Val had been fighting cancer for about two years.
If you knew Val, even a little, then you know what kind of loss this is. And if you don’t know Val, here’s a little story.
My earliest memories of Val are tied to fast road bikes and hot pink Lycra spandex, circa 1990.
No, not him in the spandex. That was me. I used ride Mercer Island a lot. I thought I was pretty fast and certainly didn’t carry anything more than Powerbar and a spare tube. I’d come from Seattle or Bellevue and often see this eccentric dude cranking across the Mercer Island Floating bridge on a heavy 3-speed clad in a black leather jacket and jeans. In the summer! And he was wearing a cowboy hat! And boots!
Now this was a good 20 years before the Cycle Chic movement. If you wanted to show “serious rider” chops in those days, you better be on a road bike and clad in some of that new-fangled neon Lycra (both on your body AND as cover for that giant Styrofoam cooler masquerading as an “aero” helmet).
Obviously Val wasn‘t serious.
But that didn’t stop him from causing serious damage to pacelines full of those same Lycra-clad, one-day STP riders later that summer. I’m sure they (we!) wondered what the hell was going on when that same jeans/boot/hat-wearing, 3-speed-pedaling anomaly rode right up to us, said a cheerful hello, and kept motoring right on past the group. We didn’t see him again until a later pit stop. We were gulping Gatorload energy drink; he was coolly smoking a cigarette in the shade!
I’d totally forgotten (repressed) that for years until our first visit to the Holiday Cargo Bike rides — I believe it was the 2007 Buy Nothing Day Ride. We’d been blogging and riding our Xtracycle longtails for a few months; we felt like we had it all figured out. And then we showed up at the ride and were just blown away by the savant cargo collective. These were people doing stuff and carrying things in all weather and all conditions, and had been for years. Especially that guy over there in the jeans … and boots…. and cowboy hat.
Hey! I know him.
Later, when the pallet stopped at Gas Works, I work up the nerve to ask if it was him all those years ago. Val starts off vague. He mentions how there a lot of people with cowboy hats, and boots, and three-speed bicycles (but not in 1991 in Bellevue, Val!) and so on… I’m inclined to think maybe I could have been wrong.
And then he smiles that smile and admits, “yeah, that might have been me” (he also confessed the smoke was mostly for effect. And boy did it work!).
Val continues to share the next hour talking with our family about bikes and blogging, and all sorts of two-wheeled adventures. It wasn’t the first time he completely engaged us — adults and children alike (like the time our daughter crashed on the BGT Ballard Bridge tracks on one especially wet and cold New Year’s Day Cargo Ride. Val was right there after she picked herself up and got going again, riding next to her and offering encouragement).
After that he kept in touch via the blog and flickr, keeping us informed of upcoming rides, always quick with an encouraging word about a post or a photo. A nice word from Val could turn your day around.
Count us inspired.
Whenever I’d get down about about the state of bicycle infrastructure or our motorist-centered culture, I’d just have to think about Val. What right do I have to get bummed. I’ve only been caring for what, four years? He’s been doing this for 20+ and still has a smile for everyone.
Instant attitude adjustment
We’ve been scarce on the Cargo Bike Rides lately. Even when we were regulars, we only saw Val four or five times a year. Not much really, but if you know Val (or maybe you are lucky enough to know someone like him), it seemed like so much more. We feel a real sense of regret that we missed opportunities to ride more with Val. Hindsight asks: “What really was so damn important that we couldn’t get out and ride”?
Scarcity or not, Val kept in touch and kept the invitations coming. We may not have been on the actual ride, but I like to think that he thought us part of the pallet (his word for a herd of cargo bikes).
Two decades ago, Val was riding a practical bike in practical clothes for practical transportation. Val was no Luddite and could have ridden the latest high-tech gear, had it met his everyday standards. But most modern race-inspired tech doesn’t do well when asked to carry 300 pounds of rider and gear a thousand miles a month. He stuck with what works: Steel frames, fat tires, leather saddles, and copious carrying capacity.
Recently an entire “Slow Bicycle” culture, industry, and movement have boomed out of seemingly nowhere. Some people would trace its emergence to aging hipsters, the New York Times Style section, and/or all the various Cycle Chic movements.
For my part, I look to riders like Val as inspiration for sustainable bicycle culture. He may not have been be rocking the latest fashion (look at those gloves!), but you can’t deny the man had style (look at those gloves!).
And more than that, he endured. He found something that worked, set a good example by riding everywhere while he waited for us to get tired of skinny tires and tight tights, and then was there with support and knowledge when we made the plunge into practical everyday cycling.
Thanks waiting for us Val. You knew we’d get here. But slowly.
Rest in Peace & always, rubber side down.
More photos of Val on flickr. Tag yours with his flickr name (Bike Pilot) and visitors to his profile can see them.