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 A quick glance revealed a writing grant of $2500 awarded to first-time authors submitting unpublished works.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.