14 September 2021

September 11 Reimagined

In 2016, we began our September 11 ride in Mt. Vernon, Washington. We and our riding companions Mrs. Micawber and husband had donned our most patriotic gear after raising money in support of the fight against multiple sclerosis. All four of us needed to finish the day's ride early in order to meet other commitments, so we met at the start gate before the rest of the 1,200 or so other riders. We sang the national anthem as we pedaled out toward the picturesque bay.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of a day that still holds pain for many, Lizard and I were about to ride our second September 11 ride with purpose. Smoke from wildfires afar was finally beginning to clear.

I didn't have to work at 8 a.m., so we could take our time and not rush. We got the bikes ready for what we hoped would be a 6.5-mile journey to the top of Waterton Canyon. Lizard had made it to the picnic bench near the top twice, but the dam had been too much of an incline so far. The "top" of the canyon had been elusive.

I'd bought a "Let's Roll" jersey from the Triple Bypass on eBay for Lizard when we first began dating because he'd confided he'd always wanted to do the Triple. He refused to wear the jersey until he earned it by riding the Triple the following year. This year, he let me wear his prized jersey because it doesn't fit him right now.

I held his bike while he put the front wheel on mine. His odometer, which he doesn't reset for each ride the way I do, read 411, plus some other digits to which I did not pay heed. His odometer inspired a photo I hoped to capture in 9.11 miles.

We started up the canyon, and for the second time this month, deer were nibbling on the apples less than a mile in. I couldn't resist. I told Lizard to pedal on and that I would catch up to him. I remember well the years I could not hold his pace. I remember the thousands of times he would power up to the top of the canyon, then ride back to me and climb a second time with me at my pace. Our normal Ride the Rockies routine, too.

Memories of a guy I wished would be interested in me more than two decades ago swirled. He complained about how slow I was on my bike. I'm so grateful I did not get saddled with someone so selfish.

I remembered riding with my kids when they were young. I always brought up the rear so I would know where they were. My son could ride much faster than my daughter, and I frequently had to remind him to circle back every once in a while so I would know he was okay. I rode slow because I had to, and that was okay. I never longed to ride faster. I was thrilled to be able to ride and to be able to do something together as a family we all loved.

I spent about 20 minutes taking pictures of the deer, a mom and her yearling fawn in the warm orange post-dawn glow. The first time I'd witnessed this, the larger group of deer seemed to be nearly choking on the little green apples because they were eating them whole. These two were much wiser, nibbling a bite at a time. Not quite the photo opportunity I'd experienced the first time, but a treat nonetheless. In more ways than one!

The last time I'd photographed muley breakfast, Lizard had turned around to head back by the time I reached him. He often can't make it more than three miles. He says he has no legs or that his legs just aren't firing. That's how he describes one of the nastier Parkinson's symptoms.

His goal today was to make it to the top of the canyon. No matter what. I wanted to be there with him when he accomplished his goal. And I wanted to be there to encourage him on if he was struggling. The way he always encouraged me when I felt like I couldn't pedal another inch. "Push, push, push!" he'd gently and lovingly encourage me.

Onward and upward. Time for me to get going.

It took me four miles to catch him, and when I first spied him, I could see he was running out of steam. I'd been riding as fast as I could, which isn't as fast as I used to be able to go because I'm so out of shape now, following three years of no real training rides. Nevertheless, I was burning calories, and that's always a good thing.

Finally at his side, I told him with a flirtatious smile in my voice he's a hard man to catch. He responded that he wasn't sure he would make it. We stopped briefly so I could give him a couple of cherry blossom Honey Stinger energy chews. I reminded him of the first time he asked for a date. I was in Washington, D.C. on assignment for work but also photographically enjoying the cherry blossoms, and he was back home in Colorado. I'd waited nine long months for him to ask me out. And I was more than half a continent away! I couldn't get home fast enough!!! The memories made our cherry blossom gummies taste so much sweeter this beautiful but windy day.

We didn't rest for long at all. He says if he stops too long, he can't get his legs going again. Parkinson's patients describe the feeling as their feet being glued to the floor. We love Waterton Canyon, but we don't want to be glued to the canyon floor.

As we battled the headwind, Lizard recalled the year he was trying to achieve 5,000 bicycle miles, being 76 miles short of his goal on a snowy New Year's Eve. Pedaling up muddy, slick Waterton six consecutive times to reach his magic number.

"I guess we won't be doing that again anytime soon," he said, almost in a whisper. Even the roar of the wind couldn't muffle his ambition.

The wind seemed to have more than doubled. Everyone who passed us commented on its strength. This day's ride was not coming easily for anyone. Lizard had to really dig deep to make it to the top. It was the first time he'd seen the dam since 2018, which was when I first noticed something was medically wrong. I convinced him to get a checkup, and three months later, we learned he had Parkinson's.

Getting to the top this time was glorious! He was hungry, and he was tired, but he'd made it! He'd set a goal and achieved it!

