Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Less Light

Every time I read or hear that a cyclist in Anchorage has been killed or seriously injured after a collision with a vehicle, I go through the same roller coaster.

I fear first it’s someone I know.

I’m angered secondly knowing that there’s a good chance the accident will receive little attention after the fact from the appropriate authorities or the legal system.

In every instance, I’ve been lucky to feel a brief moment of relief during this roller coaster, when I learned that the cyclist was not someone I knew; before I went back to feeling frustrated and angered.

This time, that wasn’t the case.

I can’t say I knew Jeff Dusenbury that well.

Except for racing, I only shared one actual ride with Jeff, but I wanted to say something about that ride, because I think it says a lot about him.
Ride Notes: 12/17/2013  
“Fantastic ride! Super cold, 10 to 15 below. Rode down to ballfields and met up with Cipi, Theo, and Dick. Randomly, Jeff rode through and joined us. Jeff and I were riding much faster so we took off. Stuck to the FNBP trails as they were the best packed in. Everything was great except brown bear, which was a little soft.”

The winter-edition of the Wednesday night group ride met up at the Abbott Ball Fields Trailhead on a Tuesday evening when temps were hanging out in the negative 10 to negative 15 range. It ended up being one of the coldest rides of the winter, but the woods were beautiful: every tree was coated heavily in feathery snow, and the trails were in excellent condition.

Given the temps, the ride got going rather hastily, as riders who had driven to the trail head poured out of their warm vehicles enmasse, and we all headed off into the night.

One of the things about riding at night, is that it’s nearly impossible to recognize others. Bike lights are blindingly bright, and no one likes getting high-beamed, so an effort is usually made to keep the lights pointed down and away, leaving people no more than darkened silhouettes against the inky blackness. It often takes a moment to figure out who is who.

In this particular group ride, it’s also not always clear who will show up, and friends often invite friends.

I had noticed a rider who jetted across the lot and joined us just as we rolled out that I did not recognize, but whoever he was, he was chatting and riding along, eventually working his way to the front of the line, and pushing the pace.

I still didn’t know him or recognize him after several minutes, but he seemed very comfortable in the group, and I assumed he must be friends with someone else.

As usual for this group, the ability levels of the participants ranged, but with the temps reaching for the low-end of the thermometer, stop-and-go pacing was getting uncomfortable, and this rider and I kept pulling well ahead. At some point as we chatted, I asked which one of us misfits he knew, and what he said next will forever stick in my mind.

“I was just coming out to ride on my own, and figured it’s so cold I wouldn’t see anyone out here tonight. Then I saw all you guys and I was like ‘These guys are awesome. It’s freezing out and they are still riding. I’m going to ride with them!’”


Jeff was riding at a clip I really enjoyed.

After one last re-group, we decided to tell the others that we were going to break-off and ride at our own pace. That suited the others well, as they were ready to loop to the trail head anyway, so off we went.

Jeff and I alternated between hammer pace and conversation.

At one point he made a sly attack, keeping a wheel-length in front of me and edging up the pace bit by bit until chatting was impossible, then pouring it on just a bit harder. I was happy to oblige, and made a pass, but he clung to my wheel for another 5 minutes before we finally turned it back down.

Even in the dark, I could feel him smiling as we slowed and caught our breath, laughing.

It turned out we had quite a bit in common. I realized that I actually did know him, although mostly only through association from mountain bike racing.

He did lots of road biking in the summer and enjoyed many of the same rides from Anchorage to points north and south, he got down to the Kenai to do long rides on the trails there when he could, and in the winter, shared a love for both XC skiing and snow biking.

He was pumped for the up-coming Frosty Bottom, and he talked at length about how much he loved this race, and the strategies he’d learned to survive a fat bike event that shared more in common with road bike racing. He assured me I’d love it if I did it.

Jeff wasn't just into pushing the pedal though, he could handle a bike. We decided to ride back down Brown Bear Trail, which promised to still be soft and challenging.

I had only been riding a winter bike for about a month at this point, and I was still figuring out the finer points of maintaining traction in constantly changing snow conditions. Jeff was happy to offer up helpful advice.

When I managed to clear a slippery bridge, he was cheering, a bike length behind.

Eventually we headed back toward the trail head, and I had to split off toward my house.

I never got to know Jeff all that well, certainly not as well as I might have liked. I have no doubt that we would have shared a lot of great rides together though, but that was just the person that he was. At his memorial service, hundreds attended. Many seemed to share the same general feeling, whether they knew him as a cyclist, friend, business partner, or just off the street.

The day Jeff was killed, he was riding to the same trail head to meet friends, but sadly, Jeff’s bright light will never pierce through the cold dark night ever again.

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