Archive for the ‘Memorials’ Category

Many of you know that my son Sam Marshall died on April 24, 2021. He had been living in Vietnam, teaching English. It has been a difficult time for me, my wife Tootie and our son Jack.

Sam and I did not take many bike trips together but we had done other stuff instead. I did take a bicycle trip with him in South Florida in 2013, riding from Fort Lauderdale to Key West.

I do not think that I grieve in a way that one walks around being sad or overwhelmed. I really need to keep my mind moving. Bicycling is the best way I know to do the exercise that absolves my soul. Yes, I am seeing a grief therapist, but the bicycling is fundamental to my sanity.

I have been cycling around pretty much every day the two months since April, Most days I take one of the loops around my town. Except for very short rides around the Carrboro/Chapel Hill downtown, Chapel Hill is not a very good urban bicycling destination. There are steep hills. Except for a few streets, most paved roads are either huge arterial highways or dead end residential areas. One has to look to find local rides. I have constructed a few loops around town that are both safe and interesting, connecting residential streets. My biggest complaint is that I get bored with taking the same rides over and over. The shorter loop of about an hour and a half I have dubbed The Meadowmont Loop, named after the faux-ville (New Urbanist development) that that the ride intersects. My most common longer ride of 3 – 4 hours I have dubbed The Paco Loop, from Chapel Hill to Durham and back, in one direction first to Southpoint Mall, then to Durham on American Tobacco Trail. I like coffee houses away from home, I can get a coffee in Durham, read a little, then bicycle home, mostly on Old Chapel Hill Road.

Immediately west of Chapel Hill and Carrboro there is world class cycling on lovely rural smoothly paved country roads, usually with sparse traffic. I have cycled out there many times in the past two months including a route that for years has been dubbed The Tootie Loop. Cyclists often refer to the area as “Dairyland”, named after Dairyland Road. I enjoy cycling out there but I admit that I have a preference for cycling through more interesting urban feeling neighborhoods.

At least once during this time I rode to Mebane, which is essentially a ride west to Dairyland, but ones keeps going, a little over twenty miles each way. There is a nice coffee place in downtown Mebane. Side story: A friend of a friend has lived his whole life in California. Retiring, he and his wife looked and studied all over the USA where to buy a second home, somewhere on the East Coast. Before even visiting there they had determined that Mebane NC was the place, somewhere most people in North Carolina have hardly noticed.

Sometimes I put the bicycle in the car and drive somewhere, to mix things up. One day recently I parked our car half an hour’s car drive from home, near the Whole Foods off Wade Avenue in Raleigh, then bicycled the twenty miles each way to Clayton and back.

Garner Road, also called Old U.S. Highway 70 is a pleasant cycle as it meanders the sixteen miles from downtown Raleigh to Clayton. Perhaps because it passes through the least trendy side of Raleigh it remains a road stuck in the past, a rarity in the fast growing Raleigh diaspora. One can see several historic gas stations.

Mid century modern!
This is the only likely pre-WWII gas station I have seen that still sells gas.
VFW hall
used appliances

In its small downtown Clayton NC has a great local coffee house, the Boulevard West. I drank an almond milk latte, two sugars, then headed back to Raleigh.

The southeast side of Raleigh is traditionally the African American side of town. Gentrifiers, presumably young and white, are moving into these neighborhoods, building boxy contemporary houses.

Almost within walking distance of downtown Raleigh

On May 20-21 our friends Lyman and Gillian were in town from Texas to close on the house they have bought in Durham. Lyman and I stole away for twenty-eight hours to take an overnight tour. We drove the now-fixed Prius an hour and a half north to the obscure Virginia hamlet of Sussex Courthouse. We would cycle from there the thirty miles to Petersburg VA then cycle back the next day. We parked in the municipal lot and pulled our two Bike Fridays out.

Lyman loves historic courthouses; he checked this one out. It was built about 1830.

