By Michael Collier
I took an awesome bike ride with my Dad this weekend on quiet, winding roads in one of the most inspiring places on the Pacific Coast, a mountaintop that is considered sacred by native cultures and spiritual-seeking people.
He died more than two months ago of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, and most of his ashes were buried in a memorial garden at his church. But I convinced my mother and siblings to let me keep the rest of his cremains and spread them little by little in magical venues on my epic bike rides.
I wanted such experiences, I thought, to help me get through the transition from one relationship with Dad to another — as I knew him in his body and his presence in a spiritual sense.
Before dawn, I packed my biking gear and a small baggie with a few pinches of his ashes inside and tucked it into a pocket in my jersey. Then I drove to my destination in the San Francisco Bay Area to be alone with Dad and the nature around me.
I set out early in the morning on a crisp autumn day, riding through sleepy communities for a few miles before heading up the mountain — a journey of about 41 miles and 5,000 vertical feet of climbing from bottom to top and back down to sea level.
As I wound my way up the hills, the sun began to peek from top the ridge-tops and provide some warmth to counter the chill. I soon began to have thoughts of Dad, of how he had given me my first bike when I was a lad, and later, when he gave me a 10-speed European model when I was in junior high school.
He lived for such moments, to see his kids beaming with excitement. And while he never was much of a bike rider himself, he seemed to know that I was destined to spend much of my life spinning around on two wheels.
I pedaled up the first big hill, to a summit, when I came upon a young deer, a buck with a nearly full set of antlers. He was standing just off the road and looking straight at me. At that moment, so mindful of Dad, I looked straight back at the wild animal.
“Dad? Is that you?”
I couldn’t help but recall the image of the 18-year-old Charles Collier that my sister pulled from the family photos for a slideshow played at his funeral in August. In the photo, he was detailing his car and looking every bit the part of a young buck, a la James Dean.
I descended into a lush canyon, to a lake, and then up a major climb to the top of a ridge, where the sun had risen high enough to scatter its light among the old growth redwood trees shading me on the road.
On the undulating route to the mountain top, I felt Dad’s spirit rising into the brilliant sky. I usually get leg cramps about that stage of the ride but there was none of it this time.
I reached the summit and found a secluded spot overlooking the coast where I spread some food on a small tree stump. It was a makeshift altar of sorts, where I could lay some offerings to Dad on a day known as the Day of the Dead.
Pulling the bag of ashes from my jersey, I dropped a handful onto the “ofrenda” and said my prayers to Dad. I was overcome by a sense that he was not only present in that buck in the woods — but all around me. Then I tossed the ashes toward the sea.