Editor’s note: I met Forrest on the road back in 1997 just a few weeks after he met Rich Suleski. As Rich would have said, it was trail magic. Turns out, Rich and I were both from Waukesha, Wisconsin and both coincidentally riding our bikes around the United States at the same time. I encouraged Rich to publish his book, and he made sure I published mine. Rich was always a big dreamer and a big doer. You can read a story here about his adventure canoeing the length of the Mississippi River. And, while I’m being sentimental… Thanks to you, too, Forrest, for your friendship and for this story. I’m not sure anyone can make it to the end without a tear in their eye — I didn’t.
I visited the Dolly Sods Wilderness area in West Virginia this weekend. It is a beautiful place that was introduced to me by a great friend Richard Suleski back in 2004.
I met Rich in 1997 when I was biking from North Carolina to Colorado. Rich was biking through every state in the continental US, yep all 48 of them! He biked over 10,000 miles in about a year and a half. We stopped on the side of the road and chatted for about an hour and then decided to share camp that night. I was a rookie bike tourer and Rich had already quite a few experiences under his belt as he was more than halfway finished with his 10,000-mile cycling journey. I was only a few days into my 32 day trip to Colorado.
We started a great friendship that day in June 1997. We kept in touch over the years and would visit each other when we could. Rich lived for a while in West Virginia, but his home was Wisconsin and he lived there the rest of his life. He was my unofficial best man at my wedding. I got a call in 2007 one summer day that he had passed away the day before. He had a massive heart attack while he was biking and fell over on the side of a bike trail. He was only 35 years old.
I attended his funeral and a few months later his parents drove down from Wisconsin to give me part of his ashes. His parent’s wishes were for me to take his ashes to places he and I had shared adventures – beautiful places. I spread some of his ashes on this overlook in the Dolly Sods. I put him on the Appalachian Trail. I put part of him at campsites we camped at. Later I express mailed the rest of his ashes to a Mississippi barge pilot who was also a good friend of Rich. Rich was in the Merchant Marine and also worked on riverboats on the Mississippi and Kanawha Rivers. The barge pilot put the rest of his remains in the Mississippi River.
I know this is maybe a bit crazy… but sometimes I imagine having conversations with him, like he is still there. He was such a great guy to have a conversation with, funny and smart. He always wanted to end things on a positive note and he would give me a hard time if I got too negative about anything, I needed a lot of help with that back then. He was such a positive can-do guy!
Today I revisited some of the places Rich and I visited together 15 years ago. I said hello. I finally feel like I made an image (see above) that somewhat conveys the beauty of one of the locations I placed some of his ashes.
Editor’s note #2: Like, Forrest, when I think of Rich I still feel like he is with me, and I feel inspired to keep my head up and give passersby a nod of encouragement. Rich signed a letter to me once (I actually still had it tucked away in his book), “Walking In Tall Corn,” and I think of him that way now — walking through the tall corn of life’s great final adventure.