I’ve never been a part of a community that was as close-knit as the band of brothers and sisters that make up the ultracycling family in California. Perhaps because it is a relatively small group, and we tend to ride near the same people, we get to know each other really well. Nothing brings out the sharing of aches and pains and dreams and joys quite like riding for many hours with someone.
Seeing the beauty of our world from the saddle of a bike is one of those sublime things that just make up the utter fabric of who I am, and who many of my friends are. When you find people that can share that with you, you cherish every moment you get to be in their company.
When a member of the family dies, it strikes all of us. When Tom Milton died at the Devil Mountain Double Century last year (2010), at least we knew that he died of natural causes and died doing what he loved to do. And the scenery on the east side of Mount Hamilton surely isn’t the worse place to slip away from this world. It was still horrible to those who knew him well, and for the people that saw him on the side of the road and those who attempted to assist him. But it was an understandable death.
When Dan Crain died last August two weeks after being hit by a car, it was a shock and a terrible tragedy that someone so experienced (7 time finisher of the Furnace Creek 508, along with countless other long rides) could be struck down on the road. At least we know that it can be classified as an accident: the driver didn’t see Dan until it was too late to stop. While we still feel horrible for Dan and his close friends and family and honor his memory; at least we can also feel for the driver who wasn’t out to get anyone that day, he just failed to notice that there was a cyclist to his right.
A month ago, at the SLO 400km Brevet Joan and I had the pleasure of riding with Jim and Nicole. We rode one of the nicest stretches of highway in the state, Highway 46 between Paso Robles and Cambria. I think that I was only able to ride with Jim because he was treating the ride as an easy cruise, just out there enjoying the day and enjoying the scenery and the company of his fiancee and of his cycling family. We talked about rides that we have done and wanted to do. He told me about his and Nicole’s upcoming trip to France to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, it was to be their honeymoon.
We talked as well about our experiences riding The 508. I recalled having seen him many times out on the course, as the Golden Gyrfalcons (his 2x team with Nicole from 2009) and as Gyrfalcon (his solo totem in 2010). We both obviously shared a love of ultra cycling. And it was great to meet someone who so clearly embodied all that is good in this sport.
Every time I saw Jim, he had a huge smile on his face and you could just tell that he was glad to be alive and that he considered cycling to be the finest way to spend his leisure time. Apparently, he met Nicole during the Gold Rush 1200k in 2009; and they were to be married this summer before honeymooning in France.
Jim was riding with Nicole and another rider (Chris) at night during the Temecula 600k Brevet (the start was in the city of Temecula, just north of San Diego) this past weekend. The ride would have started at 6:00AM, so they were 19 hours into the event while riding along the Pacific Coast Highway through the town of Leucadia in northern San Diego county.
What happened at 1:04AM is worse than just about anything that could happen while riding a bike. Nicole was in the lead, followed by Jim and then Chris. According to the first-hand account from Chris, a truck buzzed by him going somewhere around 60 (in a 35 zone) and then slammed through Jim. Nicole described seeing something fly by her in the night after a collision behind her. It took a moment to process what it was as she came to a stop. The truck did not brake, did not slow down and sped away as if nothing had happened. Jim was launched through the air; the impact had nearly severed his leg. He was conscious when the medics arrived, and they took him by helicopter to a nearby hospital. But he succumbed to his injuries around 5:00AM. Nicole was holding his hand as he slipped away.
I cannot fathom what could cause a driver to not stop when hitting something at such a high speed. What kind of sub-human slime cares more about his own skin than helping someone he has ripped from his friends and loved ones? Jim was a well-liked member of the ultra-cycling family, and his cheerful and encouraging presence will be missed on the brevets and ultra rides throughout California.
A few days after the incident, a man did turn himself in. The cynical side of me thinks that he waited until there was no chance that any alcohol could be detected in his system. If that’s not the case, I can’t understand why he would not have stopped. A hit and run conviction is surely worse than a simple accident, even if he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
My only hope is that some good can come out of this. We need to change the laws in California to make hit and run a much more serious crime. And we need better education of drivers in this state. There are other people on the road who are fathers, sons, mothers and daughters and friends. What we need on the road is respect for everyone else out there.
I will be riding every ride for the foreseeable future in honor of Jim “Gyrfalcon” Swarzman. Ride in Peace, Jim…
Here are some links to media coverage:
Here’s a link to an account written by Chris Kostman of Adventure Corps. It has a recap of much of Jim’s cycling palomares. Chris also links to more information, and there are comments from many of Jim’s friends.
Jim Swarzman, RIP: My Kind of Guy, and Cyclist