It’s now been exactly one month since Chris Hodges made his awe-inspiring, record-breaking, top-to-bottom, 9/11 New Hampshire bicycle trek. I think the 30-day gap in time is appropriate, because if it had been me, instead of Chris, who laced up the bike shoes at the Canadian border in Pittsburg on the frigid morning of September 11, 2011, I’d probably be arriving at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border … just … about … now.
But that’s why I wasn’t the guy on the bike.
Chris is a serious cyclist who had, a few months prior to September 11, committed to adding to his resume (which already included the fastest New Hampshire west-to-east time) an attempt at besting the north-to-south mark: roughly 230 miles from Pittsburg to Hollis (it’s kind of tiring even typing those words) in better than 13 hours, 39 minutes, an 18-year-old record.
He would do it, he said, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks, in memory of Army Specialist Marc Decoteau, and to raise money for Hoops For Heroes.
Chris, as has been well-documented in this space, has been a force in terms of his support for our project. Along with plenty of help from his whole Hodges family — Tiffany, Kyle and Drew — he’s donated, he’s rebounded, he’s spread the word, he’s organized, he pretty much walked us through our “21,000 for 21 years” event on Sept. 2, Marc’s 21st birthday … and now this.
A half-day of nonstop pedaling.
He had invited me along as a member of the support crew, whose job it would be to “leapfrog” — driving the support car up ahead of him throughout the route, then having Coke or Mountain Dew or Coconut water or “Hammer” energy drink or Ensure, or yes, even a coffee, at the ready for him as he passed. Get back in the car, pass him, and do it again. Pretty straightforward stuff for me, Kyle and Drew.
In the trail car, then, would be Tiffany as the driver, Chris’s mom Betty Martin as No. 1 fan, and Brett Walker of Salisbury — a nationally established rider (and certified crazy person) who, by the way, has among other ridiculous feats completed the Race Across America — as the race official.
It was dark. It was cold.
Chris was gone.
In a few moments, so were we, driving out behind him, ready to get in front and prepare those liquids. We were armed with plenty of all the aforementioned drinks and 10 water bottles, each filled. Depending on what Chris wanted or needed along the way, our job was to be prepared with any of them. There was even a little bit of strategy involved, believe it or not. Us handing him water in the middle of a steep incline, for example, was a no-no. Far better to be at the top of a hill, enabling him to suck it back on the downslope. Makes sense, right?
For the most part, we did what we were supposed to do. Sure, there were the occasional missteps. A few times we weren’t pulled far enough to the right, forcing Chris into the roadway more than he would have liked. Additionally, we didn’t always nail that top-of-the-hill thing. And then there was the time we hesitated while alongside Chris during a pass, forcing an oncoming car to pull into the breakdown lane and stop. For that, we earned an official warning from Brett. If it happened again, it would cost our boss 15 minutes.
Stratford, Northumberland, Lancaster, Whitefield, Bethlehem.
Franconia, Lincoln, Woodstock, Thornton, Campton.
Plymouth, Bridgewater, Bristol, New Hampton, Sanbornton.
Franklin, Boscawen, Penacook, Hopkinton, Dunbarton.
More hills. (Seriously, there are a lot of freakin’ hills in this state.)
Weare, New Boston, Mont Vernon, Amherst, Hollis … and finally, at just about 6:30 p.m. on Route 111, Chris sprinted over the Massachusetts border, his finish line.
Thirty towns, 229.4 miles, 12 hours and 38 minutes.
Anyone else tired?
There were roughly 20 of us, including Marc’s mom Nancy Decoteau, there at the finish line, cheering wildly for Chris’s final few strides. Chris got off the bike, barely breathing hard. (Show-off.) Then the Hodges family presented Hoops For Heroes with one of those big, beautiful checks for $1,500.
As records go, this one was crushed. Chris had beaten it by more than an hour. And though it would be a lie to say that setting a new mark was unimportant, it wasn’t most important, as I’m sure he would tell you.
“Come on up for the rising,” Bruce Springsteen wrote in the aftermath of September 11. “Come on up, lay your hands in mine.”
What Chris Hodges did a month ago was remarkable. Ridiculous, really. And to my way of thinking, it was a fitting symbol of a great nation. A resilient nation. A nation steadily rising, just as those memorial towers at Ground Zero have risen ever since.
“Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.”
September 11, 2001, belonged to the terrorists. But each September 11 since has belonged to us.
Together, we continue to rise.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.