A Punch to the Gut

The year has gotten off to a busier start than I ever dared imagine. My work on the strategy guide to Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together carried through the New Year and nearly all the way to the end of January. At one point I averaged over 7 hours a day for 27 straight days, not including a single minute for time spent checking email or making coffee. I started my current project just a few short days later and already have another waiting in the on-deck circle for me to begin as soon as this one ends.

Nevertheless, I came across a bit of news last night that I just can't shake from the back of my mind. It hit me with such force, I nearly doubled-over in shock.

I've spent the past week reading the book "Miles From Nowhere" by Barbara Savage, what I believe is the best-selling and most well-known travel memoir on bicycle touring. And it's obvious why. Barbara writes with an honesty and pacing that is as easy to read as it is enjoyable. And she tells a great story too. She and her husband set off in 1978 from southern California on a journey to bicycle around the world. Recently married and not too far removed from their college days, they were already tired of the humdrum routine of wake, work, sleep and set about giving themselves a memory to last a lifetime.

Barbara's storytelling voice feels eerily similar to my own. Her sarcasm, her self-effacing humor, and her tempo and word selection feels very much like reading something I have written for this blog; a race report or a travel essay, perhaps. I've read a lot of travel writers over the years, but this was the first time I encountered one that felt so familiar. I found myself actually completing more than a few of her sentences as I read the book, even though it was written nearly 30 years ago and about places I have yet to visit.

I took one of the bikes out for a quick spin on the neighborhood trails yesterday and found myself thinking about the book (Kindle tells me I'm 86% through to the end) and her and her husband Larry's journey. I wondered if she had written any other books, and if she and Larry were still out there, perhaps, cycling back and forth across every stitch of the world.

So late last night, just before turning off the monitors and sending the computer to sleep, I decided to Google her.The first link I clicked directed me to a page on The Mountaineers website. A quick glance revealed a writing grant of $2500 awarded to first-time authors submitting unpublished works. "That's nice," I thought and promptly clicked the back button my mouse.

The arrow hovered over another link on the list of search results when a thought popped into my head: grants like that are often left in memoriam. I returned to the page describing the grant and, sure enough, it describes the award as the "Barbara Savage Miles from Nowhere Memorial Award."

Below it, reads the following:
Barbara was killed in a cycling accident shortly before the book’s publication; the story of Barbara and Larry Savage’s two-year, 25,000-mile, round-the-world bicycle adventure continues, however, to embrace a wide readership and to generate letters from readers who have come to know Barbara through her book. The author’s husband, Larry Savage, created this award in cooperation with The Mountaineers Books by donating royalties to encourage adventure writing in the genre of Miles from Nowhere.
I was shellshocked. I stared in disbelief at the screen and suddenly felt very exposed. We read about death all the time, but this hits way too close to home for my liking. As further reading on other websites revealed, she had survived her at-times harrowing journey around the world with her husband, only to return home and be killed while cycling in her native land. Her book was just weeks from being published. She was training for a triathlon.

I turned the computer off and dragged myself into the bedroom where Kristin was already asleep. I stood and stared at her and imagined. I imagined how close Barbara and Larry must have become during their journey, through the hardships, the joys, the arguments, and the struggles. I envisioned how much closer Kristin and I will become on our own journey. I dreamt the book I intend to write. And then I closed my eyes and imagined Kristin being taken from me after all that. I couldn't. That's how hard it is. We can't imagine. My brain doesn't even allow contemplation of it. We can't know what Larry, this man I know only through his wife's book, was feeling. We can't imagine his pain and sense of loss. The more I tried to imagine what that would be like, the larger the pit in my stomach seemed to grow, yet I know I still couldn't approximate the hurt. I couldn't think about Barbara's zest for life or how much living she managed to pack into her final years, as some commenters did.

I could only think about Larry, the one left to ride alone.

7 comments:

Jessica said...

This is both a beautiful, and very saddening post. May you never have to suffer what Larry has suffered.

Anonymous said...

I found Miles from Nowhere in a thrift store, yesterday.I knew this book was special. I was shocked and sad to read of Barbara's death and I just started the book.This book is going to change me.
Ally, a lover of bikes,adventure and all things in nature.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Larry left me pregnant at 16 to face a abortion on my own. Barbara had she lived would have discovered what a creep he really is.

Jim Wasserman, Santa Cruz said...

I am so glad to have found your blog on Larry & Barbara. I also lived in Santa Barbara in 1980, was getting to be an avid cyclist, and was preparing to do my first bike tour of Europe in spring 81 with my Girlfriend. We attended a local slide presentation and talk (also titled Miles From Nowhere)that Larry & Barbara hosted, on their recent journey. They mentioned their plan to release the book. It was thrilling to say the least and afterward had a chance to meet them and ask bike touring questions. We left for our trip in May 81 and did 4 months cycle touring, and other travel, returning in January 1982. We later heard that Barbara was killed and I recall the sadness and irony of it all. But I forgot about the book! That is until January 2015 when my neighbor told me about this amazing bike touring book he read (and had)about this couple who rode around the world, and it hit me like a ton of bricks! He loaned it to me and I finished the book recently. It was such a wonderful read. Barbara was a truly gifter writer. I learned that I visited many of the same places they did while bike touring in Europe and the US. I was hoping to locate Larry and relate this story and how meaningful it was to me.

Anonymous said...

I was reading this book and, as one does when approaching the end of a wonderful story, I flipped toward the back to see how many pages were left because I didn't want it to end. Unfortunately I flipped to the epilogue and learned of Barbara's death. I was so devastated that I never read those last 15 pages.

I have recommended this book many, many times over the years, but I always tell people Barbara's story so they don't experience the same devastation we did.

Mardy Hall said...

I saw & scanned this in a book store shortly after it came out & bought it for my dad for his birthday 35 years or so ago. He couldn't put it down but promised I could read it as soon as he finished. He related so many adventures to me as he read I wasn't sure there would be anything new for me to read. I was sitting with him when he finished the book - he was very somber & needed to clear his throat a few times before turning the book over to me. His eyes were even glistening a bit. He told me I would indeed find so much more to the story than what he had related. He also sternly advised me not to read the end first as I occasionally do as it would alter the tone of the story significantly. I did not read the ending first & he was right. Savage's death floored me, it truly hurt my heart. Had I known this going into the book, that saddness would have permeated each adventure just enough to lessen the overall joy I experienced reading the book without that knowledge. Such a sad, incongruous loss. But what a delightful legacy she has left us! I heve enjoyed reading it twice & would now like to hear it on Audible Books. (Hint, hint!)

john hanley said...

The best book on bike touring, sad about Barbra