Sussex Courthouse VA

The land in the entire sixty or seventy miles from the North Carolina state line along I-85 north to Petersburg VA is very sparsely populated. Nothing seems to have changed out here for generations. It is lovely cycling as we passed through miles of timber, hardly any car traffic.

Petersburg VA is an underappreciated small city 25 miles south of Richmond VA. There are historic neighborhoods full of eighteenth and nineteenth century houses.

Petersburg VA
1830’s row houses, Petersburg VA

We arrived in Petersburg and found a bar and got beers at an outdoor space. We had both been vaccinated but still felt more comfortable in the open air. We sat near two women from the U.K.; one of them protesting loudly when she heard me talking about some now-forgotten subject, interrupting when she heard me describe the Scottish as “gentle and forgiving.”

That night we stayed in an Airbnb, Lyman sleeping on the bed and I racking out on the sofa in the front room. For only about a hundred dollars total I would recommend this Airbnb to anyone, it has all the details right. It is described on Airbnb as “Historic Home C.1869 English Basement Apt.” Its owner living above is a Dutch guy who says he had been living in nearby Richmond for thirty years before moving recently to Petersburg. There are Dutch language books on the shelves.

Halfway back cycling the next day I felt an urgent need to play music. It was the middle of nowhere. I have a cheap ukulele that I sometimes bring on these trips. I had been singing this song in my head all morning, from an obscure 1973 album by the band Wilderness Road. I had not played the song ever, or at least in the past forty years. I was a little off key and I could not remember all the words. Video by Lyman.

Lyman and got back to the car with no problem and we drove home to Durham and Chapel Hill. The next day I was up early again, cycling around Chapel Hill, trying to keep my sanity.

Bike trips with Henry Marshall

Posted: June 28, 2015 in Memorials

It has been a painful time for our family.    Writing about Henry seems to give me something to do.

I choose here to stay on the purpose of this blog, and write only about the bicycle trips that I shared with Henry.  Other aspects of Henry’s life, and other trips with Henry,  can come in other forums.

The last bicycling trip I shared with Henry was in October 2013; we flew out to New Mexico for four days.   We met our friend Lyman there, and cycled up and down the dramatic desert landscape.   We cycled up two mountains,  one from Espanola to Truchas on the Old High Road north of Santa Fe, and another over a mountain pass coming back to Albuqueque from Madrid NM.   The light on the landscape and buildings of New Mexico was dramatic.  Leaving for this trip he had really long hair, but impulsively got it all cut off on the trip out there, at a barber shop in DFW airport.







The trip to New Mexico was not our first encounter together with bicycles.    Henry grew up bicycling up and down Lindsay Street in Carrboro.




And there were other trips we took together.

The Netherlands 2006

I had been cycling in The Netherlands once before, thirty years earlier.   I remembered how gentle the cycling experience was, and thought it would be a safe place to go with a young person.   Henry did not seem to have other plans that part of the summer, so I purchased two tickets to Holland for a week long stay.  He was thirteen years old.

Cycling through The Netherlands was every bit as fun as I had remembered, maybe even better.   Bicycle paths go everywhere.   Bringing our bikes with us on the airplane, we put them together, and cycled directly from the airport.  We headed that first night to Haarlem, carrying our stuff in bags on the back of the bicycles.    For a week, we did a loop around several major cities in The Netherlands, including Leiden, Utrecht, Gouda, and finally Amsterdam.    For years afterward Henry talked up The Netherlands.   He wanted to move there, learn the language.  He said that Leiden was the prettiest town he had ever seen.  We shared a great memory feeding a duck while sitting in a restaurant on the canal in Leiden.   Henry drove me crazy because he loved to ride the bicycle with no hands.

Netherlands 2007


Netherlands 2007-1

Netherlands 2007-2



On the way back to the USA, we had a six hour layover in Gatwick airport, London.   For lunch, we took the train down to the decaying beach resort of Brighton.

