midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “cycling”

The Good Samaritans

Previously I wrote, What’s Wrong with People and why are Cyclists the Targets of Their Stupidity, a jaded look at a trend in society toward disrespect, rudeness, coarseness and in-your-face, bullying behavior, often manifested in belligerence toward cyclists.  Today I experienced the opposite type of behavior, a boost for my faith in humanity (although, maybe not coincidentally, the graciousness came from a fellow cyclist).

I was riding a 6.75-mile trail in my new hometown of Summerville, SC when my back tire went flat more than five miles from the trail’s start and my parked car. I was unprepared BikeFlatTireAnimated– no patch kit, no extra inner tube.  What can I say? I was never a Boy Scout. It was a Flat Tire, Choose moment: Either throw a fit, swear to the gods, kick the back tire and throw the bike into the adjacent creek, or suck it up, accept bad luck and solve the problem.

I began backtracking the five-plus miles I had already cycled on foot, pushing the bike, not wanting to damage the rim by riding on a flat. I was resigned to a walk of at least one hour and 15 minutes to get back to my car. Soon after I began my walk, a woman on a bike passed me going the opposite direction. About 15 minutes later, a mile or so into my trek, I heard a voice from behind me.

“Excuse me, do you need some help?”

I turned around to find the same woman who had passed me earlier, now alongside me, straddling her bike.

“I got a flat and I don’t have what I need to fix it.”

“Where are you heading?”

“To the beginning of the trail.”

“How far is that?”

“About four or five miles.”

“My husband is walking our dog. He’s going to meet me at the parking lot at the bridge. I just have to find him and we could give you a ride in our truck,” she offered.

“You mean the bridge we passed about a half-mile back?”

“Yeah, there’s a path up to the parking lot. You may beat us back there.”

Having watched too many Dateline and 48 Hours episodes, and living with a wife who often warns me of hypothetical criminals who could be lurking around every corner, I momentarily imagined myself naively getting in the couple’s pickup truck, and in short order, being taken hostage, tortured at gunpoint and my lifeless body dumped in a swamp off the road, a vision that conjures up the derelict, sociopathic Brad Pitt character Early in Kalifornia.

I could have been fooled badly, but I detected genuine goodness in my fellow cyclist, and went on faith that her husband would be similarly congenial.

“I’ll meet you at the parking lot,” I said, and turned around to head from whence I just came.

The young couple, likely in their 20s, met me at the parking lot just like she said, helped me load my bike into the pickup along with her bike, gave me the front seat, and drove me five miles out of their way to my car. We engaged in conversation during the drive, with her husband referring to me respectfully as “sir” (not that I expect to be called “sir” by people junior to me in age, but I have experienced that a lot in the South so far).

I thanked them multiple times for their graciousness. I wanted to bottle the moment to revisit every time I feel myself becoming cynical about mankind. They were the type of people I would like to corral as new friends, if not for our generation gap.

We parted. I may never see them again, unless I run into them on the trail. No life was at stake; the situation was not desperate. Nevertheless, I likely will never forget their act of pure kindness for a complete stranger. Thank you Angela and Chris, Good Samaritans both.

Advertisements

Ode to a 33-Year Relationship that Ended Badly

She was a love of my life. We had 33 wonderful years together, from young adulthood well into midlife. But in the end, she got old, and her body, especially the most important parts, just wore out. Things loosened and sagged. Her usual sharp edges dulled. Midlife is unforgiving in that way. And she hurt me, cut me like a knife. I’m still scarred from our relationship.

Ultimately, I just had to let her go. Our relationship had been broken; she was damaged goods and couldn’t be fixed without making wholesale changes. I wish I could say I let her go gently, but that would be a lie. I discarded her like a piece of junk on a scrap heap, and never looked back. I knew she could easily be replaced with a better version that would make me feel safer, happier and livelier, maybe even younger, and eliminate my doubts and anxiety.

