Cross-country walker hits the lucky seven

During Memorial Day weekend, I imagine that many of you went to cookouts, ate hotdogs, visited the beach, boated on The River, attended memorial services and rode or walked in parades.

If not for a broken vase and a laceration requiring seven stitches, I might have done the same.

Instead, I spent part of my weekend involved in a personal memorial observance, and in a small, ragtag, but meaningful parade along the streets of Henrico.

My Memorial Day journey began when George Throop of Vancouver, Wash. – nearing the end of his own 4,500 mile, three-year walk across America – crossed the Huguenot Bridge into Henrico County and headed for Richmond along River Road.

As he approached River Road's intersection with Bridgeway, he felt compelled to pause for several minutes of thought and meditation at the white "ghost bike" parked nearby, close to the spot where a cyclist was hit by a car and killed last July.

George had heard about the young cyclist and, having had his own close calls with drivers as a pedestrian, wanted to pay tribute. In the few minutes that he meditated near the bike, George said he was gripped by a powerful feeling of strength and well-being, and prepared to leave the site feeling renewed and invigorated.

But as he took his first steps away, he felt a stabbing pain, and saw to his dismay that a jagged piece of glass, part of a broken flower vase under the bike, had sliced into his foot. The shoe rapidly filled with blood, and George was forced to call his Richmond contacts to take him to the hospital for stitches.

Realizing that he would now need to spend an unplanned layover in Richmond while the wound healed, George – still at the hospital – went online and began searching for the cyclist's name and story. He was convinced that he had been injured for a reason, and that he had to learn more about her.

He read the news coverage, looked at tribute websites, and then found a Thanksgiving newspaper column by the cyclist's mother, in which she expressed gratitude for the blessings that had ensued since her daughter's death.

George wrote to the cyclist's mother, asking if he could meet the family and perhaps have them join him for part of his journey through Richmond.

And that's how I met George, and came to be walking seven miles along Skipwith, Three Chopt and Hungary Spring roads as a memorial to my daughter., Lanie.

George ended up staying a week with me and additional weeks with Richmond-area teachers that he met along his route. (They spotted George's sign "Walking Across America – Enjoythewalk.com" and contacted him about speaking to their students.)

It was gratifying to see how Richmond residents, retailers, and restaurateurs leaped to offer him housing, free meals and drinks, gift cards, and even a deep massage. And as three members of my family trekked through Henrico County with George over the holiday weekend, it was heartening to see how many motorists slowed to read his sign and responded with a thumbs-up, a friendly wave or an encouraging shout. A couple of drivers even pulled over to visit and
take photos.

My daughters, Lanie's boyfriend and I enjoyed sharing meals with George and showing him some of the sights of Richmond. We also enjoyed listening to his thought-provoking and entertaining stories about the various encounters along his journey. From his room with a view at the $1,000-a-night hotel in Big Sur that provided complimentary accommodations, to the friendly handyman in North Carolina who fixed his cart with old car parts, to the chance meeting with a fellow cross-country walker as their paths converged in Louisiana (pictured, above, with George at left), he has seen and experienced more in three years than most of us will in a lifetime.

And along the way, he has never missed an opportunity to share his message of healthy living – a tribute to his mother, who died when he was nine – with schoolchildren, TV viewers, or newspaper and blog readers.

George is now on his way north to complete his journey, though slightly behind schedule thanks to his long Richmond layover. But as George will tell you, he now considers his "ghost bike gash" to be the happiest of accidents. As for me, I tell George that he now sits firmly atop my ever-growing list of Favorite People I Wish I'd Never Met.

I like to think that Lanie brought him to us; I even joke with George that Lanie bit him to get his attention. But whatever drew him to the roadside memorial that day – mystical compulsion, cosmic force, or a mischievous Lanie Angel – I don't think our crossing paths was a coincidence. George brought spiritual balm to a family that has suffered the cruelest of blows, and the bonds we have formed are lasting ones.

As one friend commented upon reading George's account of his visit, "I guess he knows by now that one can never fully recover from a Lanie bite."
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The Home Building Association of Richmond’s 66th Annual Parade of Homes event will return to the Greater Richmond area on October 7-8, 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. This event is the premier program showcasing the best new homes in the region and is free for the public. There will be 91 new homes built by 35 builder members in this year’s show. The homes will showcase the latest in designs, construction techniques and materials, at prices ranging from the $180s to over $1,000,000. For details, call 282-0400 or visit http://www.richmondparadeofhomes.com. Full text

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