A Road Trip & Fresh Start In Bellingham, Washington After Losing A Loved One To Cancer

Nov 24, 2019
by Gerry Creighton  



In June of 2016, I lost my wife, Susan, after a 19 year battle with late-stage breast cancer. In the months after she passed, I had big decisions to make: Do I stay in our home and try to keep what was left of my life the same, or do I make some significant changes and move on?


As you might imagine, living in the home where Susan passed away was very difficult. So many memories of our life together in a home that we lived in for 21 years. After some deliberation, I decided to sell our home and sell it fast; this is something that Susan thought I would do. In her waning days, she had the forethought to think about me and what I would do after she was gone. That tells you what kind of person she was. At the time, I focused all of my energy on her and making her comfortable. She didn't ask what I'd do or where I'd wind up; she just knew that I wouldn't stay. 

I wound up taking the 5 or 6 months after she passed to recover a bit from the loss, often using rides with my friends as a coping mechanism. I eventually developed a plan for putting the house up for sale in the spring of 2017. I cleaned out my home with the help of my brother Joe and a friend of his, working our way through a lifetime of "stuff" that you think you'd need or want later, now relegated to the trash bin. After more than a few trips to the local dump and the Goodwill store, the house was ready to be listed.

After about four months on the market, our house had a motivated buyer. As is the case with most home sales, there were repairs to be made and yard sales to be had. I would have a moving sale to sell off everything we owned; I needed it all gone so that I could travel light on my impending trip.

Let s ride

After some contemplation on where to go, I decided to move across the country to Bellingham, Washington. Assuming that you're reading this because you're a mountain biker, and also assuming you don't live under a rock, Bellingham was a pretty easy choice to make. I figured that the best way for me to make this next step count would be to head to a place where I had developed some friendships over the years, particularly at Transition Bikes, located in town. The mountain bike riding opportunities are well documented, and its proximity to other world-class locations only adds to the appeal. The flip side to this move is that I'd be leaving my family and friends behind on the east coast. Of course, I wasn't exactly getting any younger, so no time like the proverbial present as it were. Now was the time to make this happen. I was already reeling at the loss of my wife and best friend, and this was the step I needed to take to try and live the best life that I could.

Contempletive.


After having the closing date moved a few times, we lost the buyer. 
During the winter that would follow, my brother Joe and I would talk about a change of plans for our home. We came up with a list of repairs and alterations in an attempt to increase the value of the house. By March, we had replaced the roof and added a fresh coat of paint in addition to other improvements. It was time to list it again. I wound up closing on the house on November 5th. That would also be my last day at work for the Federal Aviation Administration. I walked in, said my goodbyes, shook hands with everyone, and then walked out. It felt as fast as it sounds.

From here, it was a drive to Philly to pick up a U-Haul trailer. I remember thinking as I drove west on the Atlantic City Expressway towards the city, "Wow, is this happening?" I spent so many days dreaming and planning, and now it was a reality. I have to say that it was starting to hit me pretty hard at this point. 

That night I had dinner with my brother, his wife Laurie, their son Michael, and our dad. Afterward, I had a brief chance to relax a little before reviewing my route and getting in touch with friends whom I had planned on seeing during my trip.

The next morning before I left, I had an interaction with my dad that I'll never forget. He really loved my wife, and it was hard for him when she passed, and now I would be heading west. He said all of the right words that morning before watching me pull away. That would be the last time I'd see him. 

My cross country trip.
My cross country trip at the beginning of November was an interesting decision.

My first stop would be an overnight stay in Indianapolis, IN, before heading to Kansas City, MO, where I would meet my friend Kim and planned for a ride with Dustin, a mountain biker who used to live in Philly. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. Cold temps and ice canceled our plans for riding. Fortunately, dinner and margaritas aren't weather-dependent.

A day later, I headed for Denver, CO, to catch up with my buddy Dave, aka Lev. Lev and I have ridden a lot with each other over the years, so I was looking forward to catching up with him. Dave and his wife Sarah had just given birth to their son, and his schedule was tight. 


Riding Red Rocks with my buddy Lev! Photo: Dave Leventhal
During my cross country trip in 2018 I stopped to ride with my buddy Dave.

