In 1974, two wide-eyed and bushy-tailed Missouri guys, then in their mid twenties, took off from Paris on shiny new Motobecane bicycles with the goal of ending up in Munich. It was a time before life would demand their serious attention, before Richard would be raising a family in the Bay Area and I would be sitting in front of a computer screen looking at a column deadline. It was a time after the breezy college frat boy days we had shared. We were looking for an adventure, one that would change our lives.
After I proposed the trip in one of the many letters we had exchanged during the ‘70s, as we were both struggling toward some version of mature manhood, Richard enthusiastically agreed. “We’ll be reckless,” he wrote back. “We’ll let life whip us around. Screw reality; we have our own story.” We were full of romantic notions about life and its possibilities, full of questions. And, if it isn’t yet obvious, we were each a bit lost in our lives.
Down the road from Paris, we found ourselves jumping out of bed every morning, mounting our bikes like charging steeds, and taking off along the scenic back roads of France with a shout, “It’s a good day to die!” We were thrilled with the steady diet of French bread, cheese, and wine as well as the challenge of the journey. One day, after we had rowed on the River Cher near the spectacular Ch•teau near Chenonceau, Richard rode on ahead of me while I dealt with a flat tire. We promised to meet up in Montrichard for tea. But it was never to be. We lost each other that day and continued our journey’s solo, never finding the other person.
The trip, although ill-fated, did change our lives forever. Richard stayed in Germany and I returned to the States. Our lives now diverging, we each managed to find our own version of “mature manhood.” And we remained great friends, returning to Europe to mutually celebrate every decade-turning birthday.
On the recent occasion of our 60th, we chose to return to Amboise. Prior to our friends and families arriving for the party, we took a few days for ourselves to re-enact the part of our ill-fated bike trip that has remained a touchstone and an enduring subject of speculation between us.
From Amboise, we rode south through the forest to Chenonceau. It was a brilliant September day, and just as we had 33 years ago, we shouted out “It’s a good day to die!” as we careened down the long hill to the ch•teau. This phrase, once an existential lark for two cavalier young men, now felt weightier, but we shouted at death nonetheless. Thirty-three years later, Richard and I finally rode together into Montrichard, and yes, we had tea there.
I often think I haven’t learned as much as I should’ve in those 33 years that passed by so quickly. I still don’t know why this moment in our lives has remained so significant to us both. But this I do know: A good and true friendship is a fortune in its finding, a tragedy in its losing, and a rare blessing in its keeping.
In a letter to Richard that I recently discovered, written in 1974, soon after returning to the States from Paris, I wrote: “Something blacked out between the scenes. Nothing is ever like it was but there is a true and timeless feeling that can overcome even blackness. Our lives will probably now become, in the making of them, one long less-than-heroic battle against trivia, leaving us covered in the dust of the chariot gone by. Perhaps classic friendships, like the one we began back on the pledge porch of the Sigma Nu house, cannot survive. But perhaps something will take shape from our efforts, even if only a paler copy. There will be many demons from the past and life’s enslavements that will interfere. But we can try, my friend. We can try.”
I signed it as I did every letter before and since: “your friend always.”