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Columnist puts pedal mettle to the test.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

The U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials means pushing yourself to the physical limits. The thrill of victory. And, of course, the agony of de seat.

If, like me, you're a pedicab driver pedaling people to and from Hayward Field on a bicycle taxi.

On Thursday, I made 10 trips with people from 10 states: Ohio, New York, Washington, Michigan, Arizona, South Dakota, Delaware, Colorado, California and Oregon.

I transported coaches, parents of competitors, fathers and daughters, moms and sons - even a guy who claimed to have come back from the dead.

"Hey, rickshaw!" my first customer yelled to me near the Agate Street entrance to the University of Oregon campus.

He was a pole vault official from Ohio whose parents were at the Duck Shop and needed a lift to Track Town Pizza.

"I'm your man," I said.

The idea for this undertaking was to learn about some of the out-of-towners who are here for the Olympic Trials and what they thought of Eugene and Oregon.

"Can't pump your own gas"

Wayne Whiting, owner of Eugene Pedicabs, was more than happy to give me an afternoon shift on one of his five three-wheeled cabs, of which I'm an unabashed fan.

That said, I had not ridden a bicycle since 2008 when I set an Olympic Trials record pedaling from Autzen Stadium to inside the gates of Hayward Field (7:59.75). And I had fallen far from my 2011 conditioning that I'd honed for hiking.

Under the watchful eye of Whiting, I'd gone through intensive training - OK, five minutes of riding in circles - and thought: Hey, this isn't so bad.

Later, I picked up Sue and Harry Newsome of Clyde, Ohio, at the Duck Store. This was bad.

I couldn't get the pedicab to budge. It wasn't the Newsomes' fault, though they had roughly tripled the 200 pounds of the yellow-and-green pedicab. I had the thing in the wrong gear.

Once I made the adjustment, I was off with a couple from the same small town where author Sherwood Anderson had grown up.

In only two days, the couple had been to Nike in Beaverton, Crater Lake and the Oregon Coast. "We've seen five waterfalls and a whale!" said Sue Newsome, 62. "But Crater Lake was scary. I was afraid I'd fall in."

"Find anything quirky about Oregon?" I asked.

"Yeah, that you can't pump your own gas," said Harry Newsome, 64.

No snow, just rain

Next up were Mitch and Vicki Merber of Long Island, N.Y. Their son, Kyle, a recent Columbia University graduate, would be running the 1,500 prelims.

Nice folks, the Merbers, none of that New York "attitude" you hear about. They were staying at the C'est La Vie Inn Bed and Breakfast on Taylor Street, and had just gotten into Eugene the previous night.

"Loved flying in over the mountains," said Vicki Merber, 54.

I next gave a lift to Cathy Goins, 43, of Spokane and her 17-year-old son, Kyler, a runner at Lewis and Clark High School.

"I want him to be inspired," she said. "His team has a chance to compete at the national level, and I thought this might light a fire for him."

Also, as a former Eugene resident, she wanted to show him the hospital where he was born and the house where he was conceived.

"I was a little grossed out by that," Kyler said.

Patrick Theut, 60, of Manistique, Mich., was in Eugene because he's a coach who has worked with pole vaulter Jeremy Scott, who would be in the finals of that event.

"Love Eugene," he said. "People are smiling. Lots of bikes. It's a people-friendly place. Reminds me of Los Gatos, Calif., in the 1970s or Key West, Fla."

"And the rain isn't bugging you?" I asked."I'm from Michigan," he said. "At least you don't have to shovel it."

"Sucking eggs"

Dan Schaller, 53, and his daughter, Bella, 7, of Phoenix, Ariz., were my next ride. He's a track and field enthusiast who's been to every Olympic Trials since 1992. She's a new Voodoo Doughnut enthusiast.

Places on their "to-do" list: Prince Puckler's, Mezza Luna Pizzeria, Sweet Life, and Beppe and Gianni's Trattoria.

By my sixth ride, my legs were starting to feel it; even though my route was short, mostly from the Duck Store to Hayward Field, 500 to 600 pounds makes even the slightest hill seem steep - and it was slightly uphill. In distance-running lingo, I was soon "sucking eggs."

But that's not why I stopped in mid-route with Mary Ginsbach, 17, and her father Pat, 56, of Hot Springs, S.D. I stopped because Mary, a discus thrower considering attending UO, mentioned she was also going to visit the University of Washington.

"Seriously?" I said after hitting the brakes. "Why would you go there when you could be here in the track mecca of the universe where people give you free pedicab rides?"

It didn't help my recruiting efforts that, less than a minute later, a Eugene police car, lights flashing, zipped down closed-to-traffic 13th Avenue and up a sidewalk near Villard Hall.

"Hey, I've been on this campus since 1972 and that was the first time I've ever seen something like that," I said.

"I was dead"

My next ride was Harold Serkin, 66, of Willits, Calif, and Doug Van Rheen, 61, of West Linn, friends who met only weeks before Serkin died - or says he died. They'd played a round of golf just before Serkin had a heart attack.

"They did the paddle thing on me six times," Serkin said. "I was dead."

So was I, figuratively speaking. Sweat ran down my face as if I'd eaten a pound of red peppers. And my tush was toast. It felt as if I'd sat on Barbara Bowerman's waffle iron. But I gamely shuttled Rachel McCulley, 23, and her fiance, Kevin Kemmerle, 25, of Bear, Del., who had rented a beach house near Tillamook.

After three hours of near-constant pedaling, I decided to call it quits after one more ride: pole vault enthusiasts Sherry Young, 55, and her mother, Marilyn Sherman, 77, of Eugene.

My legs shouted no

But just as I was heading for the barn, Tim Harder, 50, of Denver, rushed up to me. Quick, he had to get some stuff from his car; could I take him to "19th and something?" My legs shouted no - in fact, went into a two-minute filibuster akin to Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" - but my pride said yes.

Harder's trip to Eugene was a three-generation gig with his father and his son; I could enhance his stay.

But on the slight hill on University Street by Mac Court, my legs started balking. When the pitch increased between 18th and 19th, my Gumby-esque legs went on a sit-down strike. I reached for something extra, something deeper, something that so many athletes at the Olympic Trials seem to find.

I couldn't find it.

"Sorry," I told Harder. "I'm a columnist, not a professional pedicab driver. We're going to have to walk to the corner."

"Hey, I totally understand," he said as I pushed the pedicab.

Tips lessen sting

I was ashamed. I'd tarnished the can-do reputation of Eugene Pedicabs, let down the city of Eugene's reputation for its healthy citizenry, and sullied the strive-for-excellence spirit that underlies the entire Olympic movement.

But after completing the mission, Harder reminded me that what's more important than quitting is being willing to start again, which I had. Reluctantly.

He handed me a $20 tip, which, along with another $15 in tips, I gave to Whiting.

Harder's tip took away some of the sting, but not all.

At Hayward Field that night, at times I watched the Olympic Trials the only way I could find comfort: while lying on my side.

Follow Welch on Twitter @bog_welch. He is at 541-338-2354 or bob.welch@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:City/Region Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:1327
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