To start, go here and read the text of Jesus Montaño’s excellent commencement address he gave at Hope this past weekend. Montaño has had a large impact on my life relative to the short amount of time I actually had class with him. Life lessons he’s taught me (whether directly or indirectly) include how to be a better photographer, how to be alone and enjoy it, the importance of staying actively creative no matter what your day job is, and the theme of his speech: stories need to be told.
This is largely why I’ve kept a blog of some form for the past 8 years or so. It’s why I share so many photos. It’s why I tweet. It’s why I share a lot online. I enjoy reading the personal stories that others blog as well, and wish more people shared, but I realize that it’s not for everyone. Some prefer to share stories over a beer, or on a road trip, or at a meal, or (ugh) over the telephone. Some people are excellent storytellers in person but maybe not so great in writing. A lot of people actively try not to share things online, which I can sort of understand, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So anyway, here’s a recent story for you.
Most mornings in May I sit at my desk and watch the Giro in either Italian or English, depending on which feed wants to load best on that particular day. I don’t know more than a handful of words in Italian, but it’s good background noise, and you can still sense tension in the announcers’ voices when things get exciting – my cue to make the tab with the video active and watch for a bit. Other necessary tabs for viewing include a text ticker of the race, a chat forum/thread, Twitter, and a gchat window with Abe, who’s usually watching along with me.
On Monday, as stage 3 wound it’s way down a mountainside towards the Italian coast, I remarked to Abe how unsafe I would feel riding along in a team car following the race. Tires squealing, brakes smoking, race and team radios blaring, riders needing spare food or a new wheel – driving in the caravan takes skill. Down the mountain the riders in the peloton looked so much smoother, strung out it a single file line, able to use the full width of the road and lean there bikes into each corner, nonchalantly clipping the apex of each turn. Only needing to fling their 16 pound bikes around each bend instead of 2 tons of steel, everything just seemed to flow.
At one point as I shuffled between tabs and windows to check in on the video, a rider had crashed. Filling the frame was the all-white medic’s car parked on the side of the road, doctors huddled around the rider laying on the ground. Team cars gingerly worked their way around the situation to continue following the race. The video cut to a shot of Wouter Weylandt laying on the pavement, unconscious, as medics were cutting off his helmet. The shot couldn’t have lasted more than 5 seconds, but it’s burned into my retinas.
His jersey was fully unzipped, making it hard to tell who had fallen or even what team they were on at first. But one thing was immediately apparent – something was off, and this was serious. Blood was streaming out his nose and down his right cheek. It came out in pulses. And then whoever was directing the video production recognized the same and cut back to the front of the race, tactfully never showing Wouter again.
CPR was started immediately, adrenaline was given. The medics couldn’t have been at the scene any faster. And on Monday, Wouter Weylandt died with a fractured skull on a shady road in Italy, and I literally saw his final breaths and heartbeats live on my computer screen. And it’s fucked up. And I couldn’t function the rest of the day.
I went out for lunch, and sat alone and stared out the window and ate and shed tears for a cyclist I’ve never met. My thoughts on mortality have certainly shifted dramatically in the past couple months. Three weeks ago from Monday I was hunched over in my doctor’s office with a fever, struggling to simply breathe, nervously waiting to hear how I could be made better. Going into the appointment, I was worried I wouldn’t start chemo until the next week, by which time I’d have the port in my chest. I was more worried I wouldn’t even last a week – each day it was getting more and more laborious to breathe. Luckily, chemo drugs were flowing into my arm less than 24 hours later, and I’ve been feeling relatively better since.
But on Monday, like every Monday for who knows how long, I had to get blood drawn, to make sure my body is still functioning properly. I looked over my blood test results from last week again, and it’s frightening to see certain values and how low they are. I’d misread it the first time. Nine of the 16 values on the printout were flagged because they were out of the healthy reference range. My white blood cell count is a number on a paper that reminds me how a slight infection could take me down.
Cyclists die around the world every day. There are certain risks I accept every time I head out the door on two wheels. We’ve all crashed before and continued to get back on the next day and pedal. And maybe because of that, my imagination can fill in the gaps of what I watched all too vividly. Wouter’s biggest career win was Stage 3 of the 2010 Giro. He died on Stage 3 of the 2011 Giro at the age of 26, and I watched it happen. It’s not supposed to be this way.