It’s a bright sunny morning here in Washington D.C. But, there’s a feeling of sadness in the air as I get ready to go to a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to acknowledge and celebrate a life well lived but snuffed out much too early. Robert F. Kennedy died 50 years ago today in the prime of his life at age 42, leaving a family of a wife and 11 children and a nation so torn apart by meaningless violence from wars and racial strife. It’s sadder still because these things still haunt us today.
To me Bobby’s death was even more tragic as his political skills and awareness were ascending. His opinions changed as he awoke to the injustices around him. He always had enormous strength and energy and was known as someone who could get things done. By then he had cast aside the advice of his president, party and friends and decide that he needed to correct the wrongs on his own.
The only thing left was to convince a wary public that he could bring a fractured nation together. I don’t think anyone thought that it could be done. But, we all felt that if anyone could, it was Bobby. We hoped for the best. Our agony, even today, is that we will never really know the answer. Bobby had just won the big prize of the California primary and seemed destined to lead us out of the muck we were in.
The NY Times today had a piece about Richard Holler who wrote the Dion song “Abraham, Martin & John” in between the time RFK was shot and before he was pronounced dead only hours later.
He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young But I just looked around and he’s gone. Didn’t you love the things they stood for? Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me? And we’ll be free, Someday soon it’s gonna be one day. Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby, Can you tell me where he’s gone? I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill With Abraham, Martin and John.
I know we all had that feeling that nothing could be worse than what we have lived through. Or if it could, what would it be?
Having met his first-born, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, this past year and her daughter Kerry, my heart goes out to the entire Kennedy family to have to relive the tragedy again, if for no other reason than to know that we all share the pain and the loss of what might have been.
Yesterday, I and a large group of friends, saw Jenn Popper off on her long walking journey from Cranford, New Jersey to Gouldsboro, Maine. I could not help but recall what it felt like for me on my past Epic Bike Ride when I started and what’s ahead for her. There was great joy in hailing the beginning of the journey along with a certain amount of apprehension on what is to come.
To give you the brief background forJenn’s Journey North, she is determined to channel her positive energy and good deeds to reconcile a bad experience she experienced a couple of years ago in a kayaking accident which took the life of her husband Michael. Among the abundant good will she has created and causes she has helped, is a JustGiving project for Michael Popper which has netted thousands of dollars for two of her favorite – FreeWalkers and East Coast Greenway. It’s a remarkable statement of generosity and empathy that I continue to ponder.
Jenn and Michael were a close couple that anyone could see really enjoyed our FreeWalkers walks and each other. To me, they demonstrated a certain joy in life that is hard to express, yet easy to see. A feeling I think we all desire. That made the accident even more tragic and unimaginable.
Many people wonder why one needs to walk 800 miles, or in my case, 1600 miles on a bike. Our natural inclination is to consider the goal as the reason for taking on a huge challenge. Her efforts have certainly benefitted others and will earn her bragging rights. But timing is everything. And, then there is the journey itself.
I look back on my long ride, finished just a few weeks ago, and realize that this or any goal could be considered arbitrary. The effort could have been harder or longer (or shorter). Despite my period of bad luck in the beginning, I finished with a unbelievable streak of good luck for most of the journey. The nature of a long journey is its unpredictability.
What I learned was that the most joy from the journey was being fully in the moment. You have a singular objective – to get to your next location. Things that you cannot control are accepted. It’s how you work with what you have that matters. There’s plenty of time to think and maybe even consider that life is just another similar long journey anyway.
A big hug goes out to Jenn with a mixture of empathy and jealousy that you are taking a great big journey that you will remember for the rest of your life. Make the most of it. Michael would have wanted it that way.
They are an unavoidable sight when you ride the highways these days. Those colorful markers on the side of the road that catch the corner of your eye. They seem to spring up out of nowhere and vary in all respects except for their purpose — heartfelt memorials to a tragic ending for someone who was loved.
Highway memorials, (also called Descansos in Southwestern U.S.), are markers that note a place where a violent death took place. They are commonplace these days and vary state by state. Most states recognize the emotional connection a family has to a victim of highway tragedy. But, they also realize that such displays of emotion can be a form of distraction which can lead to danger too. There’s a fine balance of sympathy, public service message and distracting signage here. And, that’s not to even mention the problem of family caretakers maintaining the site with flowers and other symbols of the loved one’s life.