Though the ending was brutal, particularly for her, that should in no way invalidate the great times and adventures we enjoyed together, where we essentially operated as one finely-tuned unit.

We first got acquainted as college sweethearts, as I was entering my senior year. We got familiar with each other during those innocent times, spending weekends together in the idyllic small towns, rolling hills and farms of Upstate New York.

Over the next decade, she was a constant companion. We would travel together through the Montana and Canadian Rockies, sleeping under the stars and a light August snowfall; down the rugged Washington and Oregon coasts; amid tropical Florida barrier islands and quaint Vermont towns; and on long, carefree journeys through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. We enjoyed history together as well, touring the Gettysburg battlefields. We even competed together in triathlons, when she was in better shape than this last, disheartening year.

At home, she was always a loyal, steady and reliable partner. She was always there to pick me up,  ready to go when I needed to escape for a while, to clear my head, seek a change of scenery or just relax and re-energize.  For decades, I counted on her and returned her loyalty, even as I saw my contemporaries trade in their mates for younger, sleeker models. I admit to having envy, but I stuck by mine, perhaps stubbornly for too long.

Alas, all good things do come to an end. My longtime companion started giving me trouble last spring. Something was wrong with her, just wasn’t herself anymore. She became unreliable, nearly left me stranded a few times. Physically, she was breaking down, severely testing my patience. I took her to a specialist, and his prognosis was dire. The decline was irreversible without a major intervention.

Still, I decided to give her one more chance when others might have justifiably called it quits, taking her to Bethany Beach, DE with me for a summer 2017 of teaching tennis. We survived together for a while, but I was wary and it was touch-and-go whenever we spent time together. In short order, she let me down again. It was the last straw. I’d had enough. The relationship was irretrievably broken.

The grey Fuji Del Rey 12-speed touring bicycle that I had purchased for just more than $300 in 1984 had a drivetrain system that was worn and no longer functioning properly. The drive chain had become stretched and the gear teeth were dulled. If the pedal revolutions became too slow for the gear, the chain would detach from the gear teeth Bike_Fujiand the bike would become inoperable. Going up hills became an adventure, like in the movie Speed, where if the bus slowed to less than 50 mph a bomb on board would detonate. If I had to push too hard on the pedals, the chain would click…click…click…and fall off, leaving me on the side of the road trying to reattach the chain, hands blackened with grease.

The beach terrain is flat, so I thought I could milk one last summer out of my Fuji. On a backroads ride, I slowed too much for the gear I was in, and the chain detached. I reattached the chain, but apparently on the wrong gear ring. When I stepped on the pedal to start the wheels rolling, the chain detached and my leg crashed down onto the

BikeDismount (2)

The pair in happier times

gear teeth, leaving me with six cuts running up my right leg, a perfect imprint of the gear ring. I managed to reattach the chain correctly and ride another five miles home without incident, but bloodied. Months later, I still have the scars.

That was our last ride together, me and my ancient Fuji. I brought it home on a one-day trip back to Maryland and left it, where my wife unceremoniously placed it on the curb for trash pickup. I don’t know if a trash hauler saved her for a new life or crunched it into mangled metal. Either way, I didn’t care anymore. We had a past together, but I was over her. Me and Fuji, we were just so…yesterday.

Helmetless in Beach Town, USA

There’s something about being at a beach resort that makes people think they can ride a bike safely without wearing a helmet. Unfortunately, they’re wrong.

Drivers at the beach get distracted by cell phones, crying kids and scenic gazing, like anywhere else. Drivers at the beach drink and drive, at any time of day, like anywhere else. And cyclists at the beach make mistakes, bad decisions or errors in judgement, like anywhere else. And accidents happen. And if you’re on a bike and in an accident, your chances of survival and preventing a brain injury are greater if you’re wearing a helmet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’m a helmet-wearing cyclist, and have enjoyed frequently cycling the backroads, downtowns and main beach highway along the Delaware coast during my summer working in Bethany Beach. But I’ve been amazed at how few cyclists wear helmets; I would Bike_NoHelmetestimate 1 of 10 or fewer wear the most basic protective equipment. It seems the only cyclists who wear helmets are the ones who are serious about cycling and engage in the sport as a regular form of exercise. Nearly everyone else on bikes, who ride as an efficient and convenient form of transportation where car-parking is at a premium, goes helmetless.

