Riding home

2018-antebellum mansionEmily dragged Mark’s father over to the van. “I believe you two already know each other.”

“Jumping Jack Rathburn!” Jim Dempsey gave Jack a warm handshake and a pat on the arm. “You’re none the worse for wear.”

“Neither are you, sir,” said Jack.

“Jim, for God’s sake. You don’t work for me anymore.”

“OK, Jim.”

“Jumping Jack?” Emily asked.

“Never mind, Em,” Jack said, “it’s an old Rolling Stones song that was popular when we were in Korea together.”

“More to it than that,” said Mark’s father, giving Emily a big wink, “but that’s a story for another time.”

Hilda and Dorothy had already introduced themselves. Together the group got the panniers and bicycles out of the van and stored in one trip. The second floor had enough bedrooms to start a small hotel; the General and his wife liked having frequent friends and family stop by. Emily got her own room, and there was a room left over.

“That’s Bill’s,” said Dorothy as they walked down the hall.

“How is he?” asked Jack.

“You wouldn’t know him, Jack. He’s 28 now. I expect he’ll stop by this evening or tomorrow.” Seeing Jack’s worried expression, she added, “don’t’ worry. Believe it or not, you became one of his heroes as he grew up.”

“I never saw him after Colonel – I mean, Jim picked him up that evening.”

“I’ll let the two of them tell you about it,” she said with a smile as she led them downstairs.

They gathered on the rear deck, where the house provided shade. Beyond the lawn, the dark, dense trees of Chilton Woods State Forest hid any highways, and muffled any traffic that might be out there. Hilda and Katherine had white wine, Dorothy a sherry. Emily opted for orange juice, while Mark, Jack and Jim opened bottles of Beck’s Beer.

“Here’s to a safe return home,” said Jim, raising his beer. “We want to hear all about your tour.”

“OK, but I want to hear about Jumping Jack when we’re done.”

Jack might have blushed as Jim and Dorothy laughed. When the stories reached the Gaspé Peninsula, Jim fired up the grill, and sent Jack to the refrigerator for steaks and cod filets. Dorothy got up, but Mark was already up, with his hand on her shoulder.

“Stay here, Mom. Katherine and I have heard the story. We’ll get the sides.” He left the French doors to the dining room open, while he and Katherine set the table and brought out the potato salad and green beans waiting in the refrigerator.

A heavy engine noise approached the front of the house. Emily stopped her description of the 17% descent down the Forillon.

“That’s Bill!” Dorothy ran through the house. She returned with a Marine Corps captain in his green Service B uniform. He stood a head over his mother, the same height as Mark, but wider in the shoulders and an easy twenty pounds more muscle in his arms and legs. The rows of ribbons on his chest advertised multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, but the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with a V for valour in combat caught Jack’s eye immediately.

“Omigod. I never would have guessed,” Jack said in amazement.

Bill came over to the grill with a big grin on his face. He held out his hand to Jack and gave him a firm shake. “I’ve wanted to see you again, sir. I never forgot a word of that dressing down you gave me in Korea.”

Jack was speechless. Mark came over and hugged his brother, who then hugged their father and mother.

“How long can you stay?” she asked.

“Sunday night.” Bill started to say something to Jack but changed his mind. “Let me shift into civvies. Get started without me.” Jim nodded, and Bill walked quickly back into the house.

“You were saying about the descent of the Forillon?” Jim asked Emily. As they all finished laying out dinner and seating themselves. Emily continued the story. She, Jack and Hilda took turns with their respective takes on the south side of Québec, until Bill returned in an olive-drab tee-shirt and jeans.

“That’s almost still a uniform,” said Jack.

“My gear is packed back at Quantico,” said Bill, taking a Beck’s from his father. “We fly out Monday.”

“Where to?” asked Hilda.

“Can’t say, but it’s not far from the last place.” That got a nod from Mark and Jim.

“Will you be back soon?” Dorothy asked.

“Probably in two weeks – if the situation stays stable.”

“Are you stationed at Quantico?” Emily asked.

“Yes, but I’m hardly ever there.” Bill eyed Jack. “I’m jumping around more than Jack here.”

“That did it!” Emily said, putting down her knife and fork and staring at Jack and Jim. “I want to hear about ‘Jumping Jack’!” The others laughed, and Jack turned to his old CO.