I think I began noticing the memorial displays in the Florida Keys along 100-mile section of Route 1 (aka Overseas Highway), one of the more dangerous roads because of the amount of traffic and speed. There’s a conundrum here because much of the Keys has an alternate bike path that runs alongside 80% of the highway but traveling it by bike requires much more time. Riding the path means slowing for various cross streets and commercial businesses, which can make that path inherently dangerous too. But there are sections, like the Seven Mile Bridge where there is no alternative path but the highway.
Even for a bicycle, stopping to view or attempting to understand the origin of the memorial is not possible or even wise. Besides, there are too many of them. After a while they blend into the road and become a passing blur except for maybe a few unique ones.
Over the years, you may have seen a white bike, usually adorned with flowers, chained to a tree or sign with a memorial plaque. This memorial is called a “Ghost Bike” and symbolizes a cyclist meeting his or her end on the highway. These are particularly meaningful to me and I would guess to anyone who rides a bike. The message is clear: “This could be you. Be careful.”
While not as common or varied as the typical roadside memorial, they can be seen occasionally in places where you least expect them to be, like a quiet country road, a beautiful turn in farmland or just a normal intersection. There are roads that were constructed without cyclist safety in mind, but in the end, any road can be dangerous.
You can’t continue to ride a long journey thinking of the possibility of danger at every corner, but you can perhaps heighten your awareness and senses. My passing thought, and sometimes prayer, goes out to the one who lost her life, to the victim’s family and even the driver, for a mistake that continues to reverberate.
Big mistakes are avoidable but sometimes they just part of price you pay for taking the journey.
I love this article on the power of words and motivation to enable us to reach beyond our limitations. I’d have to say both Tom Wolf and Scott Kelly had an affect on me too. Wolf for his brilliant observations of society and Kelly for his courage and openness.
Living long enough to be a senior citizen, I guess you learn a few things that you might call wisdom. One of these is what to tell your spouse, and when. It has been almost a week now since I arrived back home. It’s time for transparency. Or, is this TMI?
Mary Ann, sorry this took so long but timing is everything…
Flipping the bike
I had just come from Savannah, after spending an extra day there to take in a few parts of the city. It was Saturday, April 21 and I arrived in Beaufort SC, my next Airbnb stay after a pleasant day of riding. It was also the day I ran into my bike shop friend at Lab Cyclery on the way here. Between the last couple days and new friends I had found, I was in a good mood and ready to go out and discover Beaufort, an old ante-bellum town just above Hilton Head.
Maybe I was feeling a little too confident. I had settled now into riding alone for this adventure solo after Tom bailed out four days ago. Since the tourist area was close I decided to put on some casual clothes, my flip-flops and ride into town, without a helmet, and go full tourist. I would just take my time and disappear into the crowd.
The hub of Beaufort is a nice commercial waterfront area just a few miles from where I was staying. To get there I’d have to maneuver on Route 21 which is busy with not much shoulder until you get to the tourist area. Beautiful old southern mansions grace the road along the harbor. The town is fairly lively with mix of tourists, residents and prom attendees milling around. Looking or a place to eat I found Hearth Wood-Fired Pizza which seemed to be busy and looked like the real deal for good pizza in South Carolina.
Hearth Wood-Fired Pizza
After the pizza and a couple beers I decided to ride back on the safer bike path, rather than the street. However, it appeared that the bike path was being paved in some areas. So I decided I’d ride it until I needed to go to the street and continue.
I’m less than a mile away and all is well until I approach a dark area of the bike path. Then, before I can even react or brake, there’s a sharp drop off in front of me of about three feet deep. The bike dips down and sticks. I flip out in front and land on the other side of the ditch about four feet away. My forearm cushions my head and I take just a slight knock. The top of my right hand is cut in a few places. A slight cut is on my left hand. My legs are fine. Nothing needing stitches, thank God! Basically, I’m just a little bruised and very much shaken. But, I’m feeling real lucky and relieved. I’ll give partial credit to the luck of “The Joker” who came with me too.
The moral here is always wear that helmet, of course. I’m usually cool with that and rarely will ride anywhere with out it. But, I’ve ridden the streets of Amsterdam and even the Jersey shore where we tempt our fate sometimes for a fleeting feeling of freedom. Needless to say for the rest of the ride my helmet is on my head wherever I ride.
