Thanks to long-time Bike Fed member Tom Mortensen for this thoughtful tribute to his friend. It is a sad reminder of how cycling can bring people together and build lasting friendships that go far beyond a shared interest in riding bikes.
It’s difficult to start telling a story about such a wonderful day on a bike, knowing that the reason for the story of the wonderful day was a result of a tragedy. It has not been too long a time at all since the first Sunday in March of this year, when my closest friend, Kirk Jiannacopoulos was killed in a head on car collision on his way to the hardware store.
No, Kirk was not on a bike, and the other driver was not drunk, or texting. The other driver was a neglectful diabetic having a hypoglycemic episode (low blood sugar) and for now, I will leave it at that.
Kirk was an incredible man, husband, father, friend and colleague to all that had the pleasure of loving and knowing him. His energy and persona were incredible. He had a quick-witted humor that would make you blow beer out of your nose when his timing was spot on. Kirk completed an Ironman and was a life long athlete. Triathlons were an ongoing part of his life and he was an inspiration to all that were fortunate enough to have met him.
I could go on about how close of friends we were and how sad we all are for his loss, but this story is about cycling and inspiration. I want to thank the Wisconsin Bike Fed for the forum to share this and many other stories and bike adventures with a statewide (and beyond) group.
On July 22nd we had a memorial bike ride for Kirk up in the central sands region of Wisconsin. If you haven’t had the chance of riding the Adams / Waushara County area on a bike, you should add it to you cycling bucket list. There are great roads with low traffic volume and beautiful scenery throughout the region. Just try to avoid the ever expanding CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and the horrific odor and environmental degradation they cause.
Kirk and I began riding in the area with friends in 2005 and have continued the tradition ever since. Check out the YouTube video:
The idea for the memorial ride came shortly after his death. A few emails from friends and the date was set. Over 20 riders showed up to share stories, memories to and ride from my cabin in Strongs Prairie to the beautiful little house in Coloma built by the MATC building trades program. Young and old joined in on the ride, including Kirk’s daughter, Nina and my daughter, Lilia, who have known each other since birth.
It is truly amazing how something like bicycling can bring together such a great group of people to share in such an event. It was a beautiful day, starting out cloudy and ending in sunshine. Special t-shirts to commemorate Kirk were made for the day, which many of us wore during the ride.
We all departed together, riding the winding roads around Roche a Cri Lake and State Park. Not long into the ride we separated into 2 groups, and thanks to Google maps, the back group was lead on a separate route while the front group made their way down to Adams-Friendship.
Before the ride, I told my daughter Lilia that we were all going to ride together as a group on the way to Kirk and Julia’s little house, but it didn’t quite work out that way. She reminded me of this very LOUDLY, in front of everyone at the end of the ride. I responded, “Blame Google!”
The ride east across the big flats was excellent. It was quite the mixer. We were joined by some of Kirk’s coworkers and friends from his running and cycling groups in Portage and Madison, along with other friends that were brought together through the friendship that Kirk and I had for almost 30 years. It makes you realize and appreciate how one person can touch so many lives and bring together so many great people.
We arrived at Kirk, Julia and Nina’s little house around midday to fill water bottles, enjoy energy bars and salty snacks, and yes, some beer. Kirk was a beer aficionado whose taste in malty beverages leaned towards the diabolical. We nicknamed him “The Corruptor” because he would bring the most ungodly, high-octane beers to share with everyone after our bike rides. Dragon’s Milk, Spaten Optimator, Eisbock, Paulaner Salvator dopplebock and Third Coast Old Ale were just some of the beers he corrupted many of us to appreciate. After a century ride, you would feel as though you just downed an entire bottle of Nyquil after being corrupted with one of his beers.
The sun was out and it was time to head back to my cabin. Some of us drove cars back to get the traditional post-ride jambalaya and food ready while most of the others rode their bikes back to my cabin. We all enjoyed the great food and conversation among the pine trees, continuing to share stories about Kirk and remembering all the great times we had with him.
We will be planning to continue doing a ride every year on the 3rd weekend of July in memory of our great friend, Kirk Jiannacopoulos, who we all love so much and miss so dearly.