‘These Were His Mountains, After All’: Remembering One’s Father While Cycling in the Swiss Alps

Susten Pass, Canton Uri, Switzerland. (Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

James Jung describes riding through Switzerland, his childhood, and his relationship to both cycling and his father in a recent essay at Bicycling Magazine:

Ever since I first thought about this alpine mission, I knew I’d want to write about it, and I’d been trying to fuse my father to these rides. I’d pick a mountain peak in the distance and imagine I was looking at the gravestone he didn’t allow us to give him. I’d see a piece of farm equipment in a field and daydream that if I waited there long enough, maybe Dad would reappear to fetch it. I swatted flies from my face on the Pragelpass and saw my hand as his hand, the one that, three days before he died, moved back and forth for 16 straight hours as if he were conducting some hallucinogenic symphony from his deathbed. I remembered, too, the rough way I put his arm into a sling the night he broke it and the sad look he gave me when I did so, or how I sometimes avoided sitting beside him because I couldn’t stomach the smell of his dying body. I thought that maybe these rides were punishment for having betrayed him like that, as if my suffering on climbs could somehow be commensurate to the ways he’d suffered. But those are bullshit, half-baked ideas meant to convey some poetic vision of life; the type of self-indulgent writing that should be struck from any story before it goes to print. To be more truthful, those are simply ideas and emotions I don’t trust. The fact of the matter is my father wasn’t on those rides with me. He is dead now, and much of the missing I have done of him is missing I have done for myself, a mourning for who I was when I was his boy, for all the time I can’t get back. So, in answer to my wife’s question, I had done these rides for myself.

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