In a sport full of tradition, there are few more iconic than the winner of the Tour de Franceriding triumphantly with his teammates along the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The Tour de France takes place over a 23-day period and covers usually about 2,200 miles and is recognized as the greatest cycling event. This last ride is really a ceremonial end to the race. The winner, who has already been decided, gets to bask in the glory.
I’ll need to take you back a couple days to last Friday, my last planned stage of my 1600-mile ride to explain how if feels to end such a long journey. I had not given much thought to the actual end except where might be the appropriate place. Morristown seemed to be the appropriate place where my family and friends were. My son, Justin, had mentioned that he wanted to meet me somewhere along my final route.
Just a few days before some of my riding buddies from Morristown also expressed an interest in meeting at the Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe who helps sponsor our club Swiss Chalet Cycling. So, I set a plan to ride 90 miles northwest to Morristown on Friday, May 11th after resting a day at my place in Ortley Beach. I was feeling great and ready to get this job done. It had been 30 days since I was home.
The Ride Home
The weather looked good again. The only problem was a nagging 10 mph headwind that I hoped would be easier as I went inland. I took mostly backroads to avoid the highways. I had enough of that.
I looked at the ride in two parts. The first was to get to Old Bridge for lunch, about half-way. Then from there to Morristown. I followed Rt 35 north to Bay Head then turned northwest into towns like Brick, Farmingdale, Adelphia, Colts Neck and finally Old Bridge – almost all on county roads. Mostly, a pretty route and certainly easier than most roads I had been riding this past month.
Going through Point Pleasant I eyed two familiar riders going the other way. It’s Terry Downs and his wife Lori, Terry is a rider I had met at the shore. Just another unexplainable coincidence in this journey. He had been tracking my progress over the past days. We stop for a brief conversation and eventually he rides with me, taking me through some really pretty areas of Allaire State Park instead of county roads. A nice little unexpected detour on my way home.
I was already running a bit late for my scheduled lunch with Tom Borkowski, my morning riding mate and fellow employee at Amboy Bank, before I retired. I forgot how much I missed that morning ride (generally, a few days a week) and the bagels and coffee almost as much. At least at this point I’m about 1/2 way home (40+ miles), although time is ticking away.
Soon I was off again heading through Middlesex County towns for the next 25 miles or so in local traffic. This is where I learned to ride in traffic while commuting occasionally to work. Alright, this wasn’t world-class Tour de France racing but dodging traffic requires some energy and a lot of concentration. I wanted to make it safely home at this point.
The last 20-mile segment left was the ride over the Watchung Mountains. This mid-section of Jersey geographically divides the area as a range of mountains that you need to cross to go north to Morristown. In a car, they seem like big hills, but on a bike they are formidable and require about 2,000 ft. altitude of climbing. That’s something I have not had to do much of this last month since I was hugging the flat coast.
By the time I reached the first mountain, I was pretty tired having ridden 70 miles and was at least 1/2 hour behind schedule. The first major climb is a steep one up Vosseller Avenue and took all the energy I had to climb it. The second is up Mt. Bethel Road which is not quite as steep but very long. Once over those there are are still rolling hills to face, but time can be made up and you sense the end is near. I’m now over the mountains.
The Last Pull to the Finish
At 5:00 p.m., about one hour behind, I pull into to the Meyersville circle and meet my riding entourage that will escort me to the finish in Morristown about 1/2 hour away where others are waiting. My fatigue and concern about making this last leg on time have vanished. It’s just sooo good to see familiar faces. Justin, Tom, and Pete are riding with me. And, Duncan and Brit are providing a motorcycle escort ahead! It’s not a solo journey anymore.
We pulled into the Swiss Chalet Bakery in Morristown about 5:30 to my surprise there are a dozen or more people cheering, including my grandkids! This was much more than I expected and such a great feeling that friends and family came out to see a pretty whooped guy finish his crazy journey. It’s that kind of time in your life when you feel grateful for what you have and especially for the people around you.
My Ride on the Champs-Élysées
But, the ride did not end until I finished the last couple miles home from the bakery. At the end of my block (Mountainside Drive – today’s Champs-Élysées) , the grandkids were lined up on their bikes ready to ride the last “miracle mile” (actually about 1/4 mile). I rode with my little teammates on bikes, a trike and a scooter to the end. It was a triumphant ride, at least as memorable as anyone ever rode in Paris.