Sometimes I even see kids wearing bike helmets, which is smart and great, while the parents go helmetless, which is stupid and irresponsible. If you’re going to have your kids wear helmets, set the example yourself! Parenting 101.

In my short time in Bethany Beach, two cyclists have died in accidents within a week of each other. In one case, the cyclist was not wearing a helmet.

In the second incident, the cyclist was reported to have been wearing a helmet, but made an error in judgement while traveling on a high-speed beach highway. Delaware Police report an increase in bicycle- and pedestrian-related accidents this year.

So many cyclists ride helmetless on the congested, multi-traffic signal, six-lane commercial artery outside of Rehoboth Beach, where drivers often are harried just like in any urban or suburban traffic-clogged environment, or are looking for a shopping or dining destination and may be oblivious to cyclists. Last summer a cyclist was killed on this Route 1 beach commercial strip.

It’s common sense to wear a bike helmet, just like wearing a seat belt. I’ve noticed the casual, carefree lifestyle at the beach seems to lure people into a false sense of security and safety.

What’s Wrong with People and Why are Cyclists Targets of Their Stupidity

I went for an bike ride last evening on a usual route in a semi-rural/wealthy suburban region of my county. The weather was perfect, with the sun beginning to set, and the ride was peaceful – except for the three different motorists who either hurled epithets at me or yelled and waved their arms at me from behind, apparently trying to scare me.

And all I can think is, What the hell is wrong with these people? And why do they love making cyclists the target of their displaced anger or desire to harass or bully? Because that’s what it is.

The worst offender was the man driving in the opposite direction that I was cycling, in the opposite lane. He purposefully slowed down, pointed his arm at me out the window and RoadRageyelled a few indecipherable words followed by a clear, “Faggot!” What inspires such unprovoked anger and hatred, I have no idea.

On my way back on my circuitous route, two times people yelled and screeched at me from behind and stuck arms out the window. One seemed to be a carload of teenagers. This happens often to cyclists, perpetrated by ignorant and disrespectful people who have no concept that cyclists take risks every time they ride the roads, and that being startled by a piercing scream coming from an approaching vehicle can cause a cyclist to swerve and lose balance just enough to wipe out.

I’ve never had the desire to yell at a cyclist from a vehicle. I don’t know where that comes from. We do have a lot of anger problems in our society, and I suppose it has to get displaced somewhere. In my counseling internship, I counseled several people with nearly uncontrollable rage, including one who could be set off by a look or slightest misstep by another. They had no idea why they felt that way, but desperately wanted to get rid of it.

When I get cursed or screeched at while riding a bike, I can feel a little road rage coming on myself. I have the desire to track down the motorist and get in his face (perpetrators are always male) and yell, What the f*** is wrong with you, a**hole! Or at least get the license plate, though I don’t know what I would do with that information. But of course the motorist is long gone before I can do anything. So I just put it in perspective, shake my head, let any feelings of anger dissolve quickly, try to feel compassion for the disturbed motorist and keep on pedaling.

Speaking of road rage, it’s a growing epidemic, an indication of our frantic, largely self-absorbed society. In the last week, right in front of my son’s high school, a man driving erratically during the morning commuting hours pulled out a gun and shot at another motorist, hitting the driver’s side door. I can’t say I would be totally surprised if someday I see a driver pointing a gun at me as I cycle the road, especially someone with explosive anger who believes I have held him up from his destination.

Do any cyclists out there have similar stories of being targeted by angry or just plain stupid motorists attempting to torment you as a lark? I’d love to read them.

Country Roads, Take Me Home

A blizzard is supposed to hit the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) today, January 22. I’ll finally have to put my bike away.

