ve ever seen, and they’re not wrong. I’ve got dozens of stories that prove the point, but none as good as this one.
I ride a lot. If it was anything else, Erin would’ve had an intervention by now. It had been a thing for a while, but after my second MS150 I had a taste of a level of fitness I’d never had before, and I decided to keep pushing at the same pace. (That pace — 100 miles a week, give or take — has turned out to be the pace of my cycling life ever since.)
As part of that, I joined a ride out of a local shop that ran every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I gauged my gains in speed by how long I could keep the front group in sight. At first, it was “oh, about 10 minutes,” but I got stronger and stronger and was eventually able to hang with them a pretty long way into the ride — sometimes, all the way to the cutoff between the short version of the route and the long one. I always took the short one, to get home and have dinner with Erin, and it seems like a minor thing but the very idea of holding on until Brompton was like winning the Tour for me at the time.
Then, as I guess most of you know, my crash happened, and I was out for a while.
The funny small-town part of this comes in now. I was at an Easter party thrown every year by our pals the Britton-Dansbys, in line for food, when a guy I didn’t recognize started chatting with me about riding. “You ready to ride again?”
It took me a minute to figure it out, but my interrogator was Dan, a guy I knew from the Tuesday/Thursday ride. Dan is a gruff but profoundly kind guy, and a terribly strong rider, but I couldn’t figure out why he was at Andrew and Nicki’s house. Turns out, Dan was a Chronicle writer, just like our hosts.
And more than that: it wasn’t just Dan. It was Dan, and also two other guys from our ride: Dane and Andy. And it turned out that, unbeknownst to any of us, we’d been attending the same parties at a couple different Chronicle-connected homes for YEARS without realizing it. Dane was less regular, but when I got my legs back under me I rode with Dan and Andy and couple other guys twice a week, every week, for years.
Andy was a quiet sort, but like Dan unfailingly kind and encouraging — I was never on his or Dan’s level, but they’d hold back and let me catch up before putting the hammer down again. Cycling is suffering like that. It’s what we do. It makes you stronger, and at that time in my life the encouragement I got from these guys was priceless.
I remember, very clearly, the Tuesday ride after Bowie died and left us Blackstar. Andy was a fan, too, and at every stoplight we were chattering about how amazing the record was. Normally pretty reserved, his enthusiasm here was striking and disarming and pure — the kind of vibe that just makes you feel better for being near it, you know?
Time passed and I shifted my midweek rides to workouts — more time efficient, more impactful — and the Tuesday/Thursday ride petered out. I’d still see Dan and Andy and the other guys on other rides, but nowhere nearly as often as I’d have liked. We’d run into each other at the Odell parties, or Easter or Thanksgiving at the Britton-Dansby house, and every time I’d think to myself I should make more time to see Dan and Andy and oodles of other people that you meet, but never seem to see often enough. People get busy. It’s a thing. There will be time later.
There’s no more time, though, for Andy. He died on Saturday. He would’ve turned 47 in December.
Hug those near you. Reach out to those you wish you knew better. Sometimes, cliches are true: nobody knows how much time is left, for anything at all.
Andrew Dansby wrote the obit. If you feel so moved, Andy’s wife has asked that donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause already close to my heart.