I don’t remember meeting him.
It just seemed like one day I was riding—either to or from work—and he was suddenly there. Riding next to me. Talking. It seemed like he’s always been there. Beside me. In front of me. Blocking the wind. Just…there.
He was always up for Big Dumb Rides. He loved the Tour de Tree—an event too stupid to explain and too nutty for Brad to resist—and was a proud, multi-time finisher. Outside of Tour de Tree, that commute over the hill was one we suffered through many, MANY times together. Honestly, it would not surprise me to learn that the Mt. Madonna climb to the Mother Tree was our most shared ride since he first appeared beside me, all those years ago.
I was quite a slow climber back then, and sometimes Brad would drop back to ride with me. He’d chat away, pointing out the wild iris when they were in season (he was slightly gaga over wild iris), and telling stories until we reached the top.
“I win again!” I’d say, cresting the last steep pitch of dirt a few corners before sighting the Mother Tree, and occasionally Brad would beat me to the punch. “Janeen wins again!” he’d say, imitating my delivery, or sometimes tweak it to say, “We win again!” as a sort of cheeky shake of the fist at the ride Gods. As though we’d won some shared battle. A victory over the hill.
Big Dumb Rides up north. Big Dumb Rides in the mountains. Big Dumb Rides down south on his local roads. San Juan Grade, Fremont Peak, Crazy Horse, Hidden Valley, and Strawberry—these will forever be the Bradlands to me. He was a valued member of the Sunday Century Club, a Tour de Tree regular and a Brevet Asada (Tour de SuperTaq) finisher. Just a Big Dumb Ride advocate in general. I’ll confess to you now that sometimes the only reason I’d drag myself out of bed for my own Big Dumb Ride was that I knew Brad was waiting for me.
Smiling. Ready. The great motivator.
While we had a mutual love of riding long, there were other things we bonded over. The hot dog roller at the Big Basin General Store comes to mind. I can still see us standing and staring at it the last time we stopped there, our mid-ride stomachs grumbling, mesmerized as the franks rolled gently on steel rods under a warm yellow light.
“I think this is new,” Brad whispered, a fact confirmed when he quizzed the kid behind the counter about it. And while the hot dog roller wasn’t the first thing we mourned upon learning that Big Basin had burned, it was pretty high on our list. I’m not sure who mentioned it first but we both felt it. This is a stupid, stupid memory. I will treasure it, always.
Every road is a memory. There are not many roads around here that we haven’t ridden together. No road he didn’t tell me a story on. Conversations are swimming around my head on every ride now. Something he said on this climb. What this road used to be like 20 years ago. How and when that mossy pile of wood got on Mountain Charlie Road…
Brad was always talking. To me, to the group, to strangers we’d pass, or just random people by the side of the road. I asked him once how he could just talk to strangers like that, a skill I lack and have always envied. He shrugged. “I just like to hear what they’re doing and where they’re going,” he’d said. His curiosity for humanity was enviable.
He loved bikes. He loved everything that came with the experience. His enthusiasm for riding bikes, and his need to find out where roads go, was contagious. I think Jon originally gave him the name Dirt Diesel, and while it may have come about because of how he rode—he was an absolute diesel up or down, but particularly in the dirt—for me, it also weirdly nods to how he approached life.
Brad Craig just got more miles to the gallon than most.
Many years ago, our mutual friend, Rita, blurted out two words on a ride that tickled Brad so much he adopted them as his mid-ride rally cry. I can hear him saying it now. We’d be riding along, caught up in the sounds of the road and the feeling of just being with people we love riding with, when out of the quiet nowhere would come an exuberant cry from Brad:
Rita may have said it first, but Brad made it his own.
These are the memories I have. Some are tiny and some are big. Some are just fleeting snippets of half-remembered conversations or the imprint of the shape of him in my brain riding up ahead. So much laughter combined with the wonder of it all. I sometimes found it frustrating that he never loaded my Big Dumb Ride routes onto his bike computer. That he’d be up ahead and have to stop because he wasn’t sure where we were going.
“Let me guess. You didn’t load the route?”
“Why would I?” he’d say, “I’m with you.”
Why would I? I’m with you. I get it now.
You can’t take these words away from me, and none of these memories are stupid. They’re just the residue of magnificence that Brad has left behind. I don’t know how to eulogize my friend properly and nothing I write seems like it’s enough. At the end of a lot of our rides, we’d roll up next to his little red truck in the parking lot and he’d always say something like:
“That was great! Thank you so much for letting me tag along.”