Following Lev down Dakota Ridge.


We wound up having time to ride at Red Rocks and Dakota Ridge in Denver, before grabbing dinner with friends of theirs that evening. That was a tough ride because I was out of shape, and we were riding at elevation. Riding bikes had taken a backseat to getting my house sold. It didn't matter now, as I was out exploring someplace new with an old friend. Later that night, after getting back to my hotel, I got a text from Lev advising me that I had better hit the road early as a snowstorm was on the way. Despite hitting the road at 5:30 in the morning, an inch of snow had already accumulated and it was falling fast. 

During my cross country trip in 2018 I stopped to ride a few trails in some cold conditions.
At the suggestion of my buddy Mike, I rode the Pipe Dream trail after a pedal across town.

The next stop would be Moab. Unfortunately, the cold weather was already in place, and I wouldn't get the opportunity to ride all of the popular trails there. I instead opted for a comfortable trip and pedaled across town to sample a few trails that were highly recommended. After a couple of days of sightseeing, I was off to Boise, Idaho for a night before my final leg to Bellingham.

Driving through the Cascades up and over Snoqualmie Pass was like driving into another world. I remember thinking to myself just how spectacular everything was. The massive wall of evergreen on either side of the road was the complete opposite of where I lived for the past 21 years. The landscape is much more striking in the Pacific Northwest.

Making my way to the top.

I'd arrive in Bellingham in the evening after eight hours on the road and settled into my hotel room for the night. The next day I was off to U-Haul to get a storage locker and return the trailer. Everything felt slightly surreal. I felt like I was on autopilot; all of this change and newness wasn't sinking in yet.

Enjoying some of Chuckanut s finest gnar. This sketchy section of bench cut trail keeps you focused.
Double Down on Chuckanut has some exposure, like this rocky descent. To rider's right, a long way down.

For the next two weeks, I would house-sit for my friend Gretchen Leggit. I found Gretchen through a network of shared friends on Facebook and was fortunate for the opportunity to watch her house while she was away, as it enabled me to look for my own place. From here, everything seemed to fall into place. I would wind up renting a quaint bungalow from my new friends and fellow mountain bikers, Ansel and Hillary. I was now ready to settle into my new city and move forward with my new life.

Enjoying some of Chuckanut s finest gnar.

Unfortunately, our family was tested once again when we lost both of our parents in quick succession. In December I got a call from my brother Joe telling me that our dad had passed. I was fortunate to have talked with him over the phone a week before his passing. Again, his love and support were there, and I'll hold onto his words forever. I should mention that our mom had been on a steady decline with Alzheimer's disease and was living in an assisted living facility at that time. After our dad's passing, my brother and his wife Laurie went to tell her of dad's passing. We felt that she had enough and wanted to be with him. She passed away four days later.

Enjoying some of Chuckanut s massive trees
These massive trees are part of the stunning landscape found in the PNW!

Enjoying some of Chuckanut s finest gnar.

I returned to Bellingham after the funeral for our parents, and everything felt new again. I thought to myself, "OK, now I can start this new life." In the coming weeks and months, my time was spent riding as much as I can while learning all of the local trails, participating in some trail work with the WMBC, and figuring out where I could find good Thai food in town.

Droppin This alternate line is about a 8 drop.

Everything that I've described thus far, I feel, is a lot for one person to handle. It's a lot of change in such a short period of time. I have had days where I question this move but I then get on the bike, and I go for a ride. I see the beautiful landscape around me, and it starts to feel right. I think to myself, "Susan wouldn't want me sulking; she'd want me out doing something."

Who s up
How can you not have a grin on your face while hanging and riding at a pump track?

Change is never easy; you can tell yourself that everything will be OK, but there are times when doubt will creep in. I found that the loss of my wife is the worst thing that could have happened to me, and after three and a half years since her passing, there are still days that are crushing. Moving to a new city in search of a fresh start sounds exciting, but it can be daunting. When this happens, I have found that if I get up and get out for a ride, all of this despair melts away. I believe that you need to make things happen for yourself. Call or text a friend and say hi. You can't wait for anyone to make a change for you. Take the step. Be the change.

