Sleeping in, free range to the snacks all night, a day without schedule- these are luxuries we have dreamt about for weeks, but this morning they are a bitter reminder of the friend we have lost.
There are no words to describe the depth of this tragedy. I won’t bother with the “where I was when it happened”- we were all somewhere, on our bikes. We all saw the ambulance, the police. We got the vague, firm texts. We were terrified.
Instead imagine that morning-at 4:30 am it was still dark. The moon was full, fat, and sitting close to the horizon. Bridget let me use her diaper rash cream, because that is how we Bike&Builders roll. Patrick was making us all laugh. He was such a morning person, probably since he sleeps with his eye mask on, or due to his superior coffee beans for his little French press (both of which his girlfriend, he proudly stated, had gifted him). The day before we had laughed about that eyemask, Patrick admitting that his dad always wore one and he used to find it silly.
Readers, it was a beautiful morning to ride. The sunrise was at our back like any classic westward adventure. Feilds of little sunflowers turned their heads to us, rings of yellow pedals mimicking our backlit ascent. Only just yesterday we had begun to see the red clay cliffs jut from the rolling landscape. Today marked our first tumbleweed, our first cactus.
If you have followed my writing, perhaps you have an idea at how triumphant we felt at this moment. Our bodies are changed, the bruises are fading. By now we have faced the freezing rains of Maine, the potholes of Massachusetts, the semis of Ohio, the mountains of Pennsylvania, the humidity of Missouri, and the headwinds of Oklahoma. We have learned to sense each other’s weak moments, to give before another needs, to share space and step back. We crossed our first time zone, we crossed our halfway mark.
We ached, but we knew we were almost in Texas, and we biked all the way here from Maine.
It rained is Sayre, Oklahoma later that morning when our leaders, Brittany and Tyler, drove our van and painted trailer to where we waited. How fitting that it would rain then, after we have been waiting for rain since crossing into Oklahoma. Sam’s face still as stone, her voice remained level as she hearded us into a small cafe, directed us and our bikes and our gear. Most of us were already crying at that point, having some idea of how bad the news would be.
The next moments are too painful to retell. Bridget and Patrick were hit by a car. The driver had been texting.
Acts of heroism bloomed between Cordell, Oklahoma and Wheeler, Texas that day. A couple witnessing the accident (for lack of a better word) stayed with our friend Bridget while they waited for the ambulance, contacted her parents and, when they weren’t able to join her in the helicopter, drove three hours to Oklahoma City just to make sure she was not alone. They were total strangers. Our three leaders, Sam, Tyler, and Britney not only shouldered the weight of loosing their friend and coleader, but they expertly handled a situation nothing could prepare anyone for, and organized our safe transportation into Wheeler.
The best thing about Patrick on this trip is how hard he worked to better himself in the past five weeks. It takes a big person to do that, and here at Bike & Build, pride is no small thing to overcome. Honestly, it is important to recognize, at first we riders were not having it with his teacher-tricks. We rolled our eyes, decidedly annoyed. We insisted we were too old, that doesn’t work on us. The sentiment turned into a running joke, though, and there’s no question of the respect he earned.
He told Matt, “I’m addicted to leading.” Unless you have done this trip, you cannot imagine all the physical and emotional obstacles we have overcome to get here. But in addition to the rider hardships, Patrick focused on bettering himself as a leader, on reaching out to us in a way we would respond to. He made a point of biking with different riders, asking probing questions to better understand who we each were, encouraging us to explore and see the land we traversed. He was our peer, mentor, teacher. He was bubbling after his leader review at the clear turn around he had made- what a success.
“It feels like 1,000 invisible hands from the universe are propping me upright,” Brittany finally remarked in response to the onslaught of social media concerns. “People keep telling us what big hearts we have and I feel every cubic inch- aching, amplified.” This trip- this trip we each worked months training for, fundraising money for, learning about affordable housing curriculum- had already taught me how amazing people can be in coming out to support you. But in tragedy their stength is so much bigger, stronger. Tyler said “you will now witness the best and worst of bike and build,” and he did not say the words lightly.
