Yesterday I took Jim’s bikes over to B+L for consignment sale. This was much harder than I anticipated. Just the act of pulling the mountain bike off of the hook it had hung on all winter had me in a puddle of tears on the garage floor, as did removing the mirror from his commuter bike. I don’t know what I was thinking, perhaps if I just left them there he would return with the snow melt in the Spring? Much as with everything else in the last few months, I gave in to the tears while still continuing with the task. It is hard to see an allen wrench hole when your eyes are all blurry!
When I moved to Corvallis in 1986 to be with Jim, he did not have a mountain bike. He was a runner, and an ultimate frisbee player, and he had an old road bike and his paper route bike from childhood for getting to class. I had a mountain bike, her name was Secretariat, and I loved her. That bike was stolen one night from our porch. I cried. Jim did not understand, “It’s just a bike, we have renter’s insurance”. I had to explain to him that she was much more than a bike. That bike had been sold to me by the bike guys in Tahoe for cost since I had referred so many knee patients to them, and had taught them how to fit someone with a brace. She had helped me to while away some long lonely afternoons when I knew few folks in the area, and weekends seemed longer than the work days. That bike carried me into the hills around Tahoe after my sister died, which was the only place I could go to cry. I made friends that had bikes, and finally had the beginning of a social life during group rides. Secretariat wasn’t fast, she had 24″ wheels, but she fit me perfectly. “I’ve known that bike for longer than I’ve known you, and I loved her almost as passionately as I love you.” Jim’s paper route bike was stolen from our porch the morning of our wedding. Then, he understood. He had also been talked into spending his student loan on his first mountain bike.
Jim spent a lot of his life on a mountain bike. The first years of living here, he and Bones went down every dead-end trail, skid road, and open area he could find. MAMBA, and the Hog Heaven Guide grew out of those adventures. He was often late for dinner. He made friends, he rode in races. He pulled me out of the house, drug the kids out too, made all of us cry at times while we tried to keep up. He learned how to slow down and take naps, he used a cell phone to let me know if he was going to be late, and we perfected the timing so that dinner was on the minute he pulled into the driveway. He started doing “epic rides” far from home, got involved in bike issues at the state level, and often times wanted only the time to ride for his birthday, or father’s day. Most family vacations had to include bikes, and vehicles and racks were purchased for the sole purpose of their ability to carry the ever-expanding gear. Jim was back on his bike within a week of brain surgery. He road at least twice per week all through chemo, he had more epic rides, and then some epic falls. He slowed down. He took naps. He was never late for dinner. After cancer treatment stopped, hospice started, he still rode. Jim was able to lead a last group ride for the LaFortunes Flight trail dedication. He had lists of riders on sticky notes so he knew who to call. I called the same list when he no longer could. I don’t know when his last ride was, it just seemed that one day the bike was parked, and never went out again.
Jim commuted to work and ran all of his errands on his purple bike. It had fenders, a rack, panniers, and a mirror. It had tires with studs for the winter and a bell. That bell signaled he was home at night, and signaled that he had arrived at school in the morning. It also was used on anyone who even thought about committing a traffic infraction, worked to alert pedestrians, and communicated a friendly hello to any kid riding a bike with training wheels and streamers. The bike was parked in Jim’s classroom during the day. I think this was partly to keep it safe, but I think he also wanted people to see it. When you teach Earth Science, and preach about taking care of the environment, junior high students will hear you…but mostly they will watch. Jim walked the walk, while he talked the talk. Jim went to all of his in-town medical appointments on his purple bike. I recall one late afternoon parked outside Gritman Hospital. Jim had a flat. He was changing it. The oncologist, who had just relayed bad news from the final MRI walked out at the end of her day. We chatted for a bit as she watched Jim deal with his tire. Finally, her day done, she just kind of shook her head and smiled, heading towards her car. Seeing Jim on his bike in his last year had that effect on a lot of folks.
Bikes are never just bikes. They are the places they take you, they are the friends and lovers along for the ride, they are solace in loneliness, and they say something beyond words. Jim is gone, his bikes are up for sale. I hope whomever rides them continues to create memories and stories, I’m so grateful for those left to me.