Mourning Bike Ride
My wife and I are moving soon. Not far. Just to another part of the Twin Cities Metro that life tends to send us to on a more regular basis. Still, there’s a lot of emotion and sadness about leaving our rental home. Partially because it’s the first home that my wife and I lived in after we got married, but also because it seems like there is still so much more to see in our little suburb of Maple Grove, Minnesota. To be honest, I’m not sure that we’ve seen much of the city beyond the Whole Foods, Costco, and Erik’s Bike Shop. The festivals, community center, farmers market, parks, and library have barely been touched. My training rides haven’t really explored the countryside either. And of all the great trails that the city has to offer, we’ve only ridden our city bikes around Rice Lake.
Once we decided to move, we made a resolution that we would do our best to explore Maple Grove before leaving it. We got out our Twin Cities Bike Map and decided that our first trip would be to explore the lakes, trails, and bicycle bridges behind Maple Grove High School.
That Friday, the weather was unusually crisp and windy as we bundled up and hopped on our Jamis Commuter Series bikes. The whir of tires and gears calmed us as we coasted down hills and around bends. As we clunked over a wooden bridge while crossing Elm Creek, I began to hear an unfamiliar, muffled roar. I turned to my wife with child-like joy and screamed, “Is that a waterfall? It’s a waterfall!”
There it was, a small, but beautiful, Midwestern waterfall connecting Rice Lake and Mud Lake. We parked our bikes next to the water, sat on a rock, and held each other. The somberness of leaving Maple Grove that had hung over us during that bike ride began to evaporate. The brave new world that laid ahead of us was mysterious and uncertain. Just like when we independently moved from Indiana to this strange land of Minnesota, we’d cleave to each other no matter what the future brought. It was a moment of hope and peace breaking through the fog of fear.
This momentary respite quickly dissipated as a strong wind, indicating that rain was fast approaching, toppled my bike to the ground and nearly into the waterfall’s current. Rushing to my bike, I did the best that I could to brush off the mud and was heartbroken to see a crack in my handlebar cap. Although the damage was minimal, the mix of emotions from the impending move and seeing my studious efforts at bike maintenance go down the drain was too much. A few thin tears rolled down my cheek. My wife looked at me and then wrapped her arms around me; not really understanding the small pain that I was feeling for my bike but still wanting to help.
As I lifted my bike out of the water, collected myself, and returned to the trail, rain began to fall. The further we went, the harder it fell. It was as if we were entering a new dimension where soggy tears fall from heaven. Looking up ahead, we finally saw the reason that the heavens were crying, it was the Angel of Hope Garden.
Not knowing what we were looking at, we parked our bikes and walked closer towards the brick memorial. In the center was an angel with its hands reached out. Flowers, many of which looked like they had been there for weeks, drooped around the angel’s feet and at the foot of the pedestal. A sad stuffed bear, soaked in rainwater, laid its head on top of the angel’s foot as if mourning the loss of its owner. In the angel’s hand, someone had placed a painted blue rock with “Team Colton” written on it. The following words were engraved on the pedestal’s base:
The Christmas Box Angel
With hope in its wings
This angel was dedicated May 6, 2001 as a place of love and healing
for those who have been touched by the death of a child
Annual candlelight vigil, December 6, 7:00 PM
December 6th, of course, is the Christian feast day honoring St. Nicholas, the inspiration of the modern-day Santa Claus. What a beautiful day to commemorate the lives of children who have lost their lives too early.
As I wiped the rain from my face, I realized that my damaged bike or my upcoming move shouldn’t be what defined this bike ride. I remembered my dear friend Kari who had died as a teenager in a freak car accident while riding in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Kari’s death was very difficult for me, but I knew that it paled in comparison to the ache that a parent feels when they lose their child. My wife and I said a prayer for mourning parents to have strength, perseverance, and healing. After what felt like an hour, we slowly rose to our feet and searched for the strength to carry on in our own journey.
As we remounted our bikes, I was still feeling the brunt of the experience, I needed an outlet. Heading home on the trail, I rode in anger. Tucked low on my leisurely hybrid bike as if I was racing a time trial, I tried to outrun the pain of the losses that I hadn’t realized were still affecting me. All that pain from losing my friend Kari and all my other friends and loved ones over the past three decades. As the rain pelted my face, I went faster and faster over the bumpy, uneven concrete. The further I went from the monument, the closer the sense of loss came upon me. I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. I slowed my pace to a crawl and turned my bike around to see my wife several blocks back, baffled by my outburst. We rode to each other and then sat on our top tubes as the rain masked the sobbing and we talked about the deaths that had affected us so directly and the immense losses felt by the parents for whom the Angel of Hope Garden was built.
We finally resumed our journey and slowly made our way back home. I didn’t have a solution to the pain, and still don’t, but I learned a lesson. Just as a breakaway in a bike race is always slower than the chasing peloton, mourning alone in silence can never outpace the pain. You always need your team with you to offer support.
Written in memory of Kelly Catlin and all her family and friends who continue to mourn her. Kelly was a Minnesotan, Olympian, Pro Cyclist, Rallycat, and an altogether inspiration and hero of mine.
Remember to always ride with your team. Never suffer in silence.