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Legendary Chicago bicycle traveler and writer George Christensen killed by truck driver in South Carolina

Christensen, left, visiting former Active Transportation Alliance staffer Randy Warren in San Luis Obispo, California, in March 2019 during a bike trip on the Pacific Coast. Photo: Facebook

As a longtime bicycle courier, and one of Chicago's most adventurous bike riders and writers, George Christensen did extensive cycling trips in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. These included biking the length of three continents and one subcontinent, India. Starting in 2001, he eloquently documented his travels on his well-read blog, George the Cyclist.

But tragically, on Monday evening Christensen's life was cut short at age 73, when a truck driver fatally struck him as he rode through the southeastern United States.

On Tuesday morning sources notified Streetsblog that Christensen was the bike rider that a semi operator struck and killed Monday night near Ridgeway, South Carolina, a small town about 25 miles north of Columbia, the state capital. According to a report in The State by Noah Feit, on Monday, April 22, around 7:30 p.m. Christensen was cycling west on Highway 34, about three miles southeast of Ridgeway, near Autumn Drive. The sun would set a little after 8 p.m. that night.

Aerial view of the approximate crash location, marked with a red pin. Image: Google Maps

South Carolina Highway Patrol Master Trooper Gary Miller told The State that the driver of a westbound 2022 Mack truck with a trailer hit the back of Christensen's bike, killing him. The trucker was uninjured, and no other injuries were reported.

Highway 34 and Autumn Drive, looking west in August 2023. Image: Google Maps

Miller told The State that information about what caused the crash was not available yet, but the highway patrol was still investigating the case. There was no word on whether the trucker was issued charges or citations. Streetsblog has contacted the highway patrol to request an update on the case if it becomes available.

Wednesday morning, Fairfield County Coroner Chris Hill released the name the bicyclist killed in Monday's crash. "George Christensen, age 73, of Countryside, Illinois, was traveling west on Highway 34 in Ridgeway, SC when he was struck by a truck [driver] also traveling west on Highway 34," the coroner stated. "Mr. Christensen succumbed to his injuries on the scene of the [crash]. This incident continues to be investigated by Fairfield County Coroner’s Office and South Carolina Highway Patrol."

Christensen: "News of my Carnegie Library quest precedes me to Merom, Indiana." Photo: Facebook

Christensen often wrote blog entries while pursuing one of his many passions, visiting historic Carnegie libraries across the United States. That was the case on this trip. Entries from earlier this month state that he recently rode Amtrak from Chicago to Washington D.C., took another train route to Orlando, Florida, then biked north near the Atlantic coast, stopping at libraries along the way. Here's a rough approximation of his route based on his April posts.

A rough approximation of the route Christensen described in his April 2024 blog posts. Image: Google Maps

In the final entry of his blog on Sunday, April 21, Christensen, a hardcore cinephile, wrote that he traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina to visit old friends who are fellow Telluride Film Festival fans. After camping at their house, "I headed west out of town over the Cape Fear River once again towards South Carolina for six Carnegies [libraries] inland from the coast," he wrote.

Christensen blogged that after a few hours of cycling in 80-degree weather that day he stopped to buy a cold drink at a gas station mini mart. As he was sitting out front cooling off, the clerk came outside and offered him three boxes of chicken wings. "I see you’re biking," she said. "Here’s some chicken wings for you."

Christensen pedaled on into ominous weather. "Ninety minutes before dark clouds moved in and shortly there was thunder and lightning in the distance," he wrote in the last paragraph. "I was hoping the storm might bypass me, but when a few scattered drops of rain began to fall, I started looking for an easy access into the forest. I came upon a slightly overgrown path that led to an abandoned farmhouse, the first I had camped beside in these travels, setting up my tent having to only absorb a few drops of rain before it came down in earnest. I still had some chicken wings to mix in with my ramen." Fittingly, the last words of his blog highlighted the goodwill he often encountered from people he met on the road.

Christensen's longtime partner Janina Ciezadlo graciously shared some thoughts with Streetsblog. "I trust people who know George, or are just learning about him, know that he was a legendary touring cyclist traveling everywhere from Oman to Madagascar to Iceland. He was an inspiring, encouraging ambassador of the bike. He wanted everyone to ride. Needless to say, he kept my bike in working order."

Christensen at the Tour de France. Photo: Facebook

"He lived simply and devoted himself to cycling," she added. "He visited the Tour De France for almost 20 summers and followed the course [on bicycle]. He was an expert on its history and culture; He died with a plane reservation for this year’s Tour. Much of his touring life was centered on visiting and documenting all the Carnegie libraries in the world. Photographs of these beautiful early 20th century buildings can be found on his blog. He loved libraries."