“You started it, Jim.”

The General put down his fork and took a sip of water. “Emily, it doesn’t seem so funny all these years later, but sitting on the DMZ trying to stay ready for the North Koreans to move when nothing had happened for decades can make you a little rappy. Jack showed up as my new Provost Marshal. He had been teaching the SRT course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.”


“Sorry. Special Response Team. Like a SWAT team in civilian police forces. It was a new idea in the Army at the time, so we really weren’t sure what it was for, except that qualifying was very hard – like the Green Berets or SEAL’s.” Dorothy made a rolling motion with her hands, to which the General nodded. “Anyway, the first week Jack was there, his MP’s were called to the enlisted club, where a brawl had started. By the time they arrived, about a hundred men were fighting, and the MP’s called for backup. Jack went to the scene, watched the MP’s trying to work their way from the entrance, then did the most amazing thing. He ran from the door to the edge of the crowd, leapt over the men fighting, doing a full flip and landed on the bar. His boots made such a noise that the crowd turned to look. He barked them to attention, and everyone went quiet. The only sound for a moment was the refrain of “Jumping Jack Flash” on the jukebox. He ordered his MP’s into the now-quiet crowd and had everyone take a seat. As the medics came in to handle the wounded, he had his men get the names of everyone there, with brief initial statements. It took two weeks to interview everyone, but they got it all sorted out.”

“Did you really do a full flip in combat boots?” Emily asked, her eyes wide in amazement. Jack looked embarrassed.

“Well, yes. SRT training is very physical.”

“That’s not what I remember,” said Bill.

“You were 13,” said his father. “What did you remember?”

“He was something of a legend at school. I remember that the MP’s kids used to say, when he told you something, you jumped.”

“Good advice, I’d say,” said Jim.

“I just can’t believe all these cool stories I’ve heard about you, Jack,” said Emily, suppressing the urge to giggle. “You’ve done so many crazy things in Germany and Korea.”

Jack shrugged. “Enough about me.” He looked at Bill. “How on earth did you end up in the service – and a jarhead no less?”

Bill laughed. “You don’t know the half of it. Remember the SRT you formed in Korea?” Jack nodded. “Those were some of the baddest guys any of us at school had ever seen. I remember what you told me about being ready to run into danger instead of away from it.” He looked at his father, then said, “you know that Dad sent me away to Fork Union Military Academy, right?”

“I didn’t remember it was FUMA, but I remember your leaving.”

“Well, they straightened me out. All I needed was a little more structure – more than Mom and Dad could provide. I found that I really liked it, so I joined the Marines.”

“Why the Corps?”

“Partly to stick it to Dad,” he smiled at his father, “but mostly it seemed better not to be in the Army, as famous as he was becoming.”

“Makes sense. I know ‘every Marine is a rifleman’ but what’s your specialty now?”

“Security Battalion.”

Jack’s jaw dropped. “You’re an MP?” Bill smiled and nodded.

Jim said, “That’s not all. Those two-week trips he takes? He leads field training and certification for SRT’s. I told you that you made an impression.”

Dinner continued with lively conversation, as the men reviewed their respective careers and the women discussed Hilda’s new job and Emily’s plans. The yawning did not start until midnight.

The next morning, Jim had a tee-time with Mark and some friends. Bill took Jack for a hike into the Chilton Woods State Forest. Emily and Katherine went for a ride, while Hilda helped Dorothy put up the fruit that she had picked for canning. canning peachesThey made preserves and jam, and canned peaches, apricots, blueberries and blackberries. Working in the big kitchen put Hilda in a nostalgic mood. She shared her memories of canning with her mother in Kaiserslautern every autumn.

Emily and Katherine returned about eleven.

“Jim called,” said Dorothy. “They’re going to join Jack and Bill at the deli in Alonso for lunch.”

“They walked to Alonso?” asked Katherine.

“I’ll bet they never noticed the distance or the time. Between the shop talk and the catching up, can you imagine how much they have to say to each other?”

“As soon as we stretch and shower, we’ll be down to help.”

“Lunch first, but then you can join us,” said Dorothy.

Emily and Katherine ran up the stairs.

“You’re riding very fast, Emily,” said Katherine as they stretched in the hall. “Is that safe?”