I lost a job in October. Quit, resigned, fired, laid off, mutual parting of the ways – it doesn’t really matter. I was on the unemployment line. But it was for the best. It has allowed me to focus on ramping up my graduate program in counseling and focusing more time and attention on my internship, as I make a midlife transition.

Still, the last few months on the job and its loss was stressful. To cope, I engaged in Cycling Fridays, taking the day off from other activities to travel to Carroll County, Maryland, bordering on Pennsylvania, to ride routes through backroads, rolling hills, farmland and small towns.

I have nostalgia for Carroll County, a largely rural and agricultural county that has been

UsedCarLot

Would you buy a used car from this dealer? I could imagine the Bates Motel up the hill.

steadily suburbanizing. I worked there for four years as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, covering agriculture, small towns and county government. I visited dozens of farmers in picturesque settings, writing stories about droughts, dairy operations, beef cattle, breeding, hog farming, farm wives, spring plantings and soybean production. I always loved the country roads and the scenery.

 

After my job loss, I thought I would make one trek back to my old stomping ground and hang it up for the season. But the weather stayed mild, so I returned for a second Friday. The calendar turned to November, and I thought for sure my Cycling Fridays would be

RedneckParadise1

Everyone should enjoy the privilege of cycling through “Redneck Paradise”

numbered. But November was often positively summer-like, with temperatures in the 70s, so I continued. December would surely be the end.

 

But December turned out to be a record-warm month for the area, by far: The average temperature was 51.2 degrees, 11.5 degrees warmer than normal, and 5.5 degrees warmer than the previous warmest December. So on Christmas Day, I was back in Carroll County, cycling in my shorts, temperatures in the 60s. It rained that day – hard – but I didn’t care. How can you complain about riding a bike outside in the Northeast on Christmas Day? I had the whole county to myself that day; there wasn’t a soul outside.

All told, I made seven cycling pilgrimages, lifting my spirits through near-weekly rides

ArmyTruckForSale

Coolest-looking vehicle I’ve seen for sale along the road.

along creeks, past barns and grazing cows, into valleys, through village outposts that time forgot with names like Pleasant Valley and over hills with panorama views of endless farmland and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

I saw a few interesting sights along the way, featured in photos here: The guy with the

RedskinsCar

The “F Dallas” Redskins-mobile, a real hard core fan. 

tricked-out, burgundy and gold Washington Redskins car with the gold wheel rims and the “F Dallas” license plate, a reference to the Redskins’ longtime rival; the front yard sign hanging from a tree reading, “Welcome to Redneck Paradise;” and a Used Car lot that could have employed the creepy Norman Bates, proprietor of the Bates Motel in “Psycho.”

 

I’m resigned to the chill and shutdown and difficult mobility of the pending blizzard, but glad that it held off long enough for me to rejuvenate my mind, body and spirit on a bike.

Ridin’ Scared: Whistling Through America’s Most Murderous City Park

Tomorrow my daughter Rebecca will run the Baltimore Marathon for the second time, quite an accomplishment for a 19-year-old, a running career I documented here, along with a video of the most enthusiastic and devoted marathon fan.

But I didn’t tell the story of my offbeat and slightly harebrained adventure in 2014 to see Rebecca finish the race in the heart of Baltimore.

I didn’t want to jam into a light rail train car at 6 a.m. or get stuck trying to maneuver and park my own car among nearly 30,000 runners and their families, so I came up with the idea to ride my bike to the start/finish area at the Orioles and Ravens stadium complex. I studied the Baltimore City map and found what looked like the most scenic and direct route to enter the city from the west, where I live.

My wife Amy and Rebecca urged me not to ride my bike all the way through Baltimore to the city center, concerned about my safety. But as Amy knows all too well, the more she urges me not to do something, the more determined I become to do it (Disclaimer: This particular practice is not recommended for guys as a lesson for improving your marriage.)

