One Sunday morning in September, I woke up and checked the Facebook feed before rolling out of bed (after my schedule, before the Twitter feed). A college friend was remembering the anniversary of her beloved’s death. A twinge of sadness, then on to the day.

I was almost at my first student’s when I got the news (from an old boyfriend, apologizing for the electronic medium) that a mutual friend of ours from college had died suddenly.

A cloud descended.

Here’s what I think about those friends I haven’t seen in a while: I’ll see them again. I’m traveling a lot this year – so I have the luxury of, say, heading back to New England for a long weekend and thinking, fuck it, I’m not calling anyone who lives an hour away from Boston. I’ll be back to ride New Hampshire later. I’ll bug them then. If I miss them then, I’ve got a college reunion in June.

And then someone’s gone – another friend I made bad decisions with in my teens, and now there’s only my side of the story.

When I went to dig around in the box of old photos for the memorial service, I realized just how bad the only photograph I have is, and that we were really minor characters in someone else’s drama.


I’m in the yellow dress, all lady-like. He’s in the vest at the prosecutor’s table. Teenagers playing grown-up.

When I rummaged around in my memory for things to say at the memorial, I realized that I didn’t have a single story I could tell in front of his daughter.

Here’s what I can say to his daughter, Eliza: Study hard. Honor your father’s memory. When you get to college, make friends and have adventures with them. Adventures that you want neither your ancestors nor your descendants to know about. Adventures that, when you are long gone, will inspire your co-conspirators to fly thousands of miles to honor your memory and console your loved ones.

Here’s what I rode for in New England: The memory of Thomas Joseph McDonough. The Eliza McDonough Education Fund.

Here’s where you can send a check if you’d like to contribute:
Eliza McDonough Education Fund
c/o Betsy Marvin
5 Doe Run Lane
Stratham NH 03885

Here’s where I rode:

50 miles up Vermont Route 5 along the Connecticut River. I didn’t go over into Hanover, I didn’t visit any of our old haunts. But we did have a car ride or two up this road. It took me awhile to get up that far, to a road I knew in Vermont. A high school friend let me borrow her son’s bike:

I wasn’t out more than five miles when I realized the seat was too high and that I’d left my lights in the car. When I turned around at the 25 mile mark, it was twilight. The last hour on a very unlit road with high-speed traffic, I kept thinking that this was going to be a very stupid way to die. Every time headlights behind me lit up my shadow, I looked back to gauge how fast the car was approaching.

I saw my shadow, but when I turned around, no car. Only the moon. Ill met by moonlight, indeed.

I’d planned to ride in Maine Saturday morning, before the memorial service, but I was just too exhausted. Which meant that Sunday morning, I couldn’t go out with a friend’s husband (who does Ironmans, and would kick my ass) and climb Kearsarge in New Hampshire. I had to head out and do a century. Solo. On a route where two cyclists in an organized event had been killed by a car the previous day.

So, across the border from Massachusetts to New Hampshire:

And into Maine:

And back into New Hampshire, where I got lost – twice – trying to get out of Portsmouth.


I finally made it back to Exeter, the scene of the memorial, at nightfall. Over 100 miles, with all the detours.

This wasn’t the New England ride I wanted. This wasn’t how I wanted to reconnect with these friends. This was a reminder that all we have is the present, and we have to make the most of the time we have here, before we’re gone and at the mercy of the memories of others.

The human mortals want their winter here.