"Cookies always taste better than meat
A third grader
Couldn't have found a more perfect spot among tall pines and a needle soft floor to pitch my tent on this day, which I shall remember for the rest of my life. Birds are chirping above me as the light fades from the sky and a cool wind whispers through the trees making them creak as they sway back and forth. The campfire chases away the darkness in a small circle surrounded by towering redwoods.
Sunshine blessed us today as we rode the 49er Trail toward Sonora, California. Flowers bloomed along the road like a bouquet from a child's coloring book. But something happened today that fills my heart with sorrow.
When Doug and I awoke this morning, the sun had broken through the cloud cover, revealing immense forests shrouded in gray mist. A green mantle of pines swept toward towering peaks of the High Sierra. The mist swirled like giant pinwheels above the treetops while we ate our breakfast.
Doug and I eat foods that give us top performance. While touring, we buy seven-grain cereal and mix it with sunflower seeds, raisins, and fresh fruit. A loaf of wheat bread hangs off our packs, and we spread peanut butter over each slice. Water is the simplest liquid to keep and pour over the cereal. Because bicycling utilizes so much energy, breakfast is topped off with an apple or an orange. We eat our food from the same stainless steel pots used for cooking and washing dishes. After breakfast, we break camp, and push the bikes out of the woods to the highway.
We had descended from a snowstorm at 6,000 feet out of Yosemite National Park. The rolling highway led us away from Yosemite through tall trees, high mountain beauty and spring colors. The dripping wet color of pine green glistened along every mile in the road. We dropped another 1,000 feet before stopping for lunch on a grassy spot near the road. Doug grabbed his food pack, and I followed him with mine.
Our lunch ritual was the same every day. We bought groceries for two days riding. Complex carbohydrates in the form of fruits and vegetables, rice and lentils were our main staples. We celebrated lunch because hunger constantly stalks a cyclist. We sat in the shade, spread our towels and prepared sandwiches. I'll admit it--Doug eats more than I. No, let me clarify that statement. He inhales more food than a humpback whale. He makes a shark look tame when it comes to appetite. To give you an idea how much Doug eats at a sitting, I'd lay bets on him in a pie eating contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Doug would eat them under the table. If there was a word to describe how much food he consumes, it hasn't been invented yet. That's Doug, all 6'4"of him. Yet, through the modern miracle of bicycling, he's lean and clean.
He sat with his legs stretched out in a V. He laid out eight slices of bread, along with a bag of vegetables. He carries a cutting board which he washed off with his water bottle. Within minutes, he cut everything into slices. He stacked tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers on top of each other before topping his sandwiches with mustard. His eyes lit up as his tongue licked his lips in anticipation of the coming feast. Not to be outdone, I too chopped with vigor. Hunger is fun on a bicycle adventure, because we love to eat, and food dazzles our taste buds. Thirty minutes later, we polished off four bananas for dessert.
We were ready to go when I held us up for another minute because I had to take a bathroom break. Back on the road, we cranked up a hill with sweat dripping from our bodies. Not five minutes later, we saw a bicyclist coming the other way as we rolled into a valley. At the bottom, he coasted to a stop. Doug and I slowed to a stop.
I was looking at the bike rider when I noticed he was carrying a black puppy on a platform on his rear rack. I smiled, "What a nice..." I began to say. Before I could finish my sentence, the puppy bounded off the platform and ran across the pavement toward us. I heard a vehicle coming, but before the driver or anyone could bat an eyelash, the puppy yelped in a death cry after being crushed by two sets of wheels from a pickup truck going 60 miles per hour.
From a happy disposition with blue sky and sunshine overhead, I was jerked into pain and bewilderment. My first thought was for the fellow across the road who had seen his puppy crushed to death before his eyes.
Blood gushed out from the dog's body.
"Oh no, oh no," I said in a withered voice.
It shocked my senses from a lovely day to a terrible moment that happened with no rhyme or reason. Only that moment. Had we eaten lunch for 30 seconds longer, or had I waited to relieve myself, the exact meeting of that fellow bicyclist would have saved the puppy. I felt sick.
The rider got off his bike. He walked across the road, picked up the dog and walked up to us.
"I'm so sorry," I said with grief in my voice.
"Nothing you could do. It wasn't anyone's fault," he said.
The driver stopped and ran back, "I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't stop."
"There's nothing you could have done sir," the bicyclist said. "Thanks for stopping."
"I'm sorry son," the driver said as he walked away.
"I'm so sorry," I repeated. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No," he said. "I need to take Sierra for a walk in the woods."
As he carried the pup away toward the trees, I stood there, my heart crushed with pain. He had lost a special friend, one he had run through the high country with, one who had sat by campfires with him.
A half-hour passed before I walked up to where he was burying Sierra. I introduced myself. His name was Bob and he began crying. I walked up and embraced him. His pain moved into me. I wept with tears running down my face onto his shirt, soaking a small circle into it. I held him tight. He talked with his face on my shoulders, sniffling through his nose, convulsing with gasps of air. Minutes later, we picked up rocks and finished covering Sierra's body. Bob and I walked back toward the road. Bob didn't look back, but his whole being was torn. I sensed the anguish ripping at his foundations.
"I don't understand why this happened," he said.
Doug nor I said anything. What could we say? What could we do?
Bob decided to continue south. He wanted to figure out why this happened. I gave him one last hug. Doug did too. Bob walked across the road, picked up his bike and rode off.
"Do you know only one car has ridden by us in the last 45minutes?" Doug said.
"This just blows me away."
"Eat dessert first."
"I read it on one of those climber's T-shirts in Yosemite, it said, 'Eat dessert first, life is uncertain.'"
"No kidding," I lamented. "Let's get going."
I pulled my bike up from the gravel shoulder and grasped the bars with both hands. Looking down, I slipped my right foot into the pedal strap. I pressed hard. The wheels gleamed as they advanced. For the first time in my life, I noticed that the spokes go forward and they go backward simultaneously. They rotate up as well as down while the bike travels along the road. There is no power stroke for the spokes. They merely carry the load placed upon them. On the end of the spokes, the wheel rolls around. Just like this planet revolves in space. No reason, other than that's the way it is. I don't know why Sierra died. No reason. I fell in behind Doug, watching his freewheel spin forward, starring at his derailleur as it dropped the chain into lower gears when we began climbing out of the valley. For the rest of the day, I watched his spinning back wheel.
Sitting here in this tent, the light has faded and the last bird has ruffled its feathers in silence. The mountain air is hushed and my candle flame flickers quietly. I shall never forget this day, nor its message--eat dessert first, for life is uncertain. Take it all in daily--joy and sorrow, good and bad times, confidence and uncertainty, smiles and tears, love and heartbreak--because this is the best moment of life, present living. Nothing is guaranteed even five minutes into the future. At no time are any of us immune to misfortune no matter what our situation in life. You can be rich, famous, handsome and happy. It makes no difference. You can look at Princess Di, John Kennedy Jr., Derrick Thomas, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monore, James Dean and countless others. The grand parade of life marches on with or without you.
I eat dessert first. But tonight, I don't feel hungry.
Excerpt from: Bicycling Around the World: Tire Tracks for Your Imagination by Frosty Wooldridge, copies available at 1 888 280 7715.