“Somewhere And Everywhere In These Mountains The Essence Of My Soul Is Contained. It Beckons Me To Go And Reveal Itself.” Author Unknown
I choose to reveal myself through cycling, whether it be on the road or dirt is of little concern to me. What is of concern is that I am pedaling, feeling the bicycle move over the contours of the road and dirt and rock, hearing the return of birds singing in the spring as I pass by sometimes very fast and other times very slow and steadily. I love the feeling of the wind pushing at my bike or the tires barely able to spin on a long and arduous rocky climb as beads of sweat roll down my forehead. I love getting the glimpse of light hitting a mountain off in the distance just as I look back to the trail to stay upright and moving. It is the immediacy of cycling that I love. Riding a bike is an instant cure for me, a cure of anxiety, a cure of the mundane, and ultimately a cure of all physical and mental ailments. I very nearly lost my life over four years ago now due to an extreme carbon monoxide poisoning. The poison initially threatened my very life, and then threatened my personal identity, it threatened to take away my mental capacity and intrinsically who I am and have always been. I lost all form of motor function, I walked and talked as if I were extremely intoxicated and my thought processes were severely debilitated. Through all of the testing and medical practices that I went through, the real cure for me came in the form of two wheels, my first bicycle purchased since I was a child. My beautiful and thoughtful wife purchased a bicycle for me and ever since that moment my mind, spirit, and body has formed a new and powerful connection with my home, the landscape that surrounds me, and it brought back my physical self. The act of pedaling a bicycle brought back my motor skills and before long I was ripping around on technical single track in Banff with my good friend and long time cyclist Scott Felter. I was riding trails that I probably should not have been doing as a beginner but the bike gave and gives me confidence that I may not have in other aspects of my life. It gives me the feeling of being five again and not concerning myself with scrapes and bruises, it releases me from my mind wandering in this modern and busy world, it brings peace and wraps that peace right around my heart and gives me a sense of quiet like no other. I have explored the valley and mountains that I live in fairly extensively by bicycle now and am becoming more and more interested in going farther and farther into these mountains that I live in. Every time I ride a trail, no matter how many times I might have been on it before, even if it was only the day before, that trail is always new, always fresh. The mountains and conditions are constantly changing, sometimes I am hearing the sound of my studded tires digging into the packed ice and snow while the brisk cold and arctic air is forming frost on my beard and at other times the light is turning gold on the aspen leaves late in a northern evening summer while I ride through a montane meadow full of elk and the occasional black or grizzly bear bringing me to a halt and turning me back in the direction from which I came. Sometimes I am riding on a dry and dusty trail very early in the spring season, the snow has come off early and the glacier lilies and prairie crocus flowers are just on the edge of the single track that I am riding. Sometimes I go slow and sometimes I go fast, but what stays constant for me is the ultimate happiness that pedaling a bike produces, no matter what the weather or trail and road conditions might be. I love riding in sun, snow, rain, mud, wind whether it be against me or with me, I always love it and can’t wait to come home and tell my wife all about my adventures and what I saw on my ride. A bicycle cured me and I know it cures many, it is a tool that was created so purely and so creatively that it will live through any time period and always keep its popularity. It is by far the greatest human invention and will remain so in my opinion. I have immense thanks to give to my wonderful wife who got me into bike riding, for she gave the best gift one could ever receive, the gift of a new beginning, a new life. I also have my good friend Scott Felter to thank for teaching me the ropes of the bicycle and giving me tons of technical advice and for getting me out there, it is greatly and immensely appreciated. Below are photos of either me riding my bike, the trails and roads that I ride, or things that I have seen along the way.
My grandpa passed away 10 years ago in the spring of 2003. I don’t remember the exact date (I have never been good at remembering certain dates) but I distinctly remember the day that he passed. I was living in San Francisco at the time and it was a normal San Francisco day with fog blowing through the city in the morning and warm sun by the afternoon, however there was something that happened that won’t ever leave my mind that day. I commuted to downtown for work by train and as I stepped off the train at the end of the day, a rain shower began to fall while the sun was still shining. The pavement was very warm and the rain hitting the pavement created a smell that brought back a strong memory of the Ozarks, of Missouri, of home, and especially that of my grandpa. The funny thing is is that I had never smelled this particular smell of warm rain on the pavement in San Francisco before, it was unusual, it brought me back to my childhood in Missouri instantaneously. My memory does fail me today ever since I experienced carbon monoxide poisoning but what doesn’t ever fail me is a sense of emotion, of feeling, an instinct from something in my life. This is what that warm, fresh rain on the pavement did for me, it reminded me of my grandfather, it ultimately reminded me of where I was from. San Francisco is not known for having warm rain showers, but it happened that day, at that moment and minutes later I stepped into my apartment to receive a phone call from my mother to inform me that my grandpa was no longer with us. That warm rain, the kind of Missouri summer rain that you can stand outside in and not get a chill, that rain was my last visit with my grandpa. It is funny because coming from Missouri it is almost obligatory that weather should come up in any conversation.
