Steve Charles—“There are two kinds of people in the world,” Wayne Hoover tells me as we sit in the Main Street Pub in Monticello, Illinois. I’ve driven here from Crawfordsville in an air-conditioned car. Wayne has ridden here on his bicycle from San Francisco over the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, across the plains and into our 90-degree, 80-percent humidity heat. He’s about 2/3 of the way through what he’s calling “The Larry Turner Memorial Cross-Country Challenge,” a journey he’s making to honor a lost friend.
“The first kind of person walks in the room and says, ‘Well, here I am.’ We all know these guys,” Wayne says. “The other type of person walks in and says, ‘Ah, there you are.’ Larry Turner was that kind of guy. He would walk the halls at the University of Kentucky (where Turner was associate dean of agriculture) and whether you were the dean, the secretary, or the president of the college, Larry was interested in you, your family, your kids, and how you were doing. His focus was never on himself.”
So when Turner was killed when Comair Flight 5191 crashed while taking off the Lexington Kentucky’s blue grass airport in August of last year, Hoover was determined to focus public attention, at least for a few weeks, on this remarkable man and the things that mattered to him—his family, friends, 4-H and the agricultural leaders he had nurtured.
“I know how these things work,” Wayne says. “You have a tragedy, everyone says how terrible it is, and then three or four months later, everyone’s back into their own thing, while the wife and kids are still dealing with the loss.
"Larry was an outside-the-box kind of thinker. So I thought, Let’s do something outrageous to draw attention to these things that mattered to him.
“Sometimes on this trip," Wayne laughs, "I’ve wondered if maybe we didn’t choose something a little too outrageous!”
There was the horizontal snow, sleet, rain and near hypothermia in Donner Pass; the fog outside of San Francisco so thick you could barely see the road, much less the road signs; the 30-40 mile per hour head wind that cut the average speed from 18 mph to 5 and turned a 108 mile ride in Kansas into a 12 hour ordeal.
But Wayne says it’s been an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. He’s writing a book about the journey, and I’ve asked him to reflect on the trip for a future issue of Wabash Magazine. But here are two anecdotes from the road that go well together:
"I remember the day we were climbing Mount Rose around Lake Tahoe," Wayne recalls. "A 9- or 10-mile climb, beautiful but grueling, and two of our riders, Erin and Eileen, were so exhausted that they didn’t think they could go on."
†So Andrew, another rider, rode with Eileen, and I rode with Erin, placing my hand on her back and pushing her up the mountain. We’d say, ‘If we can just make it to the next sign, we’ll be okay,’ and we did that, sign by sign, all the way up. You have to break the trip down and help each other out. That way, we all win together."
A few weeks later, the tables turned.
"On this 108-mile day into the wind in Kansas, my right quad was in so much pain that I was literally crying on the bike," Wayne says."Riders came up and put me in a formation they call ‘the rocking chair’— a guy in front, a guy on each side of you, then one on the right, one on the left, and they put their hands on my back and pushed me for 30 miles."
"Everyone on this ride is going to have a day when you just feel like you can’t go on. And with this team, you’re going to have three people that day who say, ‘You don’t have to. Today, we’ll do it for you."
During such moments, Wayne Hoover realizes more than ever that this ride isn’t only about riding in honor of Larry Turner, but also in the spirit in which he lived.
Howard Hewitt – Hoover arrived Sunday, July 8, in Crawfordsville and left Monday morning for a "short ride" of 58 miles to Indianapolis. After breakfast, the group cycled onto the mall at Wabash where they were greeted by President Patrick White and Director of Alumni Relations Tom Runge.
Photos: Wayne in front of the courthouse in Monticello; heading down the road toward Champaign-Urbana.