The Spirit Ride

Bike Friday Owner Rich M. Recounts His Final Journey With His Late Wife

Custom name plate for a Bike Friday folding bike

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My trusty Bike Friday Pocket Llama has a funny name – Nyimbur-ma. That means ‘peace’ in the oldest of Australia’s ancient aboriginal languages. Nym has a cousin, Bo, my wife’s Bike Friday Expedition model. Nym and Bo and their happy peddlers have had good times together: three summers in in Eastern China, a winter in Thailand, and scampering about the USA as Bike Fridays often do. Together, Nym and Bo, my wife and I, found much joy. So when the doctors told us nothing could be done, that my wife’s cancer was beyond today’s medicine, she and I made a pact. When the end came, when her spirit was free, I promised I would take her on one more walkabout, one more Bike Friday trip out to see the world. And so it was.

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Without much of a plan, Nym and I and my wife’s gentle spirit flew to London mid-May, then caught a ride with a delivery van to the great eastern city of Lincoln with its splendid hill-top castle and magnificent cathedral. We settled in to explore.

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lincoln cathedral illuminated at night

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Lincoln Cathedral, consecrated in 1092. Magna Carta, that 1215 ‘great charter of liberties’ was first read out in Lincoln in this plaza and is archived in a special vault in the facing castle.

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‘Virtual Reality’? We speak of ‘virtual reality’ as some sort modern of transcendence for the senses made possible by the latest technology in goggles and ear phones and joy sticks. But perhaps this is not all new. Imagine how the 11th Century peasant might feel, having labored afoot up Lincoln’s Steep Street from his dirt-floored, mud-and-wattle, thatched-roof hovel, to stand in the soaring shadow of great cathedral’s fifty story tall spire, and inside, bathed in the light of glinting gilt and stained glass, hear learned men in resplendent robes deliver their God’s message from high pulpits in incomprehensible Latin, awash in the thunder and trill of the great 1,000+ pipe organ, surrounded by timeless, elegantly proportioned stone arches and pillars reaching heavenward. Virtual reality of another sort?

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spectacular lincoln cathedral organ in the UK

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UK lincoln cathedral stained glass colors the floor

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UK's grandiose lincoln cathedral ceiling

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cycle routes in the UK clearly marked by sign

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This is a bike-friendly land. The National Cycle Network (NCN) stretches 14,000+ miles throughout the United Kingdom along abandoned rail lines, minor roads, canal towpaths, and pedestrian walks. Created to encourage cycle touring by the charity Sustrans with a $60+ million National Lottery grant, the NCN attracts more than 230 million trips a year. UCN Route 1 spans the country from Dover to Shetland. Nym and we joined the route at Lincoln and headed southeast through Norwich toward the cross-channel port of Harwich.

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Pocket llama folding bike waits at sign on UK ride

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Weather was ideal, cool, mostly clear, Oregon late-spring conditions, with an obliging tailwind. Nym sported Schwalbe Big Apple Plus tires for the trip – an excellent choice, carried camping gear and a small wardrobe.

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The Iron-age watercourse, the Witham river/canal, connects Lincoln to the inland port of Boston, and provides cyclists a well groomed parallel towpath most of the way. – with occasional surprises.

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On a short break I turn away for just a moment, when suddenly, the sound of a squealing Bike Friday in distress.  This fearsome ancient beast had crawled from the canal was trying eat my Llama!

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Playing with public sculptures in the UK while on bike tour

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UK bike ride fish sculpture up close

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Farther along, other creatures appeared beside the path.  It is from these sheep that perhaps the first ‘steel wool’ was obtained.

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Bike Friday Pocket llama meets a llama sculpture in the UK

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Nym also made friends with these very slow moving cows.

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Folding bike meets cow sculptures in the UK

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Silliness aside, this is land sodden with history. Sunday afternoon, I sit in the courtyard of old St. Botolph’s church, Boston England, spiritual home of that handful of Rev. John Cotton’s adventuresome parishioners who left for America in 1630 to establish their “city on the hill,” a land to be free from religious oppression, New Boston.  A brisk north breeze blows and with it comes the sound of resistance against another opression, Nazism. Low over the church tower flys a V-12 Rolls Royce Merlin engined, immaculately restored, 70 year old Spitfire fighter plane – the linchpin to the Battle of Britain.   I stare and wonder; how else history might have gone.  Without those pilgrims?  Without those Spitfires?

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Leaving Boston the route follows paths and byways through shaded corridors and unfenced open fields linking bustling market villages with larger towns and centers with almost monotonous delight.

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riding a paved path in the woods of the UK

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Country road in the UK for bike riding

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Dirt cycling path in the woods in the UK

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Memorial Day takes on different meaning in southeast England. For here the fields of Flanders are not far away.

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Finding poppies on a bike ride through the UK

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“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

‘In Flanders’ Fields’

John McPhee. 2 May 1915

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The history takes getting used to. In the hamlet of Earl Soham my B&B was built inn 1530. The doorways are 5’4″ tall and have little bangles to remind everyone to duck. Original foundation; hand hewn oak beams.

