I met Erick one year ago.

We met on Facebook, in the Minnesota Harley Owners group. I had posted that I was riding to Sturgis bike rally solo, that I was a new rider, and if anyone wanted to ride with a newbie, please let me know. Of course, no one responded. Then someone tagged Erick, and, well, the rest is our story.

We met at Wild Prairie Harley Davidson early Friday, August 5, 2016. Bikes loaded down, we began our journey west.

Erick led most of the way.

I loved riding behind Erick, watching his “Getback” whip swing in the wind.

We stopped at all the places one must stop on their way to Sturgis. We took pictures. Tons of them. Erick loved creating photo opportunities, and told me about how his dad taught him about photography.

Erick’s beautifully customized Road King, loaded down for Sturgis (August 5, 2016).

We spent a lot of time in a South Dakota sunflower field, and we didn’t leave until we got the perfect picture.

Sunflowers will always remind me of the time Erick and I took a zillion photos in that one field in the middle of nowhere South Dakota. (Photo credit: Erick W. Nelson)

He also taught me things, like how to pass cars, how not to fill up my gas tank with diesel fuel, and other riding basics. My naiveté was not off-putting to him. To the contrary, he welcomed it. He was sweet and gracious, and offered up plenty of sacarasm and sharp wit to keep things interesting. He had this balanced way about him — his heart was soft and tender, but there was a toughness and hardness that he carried too.

Erick and Ana, Pierre, South Dakota (August 6, 2016)

We landed in Sturgis, and he took me around that first night, because he was generous with his time (just like his dad was with him) and he knew I was a lost soul. (I wrote about our trek and what Erick did for me in an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.) On the top floor of One-Eyed Jacks that night, he turns to me, smiles, and says: “If you don’t have a good time in Sturgis, it’s your own fault.”

I talked with Erick just last week — I called him to say how sorry I was about his dad’s recent death. I listened as he talked about the loss, the process and how it hurt. I told him my dad had advanced dementia, and I understood the pain of saying goodbye. We promised to connect again soon to discuss riding out to the Sturgis rally in a few weeks.

But then July 3, 2017 came and Erick went. He left this world on his own terms. I don’t understand why, or how, or what led him in this direction. I wish I understood, because I want to make sense of the crushing loss of Erick. I want to understand why he would leave his family, his granddaughter he loved so much, his friends. But, really, I don’t need to. It’s not about my understanding. It’s about Erick — him, his heart, his way. He did life his way, and that’s what I loved so much about him. It’s what everyone loved about him.

Erick, I’m so sad you’re gone. But I’m so glad you were here. Thank you for lighting up my life. You were — ARE — the bright shining soul that lights up our world. You made me a better person. You made us all better.

xoxo, Anastasia

On our way to Sturgis. (August 6, 2016)