Author’s Note: Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a tragic and sad day for our country. I grew up looking at those towers from my bedroom window as a kid, never imaging they would crumble to the ground someday, brought down by hate and evil. I was fortunate that I didn’t lose a loved one that day, but every year I mourn the loss of the thousands who died on September 11, 2001; I will never forget.
This month marks another sad anniversary for me: the unexpected death of my good friend Pete, who passed away 12 years ago (he would have turned 46 this coming Thursday). Together with our friend Paul, Peter and I cycled cross country after we graduated college. I can’t help but think of him this morning as I head out on my bicycle for a long training ride. It’s always difficult for me to write about logistics on these days, so today’s post is a reflection I wrote almost five years ago on the eve of Thanksgiving about the journeys we take, the choices we make.
We were excited, we were wet, we had stupid expressions on our faces. But nothing could stop us on this particular Sunday in May–nothing.
Last night I found myself in the basement looking through old photo albums, and I came across the one I put together almost twenty years ago after I cycled cross country with my friends Pete and Paul. We had just graduated from college, and instead of starting work immediately, we decided to spend most of the summer on the road, making our way from the ocean coast in Connecticut to the ocean shore in Oregon.
It rained the first day, and the next five days too, hence the “We were excited, we were wet…” caption beneath the first photograph.
Most people who cycle across the US start on the west coast, to keep the wind on their backs, but since we weren’t in great cycling shape, we were afraid of crossing the Rocky Mountains too soon, so we started in the east, forgetting completely about the Allegheny Mountains in PA. It took us nine days to cross Pennsylvania…but then we entered the flatness of Ohio and the rest of the Midwest, and by the time we reached the Rockies, we were well broken in.
It took us 45 days to cover about 3,000 miles. We didn’t make it all the way to the Pacific, but we crossed into Oregon, then took a detour (I won’t bore you with the details) down to Salt Lake City, Utah and ended our bike journey there.
Then we started our life journey.
Looking through all the photographs brought back many great memories: the wonderful people we met in countless small towns; the wild horses running (or were they dancing?) across an open field halfway through the middle of nowhere; the little girls selling fruit drinks on a quiet sidewalk in Iowa and how they smiled with pure joy when we bought ten cups each; the headwinds, the uphills, and what we cherished the most, the downhills. And the time we lost Pete for almost an hour somewhere in Wyoming, when he fell in a ditch and Paul and I kept on cycling for miles, unaware, until we looked back and saw nothing but sky and empty road.
Seven years ago, we lost Pete again, this time forever, when he went to bed with a headache and never woke up. He was just 34, “a life of good works unfinished,” as his brother so eloquently stated.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am thankful that I am still on this journey, with all its uphills, downhills, and curves in the road. I am thankful that I am not travelling alone, that no matter what direction I look, I see family and friends on the road with me. I am thankful for my memories and dreams and for so many other things and people.
Now that I’m older and my tires have more wear and tear on them, I know there are things beyond our control that can stop us. But what matters is what we can control. We can still get excited, rain or shine, about the journeys we embark on each day. We can choose to walk around with whatever expression we want on our faces, the sillier and happier, the better. And we can spend our time in life doing good work, both personally and professionally, even when we find ourselves alone in a ditch.