One of the things I love about randonneuring is that it compresses and intensifies physical sensations and emotional responses. One can experience the lowest of lows and the highest of highs on the same ride. Sometimes, only a few kilometers or a control stop separate these swings in feeling and mood.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of randonneuring in relation to the death of Mitsuaki “Micky” Inagaki this spring.
Micky was killed by a truck driver while he was riding on Twizel Road in the Tiki Tour in New Zealand on March 15, 2017. At the time of his death, Micky was 61 years old, and was the president of Audax Japan. He had previously been in charge of inviting and recruiting foreign riders to participate in the Hokkaido 1200 and other events in Japan.
Micky began his international randonneuring career by completing PBP in 2011. Over the next five years, he completed 16 grandes randonnées, in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, and he finished PBP again in 2015. In 2016 alone, he completed the Okayama 1200 and Hokkaido 1200 in Japan, the 1001 Miglia in Italy, and the Cracker Swamp 1200 in the U.S.
But neither Micky’s biography nor his record of accomplishments adequately conveys who he was. As sad as his death was, it was wonderful to learn how many people had been touched by Micky. In the days and weeks after his death, Facebook was full of tributes to Micky, together with tales of memorable experiences and kind gestures and words Micky had bestowed on others.
And there were lots of pictures. Micky loved to take pictures of himself and others, and he was the frequent target of other people’s cameras.
Micky’s earliest randonneuring experiences were also among my earliest. I didn’t see him at PBP in 2011, although we finished a mere 26 minutes apart. I was aware of Micky at the Cascades 1200 in 2012, and at London Edinburgh London in 2013, but I did not talk to him at either event.
I really got to know Micky on the Super Brevet Scandinavia in August of 2013. We were both riding at the back, I at my natural, plodding pace, and Micky leapfrogging me, as he dealt with knee pain. We generally didn’t ride side-by-side, but very often Micky would surge past me, laughing, waving and taking pictures, only to stop a bit up the road to rest his knee.
Micky was a presence. If you were around him, you knew it. The photographic record shows that he was sometimes close-cropped and clean shaven, but the Micky I knew was long-haired, exuberant and a bit wild in his appearance. He was invariably cheerful, even when he was suffering from knee pain. And everyone knew Micky by his smile.
One of the beautiful things about SBS is that it involves six ferry rides, with five in Denmark and one in Norway, ranging from about 20 minutes to nearly two hours in length. It was on those ferry rides that I got to know Micky.
My Japanese is non-existent, and Micky’s English is limited. But Micky had a Ph.D. in nonverbal communication, and our conversations involved lots of gesticulation and repetition.
I learned a lot about Micky on those ferry rides. I knew that he had training in medicine, but had retired. I knew that he had a house in the mountains in Japan, and that he was devoted skiing as well as cycling. And I also learned that he wanted me to do to the Hokkaido 1200.
With Micky’s encouragement, I made plans to do the Hokkaido 1200 in 2014. Because of some complications in my schedule, though, I bailed out of that ride, and instead did a newly established 1200K around Bordeaux, France. I used to think it lucky that I had changed my plans because that the Hokkaido 1200 that year was stopped mid-ride by a dangerous thphoon. Now I regret the decision, because I lost forever the chance to ride again with Micky.
My most memorable experience with Micky came as we were riding in Sweden. Late at night, in the darkest and most remote corner of Sweden, my headlight quit working. At that point, I had been on the road for over three weeks, having begun my journey with LEL. I had a new light, the Luxos U, which turned out not to be as watertight as one might wish. My Luxos U quit working suddenly and irredeemably.
I had also lost my backup light during a protracted roadside repair session on LEL. I had acquired a handle-mounted flashlight in Germany, but it was too feeble to navigate by.
I survived that night through the kindness of Wolfgang Nitsche, a German rider who stuck with me so that I could see my way forward. But when I woke up the next morning, I did not know how I would get through the last night of the ride. I didn’t think that I could ask anyone to ride with me at my slow pace.
When Micky heard of my plight, at the last control in Sweden before we entered Norway, he unstrapped his own back-up light from the fork of his bike, handed to me, and gestured to me that I should strap it on my helmet. I gestured back to him in a way that said, “What about you?”
Then Micky said, “It is important for me to finish, but it is also important to you to finish.”
I often had trouble understanding Micky, but this time I understood both the literal meaning and the significance of what he had said. He did not have to repeat himself. And I will never forget those words.
With the help of Micky’s light, I navigated the steep hills of Norway. We finished together in Kristiansand, Norway in the last hour of SBS, badly beat up but gleeful. For me, the finish was all the sweeter because I finished with Micky and with his help.
I loved Micky. I only knew him for a few days, but our experiences were intense, and they are still vivid to me. We rode together the roller coaster of emotions that define a 1200K, and we survived. I would have loved him even if he had not helped me. But the fact that helped me was of a piece with everything I know about him. He was a generous soul.
Sometimes I think that the purpose of randonneuring is to create opportunities for generosity. We put ourselves in difficult, challenging situations, and, while we are not reckless, we know that we take risks and make ourselves vulnerable. Very often, we need the help of others to succeed.
I am, by nature, a forgetful person, and so I often need the generosity of others. More than once, someone has handed me a fistful of cash on a ride when I have forgotten or lost my wallet. One time, I arrived at a 200K in Ohio, only to discover that I had forgotten my trunk bag, containing most of my tools and my spare inner tubes. When the riders around me learned of my plight, they started giving me what they could spare—one offered a tire lever, another an inner tube, and another an inflator. When I started the ride, the back pockets of my jersey were full. And so was my heart.
For me, any one act of generosity has value and meaning beyond that event. Generous acts help us to believe that this is a benevolent world, populated by good people who wish us well. That hill might be brutal, or riding that stretch against a headwind and without enough water might be daunting, but there are people at the next control or along the road who will help us, and who will make it better. A bit of kindness makes hardship manageable.
Randonneuring is a sport that is unusually preoccupied with awards, medals and accomplishments. I don’t object to that; I have a drawer full of medals myself, and I am proud of what I have accomplished. At the end of the day, though, we will be remembered for the good that we do for others, and not for the number of Super Randonneur series we have completed.
Sometimes, the thought of Micky’s death is nearly unbearable. That tragic crash on Twizel Road in New Zealand forces us to ponder all of the imponderable questions of death. How can this person who was so vibrant and vital suddenly be gone? He was doing what I do; what does his death mean for my future? And, for those on the ride, perhaps the most difficult of all: Why him and not me?
While we do not have satisfactory for any of these questions, we can find comfort and solace in Micky’s goodness. I will remember the light he lent me, and the words he spoke to me. Others have similar stories to tell of Micky’s generosity. Mark Thomas, who was also on that fateful ride in New Zealand, says it well: “Micky was generous with his joy.”
We remember Micky through the good he has done and through the joy that he has given us. At the end of the day, isn’t this the best that any of us can hope for?