Living life.
I count myself lucky to have landed in Bellingham. Now, we are all lucky to have this sweet new pump track in town!

Despite all of the changes I've mentioned, I find myself fortunate to have wound up in Bellingham. There is so much beauty in the landscape surrounding this city. Despite having lived here for a year, I'm still finding my way. However, it is my growing circle of friends here that stands out in my mind the most. I'm so grateful for their caring words, and for the connections that I've made. Life after cancer - for me - started the morning I said goodbye to my wife, Susan. Now I wake up in this town with unlimited riding opportunities and a supportive group of people surrounding me. Change is hard, but you have to get up and get after it, no matter what "it" is.

Floating tables.
Having grown up riding a BMX bike, those skills are certainly coming in handy on the pump track.



About Me
I've been riding a bike since I was a little kid. Back then, I could barely touch the pedals, and my marbles took a beating from time to time, but I loved the freedom that a bicycle gave me. Over the years, I progressed from a cruiser bike, delivering newspapers to racing BMX to riding road bikes. The love of the bike never changed, just the bike. At a point in time, I spent 10+years as a bike mechanic, becoming immersed in bikes and the community.

Now, I’m very involved with and am passionate about mountain biking. As a former enduro racer, I still promote enduro racing through www.eastcoastenduro.com and a dedicated East Coast Enduro Facebook group. I have spent many years advocating for increased mountain bike access in my community in NJ, through JORBA, the Jersey Off-Road Bicycle Association. Now that I'm in Bellingham, I look forward to helping build and maintain trails with the WMBC. I’d like to have more opportunities for the sport to grow so, by creating and maintaining my local trails, I’m hoping that more people get out and ride.



Photos: Oliver Parish // Instagram:@oliverparish159

Words: Gerry Creighton // Instagram:@gerry_creighton



107 Comments

  • 136 1
 Is someone cutting onions here? Such a touching story. Thank you for sharing it with us and wish you happy and meaningful new life.
  • 81 2
 Possibly the best article I've ever read on Pinkbike. Thanks @gerrycreighton for sharing your life and emotions with us. As tragic as the main reason for your life change is, I can't help but feel inspired by your willpower and determination to start fresh as well as your burning passion for riding mountain bikes. This is the true soul of our amazing sport.

Once again, thank you for sharing.
  • 52 1
 Read the whole story with a tightness in my throat and mist in my eyes, but came away smiling. Inspiring and beautiful. Susan must be proud
  • 3 0
 I'm not alone in this experience. Very well written Gerry.
  • 33 1
 Excellent read. I'm glad you found the strength after your wife's passing to move on and move out, not everyone is that strong.
A decade ago my mother passed. She was fairly young at 61, she succumbed to myriad of complications related to cancer. My mom was a tough lady, old school Italian, she didn't let weakness show and fought to the end. Throughout her life, when someone passed she would always say "life is for the living." When her father, my grandpa, died she sat me down and reiterated that point, "life is for the living, I know you two were close, but we'll all need to move on. It's ok to mourn, but in the end you're still here." I took those words to heart always, and when she passed I did just that mourned some took a little time for me and moved on. My father not so much. My mom's passing began his slow decline. He sat for the last decade feeling sorry, regretting everything, allowing himself to just sit in front of a television. All the plans they made were over and he just doesn't know how to move on. Now, at 74 he can barely walk, his mind has degraded, he barely has control of his bowels and he is just a sad person. It's a shame, he used to be larger than life to me, at 6'6" tall, slender and powerful I used to look up at him like he was an Adonis, now I'm just sad for him, and upset becasue this is the person he has become. My daughter will only ever know this version of my dad, my wife too. No matter how many interventions we had with him, nothing could get him out of that chair and over my mom.