"George had an extraordinary range of interests," Ciezadlo concluded. "As a volunteer he gave of his time at Facets Multimedia here in Chicago and at the Telluride Film Festival; he had a tremendous amount of knowledge about film and film festivals. He was a reader. Among other books, he recently had read all of Balzac and Zola, and of course watched every classic film adaption of those novels. Lately he had been volunteering in restoration projects in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Some people will know that he was an incurable dumpster diver and distributed recovered food to others." 

Christensen: "Presenting Greg LeMond with a hallowed Tour de France course marker at the Telluride Film Festival accompanying the documentary 'The Last Rider' about the 1989 Tour de France." Photo: Facebook

Elizabeth Adamczyk, organizer of the annual Chicago Ride of Silence and a longtime friend of Christensen, said they met through her work at Northwestern University, where he was an alumnus. "We both had a love of learning and a love of bicycling, and we became fast friends. George was integral to me becoming a year-round cyclist. He was a voracious reader, very knowledgeable about Carnegie libraries, pro cycling, his next bike adventure, and anything else that he decided to learn about."

"In recent years he got to know my mother and, helped her out with random household tasks," she added. "He was always there to lend a hand, and he loved to help."

According to Adamczyk, 2023 was the first year Christensen was in Chicago for the Ride of Silence, which honors fallen cyclists. "He was thrilled to participate in person." She said he will be honored and memorialized at this year's event on Wednesday, May 15. The location and other details will be announced soon and publicized by Streetsblog.

Christensen visiting the gravesite of Black bike racing champion Marshall "Major" Taylor in the Chicago suburb of Glenwood. "He was excited to have the memorial site of such a bike legend in our backyard," said Elizabeth Adamczyk, who took the photo. 

Just two weeks ago, when I was traveling by car in a location where year-round high winds make bicycle touring seem like a thankless task, I thought of George Christensen, an old bike messenger colleague of mine. I told my companion that, impressively, Christensen had done the same route on two wheels more than 20 years ago.

Hopefully it will be some comfort to George's loved ones to know that his life ended while he was doing something he obviously loved.

Read The State's report here.

Check out George Christensen's blog George the Cyclist here.

Read Tributes to Christensen on his Facebook page.

Read a 2006 profile of Christensen in the Chicago Reader here.

Read a guest post he contributed in 2012 to the pre-Streetsblog Chicago transportation news website Grid Chicago here.

Update 4/24/24, 11:45 AM: Bike and pedestrian injury attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) provided this statement. "[Keating Law Offices has] been retained to represent the Estate of George Christensen for this tragic event and senseless loss of life. Like many Chicago cyclists, I remember George well and this is a very sad time. I have been in contact with the investigating trooper in South Carolina and George's family regarding what happened. We have already begun an investigation and are in the process of gathering more information." 

Update 4/25/24, 7:15 AM: The Downers Grove Bicycle Club announced in the Daily Herald that its annual Ride of Silence on Wednesday, May 15, through streets of the west-suburban village will also honor Christensen. At the time of his death he was living in southwest-suburban Countryside, roughly 10 miles from Downers Grove, and he was a member of the bike club.

Update 4/29/24, 7:00 PM: Christensen's close friend Joe Hall, owner of Quick Release bike shop in West Town, shared these remembrances with Streetsblog. "George and I became friends when he first started coming into our shop over thirty years ago. He ordered a copy of 'A Rough Ride: An Insight Into Pro Cycling' by Paul Kimmage. This expose of performance enhancing drug use in professional cycling was the catalyst for us to share a fascination and admiration for the sport. George never hesitated to share any of his cycling-related reading and it provided the basis for many pleasurable conversations."

"He would go out of his way to help people move because he liked the workout; it helped keep his upper body in shape, he said," Hall recalled. "We, along with many other people benefitted, from this. Unfortunately, I was only able to repay him once. I think these efforts were one way he expressed himself."

"George was an excellent writer," Hall noted. "His detailed descriptions allow one to vicariously experience so many different places. I feel that I almost know what it's like to pedal against a headwind in Iceland or through the mud in Brazil."

"One of the first books George shared with me was the story of Goran Kropp. He was a Swedish mountain climber who cycled from Sweden to Nepal and then climbed Mount Everest without oxygen," Hall concluded. "I later found out through George, of course, that Kropp died while climbing in Washington."

Joe Hall mentioned that the last time Christiansen moved, he left a large portion of his cycling library, 75 books or so, with Hall. He'd like keep to the collection together, so he's looking for a good home for the set. Email jgreenfield[at]streetsblog[dot]org if you've got any ideas, and I'll pass them along.

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