Each time I have encountered a “ghost bike” memorial along the road I have photographed it and posted it here. To me this is an important, indeed necessary, ritual. Beside honoring the memory of yet another cyclist killed while riding, it serves to remind me that at every moment death rides with each of us, and we must live as fully as we can while we can.
To recap the final days: Nathaniel met me at the entrance to UNM and we rode to his on-campus dorm room, where I spent the night on the floor. As I told him, I could easily have gotten a nearby motel room, in typical parents’ fashion, but I would much rather sleep on his floor and eat in his cafeteria – in short, to see his world as much as he lives it as possible. I also promised to swap him my tires for his when he next comes home at Thanksgiving, as my Awful Touring Bike will be returned to its intended incarnation as Fun Old Mountain Bike and will never need its wonderful Schwalbes again. Ever.
After dinner we met my daughter Emma and her boyfriend Sam, but the visit was short as she was off to an evening class. I spent the evening just hangin’ wit’ my homie, and sleep came easily on the same air mattress that has sustained me all these months… (but which appears to have developed a slow leak and will need to be exchanged; the main benefit of REI’s high prices…)
I headed east out of Burque the next morning, taking up the right lane on Central Avenue, which is the old Route 66. All gentle climbing up toward the Sandia mountains, I suddenly found myself riding with a friendly road warrior on a fast, modern carbon Trek. Mark Aasmundstad is a bicycle activist recently relocated from Phoenix who blogs fervently at www.bikeyogi.com. I later read there that he even wrote about riding with me on his blog: “Yesterday I decided to slow down in Tijeras Canyon to say hello to a cyclist who was toting panniers and hauling a touring trailer. His name is Allan Sindelar and he was just finishing up the last leg of his gratitude tour that took him down the Oregon and California coasts. He founded Positive Energy Solar about 20 years ago and built it into an award winning million dollar company. Wow, a renewable energy pioneer, flesh and blood hero! Allan was celebrating his retirement and a rebirthing of things to come. Here’s his blog about the trip: http://sindelarsolar.com/ What a good life and happy soul. Tremendously inspiring.”
When he learned that I was heading up the Turquoise Trail, Mark told me about an alternate route up the big climb that avoided the traffic of NM14. We rode together, and he led me to Gutierrez Canyon Road. What a delight! It felt as if the climb was half as much as I had expected, and we talked easily the whole way up. When we parted at the top (Mark was riding to the 10,600′ top of Sandia Crest) I had the distinct sense that I had encountered an angel-in-flesh, who happened to come by at just the right moment to pass on a gift and then continue on to the next small-miracle opportunity.
Once at the top and back on NM14, I made one more stop. In early 2012, while I was driving daily to Albuquerque for radiation treatments for my tongue cancer, I one day stopped at a home with an older diesel Mercedes than mine with a veggie oil fuel bumper sticker on the back. I struck up a conversation there with Jim Ruzicka long enough to learn that we shared three common interests: we had both converted a diesel Benz to run on waste vegetable oil; we both had done extensive bicycle touring (I saw two beautiful Rivendells in his garage); and we had both experienced tongue cancer. He had survived my cancer nearly twenty years ago, although unlike me he had had major surgery, which changed his neck’s appearance noticeably. My encounter with Jim that day had given me strength and encouragement that I’d make it through my treatment and continue to enjoy life for years to come, which is of course what’s happening.
So I stopped in to see Jim and his wife Peer King. I was pleased to find them there, as I had stopped while passing by several times in the ensuing years to find nobody home. I wanted to show Jim that I had made it through my treatment, and was indeed living fully, even touring as he had. We even talked of touring together in the indefinite future. I found it very satisfying to be able to share my thriving after my cancer treatment with a man who had experienced the same.
The last twenty miles or so were all familiar territory, and I was soon coasting down to my rough dirt road and home. Johanna and the dogs were walking on our road and greeted me. All felt a bit unreal: I had really arrived at the end of my bike journey.
Please check back soon, as I will be soon adding two more posts: the first a synopsis of the trip, with a few statistics to put it all in perspective, and the second an acknowledgment of some of the many people I met along the way who gave of themselves to help make the trip a success.