Once more, Charlie tried to get through to my fantasy world by adding, “Did you forget that all the Western high points are also in Wilderness Areas?”
“Not at all,” I laughed. “I’ve already dealt with the National Park Service in Washington, DC who also think I’m nuts, but said they didn’t care if I wanted to kill myself, so long as my tires never touched the ground.”
“I can’t wait to hear how you intend to pull that off,” quipped Charlie.
“Simple. I bought a 25 cent backpack frame at the local thrift shop, and an engineer friend of mine is going to convert it into a mini bike rack. We break the bike down, strap it on, and take a little walk.”
“I love it!” laughed Charlie. “You know, this crazy stunt of yours just might get the exposure the cycling industry needs to turn things around on the trail use issue.”
The months flew by. I began doing the magazine interviews early, so that the stories would come out while I was on tour, while Charlie went about doing what he loved…wheeling and dealing. I went into the mountains for the weekend to get used to camping and hiking once again, and get the feel of a backpack.
It was Friday when I spoke with Charlie. He was ready to sign up the bike sponsor. We would go over the details of the contract upon my return. There was less than a month for everything to come together, and I needed to test the bike at least a day before heading out on a major public tour. Charlie told me to relax and have fun.
Trekking through the snow covered mountains, I felt like a speck under a giant microscope, being in awe of God’s wondrous creative beauty. I was alive and thankful for my health. Somewhere in the world, a life was ending. And the progression continues. For every birth there is a life, and vice versa. I was no longer a factory worker, but allowed to be a small part of a whole, and truly grateful to be where I was in my life.
Upon returning to my home a few days later, there were no messages from Charlie, nor could I reach him at his house. Finally, I decided to contact one of the sponsors, and heard the news for the first time. “Charlie died over the weekend, Kev. He entered a bike race, then collapsed afterwards.”
My mind went through a flurry of thoughts and emotions. I’m dreaming. This isn’t happening. No, it’s a cruel joke. Okay, what’s really going on? I’m three months older than he is. Sweet Jesus, please don’t let this be true!
The next day, I was in Los Angeles for the funeral. Many other famous athletes were also in attendance to pay their respects to their friend and manager. Charlie’s wife of nine months shed her tears along with his parents. I was in a state of wandering confusion. Charlie died May 10, 1993. Five days after his 33rd birthday.
I was now on my own. I momentarily thought of abandoning the Tour, but the magazines had gone to press and were ready to hit the newsstands nationwide. To quit now would make me appear weak in the face of adversity.