I applaud your decision to move on and start anew. Life, after all, is for the living.
  • 37 0
 @lateandsweaty: Can we trade you for Susan?
  • 7 0
 I think your story made me cry as much as the one just read. I am going through that with my mother now. Unfortunately, it is a road we all must travel.
  • 5 0
 @Beez177: Check his "recent comments" list. I'd definitely trade for Susan, but literally a pylon is a step up.
  • 6 0
 @iammarkstewart: Something a bit fishy about this guy. Troll farm worker here to stir things up?
  • 11 0
 @iammarkstewart: maybe @pinkbike can ban this hateful troll, I’m sure this is against their terms of service.
  • 14 1
 @lateandsweaty: wtf is wrong with you. I wasn’t aware PB let douches like you on this forum. You certainly don’t deserve to be a member of this community. Piss off with your troll BS. Go buy yourself some class.
  • 10 0
 @lateandsweaty: You’re a c*nt. I’m doing you a favor in telling you so.
  • 2 0
 Not sure if he’s been warned or banned, but at least he’s gone for now...
  • 6 0
 @DirtbagMatt: suspended for 1000 hrs.
Thanks @pinkbike.
  • 5 0
 lateandsweaty, I know you're reading these comments about you and unable to respond with your vitriol and vile nature, and I must say my respect went up even further for Pinkbike banning you. The horrible and tasteless things you said should make you ashamed of yourself, because if you have a family and they've read those things, they would be ashamed of who you have become; an awful human being.
  • 2 0
 @johnnygolucky: good chance I don't even want to know what this person said, but all of the comments about them is peaking my curiosity to be honest.
I loved this heart felt story and love how supportive a majority of the MTB community is. It is by far the best community I have been a part of.
  • 19 1
 My wife’s father passed away two weeks ago. I’m going to share this article with her. Great perspective and suggestions from someone who’s been there. Thank you for sharing.
  • 11 1
 Hi Gerry, I think we met at one of the Transition dealer events a couple years back. My condolences for the loss of your loved ones. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Welcome to this amazing area and thank you for your trail work. See you around Transition HQ and on the trails! Please get in touch if you’re coming up here to ride the Shore.


Matt
  • 7 0
 Thanks Matt! I'll get in touch when I am ready to head up your way!
  • 11 1
 Can we have more content like this PB. I love all the race stuff and bike reviews, but it's a nice change to read more human stories like this as well.
  • 6 0
 "You can't wait for anyone to make a change for you. Take the step. Be the change."

A lot of people would have crawled under a rock having experienced what you went through with the loss of your wife and then your parents. As I read your story, I couldn't help but to think how much you must inspire everyone close to you.
  • 5 0
 Thanks for sharing your journey with us Gerry. Authentic..raw.. and from the heart. I think I speak for most of us when I say this is some of the best content ever posted on Pinkbike.

"You can't wait for anyone to make a change for you. Take the step. Be the change.".. Can't tell you how much those motivational words mean my friend.. Thank you.
  • 6 1
 One can tell from her picture that Susan was a lovely person. You must miss her terribly. You remind me to cherish my wife, my family, and, of course, mountain biking. Life is fleeting Frown
  • 7 0
 That was a story well told. A well-done tribute to your late wife and parents. Thanks for sharing it
  • 4 0
 @gerrycreighton, my man. I know your story and was there at CB when it all started and feel your pain. Thank you for this open letter from your heart. Know you are loved and cared for by your MTB family. You will never ride alone.

Cheers brother,

-David
  • 4 0
 Hey Gerry, I remember you thru PMBA but we never actually met. And I think my wife and I were at Tonewood the night right before you left to go out west. I am sorry for your loss and reason for uprooting. But good vibes on a restart. It must be tough but you seem to be on a good path. MTB community rules
  • 3 0
 Right! That was a fun day and Tonewood after the ride was perfect. Unfortunately, that was right before the first sale of our house fell through.
  • 6 0
 Gerry is good people. East coast’s loss is PNW’s gain. Nice story and nice tribute.
  • 4 0
 Thanks for sharing your story, and welcome to Bellingham.

My condolences for your loss.