Brighton, England,

Brighton, England



Belgium / The Netherlands 2007


Henry in Belgium, 2007

Henry in Belgium, 2007

The next summer, Henry was bugging me to take him back to Holland, or somewhere.    I wanted to get him somewhere where he could not stare at a computer screen.   All the fares to Europe that summer seemed to be in the $1300.00 range.  USAir was just starting service to Brussels, and the promotional fare was in the $ 550.00 range.  So Brussels it was!

Arriving Brussels in the morning, we put our bikes together and stored the boxes in a coin fed locker in the Brussels airport.  We cycled off, looking for a place to buy the famous Belgian french fries.   We did not have much of a plan, or reservations, but did have a hotel booking that first night in Leuven, a typically historic and beautiful university town about fifteen miles from the airport.   It is also the home of Stella Artois beer.

We cycled around Belgium for two or three days, enjoying the paths along the canals.   We then decided to skip going to the famous city of Brugges, and instead bicycle to The Netherlands.    Crossing the border just north of Antwerp, we rolled into the small city of Roosendaal at about sixty-thirty at night.   We had no idea what to expect.  Typically European,  we stumbled onto a beautiful town square with tables set up, and everyone seemed to be eating mussels!    We found a hotel room, and then sat at a table and filled up with mussels and bread.

He wanted to go to Rotterdam because he had heard about it, and said he had an internet friend (with a Turkish name) who lived there.   It was part of a circle of people around the world who make animation videos on the website Newgrounds dot com. We ended up not finding the guy,  but we did stay in Rotterdam.   Just before Rotterdam, alongside the highway tunnel going under a major shipping canal, the Dutch had built a separate tunnel just for pedestrians and bicycles!


We then cycled into Rotterdam.    Everything is relatively new, since the whole city was bombed into rubble during World War II.


It was on this trip that Henry took my camera, and insisted on taking pictures of power lines.   He seemed enchanted by the patterns formed by these structures.



We rode north through the canal laced flat landscape.


Looking in 2015 through this roll of 2007 pictures, it should come as no surprise that the best pictures seem to the the ten percent of the roll that Henry took.


We got as far north as Leiden, then rode back down to The Hague.  We got on a train with our bicycles to take us back to Brussels.   That last night in Brussels we ate out downtown, then walked through one of the main squares and Henry got, what else, a Belgian waffle.


Buffalo / Toronto 2008 

Once again I was trying to get Henry off the computer for at least a short time.   I really had no other agenda, so I asked him what places he would like to go to.  He had been a fan of an internet mockumentary called “Pure Pwnage”    Although I have still never seen it, it sounds like an amateur online “TV” show filmed by some guys in Toronto, about them and their friends.  This was before Netflix or other mainstream companies had online content.  He said there was going to be an event one night in June at a theater in Toronto, showing a new episode of this series.    He also wanted to eat, as in the TV show, a smoked meat sandwich from Mel’s Montreal Deli.   (Yes, Mel’s Montreal Deli is in Toronto!)   I said I would go with him to Toronto if we could bicycle there the hundred and something miles from the Buffalo airport.  I had heard there was a nice bike path along the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  And there is.

This route also had the great advantage of going not only through the city of Buffalo, but also to Niagara Falls.   We flew Southwest Airlines into Buffalo and stayed near the airport.  The next morning we bicycled into downtown Buffalo, and then on to Niagara Falls.   We stared at the falls a while, and then went to a Japanese restaurant on the Canadian side, where we also got a hotel.    Over the next two days, we bicycled through the countryside of southern Ontario, with much of it along a bike path by the lake.    We bicycled into Toronto that third afternoon. We got a Mel’s sandwich, which is pastrami and delicious.



That night he went alone to the theater event, which was sold out and for which he had bought a ticket in advance.   I enjoyed looking at the faces and outfits of the kids in a long line, waiting to get into the event.   They all seemed Henryesque.

We stayed in Toronto most of the next day, and took the bus with our bicycles back to the Buffalo airport motel, where we had left the bike boxes.

