What I Love About The Gene Yang Gang

Through 12 years of celebrating my dad’s life, there’s a lot I have grown to love about this group of souls that we call the Gene Yang Gang. Every year, when we gather at Picacho Peak, or even when I’m standing in the office in the same spot my dad used to greet patients, I’m sometimes caught off guard when my eyes suddenly brim with tears. I’m flooded with so many emotions thinking about this crew – joy, sorrow, sadness, caring, and overwhelming gratitude.

In non-Covid-19 years, we gather at Picacho Peak, Arizona, usually on a Saturday sometime around February 12, the day of the accident. In the morning, my dad’s good friend Wes and his crew of bicycle-riding buddies will meet in Casa Grande for a prayer and ride the 33 miles to Picacho Peak on their road bikes. The group of riders often comment afterward about the tailwind or headwinds, likely furnished by my dad from heaven! I love listening to them chatter about their riding conditions.

When the riders arrive at Picacho Peak, some of them take a rest with Mr. Bob (who, at 95+ years old, usually drives the support vehicle along the way), while the other ambitious athletes join the hikers who have gathered at the parking lot of the massive 3,374 peak. Often choosing the Hunter Trail to reach the summit, the hikers head out with their hiking poles, nutrition bars, and (in our case) toddlers. Sometimes it is cold and windy, sometimes it is a bit too warm for a hike in February, and sometimes it is just perfect. Sometimes we make it to the top, sometimes we make it to the saddle, sometimes we make it just past the parking lot. Our nuclear family’s journey up the mountain is often limited by time, so we rush to go as high as possible so we can turn around in time to set up for the picnic. No matter the distance, we make it out to the open air and sunshine, which is worth the trip. In the morning at that time of year, the face of Picacho Peak is shaded. I love seeing the rays of sun peeking over the crest of Picacho Peak and reminding me there is always light behind the shadows.

We try to wait until all the hikers are back at the Cholla Ramada before we say a prayer to bless the food, and dig into the fried chicken that has become a Wes/Alice gift tradition! Everyone chips in with the sides: chips, homemade potato salad, pasta salad, fruits, veggies, cookies, cupcakes. Many people look forward to the fizzy Izze sparkling drinks that we bring from Costco! There are often blue plates, blue balloons, GYG favors, and always lots of laughter. Wes hosts the sharing time, and various people tell stories and relive memories of our times together. I try to take pictures of it all. I am in awe when I see Phil and the kids – four miracles – interacting with everyone we love. I love being surrounded by family and friends, and soaking up all the memories.

The bikes, hikes, and picnics are just part of the fun, but they can’t compare to the heart. It always amazes me that the GYG grows every year. New friends who come along for the ride (literally), people that we meet on the hiking trails or on the side of the road (mostly via Wes), via Facebook (hi Mark!), and of course, new additions of babies who grow up hearing GYG stories at bedtime. I know I can count on these friends and family to be there when I need a listening ear, advice about the future, or just to reminisce and laugh about the past. I love the Gene Yang Gang.