The Aug. 2 Nevada Daily Mail contained an article I submitted about an Australian woman, Joanna Abernathy, who was bicycling across America. Less than a week after the article was published, the unthinkable happened. Joanna was within 500 miles of her Washington, D.C., final destination when she was struck by a drunk driver and lost her life. Joanna’s brother, Jacob Abernathy, discovered the article and was kind enough to let me know via my published email address.
I had the privilege of getting to know Joanna when she called on July 31 looking for a place to stay for the evening. I am a member of the Warm Showers Organization, which offers bicyclists a warm and safe place to stay if they need one. I used it many times when I bicycled across American in 2011.
Bicyclists have an instant, unspoken bond and Joanna was no exception. In fact, my 24 hours with her were extraordinary. Joanna was enthusiastic about her adventure in America and was profoundly grateful for the kindness and generosity Americans extended to her on a daily basis. She dedicated her journey to Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired her because of his dream for America. Joanna was so moved by him, she handed out business cards along her way stating, “Dream … a tribute bike ride across America: Astoria, Oregon to Washington, D.C., May — August 2014. I’m honoring the life, love, hope, courage and sacrifice that made the world better for all of us and looking towards the future.”
After leaving Nevada, Joanna road another 700 miles, approximately 3,200 miles total, to Centerville, Ind., on the border of Indiana/Ohio. She preferred to ride at night because it was cooler and less congested. We talked about the danger darkness imposes but Joanna was a determined one! She wanted to ride every inch across America and had her very tight plan in place to reach her destination. The police reported that the collision happened on Aug. 8, “just after 3:30 a.m.”
Joanna’s family is scattered around the world. Geography only compounds the inconceivable shock and grief of her loved ones.
Joanna leaves behind a 19-year old daughter who lives in Canberra, Australia, where Joanna’s mother and one brother live. She has two other brothers, three sisters, her dad and step-mother who live in the U.S. As the family has discussed the tragedy across the globe, Jacob stated this in his email: “So we’ve all been speaking to each other today and last night, and we’ve had many warm comments about your article. So we really, really appreciate you writing it and pushing for publication.”
While I was touched by Jacob’s comments, the honor was truly mine to write about this remarkable woman. Joanna and I only spent 24 hours together. She had this warm essence about her that even after our short time together, I felt I had known her for many years. I am profoundly saddened to lose her as a friend and deeply distraught for her family. Joanna was full of so much hope and optimism for the world.
Joanna commented about King Jr.’s, courage but she is one of the bravest individuals I have ever met. She endured bicycle butt, climbing 40-plus mile long mountains, sub-freezing temperatures, thunderstorms, hail, wild animals and yet kept going … alone. I will never forget Joanna and plan to honor her memory by continuing my efforts to promote safety for bicyclists with renewed intensity. She made a difference in my life. Now, I will make a difference by saving lives in Joanna’s memory.