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CLINE: Wrestling buddies on the road again

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

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Special Photo. Cliff Ramos, left, and Steve West pose in front of Mount Rushmore. The Gwinnett residents recently completed a nine-day trip that spanned 14 states and 3,800 miles.

It all starts Wednesday morning with a coin flip. After that, all bets are off. Just two guys on the road, going wherever the day takes them.

By now the trip, like this column about it, is a tradition. For the fifth straight year, Cliff “Coach” Ramos and Steve “Pee Wee” West are taking a summer vacation unencumbered by itineraries, time constraints or families. They go where the wind takes them and stop wherever they want for however long they desire. They throw in some good deeds for good measure, turning “Coach and Pee Wee’s Great Adventure” into a PG version of a Jack Keuroac novel.

This year’s trip starts in Denver as the two friends — former coaching rivals now members of the same wrestling staff at Greater Atlanta Christian — set out for a trip with no rules save for the need to be back in the Mile High City for the flight home in 10 days.

Said Ramos, the longtime Collins Hill wrestling coach before heading up the GAC program: “When you take a trip with no set destination, you never know what you’ll find.”

That line sounds more like a philosopher than a wrestling coach. But maybe Ramos is a little of both. Over the years, he and West have visited everything from Death Valley in California to the Field of Dreams in Iowa, stopping off to see plenty of smaller, off-the-road things as well. They always try to do good deeds — bringing a hotel clerk a snack, helping a motorist change a tire — and, in past years, solicited donations to local charities in honor of them.

This year, Ramos and West aren’t making a formal effort to raise funds, but they do ask that, if so moved, friends and family make a donation to the Lawrenceville Co-op (click here for more info). Regardless of the donations, the two will continue their goal of doing at least three good deeds a day and Ramos will keep everyone updated on his blog (click here to read).

When Ramos first devised the plan for a no-strings-attached vacation, I lauded it as the ultimate “freedom” trip. Who wouldn’t want to take off with no set place to be or set time to be there?

But as the tradition continues, it dawns on me it’s the “buddy” part of the journey we should be jealous of instead of the “freedom” part. Sure, the adventure part of the trips are great (they never imagined ending up at a New Jersey auto repair shop that was home to one of Hitler’s toilets), but it’s not often you get to spend 10 days with your best friend. And the fact that West, who like Ramos retired from Gwinnett County Public Schools, is set to join his buddy at GAC speaks volumes.

After all these years, two guys who can’t be separated away from work will be joined by it.

The only problem with that new arrangement, Ramos said, is: “I need to start practicing calling him Coach and not Pee Wee in front of the kids.”

How strong is this friendship? In high school, they wrestled in the same conference, then went to college and did the same thing — Ramos attending Southwest Missouri State and West competing for Central Missouri State. They’ve taken other vacations together and have made trips to the NCAA Wrestling Championships. And about once a week you can watch them at the Waffle House in Grayson, devouring breakfast along with conversation.

“We’ve been coaching against each other in Georgia for over 30 years. Finally, after 40 years, we’re on the same team,” Ramos said. “(A good friend) says we’re going to be buried in the same casket.”

Which would be a road trip of a whole different kind.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.