I’ve been a part of an extraordinary number of funerals in the last year, and escaped town for time to emotionally process, missing yet another one from our cycling community.
Gary Cummings, 64, died a week ago while riding his bike, pulling groceries home up a steep hill in north Asheville. He lived in Leicester for the last nine years, without a car. He could be seen at most street festivals and bike events, smiling and pedaling. I didn’t know him well, but it seemed that he spent his semi-retired life stopping in to brighten people’s days, giving the gift of time and presence.
“It was his outlet, to go pedal,” Tavis says. “He was more social than I thought he was. I’m still finding out.”
The first time I met Gary was over the phone, interviewing him about the death of his son, Stiles, an avid mountain biker. At the time he was working on a sailboat somewhere in Florida. His soft demeanor and peaceful embrace of the situation were remarkable in the same way that his two remaining sons are now dealing with his death.
It was sudden and completely unexpected in some ways, but the more Tavis, 34, unfolds the words, he sees that the last months of his father’s planning were about disembarking on a journey that may not have brought him back.
Gary had built himself a rig to pull behind his Surly. The trailer was packed with a road bike, two sets of wheels, a cooler and camping equipment. He was heading to Florida for some work and then hitching a boat ride to Europe for an undetermined amount of time to galavant. Tavis says he wasn’t really expecting to see him back. “I’m sorry that he didn’t get to do this open-ended tour,” he said, “But I feel very fortunate to have had him close when he died.”
Instead, his rig, and his ashes, were pulled by Tavis around town with about 30 other people touched by these sweet men, arriving at the Altamont for a celebration.
Just three weeks ago I saw him there attending a memorial for the young Callum, honored by and with bikes. He was a bit melancholic, but with that smile, as he looked around the room nodding, saying, “This is a good way to do it.”
Gary inspired people by example. Not only did he ride his bike every where, but he volunteered his time for all bike things. Asheville on Bikes and every bike shop owner in town loved him alike, knowing they could count on him.
“He got his adventure,” Tavis says. “I might tour up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway from end to end with his ashes, coming home empty-handed.”