Gary Johnson passed away last week. He was a long time member of the Stockton Bicycle Club and a regular on club rides. He was also a great friend to many people and a mentor to lots of neophyte club cyclists. He was both to me.
When I first started riding with the club I really couldn’t keep up with anyone. Gary would wait and make sure I knew the route and give me someone to ride with. When I finally got strong enough just to keep up with him I felt like I had really arrived as a rider. If Gary hadn’t been so nice to me I might never have become a cyclist, never ridden in Europe, never had a VO2 test (sorry about the tech speak), and never gotten a tandem to ride with Diane. Believe me, riding that tandem is special for both of us; we’re going to do it in France next summer. Without Gary’s mentoring who knows if any of that would have happened? Or if Diane and I would have ever met some of the wonderful friends we found riding our bike?
I always enjoyed carpooling with Gary, especially to out of town rides. He was great company. He was also the kind of guy who would offer to pay for his share of gas without being asked. And he would offer more than was fair. I wouldn’t always take his money, but when he offered to buy my lunch sandwich I would say ok.
He made a hobby of buying and selling very high quality used bikes. He probably ‘test rode’ more high quality framesets, components and wheel sets than anyone outside of the bicycle industry. He would occasionally bring a ‘new used’ bike to a ride and claim that this one was so nice he would never sell it, but he always did, eventually. It was an adventure watching him unload his bike at the start of a club ride; you never knew what he was going to unveil. But it was sure to be a stunning cycle purchased at a great price and available for sale if it fit you, which it usually did.
But what Gary was really wonderful at was helping new riders. A first time ride with a bike club can be an intimidating experience for newbies: everyone seems to know each other, and everyone seems strong and faster than you are. But Gary would saunter up and say hi, make some small talk, introduce himself and a few other people to the new person and try to make him/her feel relaxed and among friends. He would wait for new people who got behind to make sure they didn’t miss a turn or get lost, and sometimes he would ride with them at their pace even though he was strong enough to be out front. My first club ride did not go especially well, and I went home and told Diane there was no way I could ride with the club; they were all too strong. But I went back for a second try some months later, and Gary made sure I had a good experience. That started me down a path I never would have anticipated; cycling ended up becoming a major part of my life, and Diane’s too.
I’ve probably ridden over 30,000 miles with him over the last 14 years, and enjoyed at least that many laughs and smiles and cycling stories. Another of his friends estimates that they rode over 100,000 miles together. But there will not be any more of those miles. The bike club will continue but I doubt Gary will ever be replaced. Or forgotten either.