A Death in the Backlands

At some point in life, it occurs to you that personal preferences aside, you’re not really immortal. People close to you die. You might have a close call or two yourself. Sometimes you catch yourself thinking about dying, even on a sunny, beautiful day when, for you, death seems far, far away. On a couple of occasions, I’ve even given voice to this feeling out loud. Getting ready for a long bike ride in chancy weather that made me nervous, I remember saying to a couple other riders, “If something happens to me out there and I don’t make it back, I’ll have gone out doing something I love.”

I’m thinking about that because a Berkeley friend sent me a note yesterday about a widely known and loved Northern California cyclist died of an apparent heart attack last weekend during a ride up the northern slopes of Mount Hamilton.The rider was Tom Milton, and he happened to be just my age, 56; I did not happen to know him. He was in the middle of a 200-mile event called the Devil Mountain Double, one of the toughest rides in these parts. It’s obvious from accounts of riders who saw him on his bike that day or during any one of his previous rides, that he loved cycling.

I know the road he was riding. It combines the pain of a long, steep grind with exhilarating views over the ridges, canyons and valleys of a lonely backland. Condors would look at home there, and slow as the climb can be, the road gains altitude so quickly you have a sense of soaring. You can read about Tom here–an eyewitness account–or here–a series of tributes from fellow long-distance riders.

Is there a take-away? We’ll all have our own. Mine might be to embrace a little more readily the large and small joys that life affords us without worrying so much about what’s not perfect in a situation. I also agree with one of the commenters at those links, though, who suggests we all ought to know CPR.

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