Rob owns Nature's Answer Health Food Store in Marion Illinois. He gives local cycling club members a discount on Hammer Nutritional Products. He gives me deeper discounts beyond that. I couldn't afford to use such a quality product without his discounts. Sometimes I worry that he's not making money on the things he sells me, so I try to buy other things with a better margin to make up for it.
Much of the cycling equipment I have has either been an outright gift from Rob, or I've bought from him at pennies on the dollar. I owe a large debt of gratitude to Rob.
Friendship is the only thing that brings sense to bicycling. None of the men (or women) that I ride with will ever set national or international records for cycling. Most of them won't ever win any races or awards that amount to anything. Riding just to win makes no sense. It's just not that likely.
I have several cycling friends. Mike McKee rode with me on the coldest day yet. And we rode for over 9 hours to finish a 126 mile ride for credit - for me. The only thing he got out of it was a big toe that went numb for nearly 2 weeks.
Jordon Graf rode with me on what was probably the hottest day last summer. The roads were melting and both of our bikes were covered in tar. We had to stop to scrape the tar off of our tires when it became too heavy for the wheel to pass through the forks.
Michael Schoenecke rode with me on my longest ride last year. I rode 223 miles on a day last August, but Michael was my companion for 110 of them. Without him, I probably wouldn't have been able to finish what was my biggest goal for the year.
Matt Gholson drew the logo I use for my randonneuring group. It's completely professional (he is an art teacher) and was completely free. In fact, he does all of my "computer stuff" pro bono as well. (I'm only slightly computer literate.)
Kevin Turner and Dale Moore have a usual lunch time ride during the riding season. They included me several times when my schedule allowed. These two friends made room for one more. In fact, for the last couple of years, Kevin, Dale and others have included me on an annual bike camping trip to Cave In Rock that they make each June.
Chris Whitley gave me an indoor trainer. Larry Sanders has included me in the Tour De Hope ride which takes place in Marion each year. Mike Dunaway helped "pull" me for many miles last year during my big August ride when the road turned uphill and against the wind. Joe Schmitt helped me start and promote our bicycle club a couple of year ago.
I could go on. (In fact, if I didn't mention your name, you're probably hoping I will go on.) But you get the point. I don't bring any special gifts to the table. I don't bring any money to the table. I don't even bring much leadership to the table. But all these people are at the table, and have been most kind to me. They have treated me as if I were their friend.
They are my friends. And that is the gold at the end of the cycling rainbow. Not high mileage. Not fast times. Not epic hill climbs. Friends.