Last week, Igor Izioumine stood at the replica train depot in Blackwater, trying to make a decision.
His hand rested on his bicycle, his eyes on me. C’mon, Tom, he said. Let’s do Arrow Rock, he said. I don’t want to go by myself, he said.
It’s about 65 miles, round trip, from Les’ Bourgeois Vineyards to Blackwater. It’s about 90 miles to Arrow Rock. There are mostly good bicycling roads on the route, meaning few potholes or hotheads on the roads. There are several challenging (read: agonizing) hills. The trip begins with a short, steep descent into Rocheport followed by a couple of rollers and then a long downhill into the flat flood plains of the Missouri River.
As the wind whips through your helmet on that glide, you know the inevitable: The longer the drop, the more you’ll pay at the very end, after all those long miles in between.
It was hot, and I was worried about making it up those hills. So I told Igor I was stopping at Blackwater. But he should go ahead. After all, he was feeling strong and happy. We had done a tough ride together the week before, and Igor looked like he was as ready to roll at the finish as he was at the beginning.
Go on, Igor, I said. Have fun.
I turned left from the train depot. Igor went right. I never saw him again.
The first speaker at Igor Izioumine’s funeral established his friend’s credentials. They had little to do with Igor’s love of cycling.
The speaker said: I won’t tell you that Igor went to the one of the best high schools for mathematics in the Soviet Union, because he went to the best high school; I won’t tell you that Igor went to one of the best universities for mathematics in the Soviet Union, because he went to Moscow State University, the best school. He didn’t just study under great professors — he was a student of the pre-eminent mathematics scholar of the 20th century.
It was lyrical, and jaw-dropping. I knew Igor as a cyclist who always wore a smile along with his long sleeves and pants, even in summer. I remembered Igor as a man who spoke with love of his two sons and his wife. He told me he worked with computers at MU through the information technology department.
Which is to say: I didn’t know Igor at all.
Another speaker at the funeral, who is part of the Russian-speaking ex-pat community in Columbia, gave Igor a little test one day as they were chatting. It was a math problem that neither the speaker nor his mentor could answer, but Igor immediately figured it out. Mathematics took Igor around the world. As a young man, he worked as a mathematician for an oceanographic institute on a ship.
Other stories were more familiar. They touched on his kindness in everyday life, and how he would engage professor or pauper with the same level of respect.
I imagined Igor at another crossroads in 1993. He turned right — the longer ride — and came to the United States in 1993, alone. He must have missed his wife and two young sons terribly before they could be reunited.
The journey of Igor Izioumine, 59, ended on Saturday.
I wish I had taken the longer route with him. I would have been there on the 83rd mile, that 4.4 percent grade climb that seems to last approximately forever. But other riders were nearby, and one had emergency medical training. I don’t.
I wish I had told him to turn around in Blackwater. The temperature by 2 p.m. was 90, and worse on the pavement. The last shade was at least 8 miles back, around the Katy Depot in Boonville. Corn, not shade, lined the road. But Igor had a history of heart problems, and who knows whether the day or the miles had anything to do with his collapse?
I wish I would have asked him, long ago, to tell his story.