Requiem for Janis Coblentz

Janis at the wheel, Bicycle Odyssey 1989

March 8 is Women’s Day. There will be articles, and in Europe people give acacia blossoms to the women in their lives…but this year, I want to recognize one woman.
Janis Coblentz,–of the original  dozen or so Wombats– died this month, after a three year long cancerous siege.

Her brave life partner and tandem/bike/Airstream adventuring man, Eric Johnson, stood by her during the siege, and kept her comfortable last month as Jan ran out of steam.

My first sight of Jan was in 1987 at a Sausalito health food store, where she came over and introduced herself…and shortly after joined that charter bunch of fat-tire women in Marin County. New Year’s Day 1988 was a drenching downpour of a winter’s day. Jan, Eric, and only a couple others headed into the hills…

The following summer she and Joan Nilsen were “best women” at Charlie and my ‘welding bells’ nuptials.   I got the (used) dress,  the (semblance of) pomp, and the genuinely delicious food aspects of a Solemn Occasion right. …but since weddings in general seem like dress-up play-acting, I couldn’t resist tweaking other givens–no one was asked to don fancy clothes.  Having attendants was good enough, and Jan,  Joan and “Jerome” (Charlie’s dude-of-honor) gave us that pinch of style.

Jan’s panache arose from an inimitable blend of forties Hollywood glamour and late century organic Earth-Woman. When she told stories, she’d often punctuate them with extra vigor, italicizing what she’d just seen or done, like when they witnessed the 50th birthday of the GG Bridge.

“You could not believe what it was like!” she told me of their day.  “Fireworks raining, pouring! down off the deck of the bridge,   with the bay reflecting this  golden light.    A magic night– thanks to the bikes– with   front row seats up in the hills…”

I took notes.

If you ever catch me in lipstick, it’s thanks to her.

If you ever have some of my home-grown vegetables, Ms Coblentz  master gardener inspired that, too.

From the bike to the food, to the dignified carriage on  any of her bicycles, she embodied the cycling way of life.  She must have a wall covered with trophies (she managed to be eight years older than me, but look younger then me, and raced like a twenty year old). They, along with a garden, a broken-hearted mate and a hole in the Fairfax community, will mark the presence of a remarkable woman who  faced the end without flinching, complaining, or weeping.

Janis, you inspire me.


~ by jacquiephelan on March 8, 2010.

15 Responses to “Requiem for Janis Coblentz”

  1. That is a beautiful memorial to someone who must have been a wonderful friend and human being. Thanks for sharing the memories.

  2. Sublime memorial, as sublime Janis must have been.


  3. Ah, I am so sad.

  4. So sorry for your loss, Jacquie. You can embrace your friends memory forever. Keep her with you.

  5. I hadn’t seen her in decades but remember her to be super sweet and a wonderful person to head out onto Tam with…I feel really bad for Eric…I’m not sure how he will find a way to move on but pray he will…sorry Jacquie…her spirit will live on in your garden and on the trails of Tam~

  6. Dearest Jacquie, I am so sorry you lost your friend Janis Coblentz. Your memorial was a wonderful tribute to her. May she rest–and ride, and garden–in peace.

  7. Jacquie,

    Thank you for writing about Janis. She had told me a lot about the Wombats and how much she loved all of you. I watched the video about you. You are one cool women. I just love your dreads! I just read Anne Lammot’s book Traveling Mercies. She is from your area and finally decided to get dreads and loves them. Hope to meet you sometime. My daughter Sarah may go to Dominican University this fall. BTW, I’m Janet Johnson “Janis’s East Coast Honorary Sister”. Eric is my husband Jim’s brother. We loved Janis so much. She lives on inside of us all. Warmest Wishes!

  8. Oh my goodness, I remember her so well 😦 ! People always used to mix us up. I think we were the only two lipstick wearing bike racers 🙂 . When I saw her photo here on your blog, memories came flooding back. This is so sad, I can’t help but cry. I’m so sorry for Eric. It was easy to see, those two had something so special. It’s hard to believe she has passed.
    I am SO sorry for your loss, as well.

  9. Jan’s mother, Jean, is my friend and I see that Jan was as loyal and wonderful a friend as her mother is to so many.

  10. i remember janice, she was one of the first women cyclists i met
    when i started to ride. i remeber her always being perfectly made up with lipstick and the whole bit. she was so beautiful wiith that blond hair and red lips. always exquisite, always nice, and o
    so fast….


  11. One of my favorite memories is from many years ago when Eric convinced her to go with him to a gig in S.F.. She had been reluctant because she wouldn’t know anybody there. I happened to be there because I was friends with the subject of the gig. When Janis saw me, her eyes just lit up! Wow! She and Eric totally hit it off with the subject of the gig (who was understandably enamoured with both of them), and were among the last to leave.

  12. I am so sorry to hear this. Hard to believe someone so vibrant and full of life is gone. I used to ride with Janis quite a bit back in the “day”, man could she ride a bike. A wonderful person who will be truly missed. I am very sad.

  13. Jan and Eric are sister and brother in law to me. I remember so many amazing adventures with them…. being introduced to living on a bus, on a pier in San Francisco…vegetarian food…Vidal Sassoon hair cuts…Crazy San Francisco big city life…gardening… hiking…their amazingly beautiful eclectic home in Fairfax…. bicycles…busses….trailers…and most of all their graciousness as hosts when anyone came to visit. Jan, you have inspired me to be vibrant and healthy and live life to the fullest. Eric you continue to be the wind beneath her wings now and forever! I love you both. Thank you for the gift of you in my life.

  14. What a beautiful, loveing tribute. Thank you for the moving introduction to such an inspiring woman.

  15. I wished that I had gotten to meet Janis. She was the perfect woman for Eric. As his long time old friend, I pray that he can continue with his life and try to find happiness once again.

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