A day to remember

May 20, 2011

The sweet scent of lilacs.

That’s what grabbed me as much as anything.

Spring popped out in full glory here in the Willamette Valley on Wednesday.

The bright sun finally making a cameo, shining its spotlight on all things living, turning our green landscape dotted with blossoming buds to a vibrant green backdrop of Mother Nature’s fireworks.

I couldn’t help but steal some time for a ride. I jumped onto the Fern Ridge Bike Path, and headed out to the West Eugene Wetlands.

With the scent of lilacs filling the warm air, I couldn’t help but think about the date. May 18. When I was growing up, my Mom always said that no what the weather was like back in Wisconsin, the lilacs would bloom by May 18.

She was always right.

It’s a pretty big day in my family history, May 18. It goes way, way back, really. But the fact that I’m in Eugene, Oregon on this wonderful day instead of anywhere else goes back to six years ago.

On May 18 we bought our pop-up tent camper, that became our chariot of adventure for the summer of 2006. It brought us here, to this incredible place, and me, here, to this time.

When I first took this position at Bike Friday, and snuck out for a ride or two on the Fern Ridge Trail, I remembered my first ride out in Meadowlark Prairie.

I had just started writing an weekly column for The Register-Guard newspaper. Readers would invite me on their favorite Oregon Outdoor Adventures, and I’d write about it.

I received an invitation one day from Hanley Barker, inviting me to ride bikes with him. He rode every day in Meadowlark Prairie. He was 88 years old.

I first met Hanley Barker on the Fern Ridge Path in 2006. He was 88.

Hanley and I spent a few hours riding back then, enjoying a great day of conversation even though the weather turned on us. Didn’t matter. We were riding.

When I started making regular afternoon rides from Bike Friday, I wondered about Hanley. I did an Internet search, and learned his wife, Evelyn, passed away last fall. Maybe that’s why I never saw him. Sad.

So imagine my surprise when I crested the bridge that crosses the Fern Ridge Creek, and saw his two trademark flags flowing in the breeze off the back of his trike. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I rolled up along side. Sure enough, it was Hanley.

We struck up a conversation. He remembered who I was. He looked fantastic.

“So, how old are you now?” I asked with a big grin.

“93!” he beamed proudly.

It hit me so deep, so quickly. My bike wobbled.

“Wow,” I said, “My Dad would have turned 93 today. And it would have been my parents 66th wedding anniversary.”

Hanley offered the kind of pause that only comes from 93 years experience.

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said. “We would have been married 60 years, 5 months and 8 days today.”

That’s when I remembered our ride 5 years ago. When I asked him then, he told me to the day how long he had been married.

At age 93, Hanley gets out on his trike every chance he gets.

Sometimes we forget how valuable one day can be.

Or, an hour we steal away in the middle of a busy day.

We rode on, and talked for a while.

I talked about my Dad.

Hanley talked about his wife. And, life.

“You have to keep moving,” Hanley told me, “You have to keep active. I’m out here every day that it’s not raining like crazy …”

Then he paused again, and turned to look me square in the eyes.

“If it was up to me,” Hanley said, “This is where I’d take my last breath. Right here, on my bike.”

Well said, Hanley, well said.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve Jones  |  May 27, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. We should all hope we are out riding when we reach 93 years old. I sure hope i will be.

    Reply

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