Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wild blue yonder

At the end, after the stories of Matthew's life, the guy at the podium says ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Then he asks us to recite the Lord's Prayer. I'm sort of numb and floating; the voices inside the church shock me back to a time and place.

The way it starts, our father, can't bring myself to say that. In general we need fewer father figures, and more... well I don't know what we need more of except cars that don't hit cyclists. With relief, I notice that the people to my right and left are quiet.

On the whole, randonneurs tend not to be religious, not in the traditional ways. Which says almost nothing about us. Just that on a fair Sunday morning we'd rather be wandering some back road, metaphorically fly-fishing than in a building reciting the Lord's Prayer.

We have a different structure and set of rituals. The road-tested equipment, the pre-ride meals. Mine is currently oatmeal, Greek yogurt, raspberries, and walnuts. My pockets will be full of Kind and Larabars.

The control schedule with its time windows, the cue sheet with turns, the brevet card with boxes to annotate. A routine at controls to get in and out quickly, everyone has that. We all know the types of food you can find in mini-marts: rice pudding, chocolate milk, protein smoothies, beef jerky, trail mix. All this structure is like the framing of a building, like the long wooden beams holding the roof over our heads; without which everything would come down.

A long ride is a study in patterns; each one is slightly different. Even the same route has many possible variations on any given day. Temperature, wind, the rider's fitness, their mindset, equipment failures. So the routines and thinking we bring with us always need a few adjustments. It is very rare to ride a brevet and just execute a mental program, according to plan.

Knowing when and how to alter routines is a form of art. It is personal, humble, with no right or wrong answer. It is true only in the moment, and only for you. No one can tell you the right thing to do.

Today it's a gift to sit quietly on a bench, among people who follow the script and people who do not, without fear of reprisal.

I look upward at the skylights. A beautiful, unbroken light blue sky. So it's still there. For breathing after the service, for gazing at long, unbroken spaces that transcend all of us.

The common thread is we couldn't save Matthew. Despite the familiar words, we are mute and helpless. We have to reformulate. Take something away from here about who he was, what he believed in and practiced. Carry it with us into the future. He was a big person but he can't do it now. And from here it looks like an enormous task.

It will take all the caring and energy we have. It will take the sky.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do not go gentle

Because I did not know Matthew O'Neill, this is a difficult post to write.

Matthew was a cyclist on the 3CR. A randonneur. A human being loved by his family and friends. You can read more about him here.

One thing people, especially those in the brain injury community, often say about this project is that it's too dangerous. It is unwise. To show a brain injury survivor riding a bicycle, it is wrong. They don't want me presenting to their clients. For many people, cycling is synonymous with head injuries, with great bodily risk.

This of course, is a distortion. Statistics tell us that driving a car is just about the most dangerous thing most people do regularly. The kitchen, followed by the bathroom, are the most dangerous places. Oh, and football, the fans who sit on the couch, watching other people bang their heads together...

Consider the number of hours you spend sitting doing whatever (work, watching TV) shaves years off your life. And it's not good for your brain either. Those are the alternatives.

So. I packed Matthew O'Neill's rider packet for the 3CR. I supported the last event he ever rode. With  the shock and exhaustion of that effort wearing off, I'll continue to ride. Hopefully you'll join me in asking some difficult questions. Like why cyclists are still targets on the roads we help pay for.

Why cyclists, who are doing the right thing in so many ways, are often not given their equal share of respect. Bullied, hazed, run off the road. Why that's seen as 'just the way it is'. Why the new California 3-foot passing bill carries a whopping $35 penalty. Doesn't allow drivers to cross a double yellow line, when needed. I'm not going to let that go. Hope you won't, either.

When people see me getting onto my bike, sometimes they call out "ride safe". The next time that happens I might be thinking "go fuck your cowardly self". How about telling a driver getting into the car "watch out for cyclists"? "Try not to kill a cyclist today, honey"?

Maybe it's time to start doing that.