To any passerby, business seemed to continue as normal at the only Arroyo Grande bike shop in the Village on a recent Friday afternoon.
Customers wove around the rows of bicycles, stacks of helmets and boxes of water bottles squeezed into less than 1,100 square feet along Bridge Street. Out back, 18 repaired bikes waited for their owners.
But something was missing.
The spark, the heart of the store, the person customers rely on to true their wheels and fix their flats, the man whose name graces the lettering outside the shop, is away.
About 70 miles south, Ira Hughes sat in a wheelchair in a Santa Barbara rehabilitation center, fidgeting.
This time last year, he would’ve been up around 6 a.m. and at Ira’s Bike Shop, where he’d spend the day repairing bikes. Hughes, 58, is used to being on his feet all day, working, helping, tinkering.
“He’s always been as healthy as a horse,” his wife, Joey, said.
“Neigh,” Ira Hughes responded, his wit breaking through the painful conversation.
But lately, Ira Hughes’ days have been filled with radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and physical, speech, occupational and recreational therapy.
He’s been away since May 1, after two months of flu-like symptoms and a persistent headache prompted a trip to the hospital. An MRI detected a mass; surgery followed two days later.
It turned out to be “kind of the worst of the worst,” Joey Hughes said: a grade four tumor called glioblastoma, a type of aggressive cancer that affects the brain. Some of the tumor was removed — “taking it all” could disrupt too much of his brain function, she said.
Ira Hughes has undergone four additional surgeries at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to install shunts to drain fluid. He said his left side, weakened when part of the tumor restricted fluid flow to the right side of his brain, feels stronger every day.
His family shares his accomplishments on a website while counting down the days until he comes home.
Five to go.
A lifelong passion
Ira Hughes started working at Joyce Cycle Center in 1965, at the age of 12. He worked at the shop through his teenage years, graduating from Arroyo Grande High in 1971.
In 1975, an opportunity came up to buy the shop. Ira Hughes paid $3,000 cash and changed the name.
“By the time he was 15, he was doing pretty much all the mechanical work in the back,” said Nolan Hughes, 33, who is heading up the shop for his dad. “If you brought in a bike from the last 50 years, he would know exactly what to do and do it overnight.”
For many, the bike shop embodies Ira.
“He’s a fixture in the community,” said local resident Kevin McBride, who has known Ira Hughes for more than 30 years. “He just always treated you 100 percent right. To me, he’s like family, and probably (is) to a lot of people who have been around here for years.”
Sharing the ride
Sometimes, cycling overlapped with Ira Hughes’ other interests — and he didn’t hesitate to take his family along.
In 1977, eight years after he became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in boy scouting, Ira Hughes took nine scouts on a 375-mile cycling trip from Point Reyes back home. Even Joey, then five months pregnant, made the trip, according to a newspaper article.
The next year, about a dozen scouts rode from Bodega Bay to Arroyo Grande — about 400 miles over seven days. Ira and Joey Hughes completed it on a tandem, with then-11-month-old Nolan in a trailer (the Hughes also have a daughter, Tasha).
Local resident Keith Storton, who took over as Scout Master of Troop 489 from Ira Hughes a year ago, completed that ride in ’78.
“I was young and small at the time,” Storton recalled. “If I didn’t have his encouragement and influence to tell me to try harder and pick it up, I don’t think I would have been able to finish.”
‘I love it’
Soon, Ira Hughes will be back in town, and Nolan Hughes is hopeful his father will return to his passion at some point. In the meantime, Ira Hughes will continue chemotherapy treatments, physical therapy and visits to an oncologist.
When asked recently what the shop and its longtime spot in the Village means to him, Ira Hughes gently patted his hand over his heart.
“I love it,” he said.
More details about Ira Hughes’ recovery are online at www.caringbridge.org/visit/irahughes.
While Ira Hughes has medical insurance, an account has also been set up at Rabobank to help the family pay for expenses not covered by their health care plan, medical equipment they need to bring home for Ira Hughes and Joey Hughes’ two-month stay in Santa Barbara. It’s called the “Joey Hughes for Ira Hughes Medical Expense Account.”
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.