“I’m still using the computer to keep it down, but I think I’m ready for training. When I don’t have a load on the bike, it’s too easy.”

“Well, I hope Dr. Morgan agrees with you. Do you want me to schedule an appointment?”

“Already did. Next Friday at two pm. That’s why I asked what days you’d be busy next week.”

“Oh. OK, I guess.” Katherine suppressed a sigh. “May I go first?”

“Sure. I have another two routines to do.”

Katherine went to her room and into the shower, where she let the water hide her tears.

tstorms northern neckThat evening, thunderstorms rolled in from the west, so they gathered in the living room to watch the six o’clock news. As they expected, Charlottesville dominated the coverage from the local station.

“Charlottesville’s been in the news for weeks now,” said Dorothy. “Doesn’t that worry you all?” She was looking at Mark and Katherine.

“Well, it has really been quiet so far,” said Katherine. “If you notice, all the coverage has been about last year. The City rejected all permits for rallies, but the town looks an armed camp with all the police preparations. I can’t complain about being here this weekend.”

“We’re happy to have you – all of you.” She gestured at the six visitors.

Jim asked, “Are you still planning to go back on Monday? You could stay longer, you know.”

“Thanks, Dad,” said Mark, “but I need to check in Monday afternoon anyway.”

“And I have a Faculty meeting on Tuesday morning,” said Katherine, rolling her eyes.

“Emily and her bodyguards don’t have to go, do they?” He let the question hang.

“That’s an idea,” said Emily. “We could ride home from here. Then we would have biked out and back.”

“You haven’t had enough?” ask Mark.

“No way. It’s only 210 kilometres. We could leave Monday morning and be home Tuesday afternoon.”

Hilda watched Katherine’s reaction, which went from surprise to understanding in a quick stream of subtle expressions.

“I can see Emily’s point. I know the roads out there. Very scenic and low traffic,” said Hilda. “We wouldn’t have to camp; there are motels near I-95. We could leave what we don’t need in the van.”

“After Dorothy’s great meals, I’ll be ready for another ride,” said Jack, rubbing his flat stomach.

“What do you think, Mark?” asked Katherine.

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Supper was another feast, capped with some of the fresh berries that had not been canned, and vanilla ice cream.

The next day was Sunday. They all went to Saint Mary’s Church in Lancaster for the 11:15 service. Bill hugged his parents and brother in the parking lot and drove off for Quantico.

“I worry every time he leaves,” said Dorothy, watching Bill’s motorcycle disappear. “Why didn’t it feel like this with you, Mark?”

“For one, I was in the Air Force. For another, I was an engineer, and he’s SRT. Finally, he’s your baby. I was old news when he came along.”

“You’re sweet.” She squeezed his arm. “And you always were so grown-up and wise.”

“Is this Mark we’re talking about?” Katherine asked. They laughed as they piled into the car.

They drove to the Sandpiper Restaurant for lunch. In the afternoon, Emily, Jack and Hilda checked their gear. Each packed one pannier to leave in the van and another to take with them. More thunderstorms kept them indoors for the rest of the day. They played Trivial Pursuit, which Emily had not seen, but excelled at in the entertainment category.

“We should have used an older edition,” grumbled Jim cheerfully. “Something with Beatles, Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly in it.”

“Oh, come on, honey,” said Dorothy. “Everybody has their top category. We’re all acing Geography and History; Mark has the Science cornered; and Hilda and Katherine seem to know everything else.”

Emily crawled into her bed that night as the rain pounded on the roof. She felt excited and sad at the same time. Soon she would be back home, and her great adventure would be over. But Taniqua, Mariana, Fran, Amber and Megan would be there. She could start training again. And her first year at the University of Virginia loomed ahead like an epic quest on the ocean of life.

The next morning, the air filled their lungs with that cool freshness that follows a cleansing rain. The front seemed to have taken all the energy out of the summer air, leaving pleasant temperatures all day. Route 3 out of Lancaster County had more traffic than they expected, but there were generous shoulders or bike lanes through the more congested areas. They had lunch at a seafood restaurant in Tappahannock. From there, they continued generally west on lightly-travelled country roads. By five p.m., they were checking into the Centerstone Inn in Doswell, next to the massive King’s Dominion amusement park. Hilda was surprised that they had been able to reserve a room.

