A Memorial, A Community, and a Great Sadness

I did not know Brett Jarolimek but he has touched my life.

I debated about whether or not to write about this. The loss seems so personal – I want to leave it for the people who are suffering the most right now. The people in Brett’s life. The people who are blown apart and reeling. I want to be quiet about it for their sake.

But, from what I’ve read about Brett, and the memorials that his friends have left on BikePortland.org, now is not the time for silence; it is the time to speak.

The cycling community in Portland, Oregon is extremely tight knit. It is one of my favorite things about this city. It is what I brag about when I travel. It is, frankly, why I stay. It is second-to-none; friendly, inviting, active, vocal, inspiring, and empowering.

Losing one from our fold is a sucker punch and an emotional kick in the teeth. Losing two from our fold in just a few weeks (Tracy Sparling was struck and killed in a similar collision recently) is indescribably devastating.

I don’t want to write about this because my parents read this blog. I know my mother and father think about me on the bike, out on the roads – my father has told me as much. I don’t want to write about this because every time Sal is out on a ride I start to worry after 3 hours – even if he has told me that he’ll be gone for five. It doesn’t matter – 3 hours is my threshold and, at that point, my imagination starts to take over.

(Mom – for the record, please forgive me for all the hell I gave you when you worried.)

I wish I could keep this tragedy from my parents, from Brett’s friends and loved ones, from myself. We all wish that there was a way to hit a do-over button and change the course of events that led us to this point.

We can’t.

No more can I shelter my parents from the fact that this kind of danger exists and that I expose myself to it every day. No more can I put a magical protective bubble around Sal when he leaves the house early on Sunday morning to spin out long miles.

What we can do is speak and take action. Greg Raisman, perhaps, put it better than I will be able to. The message is the same. Talk to people. Take action. Join a coalition. Get vocal. Get involved. Volunteer.

One thing that I try to do as often as possible is talk to drivers about how to interact with bicycles. I also routinely tell people to slow down. Where you are going is not nearly as important as you think it is – believe me.

As a car culture we think, act, and breathe (literally) cars. The use and operation of them becomes so second nature to us that we lose our perception of what is actually happening when we get into a vehicle.

When you are driving, you are in charge of thousands of pounds of steel. Combine this weight with speed and you are operating an astoundingly lethal machine. Cyclists are bags of bones and muscles, enclosed in extremely soft skin. Cyclists are mothers, sisters, aunts, brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, and grandfathers.

I am a driver as well as a cyclist. I drive in traffic about as often as I ride my bike in traffic. I am a different driver than I was before I started commuting by bicycle. I recommend that all drivers who have a hard time understanding where cyclists are coming from take a few weeks to commute, run errands, or visit friends by bike, through traffic. It will change you.

Lives are at stake. There is plenty of action to take, plenty of conversations to be had. We can pick this up later.

For now, there is a memorial scheduled for Monday, and a remembrance scheduled during the cross race this Sunday.

Our grieving is almost tangible. Our community mourns this loss but will come back stronger, louder, and more determined.

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2 comments

  1. man, I almost went a whole day without crying.

  2. what a well written call to action . . . this needs to go in newspapers, on supermarket bags and on the napkins folks get with their morning lattes.

    Pass it on.

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