Rode hard and put away wet

The sky was crying as we motored home.

Can a weekend be both long and short at the same time?

The answer is yes, if you’re driving from The Duck! City to Manitou Springs and back again to join some old comrades in honoring the spirit of one who’s gone west.

The friends and family of John O’Neill crowded into Mansions Park in Manitou on Saturday to eat, drink, and swap tales of a grumpy old sumbitch who loved his wife Cindy, dogs, running, the Three Stooges, mountain biking, and margaritas, and who left the party far too early at 69.

Herself and I had to think fast to arrange the 400-mile trip north. Do we drive up the day of the celebration, spend the night, and come back on Sunday? Or the day before, spend the night, and then race home right after the gathering on Saturday? Who’s going to keep an eye on Miss Mia Sopaipilla now that she’s an only cat? We’re short a couple of neighbors, one who’s off with the family on her own road trip and another who just had knee-replacement surgery. Decisions, decisions. …

In the end we arranged a room, engaged a pro pet-sitter to check in on Mia, got up at stupid-thirty on Saturday, and roared north in the recently reconditioned Fearsome Furster, making it to Bibleburg with just enough time to spare for a detour down Memory Lane, which in this case led to Bear Creek Regional Park, where John and I and the rest of the Mad Dogs put on so many cyclocrosses Back in the Day®.

From there we drove straight to Manitou, grabbed a parking spot across the street from the park, puzzled out the robo-meter (Is everything smart these days except me?) and did a quick bit of recon.

The uniform of the day was to be flannel shirts and jeans, and we soon saw one, then another, and another. Many, many of them, as the hour approached. We helped shift a few picnic tables and folding chairs around, but there were not nearly enough of either to accommodate the swelling flannel-and-denim herd, which spilled over the designated parking spots and onto the lawn.

There were tales and tears, laughter and applause, a slideshow and still photos, food and drink. We paid our respects to Cindy and to John’s Colorado Running Company partner Jeff Tarbert, and caught up with a smattering of cycling and running buddies from The Before-Time, when the Mad Dogs had a good deal less gray in their muzzles and more glide in their stride.

Time is a toll road, and the longer your journey, the more descansos you pass.

We couldn’t find a way to attend a remembrance for our B-burg bro’ Steve Milligan, a sharp wit felled by an aggressive cancer in 2020, at age 73, just as he and his wife were preparing to enjoy their retirement.

I was able to make it to Denver this past July to say a belated adios to my first editor in the cycling racket, Tim Johnson, who worked long and hard to help build VeloNews into the preeminent bike-racing mag’ it became after Inside Communications acquired the title and moved it from Brattleboro to Boulder in 1989. Early-onset Alzheimer’s devoured what remained of Tim in November 2021, at 63, after gnawing away at him for years.

Now, I am not a believer in the Next World. I’m not certain I believe in this one. But I found solace in these remembrances and the sheer number of celebrants they drew. One person can make a difference. The ripples from their passage through our lives spread far and wide, lifting many a lesser vessel.

They say you’re not supposed to make a big wake by the dock, “they” being the slackers bronzing their buns on the boards. The only time those posers get their feet wet is when they piss on their flip-flops.

The big boys jump right the hell off that dock. Make a huge splash, the sort of cannonball into the deeps that will have people talking and laughing and toasting your memory long after you’re gone.

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24 Responses to “Rode hard and put away wet”

  1. SAO' Says:

    Here’s to John, Steve, and Tim. I’ll not pretend I know what happens when our clock stops ticking (worms crawl in, worms crawl out …) but I can see that their memory is holding up just fine, and maybe that’s all any of us can hope for.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Good men all of ’em, and you know what they say about the good dying young. Thus I should linger well into my second century.

      How’s your scar coming along? Jiminy Chris’mus, sounds like the skin wizard peeled you like a banana.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Heh. If the good die young, you think you and I will be able to ride 100 km on our birthdays in a few decades?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Oof. If we do, at least it won’t be raining the way it is now. It’s been pissing down rain since we shot past Las Vegas yesterday. But another quarter-century or so should see us cycling through the parched wasteland in radiation-proof body armor.

      • SAO' Says:

        A whole lotta stitches for not very much action. Only one of the lot turned out to be anything concerning … I guess that’s why they call it a “medical practice.” Practiced on three, one final warm-up just for good measure, and then the main event. No idea why it took so many stitches. The big one got 6 sub-dermal and 12 on the surface, I guess just because it was dead center in the middle of my back and they needed to account for me doing strenuous things that might rip the incision spot, like breathing or lifting a coffee mug.

        They’re recommending a chemical peel or blue light special over the winter to take care of my scalp and face. Pretty sure it’s just their way of telling me I’m ugly. Insert a whole bunch of Sanford and Sons jokes. I’m so ugly, they smash my face in dough to make gorilla cookies. I look like the part of the polaroid that you tear off and throw away.

        Somewhere up above, my County Cork ancestors are shaking their angelic heads and muttering, serves him right for living at altitude. You get a whole mile closer to the sun, what do you expect?