Looking good on DD, BTW, and you’re right, that section on DD really drops away, attention getting.
  • 3 0
 What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Be in the trees there and recall the good times with your wife as just that so continued forward progression can happen.
I asked my wife to marry me on Galbraith trails and well she’s my wife so clearly that worked out. Can’t wait to get our kids out there when they are big enough.
The day we were there for the surprise engagement we met a rider who had just moved days before from Florida! No story like yours behind it all but the trees were calling him also. Trails everywhere, cool people everywhere else. You picked ahem of a spot to move.
Keep riding man.
  • 3 0
 @gerrycreighton Thanks for sharing your story, it hits close to home for me and I'm reminded of feelings I thought were behind me. In June of 2016 my future wife was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, I consider ourselves lucky since we caught it early. September 17th we were married and on the 22nd she had a specialized surgery in an effort to preserve her fertility (radical tracholectomy). After a year of recovery and lots of follow ups we were on our way to try to have kids. Fast forward a few years and lots of Dr. appointments later we're still not able to have kids. But honestly despite how badly she wants to have a kid all I care about is at least she's cancer free, and hopefully for a long time to come. All the best with your new journey, and with time those crushing days will be fewer and farther apart and you're left with all the good thoughts and feelings that came with all those amazing years together.

Cheers,
Brian
  • 2 0
 Thank you for finding the time, energy and inspiration to put describe your journey. I can't imagine the pain but it sounds like you have found ways to get some joy back into your life. Stay strong and I hope you find others to help you through the rest of your journey. We all need someone. Until then, happy trails!
  • 2 0
 @gerrycreighton: This article is the very definition of the term “soul rider.” Very moving and personal story. Thank you for sharing it. The one thing I noticed most about the power of MTB riding was it’s ability to heal emotional pain. I got into MTB late in life partly because I needed something healthy to do as I was in a very dark space in my life at the time. Riding pulled me out of it better than any therapy ever could’ve. The friends and great people I’ve met along the way have been nothing short of life changing. PB needs to post more content like this. Again thank you so much for sharing Gerry. There is a way through the pain. It happens outside on a bike.
  • 2 0
 Thank you for sharing your story @gerrycreighton . My condolences. Celebrate her life with every ride. Welcome to the PNW brother! If you find your self in Oregon, hit me up, I will take you on a tour with our Transitions, smiles and loam for days!
"Without pain, we will never truly see beauty again."
  • 2 0
 Once again Gerry another great read. Whenever I see a post on FB for the East Coast Enduro Series or if you comment on a post I think about you and wonder how you are doing. I also look for you to make a cameo appearance in the Transition videos. As always I wish you good luck! Paul Swanholm
  • 2 0
 Wow, so many great comments here, it's a bit overwhelming. I just wanted to share my story and hope that someone sees that life can be hard, but you can keep going. Tomorrow is a new day, make the most of it! Since Thanksgiving Day here in the US is upon us, I want to thank you all for the great comments! I also want to thank my friend @briceshirbach for helping me tighten up my story and @OliverParish for the great photos!
  • 3 1
 Deep story which only life can bring. Warrior doesn't sit at the fireplace but keep fighting for the life. But I'm scared of even asking what exactly this meant: We felt that she had enough and wanted to be with him.
  • 8 1
 @fluider I meant that our mom might have had enough of life and gave up fighting to be with our father, who had passed already.
  • 5 1
 " I felt that if I get up and get out for a ride, all my despairs melt away".

Soo true my Brother !
  • 2 0
 Great story and like many others found it quite emotional.
"Close to other great riding areas" if you want to make a trip up to the Sunshine Coast, would gladly show you around and do some incredible riding.
  • 2 0
 Good on You @gerrycreighton !!!
I'd love to show you some of the best trails in Whistler.
Let me know when you are planning to come around!
Then you'll show me the trails in Bellingham hahaha^^
CHEERS
  • 1 0
 @audric That sounds like a good deal!
  • 2 0
 Thank you for sharing your story Gerry. I can't imagine the pain of your loss but can only imagine that Susan is happy to see you turning the page and starting this next chapter.
  • 2 0
 Great story and thank you for sharing your struggles... Smile

Whether those out there have lost a loved one or will at some point, this hits home for many of us.

I'm happy you chose the PNW
  • 5 1
 f*ck cancer. I’m sorry for your loss.

