This past September several friends and I went back to Tuscany, Siena and Chianti to be specific to not only enjoy the fine wine, food and cycling but to honor and remember our friend James Grandmaison who passed away while riding in Tuscany on the road to Castellina in Chianti on September 26, 2008. Going back to the exact location (Vico Alto) just outside of Siena brought back a flood of emotions and memories. It was almost surreal and dreamlike when we placed the bouquet of flowers and photograph of our fallen friend on the stonewall of the driveway atop the small hill where Jim took his final breath. As we gathered around, the woman (Roberta) who lives at the house came out to greet us remembering vividly as if it were yesterday that fateful day in September 10 years ago. “I think of you all yearly at this time and what you must have gone through.” She witnessed the whole event as it unfolded so tragically, in fact she made the 911 call. The emotions we experienced 10 years ago and this fall ranged from disbelief, anger and sadness, but mostly it was a poignant reminder of just how much we love and miss Jimmy G.
Memories of that last ride began to invade my mind; how Jim was laughing that loud hearty laugh and complaining about how his rental bike’s handle bars were too narrow and how the chamois cream that he applied felt great and the pistachio ice cream he ate the day before was the best he’d ever had. And then….I thought Jim had gotten tangled in his pedals as he went down with a gasping breath. I’d like to respectfully share what it was like riding that whole week without our friend James Grandmaison.
In the immediate aftermath of the ambulance picking Jim up and taking him to the hospital I remember my brother Brian saying, “What are we gonna do now?” You’ve heard of the old adage, “take it day by day.” Well, my response to Brian was, “we’re gonna take it moment by moment.” Sharon Chasse made that most difficult call back home to notify Maggie. Sharon had the presence of mind to call Linda Marquis Maggie’s friend to go over to the Grandmaison residence to be there for her as she received the terrible news. Matt Michaud and I had the unenviable task of going back to the villa to gather some of James’s belongings. Shortly afterward we all went to the hospital and had a prayer service around our friend Jim. We were all in shock and disbelief. The rest of that day and week was filled with great grief and coordinating the huge task of getting Jim back home. I questioned myself, wondering if this tragedy could have somehow been avoided. “Maybe if I’d have taken a different route.” Maybe I should have asked Jim how he was feeling that morning. Brian’s words of , “what do we do now”, kept replaying in my head. After all it was the first day of our week long trip.
The next day we got a call from Maggie. She was so nice, she said; “I can’t imagine what all of you must be going through right now, I want you to enjoy your cycling week, because that’s what Jim would have wanted.” Wow!! We couldn’t believe Maggie’s strength at a time like this. Maggie provided our answer to, “what do we do now?”. So we decided and pledged to go on with our tour with Jim heavy on our hearts and quite sure watching over us.
The very next evening at dinner the hostess asked how many for dinner? We responded 7, when we were seated at our table there were 8 chairs. So from then on every dinner we requested 8 place settings. Our cycling itinerary was completely revised. Randomly we decided to bike to Montalcino and then down to San Antimo, a 12th century french romanesque church built in travertine stone which stands in perfect isolation on a plain among vineyards, olive groves and a lovely wheat field. We arrived at 11:00 am exactly at the time of the start of mass. Inside the solemn mystical abbey we listened to the unforgettable Gregorian chants by 20 or so white robed monks. Ann Crosby was sitting outside of the church when she felt someone sitting next to her, she was sure it was Jim! A sense of peace and calm came over Ann and all of us. The entire week was like that, full of coincidences, reminders, thoughts and memories of Jim. We laughed and cried, we told stories of our times with Jim, the many great rides we’d done together in the past. We ALL felt Jim’s presence, with every step, every meal and every mile we biked.
Heaven, Tuscany and Thoughts of my last ride with James
Up the last hill and as I hit the crest I instinctively ready myself for the open view. But instead of coming out at the summit of the road it’s like I’ve been transported to another world, I am in a valley, the lush green Chianti region of Tuscany. I cruise to a halt, I here myself exclaim above the bass beat of my heart. Out ahead are the hills of Chianti, vineyards and fragrant olive groves. On the horizon, down a winding road perfectly paved lie Castellini, Radda and Gaiole. I wipe the sweat from my forehead letting my breath subside, taking it all in. For a moment, I think I must be hallucinating. The sky is bright blue, flowers by the road, overhead a sign that reads, Chiesa San Michel Arc Angelo. For a moment, one long beautiful moment all I have is in front of me. My mind is empty, my body is cleansed by the heat, sun and slight breeze. I smile , feeling the sweat cool on the small of my back. The usual clutter of thoughts are gone, the questions and the doubt. All there is is this. It’s beautiful, shocking and stunning. And I realize if there is a heaven, this must be what it feels like to arrive. No thoughts. no worries, nothing else. Just thousands of small flowers, rows of vineyards in the green valley and a sense of belonging, of completeness and of things done.