I drove to a Park & Ride just outside the city, embarked on my bike, and soon reached the historic 17th century mill village of Dickeyville, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the adjoining historic mill town of Franklintown. After riding through these pastoral, historic areas with their old stone buildings and lush greenery, I entered Leakin Park. Leakin Park was serene and beautiful, an oasis of nature in the city with streams, trails and mature forest that stretched for miles. I thought I was in the countryside.

But as soon as I emerged from Leakin Park, I entered Baltimore’s West Side slums. I rode several miles through blighted streets dotted with boarded-up and vacant houses and dilapidated urban housing projects, which dominated the landscape until several blocks before the stadiums.

I had no idea about Leakin Park’s reputation until more than a month later when I told my story of urban cycling to my wife’s family at Thanksgiving dinner. “You rode through Leakin Park? What were you thinking!?” was their response.

It was then that I learned that Leakin Park is known as the Deadliest Park in America. It is the setting in the Serial true murder mystery podcast – a spinoff of This American Life radio show – and the site of a search for a dead body in HBO’s The Wire about the cat-and-mouse chase between Baltimore police and drug gangs. Serial features the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, whose body was found in Leakin Park. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted and is serving a life sentence for the crime.

Leakin Park’s reputation as a Dead Zone is well-deserved. It gained infamy in 1968, when four young boys were found dead in the park. Many believe that Leakin became a preferred dumping ground for bodies because of exactly what I experienced riding through it – it’s on the edge of West Baltimore’s crime-ridden neighborhoods, yet it feels a world away from urban blight.

Dead bodies discovered in Leakin Park have been documented as a research hobby of Ellen Worthing, who created the website Bodies of Leakin Park. Her research found that 67 bodies were discovered in Leakin Park since 1968 – a number that may actually be higher because of a six-year gap in Baltimore Sun library archives.

I was blissfully ignorant on my ride to the 2014 Baltimore Marathon. I was oblivious that Leakin Park was also leakin’ blood, leakin’ menace, leakin’ secrets and leakin’ revenge. I only saw one or two people during my ride through the park. Maybe I was lucky that it was 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Mayhem was sleeping in.

I enjoy telling the story now about my brush with death, my whistling journey through the graveyard, a 21st century Ichabod Crane on bike unwittingly fleeing the Headless Horseman. It’s a nice memory and a story that is ripe for great embellishments. But you won’t see me cycling through Leakin Park on Baltimore Marathon Day 2015. Body #68 will be somebody else.

DEAD BODIES IN LEAKIN PARK:

Leakin Park Bodies June 2011 jpg

A Hat Over the Wall

I threw my hat over the wall today.

It’s a saying I remember, and sometimes use with people who have no idea what I’m talking about, from the Landmark Education Forum, the three-day program designed to bring about life-improving “breakthroughs,” which borrowed the phrase from President John Kennedy, who talked about throwing the hat in reference to America’s determination to explore outer space, and who appropriated the expression from Irish author Frank O’Connor, who wrote the parable about two adventurous boys who were halted in their journey by an imposing stone wall – until one threw his hat over the top, compelling them both to scale the barrier to retrieve it.

I didn’t join NASA; I won’t be exploring Mars or spending a year in space. I did register to do (I say “do” rather than “compete in” purposely) the Columbia Triathlon, two hours before registration closed and 15 days before race day after debating whether to commit for a few months. I threw my hat over the triathlon wall.

As the original rap artists Sugar Hill Gang sang in “Rappers Delight”: “I don’t mean to brag. I don’t mean to boast (But we like hot butter on a breakfast toast).” But I guess this is a little about boasting. Anyone who tells others he is doing a triathlon is boasting, prima facie.

I am not an avid triathlete. Not like those eccentrics you see with the really tight onesies with the front zipper, the Terminator-style Ray-Bans, the spokes-less, flyaway bikes, the nutrition diaries, the hairless legs (OK for women), the oddly ubiquitous black wetsuits, the de rigueur upmarket bike racks, the fanny belts, the clacking  bike shoes, the 8 percent body fat and taut-as-power-cables leg muscles, and the neatly arranged race day gear and supplies, enough to suffice for a week’s vacation.

