I can vividly recall how I felt when I was on my first cycling tour, in Corsica, in 2012. I had only been out two years, been divorced only six months, been with Mark for just over a year and had only been cycling for a few months. I was very insecure about both my physical abilities as well as my social abilities.
During the first half of that two-week tour, I was very self conscious about my "story" - a recently-out gay man with ten children and a former Mormon. I very much thought I didn't want others on the tour to know of my circumstances - both that it was my first cycling season and the rest of it.
But during that tour, word gradually leaked out through dinner conversations and on long climbs; and I was pleasantly astounded at how non-judgmental these people on the tour - my new cycling friends from all over the country - were. Curious, yes; but totally accepting and nonjudgmental. I wasn't accustomed to that, especially after the divorce I had recently gone through - not only divorcing my ex-wife but a whole way of life that I had lived for over 25 years.
And people were astonished when they learned that I was in my first season of cycling. I was gratified. I'm not really sure now why I didn't want people to know that at first. I guess it was the whole judgment thing again. But I was once again buoyed and fortified by people's reactions when they learned how long I had been cycling.
Last night - and indeed throughout this tour I've just completed, but especially last night - I was again buoyed and fortified by a group of people I didn't know (except for Bob) two weeks ago but who have become friends as we've wended our way across roads in Sardinia and Corsica, shared meals together and exchanged stories about our lives on long climbs and during dinner conversations.
There is a tradition on Ciclismo Classico tours of awarding a cycling cap, called a "cappellino" by our Italian guides, each evening at dinner. On the first night, a guide awards it to one of the guests, then each succeeding day, guests award it to each other for something special that was done that day or throughout the tour, writing a small tribute on the hat for the recipient. Each one of the eight guests on our tour was awarded the cappellino, and the speeches accompanying the presentations ranged from comic and light-hearted to serious and sincere.
Last night, it was time to permanently award the cappellino to one of the guests to take home as a souvenir of the trip. I hadn't realized this would happen until at some point during our final dinner together. The cap had been given the previous night to two friends, Steve and Ron, from Toronto who have been cycling for a number of years and were always at the head of our pack, being very strong cyclists.
I was very touched when Steve announced that, upon consulting with Ron and others in the group, the decision had been made to present the cappellino to me. They had learned some of my story over the past ten days, including of course, about my brief but brilliant 4-1/2 years with Mark and the love that we had shared. Steve and then Ron paid tribute to my journey back into cycling these past months, me "getting out there," and - most importantly, which brought tears to my eyes - they said that they felt they had come to know Mark through me. I'm so, so pleased that his memory lives on and that he has the ability to touch others, even when gone.
These past ten days have been amazing. There were, of course, the sights, the gorgeous scenery, the food, the wine, the thrill of long descents and the agony of some climbs in 95-degree heat; but more amazing were the experiences, the conversations and the camaraderie shared with a new group of friends.
I am grateful.