Several nights ago I received an email from a friend informing me that a mutual friend had passed away. Our friend Jeff been battling lymphoma for years, but I, mistakenly, thought he’d won the battle, of not the war. Over a scant few weeks he went from reasonably healthy to gaunt. And like that, he was gone.
I struggle to comprehend this. The last time I saw Jeff, he, I and another friend had gone for a ride near his adopted home of Templeton. He seemed strong as ever. It was a bit more than a year ago. My arc with Jeff went back nearly 20 years to when I was a new resident in the South Bay. Fresh off a divorce, I’d begun doing local group rides and we met on one of the Sunday rides. A year later we were elected to the board of directors for the South Bay Wheelmen, where we traded the odd perspective on divorced life. It wasn’t long before we were both dating again, and had new subjects on which to compare notes.
Jeff was bright and curious. We both began taking French from a former ballet dancer in our neighborhood and he progressed impressively. A group of us from the South Bay traveled to the Pyrenees for a bike tour oriented around the Tour de France in 2003, and while I could get us through a hotel or restaurant, it was he who flagged down locals on a handful of occasions when we really got lost and was able to negotiate the conversation’s ins and outs to get us back, not only to the right road, but the right direction.
A year later we were in the Chartreuse, again alternating riding with watching the Tour, when on a recently chip-sealed descent, Jeff, who was a terrific descender, took a turn a bit too wide and got into some loose gravel and went down. He was a turn ahead of me and I could hear the white noise of the gravel churning as he fishtailed. I came around the bend just in time to see him hit the deck. My stomach sank. We were but days into a two-week tour. Despite dislocating his shoulder and breaking his collarbone, he was smiles and cheer, right up to boarding the plane to return home.
Jeff loved to socialize, even though he was fairly introverted. His house was a place we’d convene for some wine, the telling of medium-stature tales and music. Jeff played guitar and, like French, it was something he took up relatively late in life. A gathering at his place wasn’t complete without someone singing, and on occasion his daughter, an accomplished drummer, backing them up.
With his love of France and the French language, and my love of route design and logistics, we went as far as discussing starting a bike touring operation, or at least working for one. It remained an open topic for us, and one I only mention as a way to show how we both thought his life had chapters yet unwritten.
In his exit I’m less inclined to focus on the reason for his departure—the lymphoma—than the fact of his departure. We all go, for some reason, at some point. I can say that Jeff’s example, now that his final chapter is composed, was to get out there, to stretch, to embrace something new. He’d continued to see service as vital to a rounded life and had lent his time to the Eroica California; I’m sure they’ll miss his efforts.
We go. We all go. In that, Jeff is no different and special only to those who knew him. But there’s a universality to his story, a chorus sung many times. Get out there. Stay out there. We’ve only got this one ride on this spinning hunk of rock.
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