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Norwich is home to the arts seemingly everywhere. Just opposite the 900+ year old cathedral Alice and the Wonderland crew, opera singers, and local dancers, gambol before the spectacular Forum community center. There’s Shakespeare in the pews and rock-‘n-roll in the square, an at-risk youth facility and grand new library all together – a joyous celebration of urban vitality.

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Weird British circus discovered while cycling across the UK

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Some delights appear without fanfare, like 12th Framlingham Castle, not visible from the popular market town of that same name but offering modest greetings to cyclists approaching by the northern road.

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A British castle in the distance while on a bike ride

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The sheltered pathways, interspersed with open, gently rolling fields, went on and on until it was time to go home.

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A beautiful field in pastoral England

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Cycling into ipswich on a folding bike

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OK, “Ipswich or bust!” doesn’t have the ring of great daring-do but it was the end of the line for this trip, a first for our family, a fascinating town with a waterfront still centered on the dock from which the pilgrims departed in 1606 to establish the Jamestown Colony in Virginia.

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Coda. Our trusty Bike Fridays accompany us on many journeys, bear many burdens. They are little critters, to some, odd looking, yet for those who know them, good companions – sturdy, comfortable, smooth to ride, and easy to store. Thanks Bike Friday for helping us on our way.

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Cycling on a narrow paved road in England

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Navigation. Travelers have options: used copies of the 1997 Sustrans maps, Google Maps, Garmin, and local advice. I tried them all. I expected locals to confuse and Google Maps to excel, and for finding local attractions the likes of pubs or laundromats, both did. But for point-to-point routing, a Garmin GPS MAP 64ST, loaded with the detailed Garmin GB Discoverer™ 1:50k – Full Coverage Map was the best. Note this is NOT the City Navigator NT data set but a much more detailed rendition based on the 1:50K Ordnance Survey maps. The GPS was setup for ‘cycle touring,’ and to ‘avoid’ ‘steep ascents,’ ‘ highways,’ and ‘single trails’.


Thank you so much Rich for sharing this powerful story with us all. What a beautiful way to honor your wife’s spirit.

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To learn more about the bike that Rich used for this special journey, click here: Pocket Llama

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29 thoughts on “The Spirit Ride

  1. Marion Guy

    I so enjoyed your “family” last trip, I’m sure you wife was there in spirit. I live in Shropshire and the county is beautiful, history abounds and wonderful scenery, we are lucky,lucky people.
    Enjoy many more trips.

    Reply
  2. Susie

    Wonderful story…..thank you for sharing. What a delightful tribute to your wife. I am hoping you will continue to ride with such joy. Your photos were outstanding, especially the ones of Lincoln Cathedral……such clarity.
    Bless you,

    Reply
  3. Dave Hunter

    I heard the poetry and felt the love. The gentleness of spirit and the joy of suspension between past and future left me breathless. The stain glass shadows on the cathedral floor left me in tears. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Tamara Bernstein

    What a beautiful post — moving, inspiring and helpful! I have gotten hooked on the southwestern tip of England in recent years, but it’s more a walking country, rather than cycling. Now I’m going to try the south-east, with my new BF. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. CHARLES ARD

    NOW 7:05 A.M. AND I JUST FINISHED THIS MAGNIFICENT ARTICLE. TIME TO LEAVE FOR WORK NOW, BUT CAN HARDLY WAIT TO GET HOME AND A JAUNT ON MY FRIDAY, DREAMING I AM MAKING THIS RIDE……..charlie

    Reply
  6. Paul Lindsay

    A great story ….. so much so, that I am now very interested in doing the route myself.
    Thanks.

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  7. phyllis Stensland

    Wonderful photos, interesting historical facts and touching tribute to your late wife. I’d like to point out however that In Flanders Field was written by the Canadian brigade doctor John McCrae, not John McPhee.

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  8. rich king

    Rich, thanks for the wonderful account of your “rideabout”. I’m so sorry for your loss. May you always feel the presence of you wife’s gentle spirit

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  9. Rex

    A wonderful tribute and a great journal of a Bike Friday ride.
    One correction is with the poem “In Flanders Field” It was written by Lieut.-Col. John McCray who was a
    Member of the First Canadian contingent, died in France January 28, 1918, after four years in the Western Front.

    Reply
  10. Pierre LaPierre

    What a delightul, touching account of your ride. Well written, with gorgeous pictures of a beautiful land. Sorry for the loss of your beloved. A wonderful way to share her spirit. Your Friday is beautifully set up, as well.

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  11. Jerry Rooney

    Beautiful Memorial! I’m sure she enjoyed it. I’m also sure she will be riding with you each time you push your pedals.

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  12. Walter and Margaret Lamond

    Touching story beautifully told in word and stunning photos. Being Aussies we loved the use of an Aboriginal name for your special BF. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey and a wonderful tribute to your wife. We tandem tour on a Two’s Day and were impressed with your bike set up.

    Reply

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