I am an amateur. I train the minimum. I’m not a member of any triathlon club or training group. I flaunt the convention. My ego requires me to do that. If I had all the proper equipment and clothing – if I looked like a triathlete — how could I explain finishing in the bottom 15 percent?

I’m positive I have the oldest and slowest bike of all the competitors…errr…participants: a 12-speed Fuji touring bike I bought in 1984. 1984! I can’t give it up, even if it would increase my speed by 20 percent and save my legs. It’s part of my carefully crafted image of the anti-triathlete triathlete. My bike pedals have no clips; just old-school straps. I don’t lock in with bike shoes. That’s unheard of in triathloning. Someone recently recommended I get the clips and the shoes. Solid advice, but I’m not going to – would ruin the image.

I’ll likely be one of the few not wearing a wetsuit. Again, bad for the image. I’m going to freeze my ass off at the beginning of the swim.

I train alone and modestly, mostly during lunch breaks at work when I swim or jog. I recently hooked up with another multi-sport event participant for a few bike rides, the one who advised about the bike clips. Whenever I told him to ride at his own natural pace during our rides, he blew me away and had to wait for me at the nearest stop sign. He also told me about the weekly “bricks” the Mid-Maryland Triathlon Club sponsors – bike rides followed by runs. I love the term. I’m going to put in one or two “bricks” before the event, by myself, just so I can say that I “bricked.”

Since I first started doing triathlons, I’ve averaged – hmmm, let’s see – two per decade. (You thought I’d say something crazy, like 10 per year, right?). I did two in the 1980s, and three in the 1990s. I may have never done one again, except I broke my leg in a soccer game in 2012. It was a long and arduous rehab and recovery. I started on the road back by swimming. Then I added cycling. For motivation, I threw my hat over the wall and entered the 2013 Columbia Triathlon. Running was the hardest. I added that last and slogged through a bare minimum of training jogs. One year and 22 days after surgery for a broken tibia and fibula – and nearly 15 years since my last triathlon — I completed the Columbia Triathlon, a .93-mile lake swim, 25-mile bike and 6.2-mile run, in 3 hours, 37 minutes. I was proud of that. I had to disappear into the woods for a few minutes to shed some tears over the struggle of the previous year. I was amazingly consistent, too (i.e., consistently slow for a triathlete), finishing in the 85-90 percentile for each leg.

It was a spiritual experience. That’s all it is to me now, more than an athletic event. Time? I don’t care about time. I’m not chasing anything, not trying to qualify for anything, not seeking a PR (personal record) or age group award. I entered again for the spiritual experience. I want to find a rhythm in the swim and enjoy the feel of warming up in a cold, open body of water. I’ll revel in the feeling of speed and the sights and smells of the countryside on the bike. I’ll embrace the challenge of the hilly run and find inspiration in the struggle.

I may even break out the Ruggler during the run. That’s the Runner-Juggler (the “Joggler” was already taken). Now that may be showing off, but it has a real purpose – refocusing my mind from the pain, monotony and seemingly interminable length of the run to the three airborne balls.

The triathlon is the thrill of being alive, the delight of being able to do it at all. I’m excited I get to go retrieve my hat.TheRuggler

Solidarity Amid Tragedy: A Ride for Tom

I spent New Year’s Day 2015 attending a funeral of sorts for someone I had never met. It was a moving event, literally and figuratively. Maybe 1,000 or more avid cyclists and casual riders alike gathered in Baltimore at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation – a starting point with sad significance — and took over the streets in a sea of bikes on a 35 degree day as the sun faded, riding in solidarity to the spot where a cyclist was killed by a drunk and distracted driver.