My grandpa was and is a big inspiration in my life. He lived a simple life that is not seen too often these days. He lived a life of working his own land, the land that his parents had homesteaded by wagon train from North Carolina. He grew most of his own food and worked day in and day out. He didn’t observe certain things like daylight savings time, he was on his own time, up with the sun and relaxing in the yard as the sun went down with the lightning bugs starting to slowly migrate up from the tall grass in the pasture or in the winter he would be bringing in the last load of wood for the night on his sturdy iron wheelbarrow that his parents before him used. His only source of heat was from wood and that is precisely what kept him going well into his nineties, the simple life full of hard work. He lost his wonderful wife (my grandmother) way too early and spent much of his adult years alone working his farm in the Ozarks. He kept company with the other farmers in town over very early morning coffee in a classic and real diner, the kind that is almost extinct at this point. He drove a 1953 ford tractor, and once he hit his early nineties someone had complained in town that he drove his truck to slow and he had his license revoked, he simply started driving that old tractor around town to run errands, get groceries and have coffee with his fellow farmers, for you did not need a license for that. He had the Ozarks in him, a tough life of work but a very gentle and kind way of living.
I grew up in what is considered the southern most suburb of Kansas City, Missouri but I spent as much time as I could farther south into the Ozarks to spend time with my grandpa. My grandpa would take me swimming at Dog’s Bluff in the Big Piney river that ran through his river bottom farm, he would let me drive his truck and tractor around in the pasture, he took me fishing for the first time at Jacks Fork river, we spent time in the country together, and in return he gave me the best gift ever – a love for nature and a love of being in nature. He always had dogs and horses and gave me a great sense of love for animals. My grandpa really helped shape who I am in many ways simply by just being himself and me watching him and helping him around the farm. He taught by doing and being on his land, a gift that I am grateful for each and every day. I am also so grateful to Kirstie for encouraging me to keep all of his letters and doing such a good job and such a gift to me by archiving all of his photographs and words into archival albums.
Kirstie got me the most amazing gift for my birthday. I have always wanted a Brooks Saddle for my road bike and thanks to Kirstie, I now have one to start breaking in. The only problem is that the streets still have a lot of icy patches on them. I can wait however. Kirstie is such a wonderful wife and I appreciate my Brooks saddle so much, I especially love that it is handmade and is pretty much the same as when they were making them back in 1866. I love the rivets in the leather where you can clearly see that they were hammered by hand. I am such a lucky person to have Kirstie in my life.
Always on the lookout for squirrels!
Mabel is patiently waiting for Leroy to recover.
Kirstie and I recently visited my wonderful friend Christopher along with his sweet wife Deborah and their absolutely beautiful, brilliant little 5 year old daughter Willa. Christopher has been a very special and important person in my life since I first met him at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1994. His father Carl was my very first teacher at KCAI and his teaching and kindness still help to shape who I am today and I could not have been luckier to have gotten such an important start to my education in Carl’s teaching. Carl has the type of influence that I knew right away would change my life for the better and will continue to do so for my entire life. It just so happens to be that my lifelong best friend is the son of the most important teacher and influence I could ever have hoped for. I couldn’t be any luckier to have Carl and Christopher in my life.
Christopher and I were roommates in college and then he moved on to finish school in New York around the same time that I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, every move that we have made has been on the exact opposite side of the country or countries. If he is on the east coast then I am on the west coast, if he is in New Mexico in the southwest then I am at the top northern tier of the Rockies in Banff, Canada in the northwest. We did live briefly in the same time zone but it was still about as far away as you can get in mountain standard time. Even though there has been so many miles between us and busy lives on both sides, we have remained great friends for which I am so incredibly grateful for. Christopher is the type of friend that even if we have not spoken in months we can pick up right where we left off as if we saw each other that same day.
We are both settled in our lives now, there doesn’t seem to be anymore moving in our near futures. We are both married, homeowners and working busily in our careers. There is one change however that has brought an amazing and truly incredible new element to our friendship, which is his incredible daughter Willa. I met Willa a year ago and immediately was touched by her and how Christopher has become the most caring, passionate, and giving father any daughter could ever hope for. The transformation I have seen in Christopher becoming a father is overwhelming for me to witness. I did not meet Willa until she was four years old but as soon as I saw her and she gave Kirstie and I a hug I knew right away that we were witnessing a very incredible child indeed. She is an old soul, she really knows how to steal your heart and give so much love and it is so rewarding for me to see since I care for Christopher more than words can express. Christopher and Deborah have created and shaped such a wonderful human being that it brings me to tears. I eagerly await the next visit to their wonderful home and get the gift of being able to witness their lives even if it is only for a few days. Thanks to Christopher, Deborah, and sweet Willa for such love and generosity. I can’t wait to see you guys again.
Christopher and Willa at Lake Minnewaska on a beautiful autumn day.
Willa walking the pathway that Christopher cleared for her to catch the school bus in the morning.
Willa saying goodbye to papa for the day in order to catch the school bus.
Deborah and Willa on their way to the school bus.
Willa decorating the tree.
Willa getting the angel ready for the top of the tree.
Willa putting the finishing touch to the tree.
Christopher working in his studio.
Christopher working hard in the studio with his grandfather’s tool.
Willa enjoying her swing set that Christopher built out for her.
Willa and Christopher enjoying some extreme mountain sports at Lake Minnewaska.
Father and Daughter!
Autumnal fun in Upstate New York!
I love you guys so much, thank you for everything and I look forward to seeing you again!