When Mike was killed and the Indian Pacific Wheel Race called off, all our lives changed. I had just begun an unpaid ‘career’ in ultra-endurance cycling. No one knew me. And I was not a major player. But my life changed. And I changed.
All of us who were still racing at the time changed. We all knew this. We all felt it. But we couldn’t express our feelings, because our loss paled in comparison to the loss experienced by Mike’s family and friends.
When Anna reached out to the Australian Cycle Alliance in July this year, I was in Europe recovering from racing the US Trans Am Bike Race while simultaneously preparing to race the Trans Continental Race (Mike’s race). This was to be the third crown in my personal ‘triple crown’ attempt to race all three unsupported transcontinental races in the same calendar year.
When I was asked by Ed Hore of Cycle to meet with Anna in Belgium before the race in order to explore how Cycle could help, I saw an opportunity to also personally play a role in assisting Anna. Possibly this could help me continue my own healing process following Mike’s death sixteen months earlier.
So, yes, in part I was at the Coronial Inquest for two days – taking notes, typing reports, stressing, grieving, feeling frustrated by the legal process, etc. – for Mike, even though I didn’t know him, only met him once, and only spoke one sentence to him (Aussie humour – ask me about it over a beer one day).
In part, I was there for Anna. And for Pat whom I met while checking in at the TCR on race day (again, there’s another funny story if you dare to ask).
And while I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to hit and kill a cyclist, I was not there for the driver. I understand that forgiveness is part of the healing process. But I’m not there yet.
That is because, in part, I was there for the potential future cyclists and future friends and families of cyclists who might be struck and killed by drivers. How was this tragedy allowed to happen? What can we learn from it? How can this all be prevented from happening over and over again? Because, to quote myself at Mike’s ghost bike: “It’s not right.”
The back story that few know is this …
Eight days before the start of the TCR, my only sister called me from Canada to tell me that she had incurable brain cancer and only had 14 months to live. Her two requests of me were: that I invite my ex-wife to a final family Christmas holiday, and that I pull out of the TCR as it wouldn’t be fair on the family if two of us died in the same year. If you know me, you’ll already know which request was going to be the most problematic.
Altruistically, part of me screamed: “Every cyclist should be safe on public roads.” A selfish part of me was concerned that 16 months of my life preparing for the triple crown would now all be a waste. But a deeper part of me began the process – known as ‘the new grief’ – of watching a loved one slowly slip away.
So, my sister and I discussed it … and I promised her that I would not die on the TCR. Then, six days later, I had a coffee with Anna in the Square in Geraardsbergen and promised her that Cycle would do all it could to support her in any way she needed. And I kept both promises.
Me? I can’t promise to #bemoremike, because I didn’t really know Mike.
But I can promise to be more Heath. And I think that perhaps my role may be to make people smile, and sometimes even laugh. I may even inspire a few with my riding. Not sure.
Meanwhile I will continue to work with Cycle because the work they do is so important. And hopefully the families of other cyclists will never have to endure what Anna and Mike’s family and friends have had to go through.
Heath, The Dark Knight
The following video was filmed at the Mike Hall Ghost Bike, 25th of September 2018.