Sunday, June 24, 2007

the long road trip

i've been to many funerals over the years.
family members included great aunts and uncles, grandparents,
mom, dad, cousins, friends, classmates, teammates.
as a church organist, i played the organ for many folks
while still in junior high and high school.
parents and relatives of friends,
old and expected, young and tragic.
i'm no stranger to death and grief.
but this trip to atlantic friday,
to the funeral of yet another cyclist who i knew only in death,
that i can only know through the words and emotions
of loved ones left behind, this one was different.
perhaps that it required extra planning,
although i never doubted that i would go,
threatening weather notwithstanding.
perhaps that it was so eerily similar to the accident
that nearly killed two cyclists whom i DO know.
i don't know.
but i do know that it changed me.
how remains to be seen.
david "judd" harris came from hard times.
he had two families,
one that hurt him and maybe didn't want him,
and another one that wanted him, loved him,
and made him who he became.
judd entered a foster home when he was less than a year old.
his foster family later adopted him.
his family of brothers and sisters grew over the years, some coming and going with time, but instilling in david a love for others that never left him. friends described him as the kind of guy who was almost always happy. "if judd ever got upset, it never lasted more than a couple seconds. then, he'd think of something happy about whatever had made him upset, and that was the end of that."
friends would seek him out when they were down,
knowing that he would help them get over it.
he was a tough kid, and got into wrestling in junior high because one of his adopted/foster brothers--his idol--was also a wrestler.
he loved being outdoors,
watching birds and other wildlife.
he got into motorcycles for a while, too.
he moved from atlantic to macedonia [his hometown, a little burg about ten miles away] when his biological mother became too ill to care for herself. he lived his life to take care of her. since her death in 2003, he told his close friend that he was looking forward to being with her again; that was what he wanted.
when life in macedonia became too costly, he moved back to atlantic, after being forced to sell his mother's home. he stayed with friends until he was able to secure housing of his own.
but when he became an insulin-dependent diabetic,
he decided it was time for a change.
he bought a bicycle.
he rode it every day, 365.
he lost fifty pounds.
he often would call an end to his activities with friends by announcing,
"well, i've gotta go ride my bike."
he upgraded his bikes from time to time,
and was always very excited to show his friends his latest set of wheels.
just like you and me, he loved the freedom that cycling allows. he loved nature, he loved being close to all that beauty.
i thought of that as i approached atlantic.
i've raced and ridden in that area a lot,
and travelled over many familiar roads friday.
yet i was experiencing them with a different purpose as i pedalled into a sunny headwind by myself the last 25-30 miles.
i tried to imagine that this guy i didn't know had ridden these roads. i drank them in as he most recently did, the lush, green rolling hills alive with abundance, and fertile with promise.
i imagined them as they appear in autumn, brown and gold, the fields giving up their bounty. the deep dark reds of the many oak trees that covered the hills. i've ridden these roads during these seasons. i saw them in winter, as judd must have, barren, solitary, the fields stripped of their crops. the animals tramping around
foraging for sustenance in missed grains.
i tried to enjoy them a year's worth on that day.
and it was difficult, very difficult.
because in so doing, i realized that what i was trying to do could only properly be done by judd, in a lifetime.
and that he would not be able to do that.
this was just on the way in to town, mind you.
when i got to atlantic, the second thing i wanted to do
--taking a piss was, appropriately, number one--
was get a battery for my heart monitor's chest strap.
the usual question of "where ya riding from?" was followed by
"oh, you're the one coming to the funeral of that cyclist?
that's so good of you."
folks started telling me about both judd,
and about the man who killed him.
"nicest guy. he'd never hurt a soul."
[what do you say? he killed a guy on a bike.]
i went to the funeral home, and was greeted by one of the directors, who welcomed me, and told me the family would like me to be the first vehicle behind the hearse.
i went in to view the body, and watch the little video presentation.
david was a mess, from what i could tell.
although they did what they could,
his hands and head clearly showed the results of a violent death.
i tried to imagine a smile and cheery disposition.
after a little lunch, i returned for the service.
the family was there, as were a number of friends.
it would be a small service.
i sat in an empty chair by the family, just to talk with them, to tell them why i came, and to learn about them and about judd. it was fun. these brothers and sisters, who initially found themselves in a family unit as a result of serendipitous social services intervention but who grew to love and share bonds as strong as the strongest blood affinity poured out story after story about growing up with david. they were uniformly straight-forward, no b.s. matter of fact, warts and all.
and they were straight from the heart.
these were good people, and they were saddened by his death,
and upset that nothing had been done as yet.
they told me that judd would be happy to know that his name, his memory, his death, might be used in an effort
to force a change in attitude.
that would be him finding something happy about
what had just earlier made him upset.
just a brief word about the trip to the cemetary:
it is located on a hill, at the east edge of town, on the way in,
and on my way back home.
maybe three miles.
as the procession moved on,
EVERYONE stopped as we approached.
cars, trucks, pedestrians, EVERYONE stopped in their tracks,
to pay repsects.
with all eyes on the procession,
i felt a very heavy burden being there on my bike.
i was proud, and on the constant verge of tears.
damn, that was a tough climb out of town.
. . . . .
the family thanked me for coming.
i reminded them, as i did in my note in the guest book, that i was there on behalf of all cyclists in iowa: racers, tourists, recreational riders, everyone who loves to bike was there in spirit.
. . . . .
here's a link to a story about my pending visit
from friday's edition of an area paper.
it's fairly accurate, and not terribly out of context.
. . . . .
quick note about the ride itself:
thanks to jeff, kirk, and robert.
special thanks to keith.
i got lucky with a strong tailwind that lasted from atlantic to just outside menlo, where it was replaced with a killer headwind and torrential rain.
you just gotta love cycling in iowa:
bottom of a hill, tailwind and 90 degrees.
top of the same hill, headwind and 65 degrees.
i'd like to thank my sram 11-tooth cog,
and mickey d's for the free coffee refills.
oh, and stu for saving my ass!


Lou Waugaman said...

Kim, nice write up. Thanks for taking the time to represent us so humbly. It sounds like the family really appreciated your support.


Anonymous said...

Kim -

Thanks for taking the time to do this. Your voice is powerful.


the mostly reverend said...

i fixed the link.
dave told me that it wasn't working.
hopefully it will now.

Jeff Bratz said...

Thanks for letting me ride my friend, thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is the side of you I love and miss the most ever since we left Ames! Thanks for pulling through when you know we can't.
SB in TX