Tom Palermo, a cyclist, bike frame maker, professional, married father of two young children died Dec. 27 when hit from behind while riding in a bike lane on one of Baltimore’s more bike-friendly streets. The crime has attracted national and even international attention because of its egregious nature and the status of its perpetrator. Tom was run down by the second highest ranking bishop in Maryland’s Episcopal Church hierarchy, who had a flagrant previous arrest for driving under the influence. This time, the bishop drove away from the accident scene with a shattered windshield with a big hole in it from where Tom crashed through it. She returned to the scene later only after cruising by and being noticed by another cyclist who stopped to render aid, and who chased her down. She has been charged with manslaughter, driving with a .22 blood alcohol level (legal limit .08), texting while driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

When I heard news of the accident and the impromptu plan for a New Year’s Day memorial ride for Tom, I felt compelled to be there. If there was ever a case where the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” applied, it was this one. I imagine all the cyclists felt the same kinship. I had spent half of 2014 campaigning for Maryland state delegate, and used my bike as a campaign tool to go door to door and to advertise. The bike was equipped with a trailer with campaign signs on each side and in back. It did not earn enough votes to win, but it made campaigning more enjoyable and kept me in shape.

However, I was often keenly aware how vulnerable I was – much more so than the one- to three-week long bike trips I’ve taken in my younger days. Most of the roads I traveled had no bike lanes or even shoulders, and traffic that could hit 40-50 mph or more. Drivers often seemed in a rush and distracted, oblivious to me. I was always one driver mistake away from meeting the same fate as Tom.

The Baltimore cyclists rode three or four miles on Jan. 1 to a makeshift memorial with flowers and candles and messages where the accident happened, and solemnly observed a memorial session with Tom’s family and bicycle advocates as a community.  A white “ghost bike” was locked to a pole in Tom’s memory. Many were angry – a homemade memorial featuring a bike wheel and bike seat stood in the road’s median, with the seat inscribed with “I Am Angry.” But this was a time to remember Tom and support his family. Justice would have to be sought later.

The vast majority of the people at the ride had never met Tom, just like me. But there was an unmistakable feeling of connection, of familiarity. Tom was us, Tom was me. He was 10 years younger than me, but in ways similar. He had a boy and a girl, just like me, two years apart, just like me. He loved to ride, just like me. At his memorial, his family talked about how hard it was for Tom to find time to ride in recent times, with a young family, a full time job as a software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a side business. I could relate to that; when my kids were 6 and 4, free time was at a premium.

On a sunny and relatively mild December Saturday afternoon, Tom had been able to carve out some time for himself and had gone out for a ride, and never came back. It was unbelievably, crushingly, maddeningly sad.

The light amid the darkness was the spontaneous reaction of people to be there, that people cared about what happened and showed it through their actions in what can often be a cold and uncaring world. That it mattered to be there. That all the texting and Twittering and Facebooking could not substitute for being present, for joining a brotherhood and sisterhood with a common avocation to acknowledge one of their own. I had debated whether or not to go – it was cold, I wanted to relax at home on a day off. But when the time came, I knew I would regret inaction, so I went and I’m glad I did. It was among the most moving events I have ever experienced, largely because of its spontaneity. A thousand cyclists claiming their piece of ownership of the streets – if only for an hour – is quite a spectacular sight.

As I have reached well into midlife, I have become more and more aware of mortality. This is nothing unusual. But incidents like Tom’s just serve to remind me – I don’t know when my number is up. Life does feel more precious; it becomes more urgent to strive for fulfillment, meaning and self-actualization. Perhaps there does come a point in everyone’s life when there is no more time to wait for tomorrow or someday. A week or so after Tom’s accident, we heard about ESPN’s Stuart Scott – BOOYAH! – passing away after a long fight with cancer. He was two years younger than me.

I imagine I will often think of Tom when I ride. I have thought about him every day since the memorial ride. And like every other cyclist there that day – I would bet my life on this – I am not going to stop riding the roads. It comes with some risk, but so does life.

I never knew Tom, but I wish I did. I have a feeling I would have liked him. I wish the best for his family.

IMG_1274 IMG_1278

Post Navigation