CAMP NELSON NATIONAL CEMETERY — If "friendship is a sheltering tree," as English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, then Masaki "Toshie" Tashima of Lexington spent much time in the shade.
That was evident Wednesday at Tashima's funeral in southern Jessamine County. Twenty-seven members of Bluegrass Cycling Club rode their bikes from Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park and down a service road and the U.S. 27 right of way to the neighboring cemetery's interment shelter, where a brief service was held.
Tashima, 64, an Army veteran and avid cyclist, last year logged 4,400 miles on 137 rides with the cycling club — more than any other member. In three short years, he and his wife, Becky, rode some 9,000 miles.
"He was what you call an A rider, a really good rider," said club member Bill Sturm. "He could ride 100 miles in a day and not think much about it."
But stomach cancer severely limited Tashima's rides in the past six months, although he did make a couple of trips. Upon his passing June 14, the club expressed an interest in riding in Tashima's honor, said member Jennifer Ryall.
"They had all ridden with him before, and it just seemed like something he would have liked," Ryall said. So she checked with Tashima's wife "to make sure this was OK with the family, and she said he would have loved it."
At the head of Wednesday's group rode Bill Cole, whose bike pulled Tashima's Fuji bike, jersey and helmet on a small trailer.
"We figured we owed it to him," Cole said before the service. "So we're gathering here in a very unconventional funeral procession because Toshie was a very unconventional kind of guy. He would give you the shirt off his back if you were cold. You just couldn't follow him because he could get lost on a straight road. But that's why we loved him."
Family members said they were touched by the outpouring of love and sympathy.
"It was overwhelming. It was great to see everybody who loved him," said Tashima's son, Kenshin.
Camp Nelson National Cemetery, Central Kentucky's version of Arlington National Cemetery, has been the scene of other unconventional funeral processions.
In 2008, a riderless horse — with cavalry boots fitted backward in the stirrups to signify a fallen soldier looking back at his troops for a final time — was part of a procession that included a horse-drawn caisson carrying a flag-draped casket. Similar riderless mounts were used in Abraham Lincoln's funeral and President John F. Kennedy's 1963 cortege.
And at times, reproduction Civil War mortars and cannons have fired chest-thumping volleys in salute to fallen soldiers at Camp Nelson.
Tashima and his wife owned a house-cleaning service called An Angel's Touch Cleaning Service, and Ryall said the cycling club members raised money so Becky Tashima could spend her last weeks with her husband at home and not worry about bringing in an income.
But cycling club members also said they wanted to perform a gesture that matched Tashima's life-affirming disposition. So in their blue-and-yellow bike wear, they rode into the cemetery and stood with other mourners at the committal shelter.
"He was really fun to ride with. He always had a great smile," Sheila Tolley said of Tashima. "He was a great motivation because he showed up at every ride. Toshie and I were always in competition for the mileage leader of the club, and so it was kind of this little ongoing thing we had together. He was a little guy, and I'm short, so we always liked to ride next to each other. He was just always fun to ride with because he had this great personality and smile."
She added: "This club sometimes becomes like your family, and that's what we felt. We all feel like we've lost a family member today."
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.