Buffalo / Toronto 2009

My friends Tom Constantine and Steve Johnson had asked me to find a nice route for a short three or four day bike trip in the late summer; preferably one where we could take one or more of our sons along.    I suggested they do the same ride that Henry and I had done the previous summer.   Sam and Jack all seemed to be doing something, but Henry nicely agreed to do the same ride again.   So there were five of us; Tom, his son Miguel at nineteen two or three years older than Henry; Steve, Henry, and me.

It was a fun trip with all those people, but much more complicated.  I got somehow roped into providing bicycles for everybody.   I shipped them up to Buffalo in one lump, on a trucking company that I use at my work.

The five of us rode through the city of Buffalo,  then arriving Niagara Falls late in the afternoon.  These pictures are courtesy of Miguel’s camera.

Toronto 2-1 abt 2008

We stayed at a motel on the Canadian side.   After dinner, Henry and I walked around in the carnival-like bright lights of tourist stuff, looking for somewhere to get a frozen yogurt.   We had stopped at the motel to see if any of the others wanted to go with us, but at 9:00 PM all three were passed out on their beds, exhausted from the bike ride and the travel.

The next morning, in late August, the temperature was in the low sixties, with a fitful drizzle.    We biked off through the Niagara Falls suburbs, but it started to rain really hard.    We got so wet that we had to keep going to keep from freezing.      It was cloudy all day, but by early afternoon we were dry, and had a very pleasant long lunch at an understated pizza place in some small town.

We slept that night in Burlington, Ontario, then rode got up and rode into Toronto.    Of course we went to Mel’s, and had a nice time looking around the city.

Toronto abt 2008-1


I had work issues to get back to in North Carolina, so I took an early flight home the next day.   Henry stayed and went back with the guys to Buffalo by bus.


Steve hiking in Colorado, 2007

Steve hiking in Colorado, 2007

Steve Johnson and I had been taking bikes rides and having other adventures for a long time.    While our relationship was much more complex than just bike riding, our bicycle adventure to Cuba in March 2013  was just the last one in a shortened lifetime of bicycle adventures.   We had already been taking long distance bicycle rides for several years when at age fourteen or fifteen we rode through summer heat and traffic from our houses in Virginia Beach to Military Circle Mall in Norfolk, a distance of about sixteen miles.  It was probably the early summer of 1969 or 1970.  This was in the era before we had even heard of ten speeds bikes, and if you had gears, there were only three.   I was on the Black Beauty, a single speed Schwinn Typhoon with balloon tires.   Steve was on the Red Flare, a distinctive Peugeot with 26 x 1 1/2″ rims that he had gotten while living in France.   The trip turned to a disaster when my bicycle was stolen while we were looking for jobs in the mall.   We needed to phone someone to come get us, but only had one dime between the two of us left for a pay phone call.  His father was the only parent to answer the phone.   Steve’s hilarious recounting of his father’s angry reaction at our whereabouts would for the rest of his life be one of a sackfull of stories that he was so good at telling.

Steve always bragged that he saved my life in 1981, by “rescuing” me from my lonely existence in Houston.  He convinced me to quit my air freight job and go with him and his Tulane law school classmate Tom Constantine on a seven week bicycle tour of Europe.  That trip was certainly life changing for all of us, in so many ways that I cannot list them here.   Tom met his future wife Esther when we encountered three Spanish girls in a Florence campground. I was to meet Tootie about a month after our return, when I moved into a house with Steve and Tom in New Orleans.   Steve met Heather in New Orleans just a couple of years later.    I was so proud to have my children growing up knowing both Tom and Steve and their families.

Steve and I intermittently took bike rides together over the ensuing three decades.  The two of us had a great weekend trip to Natchitoches, Louisiana in about 1985 or 1986.   After bike riding all day, we stayed in a motel on the highway.   We went out to eat, and rode back to the motel from the restaurant very late at night on a dark highway without bike lights.  We got up early the next morning and rode again through the heat.

