I look over the photos I took this weekend, and there’s so much warmth, beauty, joy, friendship, and happiness in them. Athens’ biggest bike weekend, Twilight Criterion weekend, Christmas for cyclists.
This year’s weather was the best I can remember, clear blue skies and temperatures reaching into the 70s, the intense heat and humidity holding off for another weekend. Friday afternoon I picked up one of the demo bikes that Specialized makes available through my bike shop Georgia Cycle. I had a $9500 Tarmac Disc Di2 to ride, something that will be ridden in the Tour de France in two months. I locked it up at home and grabbed my blue touring bike for the Bike Athens Friday Twilight Joy ride that left from city hall and meandered through neighborhoods promoting in-town bike transportation and fun. Twelve-year old Sophia’s mom’s bike wasn’t working right, so I rode with Sophia and learned all about her equestrian activities on her thoroughbred. It was her mom’s idea to do the ride, but Sophia handled it just fine despite her too-small bike.
Afterwards we gathered at Little Kings for beer and small talk. I hung out with Bike Athens shop and Nitty Gritty buddy Don and met three“young people” – Adrienne, Thomas, and Robert. After my first beer spilled on the picnic table, the friendly bartender gave me a free replacement of the beer that Don had bought me, and we learned about Thomas’ and Robert’s GA environmental protection work and Adrienne’s water epidemiology research.
I told Tyler the registration for the September Six-Gap was open, and we got ourselves psyched about doing it – a perfect goal for my 6-0 birthday this year. 11,230 feet of vertical climbing over 103.8 miles.
By Saturday morning at 10 am, I was lined up along with about 300-400 others to ride the Gambler. In 1992 I rode my first Gambler, proudly finishing the 50k/32-mile route. I remember the sore hip that lingered for weeks after doing that ride. Fast forward from 34 to 59, and there was no choice but to do the 100K/64-mile route. This many years of bike riding around Athens means I have a large bike community, and during the ride there was always someone to ride with. Libby and I met up at the starting line and chatted away until Smithsonia when she headed back toward town. I rode alone for another six miles to Watson Mill where I met up with Steve, one of my Wednesday night Nitty Gritty Bike Band buddies. So many miles of friendship and conversation. At the Devil’s Pond sag stop, Georgia Cycle Micah set up Strava on my phone so I could check my energy output on my fancy bike for the day. Between my crossfit regime and the fancy bike I felt strong for the final twenty miles, despite the head wind. Too bad I forgot to hit STOP on the Strava at the end of the ride – no stats for me.
I drove home for a quick shower and returned to watch the Twilight. Gathering by the Athena statue in front of the Classic Center has been a tradition since arriving in Athens, and Karen’s been there with me since we were there with just our first babies, Clare and Alice. Merin and Anne joined the families, we added more Athens Montessori families, the girls all grew up, and there we were last night, just Karen and me. As usual, the race provided the atmosphere for our conversation and laughter. Libby and Bonnie joined us, and during the evening, others dropped in. I took a break from our lawn chairs and visited in the Georgia Cycle corral, another branch of my cycling family. It’s all a roving bike Twilight cocktail party of sorts, time to catch up with old friends, make new ones. Sometimes we pay more attention to the race which passes just inches in front of us, forty laps for the women and eighty for the men. Sometimes we pay less attention. This was one of the “less” years.
In Athens this year, the poignancy of it all was highlighted by today’s Sunday ride, not part of the Twilight schedule. It was a ride in memory of fellow cyclist Karen Tinsley, the victim of an April 3 car-on-bike crash. A white ghost bike was placed on Astondale Road at the sight where she lost her life. The ride had been scheduled for two weekends ago but was rained out. In a way, it was better that it was today. The whole weekend was a celebration of the Athens bike world that Karen Tinsley part of. She should have been one of those people stopping by last night where I and Karen (Klingel) and I sat.
My fellow-mother-friend Karen was part of another one of Karen Tinsley’s Athens communities, her tennis family. In fact, the two Karens had played on the same tennis teams for years. Athens is like that, our worlds overlap; everyone seems like they are one person away from all of us. Karen K actually knew Karen T much better than I did, and it was Karen K who had forwarded me news of Karen’s death that I then shared with my bike world. Steve, who I rode with yesterday, knew Karen professionally from her UGA academic life where they both did community outreach work. These overlaps, these connections, are what make our lives in Athens so rich. Perhaps this happens everywhere, but it’s only the magic of the Athens community that I know.
Today we rode in Karen’s honor, in her memory. We all know that it could have been any of us that had last their life just weeks ago. I saw Karen’s partner Art weeping today at the crash site. Otherwise, it’s still hard for me to imagine that she is not alive. A year ago I returned from a very difficult tour leading experience and put a last-minute bike ride on the calendar for the following Sunday that left from the parking lot behind the Oconee County courthouse. Afterwards I wrote a blog post titled Healing Bike Love (May 6, 2017) in which I wrote,“ I was enveloped by love, friendship, laughter and happiness. How soothing and healing that was for my soul.” And then I thanked Georgia, Carmen, Evan, Melanie, John, Steve, and Karen for being there for me.
Karen, if it’s at all possible, I hope that you felt that bike love from all of us today. The weekend was a nearly perfect celebration of bikes and you, rides and bike friends you would have loved being on and among. I wish you had been there with us. We miss you.
A final note — I am so thankful for my Athens bike community and to have so many good bike buddies. We’ve covered so many miles of road and life together. Thanks for being there.