They had never met, but Kelly James-Littmann recognized Darlene Netke at first glance Wednesday night.
Her eyes brimmed with tears. Her expression conveyed fear and grief – a look of someone lost.
It was a look James-Littmann had worn herself, the look of a widow.
Both of their spouses were killed last year while bicycling in Waukesha County, and they met for the first time at a memorial ride for the men and others who died in similar fashion.
Littmann introduced herself and the widows shared a hug and a brief moment of privacy, as the cyclists lined up for the event.
In the pre-ride ceremony, Littmann was able to thank the 100 riders that turned out and share two of her husband’s favorite phrases: “The wind is your friend,” and “Rock and ride.”
Netke was unable to speak.
Her sister-in-law, Rachel Bishop, had told me earlier how difficult the past year has been for Netke, a mother of three.
“She is very emotional and she has every reason to be,” Bishop said. “She’s a very strong person, a courageous person, but this has put a major hole in her life.
“To me, this is almost unimaginable that it happened.”
Bishop traveled from her home in Holland, Mich., to join the cyclists in a silent ride through Waukesha. Their intent was to honor Littmann and Netke, and to remind bikers and motorists to follow the rules of the road, respect each other and prevent further deaths.
Difficult as it was, Bishop had positive words about the experience.
“It was very healing,” she said. “It was incredible; the amount of people who were out here to support awareness and cycling safety.”
The Ride of Silence in Waukesha was one of roughly 150 around the world, including nine in Wisconsin.