My adult life has been dominated by three things: bicycles, photography and cancer. I went to school for photojournalism, discovered bicycles when I moved to the Bay Area nearly 20 years ago, and have had five Uncles, one Aunt and three cousins diagnosed with cancer. Of them, one Aunt and two cousins have survived. That doesn’t include multiple good friends who have been diagnosed, some who survived, some who didn’t.
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Me shooting film, of course, on the Desert Ramble. Image by JB Moore, copyright 2014.
The most recent was my cousin Brian Brendemihl, who passed away on August 8th, 2015, at the age of 48. His father, Uncle Bud, died at 49 from lung cancer. I can’t even imagine what this has been like for Aunt Pat, to have buried her husband and then her youngest son at the exact same stage of their lives, while also watching one of her other sons, Scott, battle to survive Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Twice.
Brian solo backpacking Isle Royal in Michigan. Courtesy of Patricia Brendemihl.
Here is the thing you’ve got to know about Brian…he had an endlessly curious mind. When something caught his attention he carefully and methodically learned everything he possibly could about it. In doing so, his life became an incredible series of experiences: Certified ice diver? Sailing? Touring the Midwest by motorcycle? Self supported backpacking on the remote Royal Princess Island in Canada? Building his own Jeep for a 4×4 club? HAM radio operator’s license? Helping build and maintain a stock car for his sister to race on the dirt track with? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Brian did all that and more. He also wholeheartedly loved everybody in his family, especially his nieces and nephews.
Brian & Aunt Pat
Brian with his mother, my Aunt Pat. Courtesy of Patricia Brendemihl.
Sometimes it’s the quiet ones you miss the most. They leave a hole there, that people keep looking at, waiting for the silence to be broken, but it never is. I hate cancer for leaving that there, the way it has left so many other gaping holes in so many other lives. I feel compelled to do something, anything, about it. Yet I am only one person, with only three appreciable abilities:
  1. I can ride a bike long distances, alone.
  2. I know how to take a photograph.
  3. Don Quixote is my patron saint.
While Brian was the quiet one, I never have been, and I am not yet ready to say goodbye to him. I still can’t wrap my head nor my heart around the fact that this quiet, steady presence in all our of lives is gone. So, in October of 2016, I am going to follow the Adventure Cycling Association’s new Route 66 maps from Chicago to LA, a full 2,500 miles all the way. Riding a Salsa Marrakesh, packing a 4×5 field camera and a tripod, I want to see and capture the whole thing as Brian would have: With an insatiable curiosity, never rushing just to rush, observing everything, meeting people, and making images. I want to learn one final lesson from Brian and do some kind of good in his memory, if I can, before I let him go. Once finished proceeds from all the photograph sales will be evenly split in Brian’s name between the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) and the Pablove Foundation’s Shutterbugs program.

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Riding the Lost Coast. Image by Glenn Charles, copyright 2013.
Will my ride do any good for anyone, or if it is just another windmill for me to tilt at? It’s hard to tell. I’m trying to learn a whole new way of thinking from someone who is no longer around. Deeper than that, I’m trying to come to peace with that final, indisputable fact: Brian is no longer here. But he should be. And I absolutely hate that he, and so many others, are no longer here. I hate cancer for taking them away. For the scars it leaves on those left behind. Why do I tilt at this windmill, again and again? Because I have no other positive outlet for my rage. Being able to raise funds for the JWCF and Pablove will do some good for others. If I’m lucky, a few of you will go out and tilt at a few windmills of your own. That, to me, would be the best of all outcomes. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to say my final goodbye to Brian.


This is the first of a series of articles leading up to Brian’s Ride in October. I’ll be posting regularly here on Bikepackers Magazine about training, trips, photography, cancer fundraising and more. Come on along for the ride! It’ll be a good one, I promise. Many thanks go out to Salsa Cycles, The Adventure Cycling Association and Huckleberry Bikes for their generous support of Brian’s Ride! You can donate to fight cancer at http://generosity.com/fundraisers/brian-s-ride-fighting-cancer-on-route-66/

Part two – Have You Always Been Athletic?

6 Comments

  1. Matthew Liggett

    Sorry for your loss. A project like yours is often a good way to focus and understand those thoughts and feelings. I hope you find some peace. Bon voyage.

  2. Looking forward to your journey Eric!!

  3. Have a wonderful journey! Dealing with loss and the grief of a broken world is nothing short of difficult. As your wheels spin down the road may you find the peace and answers you are seeking. Before you come into Williams, AZ let me know. I used to live there and I know some people there who have open doors (an usually good coffee and excellent home-brew).

  4. I lost a very close friend to cancer two years ago (he was only 31 year old) and to honor him I bikepacked 300 miles for a local cancer charity. Let me know when your photos are up for sale. I would be more than happy to purchase one to support your cause.

  5. Thank you for doing this Erik and letting us be a part of it. Ride, raise awareness, and never forget–we are with you.

  6. Pingback: So It Begins - Bikepacker

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