The first baptist church of Cordell met us in Sayre to mobilize our crew and get us and our bikes to our destination. What we had waiting for us was not just the people of the Wheeler Church of Christ, but also members of three sepperate churches. For two days we were given a home, showered in food and comfort. Everything we needed was donated. I mean everything-a church woman drove me to the local pharmacy and bought my yeast infection medication, which is just about as personal as it gets.
The days following felt like purgatory, like a sickness, like a fever. We were exhausted but too ill to sleep, or unable to stay awake. I walked in circles just to sit for a few minutes. We go in and out of recovery. The unimaginable has happened. Still, the Church parking lot felt like safety, and parts of me didn’t want to leave. How can I face the hollowness of Patrick’s absense?
As the numbness began to fade, we noticed encouraging messages exploding throughout Facebook and on Instagram. A whole nation of Bike & Builders know our struggle and want to support. The same people who donated to our cause reached out pleading for some way to help us through this hard time. It feels like we have fallen, but a enormous and tightly woven net of people has caught us and won’t let us hit the gravel below.
It is a strange sensation to wake up crying. I keep waiting to be okay, sitting there and thinking “okay now I am fine.”
Wheeler has rescued us and we all have different ways to cope. For instance Abby and Rachel embarked on a quest they dubbed their “spirit journey” where they visited every gas station in Wheeler for junk food. Katie Judge planned “spa day.” She went to the one convenience store in town (Buck Dollar) and had lotions, nail polish, and those little foam things that go between your toes donated. I ate a bunch of gum.
I can’t express more how blessed I feel to have this strong team of people and these very remarkable leaders here with me for this.
I keep running through the scenes with Patrick in them that I had taken for granted- how quick he was to notice when I did something for the group, his friendly teasing of my clumsy mistakes, his determined optimism despite weather or riding conditions.
Our bikes are now stored in a trailer. The pedals have been removed and wrapped in plastic wrap. Our front wheels are labeled in blue painters tape. Our helmets and shoes are in trash bags, stored away until we are ready to return to them.
Driving the route we should have ridden, all 32 of us, really hurts. We can’t help but examine the shoulder, noting how wide it is, mentally bookmarking gas stations and other shelters from the sun. But also we are suddenly aware the magnitude of the miles we bike each day, the true geographical scope of our journey.
We all knew this endeavor would be hard… we just couldn’t imagine how hard. But to label this trip as “bad,” to let tragedy overshadow all our growth, would be a disservice to Patrick’s name. The end of or trip will be challenging in ways that none of us can imagine, and each of us will have to address these next few weeks in different ways. The truth is that we will not all complete the same passage to recovery. Patrick has already taught us so much. His final lesson will be that as a team, no matter where we are or how we do it, we will overcome together.
Thank you to Bridget Anderson’s family for all the support and enthusiasm they have always shown, but especially for the past few days as our friend recovers.
Thank you Sam, Tyler, and Brittany. You have carved a team that is strong, caring, and courageous. You have been our rocks.
Thank you Bridgette. How can you be so collected and rational even in a hospital bed?
Thank you to the whole town of Wheeler, to the habitat team of Amarillo, and to other community members who have fed us, housed us, and kept us busy.
Thank you Monica, the greif counselor who has helped us all find clarity.
Thank you Claire, for flying out here to be our mama bear and give this big, continuous collective hug.
Thank you Bike & Builders across the world who have chalked in Patrick’s, Bridget’s, and our name. It is still hard for us to digest the enormity of your support, but evidently it is welcomed.
Thank you to all the family and friends of us who are on this trip. I know it’s hard to watch go through this.
Thank you Patrick. You continue to teach us to be good stewards of the world, and your impact will only grow from here.