Our bicycling relationship picked up when our children got older, and Steve and family returned from living in Saudi Arabia.   Trips with Steve, usually including one or more of our children, and other close friends like Tom and Lyman, included Buffalo to Toronto, a five day bicycle tour in Maryland, and Buffalo to Syracuse.      In 2007  I also was proud to have my son Henry and me join Steve and his son Hunter,  along with Lyman, Jorgen, and Jorgen’s son Lars on a non-bicycling adventure: a backpacking trip in a remote area of southern Colorado.   Steve showed his legendary style on that trip, when after collapsing from exhaustion at the top of a huge climb, he reclined in the dirt in his multicolored pants that would be more fitting on a golf course, and slurped sardines from a can.

So it was with some history that Steve and I agreed to meet in Cancun on the afternoon of March 16.    We were to fly to Havana the next day, to meet my brother Alex and our friend Lyman Labry,  for a planned two week bicycle tour of Cuba.  Alex was flying from New York,  Lyman from Austin, and they were to arrive Havana one day earlier than us.

My father’s favorite restaurant in Cancun was always La Dolce Vita, run by a Swiss Italian family.    I had not been there in at least fifteen years, but mine and Steve’s meal this time did not disappoint.   After dinner, we walked out into the night for a stroll.

Somehow I stepped into a hole in the sidewalk, and hurt my foot.      When we woke up the next morning I could not walk.    We took a cab to a hospital for X-rays.     The hospital diagnosed the injury (broken foot),  put the foot in a cast and gave me crutches, just in time for the two of us to speed to the airport to catch our flight.    I clearly was not going to ride bicycles in Cuba.   I figured I would not be getting back to Havana any time soon, so hobbled onto the airplane anyway. The plan evolved that I would travel with the three of them, but take public transportation instead, and meet them at the day’s destination town.

The flight from Cancun to Havana took less than an hour.  Steve and I arrived at the Havana airport about six that evening, and allowed ourselves to be hustled into a cab ride in a private car.    It was a 1954 Plymouth.

Driving in from the Havana airport

Driving in from the Havana airport

Because communication to and from Cuba is so difficult, we had to use our fall back plan, in finding a way to meet up with Alex and Lyman.   The backup plan was to meet at the bar of the Hotel Nacional at nine P.M.    The Hotel Nacional is a nineteen thirties gem with several bars to choose from.    The floor show in the courtyard was in full swing by the time Alex and Lyman found us.

Floor show, Hotel Nacional

Floor show, Hotel Nacional

We did not actually stay at the Hotel Nacional;  every night on this trip we stayed at casas particulares,  which is a government sanctioned program allowing rental rooms in private homes.   Prices are fixed at the equivalent of about twenty eight dollars.   I would recommend this program to anyone going to Cuba.

The floor show was not the only free musical entertainment we saw in Cuba.   Pretty much every night, we saw at least one band, usually more than one.   They often played in places frequented by tourists.    However, the music almost always felt authentic and talented, not the expected tourist schlock.   We enjoyed this excellent group in Cienfuegos the second night, in the lobby of a circa 1959 modernist hotel that we were not even staying at.

Latin jazz at Hotel Jagua, Cienfuegos

Latin jazz at Hotel Jagua, Cienfuegos

Going with our original plan, with the bicycles underneath with the luggage, we took the first class Viazul bus the next day from Havana to Cienfuegos, where we would start bicycling.   This is about two hundred miles east,  closer to the center of the country.  Books and blogs had advised us that this part of the country had the most pleasant cycling.   

The first day of bike riding was to be a day trip from Cienfuegos, a loop to the coast and back.    Steve, Lyman, and Alex had a great day and a true adventure.    They stopped and swam in the ocean.   There were no working cell phones on this trip, and all three guys lost each other for a while.  They later found each other at a roadside restaurant that had excellent fried shrimp, tostones (fried plantains) and pina coladas.     Alex played a song on someone’s guitar.  It was getting dark when they arrived at a ferry terminal to see that the last boat had already left for the day.  Hanging out in front of a hotel down the road, they somehow chartered a full size bus to take them and their bikes the fifteen kilometers back to Cienfuegos, all for equivalent of only eleven dollars.