After photos, he enjoyed a Honey Stinger short stack waffle, which I think means maple-flavored. We kind of giggled about how fast the image of the disgraced cyclist who used to be featured on these Colorado snacks disappeared from the packaging back in 2012. I'd bought nearly a case of the nearly $2 waffles in a local grocery store for a dime apiece after the news that rocked the cycling world. We couldn't change what had happened, but we could certainly crinkle up and properly dispose of those ugly wrappers each time we enjoyed an autumn ride the remainder of that year.

The fascinating history of Honey Stinger (from which I am receiving no compensation) began in Pennsylvania but comfortably landed in Steamboat Springs. Ever wonder who came up with the idea of honey in a bear-shaped bottle??? Lizard spent many summers in Steamboat Springs working while staying with his uncle, discovering dirt bikes, and learning to love the outdoors. Steamboat also gets some of the deepest and fluffiest snow in Colorado, and it is called Champagne Powder. We were never drawn for Ride the Rockies on years when the Steamboat Springs loop was featured. Now we might not ever be able to complete another full Ride the Rockies route, but we're learning to dream new dreams and set new goals. We may yet tackle Rabbit Ears Pass via bicycle one day.

Lizard wanted and needed to make a pitstop before headed back down. I offered to hold his pack while he went into the tiny outhouse.

"No, because you'll keep it like you did last time," he responded. I explained I just wanted him to be successful that day, and because we now would be riding downhill, the extra weight shouldn't hinder him. He removed the pack in his Parkinson's-slowed motion and walked to the outhouse door. He opened it and entered, but then came right back out to hand me his sunglasses. A runner who'd just completed the canyon climb assumed Lizard was done and slipped into the tiny structure. Lizard took back his sunglasses and pack and said he'd use the outhouse a couple of miles down the canyon.

As we glided downward, I told Lizard I wanted to take a photo of my odometer when it hit 9.11. Instead of refreshingly coasting down the grade as fast as his bike can roll, Lizard rode slowly with me, and we reminisced about our third date -- a ride up Waterton Canyon and up the first pitch of the Colorado Trail, which then was only my second attempt ever getting that far on the ride. Our third date was Lizard's first ride ever up the canyon.

At the outhouse, Lizard remembered the day, many years ago, when I snapped a snake photo while I waited for him in this very same place. I'm not sure I knew before then snakes can climb trees!!!

My odometer read 8.3. So we drifted slowly down the Narrows until I hit 9.10. We walked our bikes the few feet until the odometer changed. I snapped a couple of quick odometer shots and realized it would be much more meaningful if I could show off my patriotic gear.

I realized in this particular case, having a person in the photo would be a more powerful statement. And memory!

I positioned my bike so Lizard could be the photographer and have his back to the sun. I would be squinting as he took the photo. I've known for a while his hands are not steady enough to operate a camera anymore. I set the shot up with my phone, thinking that might be easier (and I'm certain it was), but the wind kept knocking the bike over, and he had forgotten how to compose a photo. It's been three years! We got a few humorous outtakes.

I thought if the bike fell over one more time, it would read 9.12 instead of 9.11. Which might not have been a bad thing... I think most of us would rather have 9.12 because most of the world was pulling together that day instead of dividing and polarizing. I steadied the bike against Lizard's leg, the front wheel of my bike with my big camera and my full water bottle and showed Lizard how to steady the phone by leaning his elbow on my downtube and how to focus on the odometer instead of me. Six more shots, and we had what was, in my opinion, an award-winning shot!

We talked about the last time we'd taken that many photo of ourselves in Waterton Canyon. It was winter. I'd set the camera up on my backpack and set the self-timer. It took several shots to get just the right framing. I think I used this shot for our Ride the Rockies training page the next year!

We continued on down the Narrows, reveling in the now tailwind. The downhill combined with Mother Nature's extra boost made us both feel we were training for a big ride. I could see our shadows on the canyon wall, and I probably should have snapped another photo. And then the cutest thing happened. A butterfly landed on my back. I could see it on the shadow. I called to Lizard, thinking he could snap another photo for me. But the painted lady quickly found a true source of sustenance.

I snapped a few autumn-type photos the rest of the way down the canyon, and we talked about Lizard's next goal... to make it up to the start of the Colorado Trail. That section is SO steep. It will take a while. But it will be worth it. And it's a great goal!

By the time we got back to our vehicle, the parking lot, which had been nearly empty when we began the ride just after sunrise, was now packed, with vehicles circling like vultures waiting for a space to open. A few people complimented me on my patriotic gear. I realized next year, instead of remembering what happened in 2001, we can celebrate what happened in 2021.

This was a big day for Lizard. May there be many more in the years to come!


  1. Memorable photographs. I like the one with 9/12. Together we are strong being said in times when Switzerland is parted. Mark the date: 9/13. I do not lose hope that one day we will be united again.

    All the best to you and your husband.


  2. Congratulations Lizard! A truly memorable ride.

    I've been missing you guys so hard this month, thinking about 2016. I hope so much we can all ride together again some day.


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