Great article.
  • 1 0
 Be strong. Life is a roller coaster with big ups and downs. With time the hurt will fade. Thanks for your story - it is inspirational for others who may face similar circumstances.
  • 2 0
 Thank you for sharing, very interesting journey to read about. A refreshing break from the hottest new gear and ripping video edits. Good luck to you up there homie ????????
  • 1 0
 Not sure why a bunch of question marks ended up there? Tried to edit to no avail
  • 2 0
 Such an inspiring story! Best of luck in your efforts to continue moving forward. Your wife is rooting for you, as we all are!
  • 2 0
 Such an inspiring and loving story @gerrycreighton and thanks for sharing. Fun running into you in Bellingham a few weeks back and look forward to another ride soon.
  • 4 0
 PinkBike these personal non famous people stories are a great add.
  • 2 0
 Great story, Gerry! Bummed to have never met your wife, but I'm glad you're here in town. Thanks to your willingness to jump in and contribute to our little community!
  • 2 1
 Ballsy dude! Best of luck with the crazy journey called life. Amen re hitting the trails when ya find yourself in purgatory -keeps ya from teetering on that precarious edge.
  • 1 0
 Lost a loved one to Parkinson’s three years ago. All I can say is it gets easier by the day! Keep those wheels rollin’ bru!
  • 3 0
 Bellingham is up there on my list too. Truly sorry for you loss.
  • 2 0
 Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing and best of luck to you and your new start in Bellingham....
  • 2 0
 Beautiful stuff @gerry_creighton! Now get back to Denver next summer for round 2 Smile
  • 1 0
 Yeah buddy!
  • 2 0
 NJ misses you. Washington is lucky to gain you. Your write ups have been a beautiful tribute to your wife.
  • 1 0
 Ride On Brotha! Thanks for sharing your story, and I hope with time you find even more peace solace in the beautiful people and mountains of Bellingham. Cheers.
  • 2 0
 Gerry! Look forward to riding with ya when I visit! You're strength is undeniable! #oncoil
  • 2 0
 Great write up Gerry. Thank you for sharing your story. You've got the best therapy.... outside, on the bike.
  • 3 0
 @pinkbike: 2 high fives. One for publishing this, and you know the other.
  • 2 0
 Thank you Gerry for sharing. If you are ever in Coquitlam BC look me up! We have trails here to help sooth the soul.
  • 3 0
 Gerry, so thank you for sharing that. Wish you many years of happiness.
  • 2 0
 Ride on Gerry! Great article! Let me know when your back in NJ to ride 'new stuff' with your JORBA buddies!
  • 3 0
 I'm not crying, you're crying
  • 2 0
 Thank you for sharing. I hope that you find continued happiness in your new home.
  • 2 0
 That was a really great read there.....thanks for sharing. Love your attitude and here's to the next chapter of your life.
  • 4 1
 Inspiring. Great article
  • 3 1
 Thank you for your story! Welcome!
  • 2 0
 Cool article, must be hard dude.........keep on keeping on
  • 2 0
 one of the best Sunday reading
  • 3 2
 Morning loved ones is never easy. They say time heals all but somtimes that not the case. Keep those wheels spinning homie
  • 2 0
 Great story, wish you all the best.
  • 1 0
 Big love to you brother- thank you for sharing. New trails will help find new perspectives for you.
  • 2 0
 well said - words worth considering every day. thanks
  • 2 0
 Im very sorry for your loss, and Cheers to tje future.
  • 1 0
 Stick fat old fella. Life's tough, but when you accept that, it get's easier. Thank you for sharing, fist bumps and hugs.
  • 2 0
 Great story thanks for sharing
  • 2 0
 Thank you for sharing. I am glad you have found peace in your new start.
  • 2 0
 Love ya Dawg! We miss you out East!
  • 1 0
 Miss you too! Thanks for the going away party before the first sale of our house fell through!
  • 2 0
 Thanks Gerry. Great story.
  • 2 2
 Fuck cancer!! Glad you have found some peace by way of the trails and forests of the pnw
  • 2 1
 thanks for sharing your story!
  • 2 1
 No words, thanks for sharing.
  • 3 1
 FUCK CANCER
  • 2 1
 She died and He went to Heaven. RIP
  • 2 1
 One of the better stories pinkbike has put out.
  • 2 0
 Keep enjoying the ride!
  • 2 0
 Thanks for sharing.
  • 2 1
 Hopefully not the end of this story. Look forward to Chapter 2.
  • 2 1
 smart move. ride strong and with passion

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