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Last Sunday, I was at Hooters.
Yes, THAT Hooters.
Trust me, it’s not a place I ever aspired to be.
How I got there is a circuitous story, one involving three friends, a cascading creek and a winding dirt road through Cherokee National Forest.
It began innocently enough.
Stan (not his real name because he’s a bit embarrassed about what comes next), Russ (his real moniker; he’s unflappable) and I had planned to ride bicycles from the base of Little Citigo Creek most of the way up to Indian Boundary Lake.
Russ and I had done the ride about six weeks before, but Stan couldn’t make it then. When Russ found a free weekend, we all checked our calendars. Sunday was a go for all three of us.
I met the guys mid-morning at the crossroads of Sweetwater and Decatur highways. We put my bike in the pickup with the others, and were off.
The two mountain bikes already in the back were nice rides — both belonging to Russ. Stan was borrowing one of those.
It was an admirable machine with front-disk brakes and clip-in pedals. Russ also loaned Stan the bike shoes that worked with those pedals.
Remember those details.
It took us nearly an hour to get where we were going and another 20 minutes or so to unload and make adjustments on brakes and tire pressure.
Stan put on the shoes and tried out Russ’s bike. After a few passes up and back, he seemed to handle it like a pro.
We headed up the hill, stopping to rest and admire the view now and then.
Little Citigo Creek is as pretty as any mountain stream in the Appalachians.
We decided to turn around after about 10 miles up, looking forward to what would mostly be any easy coast back to the vehicle.
All was going well until a pickup driver pulling a small trailer came up behind us. Russ and I moved far enough over that the slow-moving truck passed us.
Apparently the driver didn’t think Stan was over far enough.
Stan would speed up; the truck would speed up. Stan would slow down; the truck would slow down.
The standoff looked pretty funny after a while and Russ and I stayed back, laughing.
Then we saw the back wheel of Stan’s bike rise high off the ground — almost in slow motion.
For a moment, I thought he was doing a stunt, but as the back wheel continued its arc, I knew I was wrong.
Between the grabby front-disk brakes and the clip-in shoes that held his feet hostage, Stan was in trouble.
Russ and I threw our bikes down and ran to Stan, who sat up slowly, blood streaming from his forehead.
Did I mention none of us were wearing helmets? We were more concerned with the many hunters out trying to bag bear or boar.
I worked on getting Stan cleaned up, while Russ — the queasy one — rushed down the hill to get the truck.
We went through our first aid kit and that of some people who stopped for anything that might help. Mostly that was gauze, first aid tape and Motrin.
Stan sat still for awhile but his eyes looked clear, so he and I finally decided to ride slowly down the hill.
We met Russ, put the bikes in the back and headed out for the nearest emergency clinic. Due to hiccups in our smartphone information, it took us a couple hours to get to one.
Stan needed 13 stitches and considerable excavation of gravel bits from his head. The good news was he was concussion-free.
When he was finally released, we were all three giddy with exhaustion, hunger and relief.
We began bantering about where to go next
You know how when a child ends up needing stitches, you end up going out for ice cream afterward?
Well, it seems Hooters is the adult male version of the emergency room after party.
I caved to their request — especially when Stan said he was buying.
The guys and I probably looked at waitresses in orange shorty-shorts, dark pantyhose and lowcut T-shirts differently.
I felt a bit sorry for the women.
But the guys and I agreed on one thing I’ve heard one man after another defensively profess over the years: The wings really were good.