It was two hundred fifty miles from Colorado Springs to Rifle. I remember looking at the odometer once and memorizing it as a significant number. It was an all-day trip back then—to the small town on the Western Slope of the state, where my cousins, my Aunt Bonny and Uncle Dave lived.
We went more than once each year, but every Thanksgiving, my dad, mom, and sister and I would pack up and head west. We drove up into the mountains, across the snowy passes. When we would get to Glenwood Canyon, I knew we were getting close. Soon, we would get off the highway, find our way through the humble downtown of Rifle. Then up a brief road to the top of a hill. As we came down the hill, we could see the house waiting at the end of the road. We have home-movies of that. It remains one of the brightest images of my childhood. Thanksgiving equaled Rifle, Colorado.
I would then proceed to have some of the best times of my life. Family and food and laughter and singing and games and stories. My Uncle Dave was famous for his stories. Our family is all about remembering and laughing. Everyone agreed that Uncle Dave was the best of the storytellers. Even stories we had heard a million times were still funny when he told them. And even as we enjoyed hearing the old stories, new ones were in the making as we spent time together.
Uncle Dave’s most famous story was about a bicycle. Like all the stories we tell, they probably changed with time, but this is the version I recall:
After he was married to Aunt Bonny and somewhere in his thirties, Uncle Dave bought a second-hand bicycle to ride to work. It was a little beat-up, but by all appearances it would get him where he needed to go. Assuming it was a trustworthy contraption, Uncle Dave got up one morning and set out. Little did he know it would be the most exciting bicycle ride of his life.
Riding a bicycle is a lot like riding a bicycle, so even though it had been a while since he had been on one, Uncle Dave made some progress right away. There was some difficulty huffing and puffing up the first hill, but the exhilaration of coming down the other side made it all worth it.
The second hill was also a challenge, but again, the excitement of the descent was thrilling. The excitement of the descent became somewhat more thrilling when he tried one of the hand brakes and heard a disturbing twang as the cable snapped. Not to worry, there was still another set of brakes.
Applying those brakes also produced the sound of something like a breaking guitar string. Now it was time to worry.
For up ahead was a busy cross street complete with a stoplight (currently red) where a congregation of cars was gathered and waiting. At that point, Uncle Dave considered his options. He could just plow into someone’s bumper and experience the brief sensation of uninhibited flight. He could veer left into a small grove of trees and take his chances as a pinball. Or he could veer right and into a gas station and see what happened.
He chose the gas station.
Leaning into a hard, hard right, Uncle Dave made such a drastic turn that he was nearly parallel with the ground, the street flying by only inches beneath his ear. He shot past the gas pumps at an impressive speed that had never been intended by any maker of bicycles.
This was back in the days when gas station attendants actually came out and pumped the gas for you. In order to signal that a customer had pulled up, there was something like a black cord that was laid out across the path of approaching vehicles. When a car rolled over it, a bell went off in the gas station office.
Uncle Dave zipped over that thing and the bell went off.
The attendant of course looked up, expecting to see a car. But there was no one out there. Uncle Dave was moving at such a ridiculous speed, he had already moved on. Still trying to manage the bicycle’s insanity, he shot around behind the station, still going at a pretty good clip.
Meanwhile, the attendant assumed some kind of glitch and looked back down at his magazine.
Uncle Dave flew back around to the front, slowing down somewhat, but still not slow enough to safely try and stop. He shot past the pumps again.
The attendant looked up.
By this time, the bicycle was beginning to calm down. Uncle Dave rode around one more time to the front of the station and was able to slam down his heels for a gritty, awkward stop.
To save some dignity, he got off, let the air out of one of his tires and then filled it with air again. Just riding my bike. Just putting some air in the tire. Nothing to see here. Then he got back on and rode away.
This story helps me remember my uncle. It captures his adventurous life (such as his time in the Navy), it makes me think of his perseverance (such as starting the congregation in Rifle), and it seems a lot like life in general. When Uncle Dave passed away last September, I thought about his sense of humor. I thought about how much fun he gave to me growing up. I thought about some of the things he said from the pulpit that still remain deep in my mind.
And I thought about him on that bicycle. I thought that it was like that for all of us. You climb and you climb, enjoying one hill after another, facing the challenges, but enjoying the ride once you get past them. And then it comes time for the ultimate ride to the next adventure. When the brakes fail. When you realize that the next hill is going to be much more challenging than you thought, you quickly look ahead to see what comes next.
I am so grateful that Uncle Dave knew what was coming next. If there was fear, it was brief. He lived his life under the protection of the blood of Christ and so he finished well. The next story I get to hear him tell will be when we’re both in heaven.
But I have to say this. We can only guess what waits for us. I simply know that it will be far better than what any of us could hope for. None of us will be disappointed.
And when I come up over the last hill—when the brakes fail—and if I see that little house on the other side.
That would be fine with me.
That would be fine with me.