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Ouch. I hear you about the “medical practice” gag. My last visit to the skin priest was in mid-plague and she was like a rookie cop at a riot, spraying chemicals on anything she thought she could hit from a safe distance.

          Didn’t break out the melon baller like the previous taxidermist, though. Frankly, I don’t think she wanted to get that close to me.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Gotcha on those descansos. My stepdad barely dodged the Grim Reaper a couple weeks ago. Living alone at close to 90, my younger brother found him collapsed at home. Apparently he got pneumonia and dehydration and didn’t know what hit him. A few days in the hospital and a week in a rehab center and he is back home. Meanwhile, turns out my brother in law from the first wedding ring ceremony passed of cancer at 59. Way too early, but he led a tough life.

    Starting to dream of footsteps.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      More roadside crosses than cyclocrosses these days, to be sure.

      Pneumonia will do you up a treat, mate. I didn’t like that shit when I was a spry young pup, and if I make it to 90 I’m sure I will like it even less then.

      On the other hand, it was my last flyby at pneumonia that finally persuaded me to quit smoking. So it’s not all bad. …

  3. Michael Porter Says:


    Miche and I were definitely there in Spirit. Those days with the Dogs were a wonderful time in our lives and we owe much gratitude to folks like yourself & herself, Cindy & John and others. We will be forever grateful that you were all trying to teach us not to take ourselves so seriously and that laughter truly was the best medicine.

    We both cried for John & Cindy, but the tears were overcome with laughter as we reflected on those days of racing ‘Cross in Bear Creek among other places or proclaiming “I have the yellow jersey” as we chugged along out in “Kansas,” the Black Forest, the academy, up Ute Pass to Deckers, etc. because we loved the company and the friendships.

    The late Jim Valvano said it well, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

    Big hugs to the Mrs

    Michael & Michele

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Cindy was saying the same thing — “Those were the best times!” And they were. A good gang of likeminded people. Folks you could ride with, eat with, drink with.

      Baughman with his “Shut up and ride.” Everybody doing their best (or worst) Phil ’n’ Paul routines, mostly involving The Man with the Hammer, the Suitcase of Courage, and the Turning of the Pedals in Anger.

      I haven’t found as good a mob to ride with since, and that’s a fact. The Dog Blog Gang is a strong No. 2 (in a good way), but we only get together every few years instead of every few days, and the pace is a wee bit slower.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        The Dog Blog Gang is a bunch of agreeable folks, if I say so myself. The infrequent rides together were very pleasant and memorable. John liked the Three Stooges, bikes and dogs. That tells me a lot about the man. The gathering tells me the rest about a special guy. To have friends is one of the neatest things in life, especially in these times. Glad you and Herself took the chance to celebrate his life.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Yous lot and the Mad Dogs would’ve gotten along famously so. And I was still gargling the tonsil polish back then so I was even wittier and better looking than I am now.

        • SAO' Says:

          Speaking of mad dogs … added another pup to our family of mongrels and strays. A 5 month old rescue of dubious origins, so he obviously fits right in.

          11 pounds soaking wet, so natch they named him Bruno.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Is the pooch named for the Bruno in Jim Harrison’s “Brown Dog” series? A mean-minded 20-pound wirehaired fox terrier, Bruno was. Reminded me of my beloved mutt Jojo, a mini-mongrel from the wrong side of the tracks in Alamosa who would fight anything at the drop of a sombrero and drop the hat himself.

          • SAO' Says:

            That’s one of those “just between you and me” things that I’ve decided the 75% of our household that gets 100% of the vote doesn’t need to know right now. Pretty sure the foster family named him, and they have a 12 year old girl and Disney stickers on their mini-van. Our kids loved the name, so I kept my mouth shut. But if I had said, “Cool name … you know, there’s a fun pup in this novella, goes by the same name …” then I’m pretty sure they would be calling him Carl or Felix or Sebastian or something as non-Bruno as they could get.

  4. Steve E Orlik Says:

    Fred( Pat) ! you have to write a book before your shadow is hidden by the last Jemez Mtns sunset.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      A book! Good gravy, that sounds like a job of work. I fear my mad skillz, such as they are, are better suited to the short form. You know. Anything that can be sprayed on an overpass before the cops show up.

      • Steve Orlik Says:

        Oh you are a treasure, If ever find yourself up in SF with a bike in tow ,would be nice to meet up for ride! A “chicken” ride only fast enough to allow for comedic conversation about the good old days of steel bikes with campy or shimano!

        • khal spencer Says:

          Last time I recall Patrick being up here was for a pretty good time doing the Fanta Se Half Century, but I think he successfully escaped the City Different. Maybe we ought to offer to buy him breakfast at Tia Sophia’s?

  5. khal spencer Says:

    O’G, you saw this?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I did, K. I don’t recall reading Jim when I was at The New Mexican (mid-1988 to fall 1991), but then I was a newcomer and a short-timer who didn’t have much time for reading anything I wasn’t paid to read (or write). I was commuting from Española, training and racing a ton, and trying to figure out what I wanted to be if I ever grew up.

      I’ll bet Steve Terrell read him, though. For sure John Fleck did. It’s always sad to lose a good scribe because they seem to come along less frequently these days.

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