Events: Dan Wilson Memorial Ride
(2016) While I pedaled along the roads Dan Wilson was known to frequent, I asked myself how I would capture the sentiment on the ride routed to finish what he didn’t get a chance to. As an educator, I’ve pointed out that writers are famous because of their ability to say in one sentence what the rest of the population necessitates pages (or never) to get across. All my thoughts kept returning to the desire to succinctly capture the atmosphere of the Dan Wilson Memorial Ride through a quote by Ray Bradbury.
I decided to ride from my house to the starting point of the Dan Wilson Memorial Ride to begin the second year of healing. I chose this because one of the last times I saw Dan Wilson was on a team ride descent of Stover Park Road. He was pedaling uphill, smiling. I remember saying, “Who would want to go up this climb?” as we booked it downhill. I shared this memory with one of his close friends later.
The parking lot at High Rocks Vista was pretty easy to spot with a large pick-up truck and its four-ways flashing. This would be the starting location and broom wagon for today’s ride. A fair amount of cyclists were gathered around the pick-up truck. I was hoping the many cyclists I waved to on my way to the start were crisscrossing the farming roads trying to get to the start. Happily some found their way to the parking lot.
Among the riders were Dan’s closest friends and family. Many shared how they knew him through the many activities in which he participated. Brian, a close friend of Dan’s, who had also arranged the memorial ride, was extremely welcoming to every cyclist who rolled up. Dan’s wife and two sons were also present to participate in the ride. His wife was riding the very bike I saw Dan on the last time I saw him. A few riders from Doylestown Bike Works also showed support by participating.
After some announcements by Brian, we pushed off toward Dark Hollow Road, then quickly onto Ervin Road. The participants took turns looking after the younger riders, conversing with each other, and talking about how they knew Dan. Other conversations stretched into who races for whom and how the season is progressing. Perhaps each rider was quietly trying to sort out in the background his or her feelings as we made the short push to Ervin Road.
Onto Ervin Road is not an experience that comes easily, for the memorial site is immediately visible once the turn is made. Today, as any other ride, each cyclist quieted down, before ultimately pulling into the grass to pay our respects. The memorial was alight with sunbeams against dramatic clouded skies. Some remained upbeat to provide support. Some showed their emotions in a natural way.
Riders signed Dan Wilson’s motocross number plate, number 120, attached to the Speed Limit 40 sign. New flowers also adorned the sign placed there a day before. A bit of comic relief came in the reading of stickers affixed to the sign, one a Napoleon Dynamite quote, “Ever take that off any sweet jumps?” and a separate sticker, “I do all my own stunts.” But the initial feeling overall was of loss. The community is at a loss after a tragedy of this caliber. Yet this is where the ride began to turn from sorrow to an eye toward healing.
Much like Ray Bradbury’s quote, it felt as if Dan was riding with us because he had touched these roads so often. According to Brian, Dan was a creature of habit and our route was one he took regularly. I heard riders paying Dan further tribute by speaking about him as if he were up at the next intersection waiting for us. Riders continued to look after the younger cyclists as each person symbolically finished the route. We watched in awe as Dan’s kids rode up Giegel Hill Road, a remarkable – and typical – punchy Bucks County climb.
Once we reached the Wilson driveway riders eventually parted ways. Some stayed and made plans for the night’s fireworks, others headed toward Brig O’Doon coffee shop for lunch, still more peeled off to continue their ride. I headed home on the roads I take regularly, rejoining a route I habitually take.
Each participant left a mark on his number plate to remind those passing that this was the place Dan Wilson rolled his last mile. That may be how those passerbys will describe the memorial, but I prefer to think of it in another way: These were also the same roads that brought him immense joy. After paying tribute today, I now know just how close Dan was to his own house. Instead of thinking of the tragedy, I instead thought of all the other times he was riding and just how excited he must have been to not only be riding a bike but also to be so close to home. Having the pleasure to ride with his wife, kids, and nearest friends, I can only guess just how filled with anticipation he was on these roadways. When we all ride Ervin Road, a road he regularly touched, we'll know he's there, and it changes us.