At my last high-school reunion, one of my dearest classmates hugged me and, without hint of irony, whispered, “You’ve had an interesting life, Gary.”
Ah, the power of hugs!
But did you notice her use of past tense?
Such a small thing, but yeah, I noticed, because our stories are hardly over. Life was then, and is still, fascinating, and never more so than in the confusion of that brief, decades-anticipated embrace.
I may have even said some of that, but I’ve always been a bit awestruck by Ann and was feeling especially fragile as she released me, so who knows what I might have stammered instead.
I don’t think it’s what she intended, but those, the only words I remember her speaking, also reminded me of the apocryphal Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” and life has been that kind of interesting, too, especially since 2014, the year I turned 60.
I began planning the Pedaling Astronomer Project in the spring of that year, after encountering a bicyclist pedaling alone, coast-to-coast, although the ride I then envisioned was not nearly as ambitious as his.
I would pedal from Florida to New York, leaving the Keys after the Winter Star Party in February of 2015 and arriving in New York in time for the Northeast Astronomical Forum. The East Coast Greenway was then at least a third complete and seemed a safe route for a first bicycle journey.
But I had a stroke in January of 2015, so had to delay those plans.
It was very minor as strokes go, and I recovered fully, but for loss of about 40 percent (lower left) of my field of vision. I had to quit driving, so it was good that I’d gotten a bike – the Big – the year before. Folks are safe when I’m pedaling 10 to 15 miles per hour. Not so when I’m driving at any rate faster.
One of the side effects of the delay was that my ambitions for the project grew bolder as the August 2017 solar eclipse grew nearer. Sure, I’d still ride from the Keys to New York, but only as part of a continuous 48-state journey celebrating the pending eclipse.
I started that larger journey in May of 2016 with the goal of finishing the last of the 48, Wyoming, before the eclipse. But I only managed 37 states by August 2017, and didn’t complete the remaining 11 until February of 2018.
Soon after which, I had a second stroke. Again, very minor. I lost the ability to speak to that one, plus some memory. I’ve since recovered speech – mostly – but not the memories.
Due to the second stroke, I retired from the astro-tech magazine I’d edited since its inception, but committed to continuing this project as soon as possible.
By 2019, I noticed I was losing the rest of my sight. It was happening so gradually, I didn’t realize it until I was unable to merge the separate images received by each eye. But it’s hard for guys traveling endlessly on bikes to arrange medical appointments for such things, and when I finally did, I was relieved to learn that the new vision issues were due to cataracts and a degenerative retinal condition, not more inoperable brain weirdness.
Then COVID delayed the surgeries required to correct both the cataracts and the retinas, and I spent much of a year too blind to read, much less write, although I still managed to pedal regularly.
I’ve two more eye surgeries ahead, and had planned to wait until after them before again pedaling out and away, but those surgeries are now delayed until winter of 2022-23, so I’ll start out now and will return for the surgery.
I encountered another high-school friend in 2021, and he greeted me with, “I wondered what happened to you. You disappeared.” I hadn’t seen or spoken with him in almost 10 years, so his reaction confused me, until he mentioned he’d followed my bike journeys on Facebook.
And I had indeed quit posting to Facebook soon after the 2017 eclipse, because I had originally planned to end social-media promotion of this project with that milestone. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would wonder where I’d been since.
Thus this note.
Pedaling out and back is great exercise, but not nearly so compelling as out and away. I don’t mean any of this as complaint. I’ve cherished this long rest spent with family and friends, and I’m thankful to be still very much alive and fit enough to pedal far.
But this is a website about a continuing outreach/education project that assumes an ongoing bicycle odyssey, and although I’ve posted recollections here from travels past, I’ve grown weary of reminiscing, when there are so many new stories yet to live.
And you were bound to notice eventually.
There will be another high-school reunion for my class in the fall of 2022. If all goes to current plan, I’ll still be pedaling a couple of thousand miles away then, not that my plans ever survive the first day.
Perhaps the Big and I will detour back to my hometown via Amtrak. There’s a conversation I’d love to continue.
(Photo: I’ve no independent recollection of who left that sweet note of welcome. But Google recorded the when and where of it, and I wrote a long journal entry that night. And from those and the context of other photos, I was able to reconstruct which lovely soul welcomed a pedaling astronomer into her home that late-October day in 2016. Thanks, Lucy.)