“Monday is their only relatively quiet night of the week in-season,” she said after returning with their room keys.

The Inn had a diner with 24-hour service, and none of them felt like going out. They were asleep by nine.

Tuesday, they crossed under Interstate 95 and continued on to Bumpass, Mineral, Louisa, and Trevilians. The land rose ever so gently, rolling now rather than flat. Pine woods and forests extended on either side, not as big as in Québec or the Eastern shore, but fondly familiar.

They picked up lunch at the K&B Mart grocery store in Trevilians and ate it under the trees at the intersection of US-33 and Highway 22. Motorcycles and pickup trucks roared by on US-33 in both directions.

“Hilda?” Emily said, as they bagged up their trash. “Is it my imagination, or have we seen more Confederate flags today than usual?”

CSA battle flag on truck“I’m not sure, Em. It seems like a lot to me, but then, the hair goes up on the back of my neck whenever I see one.”

“I think there may be more,” said Jack. “Most don’t have Virginia plates, so I figure they were visiting DC or someplace else over the weekend.”

“Well, I hope there’s nothing going on when we get home,” said Hilda, her face grim and her gaze focussed down the road. They mounted up and rode. Emily knew this territory now, because some of her training rides had been out Highway 22 and back. They were only a couple of hours from home.

They fed onto US-250 (the original Three-Chopt Road of colonial times) at Shadwell and flew in single file down the ravine and back up again. The road bent to the right to go under Interstate 64. They saw blue flashing lights ahead.

“Police activity,” shouted Jack. On the ramp to and from the Interstate, groups of men were waving Confederate flags and shouting at the passing motorists. The police seemed to have stationed themselves off to the sides, where they could intervene if anything happened.

“Should we wait and watch or keep riding?” asked Emily.

“Press on and don’t stop,” said Hilda.

“OK,” said Jack. “Hilda, take point.” He fell behind Emily. They sped up, but the double set of traffic lights turned red before they could make the intersection. As they waited, the men closest to them, on the eastbound ramp, noticed Hilda and started moving towards them. She noticed the swastika tattoos and patches and tensed up, even as she looked at the light and tried to keep her calm.

“Looks like she don’t know her place,” said a burly man with an untrimmed beard shot through with grey. The others laughed.

Jack looked back at the officers in the patrol car and waved until they noticed him. He gestured to the approaching men. The officers hit the siren in a pair of short bursts. The men stopped.

The lights turned green. Hilda and Emily were going 25 km/hr by the time they reached the second light and raced past the second crowd of hecklers. Jack made sure that the men were returning to the ramp before crossing the intersection himself. Jack caught up with the women as they slowed on the climb up Pantops mountain.

“Welcome home?” Jack said. Hilda glared at him.

“Not local,” said Emily. “I looked at the plates on their trucks as we went by.”

Hilda rode in a dark fury as she led them over the Free Bridge, and along the bike lanes of the John W. Warner Parkway.

The van was in the driveway went they pulled up to Emily’s home. Katherine’s Specialized Diverge was in the bicycle storage space. She came out as Emily was just about to shout. Emily gave her a tight hug.

“I’m so glad to be home, Mom.” Katherine looked like she could cry.

“So am I, dear.” She turned to the others. “Do you want to come in for a while?”

“Thanks, Katherine,” said Hilda, “but I think I’d like to use the bathroom, then pick up my pannier and head home. I’ll be back soon.”

“Is everything OK?” Katherine asked.

“Yes, fine, but I need some time alone right now.”

“We had to run past a crowd of Confederate flag-wavers with swastikas and attitudes at the I-64 ramp,” said Emily. “It wasn’t pretty. Jack got the police to scare them off.”

Katherine took Hilda’s arm. “Call me if you need anything. Your panniers are right here by the door.”

Jack had said nothing. He quietly collected the tent and his pannier. He followed Hilda back to her apartment.

BR from Cville

Photo: David Wilson

They took the bikes up in the elevator, which was easier than lugging the panniers and tent.

“You want to be alone?” he asked as she got out her keys.

“From everyone else, yes,” she said. “But I need you around now more than ever.”

Except to slip out for a burger and groceries that night, they did not leave the flat for two days…


Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


2 thoughts on “Riding home

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