A bright sun shined down on the piping hot asphalt of LeGore Bridge, as a near cloudless sky faded into three shades of blue. The green leaves surrounding the 340-foot-long bridge bristled while the Monocacy River flowed through three stone arches built more than 100 years ago.
The aesthetics of LeGore Bridge on June 26, 2019, run almost parallel to the way it was 385 days before. But the serenity of the scene on that day — June 6, 2018 — shattered when Paul Stephen Lentz, a 72-year-old retired physicist, fell to his death.
That day, Lentz was participating in the regular Wednesday evening ride organized by the Frederick Pedalers.
“Paul and I were riding next to each other, and we were talking,” Terry Eskuchen explained at a ceremony unveiling a bench and bike rack to honor Lentz this past Wednesday night. “He was saying, ‘I like going down this way to the bridge instead of the other side.’ And right as we were starting to make the descent, he pulled in front of me, went down, and I slowed down.
“Then, when I got to the bottom of the hill,” she added softly, “his bike was there, and he wasn’t.”
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office determined that Lentz’s bike skidded and he fell from the top of the bridge, some 80 feet. And while on Wednesday, there may have been some members of the Pedalers who claim to have a clearer idea of what may have happened on that ride, none wanted to speculate openly about their lost friend, all agreeing that no matter how you look at it, the accident was ultimately a product of abnormally bad luck.
“I was so confused, because Paul had been riding for almost 50 years,” Lee Rabideau said.
“He was the safest guy that we ride with,” Lee’s wife, Diana Rabideau, continued. “He was always talking about how to do this road or that road. Always very, very safe.
“Fluke,” she later concluded, “is actually the right word.”
A dedication to a friend
As the emotion of remembering their friend overtook Rabideau’s ability to speak at the dedication Wednesday evening, silence filled the air. For five seconds, no one said a word. No one could.
Finally, Rabideau spoke again. She offered a few lighthearted jokes to the group that gathered at Utica Park and explained the difference between the men named Paul in the Pedalers. But as she got to the crux of her speech, she paused. Behind her sunglasses, a swell of tears formulated.
“I personally have a lot of fond memories of Paul,” she began, pausing as her voice quivered and the group of about 25 cyclists listened.
“Um,” she powered on, “and despite his description of my do-it-yourself flat-tire lesson that awful evening of June the sixth, 2018, I’m sorry to say that I doubt I could really change a flat tire by myself.”
Her words didn’t last long — a little less than five minutes — but they captured Lentz’s personality: caring, smart, curious. If there was one thing she took away from her conversations with Lentz, it was his constant reminder that physics is part of everyday life.
“So, as you are out riding tonight,” Diana encouraged, “think about that as a tribute to Paul — be observant of physics.”
The assembled riders nodded in approval. Diana Rabideau offered a few more words about the marriage of science and cycling before reaching for a dark green water bottle. It looked as unassuming as the bike rack and bench on which it once sat.
It was filled with water from that night a little more than a year ago. Along with Pedalers President Judy Goffi and their friend’s widow, Reena Lentz, they splashed water from the bottle on the bench, which was funded via a GoFundMe campaign, and used the rest to sprinkle nearby flowers.
The bottle was Lentz’s.
You could call the Pedalers of the evening a lot of things — sad, reflective, melancholy or tearful — but the one thing you couldn’t call any of them was mad. Even Paul’s wife, Reena, didn’t offer any cross words about the accident. Nobody blames anyone or anything for the tragedy — including the bridge.
The bridge’s walls along the road at its peak is a little less than 3 feet tall. There is no room to walk over the bridge if there is traffic, no shoulder for patrons to utilize. If two vehicles cross the structure at the same time, there is virtually no room left for anything else to travel along the road. But there’s little that could be done to make it safer.
“The bridge that you’re looking at dates back to 1890,” Lee Rabideau said. “There’s only so many things you can do with a historic bridge.”
Even so, the cyclists understand the risks the hobby brings, and while Paul’s accident did spur some to stop riding for a few weeks in the wake of his death, Diane conceded that Paul would want them to continue riding.
And on Wednesday, they did just that. After they remembered their friend, and dedicated the bench and bike rack in his honor, most of the gathered riders were ready to set out on their own evening ride.
Yet this time, with the gravity of such a memory firmly in tow, they seemed a little more eager than normal to take to the road.