Fred Birchmore passed away last week. He was one hundred and is survived by his wife of 72 years.
“He was a joy to be around,” Willa Deane Birchmore…said about her husband. “He had a great personality. I think that’s why young people are so attracted to him.” reported the University of Georgia newspaper, the Red and Black.
Fred Birchmore was one of the rare breed of round-the-world cyclists. Of course, anyone that circles the world or even large parts of it is an astounding personality in my book. That he did it so early on, starting his adventure in 1935, into a much rougher and wilder world is Smithsonian worthy. Yep, that’s where his globe-trotting one-speed lives.
There’s a funny anecdote of him riding his big heavy loaded bike up a big hill, only to crest it and find himself in an ecstatic crowd cheering him as a victor in a bicycle race he was never part of. I had a good chuckle about this as it reminded me of my own mis-adventure of cycling into a small town in France on my loaded tourer with everyone standing in doorways waving and horrified by my appearance. Turns out I was cycling the wrong way into a local bicycle race, so I quickly pulled over, waited for the boys to pass, and then happily went on my way with Bon Chance! and Chapeau! into the evening. I couldn’t find that village on a map now.
I never met Fred. I would have liked to. When my pal sent me a note about him last week, I also learned a new slang term: “Fred”. To be a “Fred” is to be that bearded, sandal-wearing guy with all the wrong gear and a hodge-podge bike that just muscle-ons and rides right on past all the road cyclists wrapped in Lycra, not meaning to show them who is boss, but basically doing that, not out of a petty competitiveness, but just by being true to himself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Fred Birchmore this week.
“For me, the great purposes in life are to have as many adventures as possible,” he said. “To brighten the lives of as many as possible, and to leave this old world a little bit better place.”
Like anything we humans tend to do, we find ways to bemoan other folks seeking their own bliss and we get ourselves into groups of like-minded types that reinforce our own thoughts. While I’d like to think I like most anybody who spends a lot of time on a bike, the truth is I’m just as likely to think dark thoughts about the one-speed hipsters as tiresome, cheap-beer drinkers or the 50-year old race “boys” as ridiculous ex-frat boy types with boring day jobs, while elevating the type of riding I do as the ultimate way to experience the pleasures of the bike. This is just silly. And it’s not helpful to me or really anyone, right? It would be a pretty simple exercise to be nice to all the cyclists I see around and work on changing my heart in that fashion. I can admire the simplicity of a bright one-speed and many of those 50 year-old guys are going to live to be a hundred themselves. It’s all good and it’s not really my business, is it?
What is tougher is this:
Embracing those things you know you aren’t perfect at and letting your happiness in doing them become its own inspiring adventure, to yourself and to those around you.
Being a “Fred” means you’re not sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the right gear; it might never show up. It means you’re not spending all your time in the mirror trying to get the right look; you are out getting sunburned. It means you’re not standing there waiting for others to point out the direction you need to go. It means you’re trying the big hill, not for the crowds at the top, but because it just happens to be in your way.
That, my friends, is being your own destiny.
Chapeau!, Fred, Chapeau!