I stayed back at the casa, and took pictures out the window, watching the world go by.

Cuba 2013 011Cuba 2013 012

Cuba 2013 018

They next day the three of them rode quite a long way, almost all the way to Santa Clara.

Alex and Steve on a highway in Cuba

Alex and Steve on a highway in Cuba (photo by Lyman)

When they got very close, but were all pooped out, they hired this updated nineteen forties vehicle for the equivalent of nine dollars to take them and their bikes the last few kilometers.

Cuba 2013 044

Everything in Cuba physically is stuck in 1959.   The cars are about a fifty fifty split between pre 1959 and newer cars that have somehow slipped in.   Pre 1959 cars seem to make better taxis.

Cuba 2013 072

We decided to take the next day off from cycling and look around Santa Clara, which is known as a college town, having the second largest university in Cuba.  It is also the site of Che Guevara’s victory in the 1958 Revolution, where one of his small battalions of eighteen men used a bulldozer to wreck a government armored train.    After the three hundred fifty government soldiers on the train surrendered,  the dictator Batista, who was back in Havana,  saw that his prospects were limited, and fled the country.

Steve and Lyman, at the railroad monument, Santa Clara

Steve and Lyman, at the railroad monument, Santa Clara

In addition, Santa Clara has a famous cigar factory, making some of the finest and most expensive cigars in the world.   Lyman, Steve, and I took the tour of the factory.   Steve (occasional cigar smoker), being Steve,  had to take up the offer from one of the workers to meet him in a dark alley after the tour, and buy some cigars “directly.”

After the tour, we chilled in central Santa Clara, where Steve smoked a cigar, and all of us drank a Cuba Libre, made with their local cola drink TuKola.   Cuba is practically  the only country on Earth where you cannot get Coca Cola.  Maybe that is a good thing.

Cuba 2013 051

Parque Vidal, Santa Clara

Parque Vidal, Santa Clara

That night we ate for the second time at El Alba, which was the best restaurant we found  in all of  Cuba.   The quality of food in Cuba seems to have no relationship to price, as this was one of the cheapest places.  Their specialty is roast pork.   Everything was done with care and passion, even though their kitchen is very primitive.

Kitchen, El Alba, Santa Clara

Kitchen, El Alba, Santa Clara

The next day started uneventfully.    Steve, Alex, and Lyman were going to bicycle the fifty kilometers to Remedios, where we had already reserved a casa particular.    I was going to take some kind of public transportation to meet them there.     I got delayed in Santa Clara,  and did not arrive Remedios until about three.   The Casa owner sat me down, and told me that there had been an accident, but he did not know any more details.

I did not find out what had happened for half an hour,  when Lyman was able to reach me by phone.    He was back in Santa Clara at a hospital.   They had ridden slowly that day, for an hour or two, enjoying the ride and stopping to look at the sights.   They had taken time to check inside a historic church.   Lyman had said that he had seen Steve pausing in prayer in the church.    A little while later, after getting up from a rest stop, and  not having complained of fatigue,   Steve had collapsed dead from his bicycle,  from what was later confirmed by autopsy to be a heart attack.  He was fifty-seven years old.

The very least I can say is that Steve died doing what he wanted to do, in the company of his friends who loved him.

Steve took two pictures with his cellphone about ten minutes before he died.   One was of Lyman, one of himself.

Words cannot express how much we miss him already.

Steve's last photo of Lyman

Steve’s last photo of Lyman

Steve's last self portrait

Steve’s last self portrait

David LaTowsky

Posted: February 2, 2013 in Memorials

I can’t believe it has been over four months since you left us.   David you will be missed.    We can leave to other venues your contributions as a father, husband, and man.

Here we want to remember you for the bike rides.


travels fall 2010 019