“You live more for 5 minutes going fast on a bike than other people do in all of their life.”
This is for you, Dad.
Too often, kind words spoken about someone are said when it’s too late. A memorial service is the wrong time to express the influence a person had on your growth, the way they counter-steered your development in the right direction, how they shepherded your life. I will not make that mistake.
Dad, you had your 76th birthday in April and since you own every motorcycle gadget in the known galaxy, I had to dig deep into my very limited creative genius to find you a Marine Corps wind chime. Although in my opinion, instead of the fairy tinkle it makes as the wind on your back deck blows through the ornaments, it should make sounds like 50-caliber automatic gunfire. Amazon, take note.
After impressing you with my thoughtful gift we got down to the true business at hand: trip planning.
I love trip planning. Maps, travel notes and ideas spread out on your kitchen table, the fertile seeds of adventure and joy in our shared passion of two wheel travel, a theme that, as I reflect, has permeated our lives together.
I remember my earliest motorcycle experience when I was about 9 years old, immediately crashing the brand new Honda Trial 110 you got on loan from the local Honda shop for the day. You promptly returned the scratched up bike (which would never be allowed nowadays) and picked up a very used, faded and worn Honda Trial 90 for me to learn on. That’s when you taught me to hope for success, but plan for failure.
It got me hooked on two wheels and I rode the living snot of out that poor little motorcycle, terrorizing the sagebrush field next to our house in the summer, exploring the mountains around our house in the fall and doing hot laps around our neighborhood block in the deep winter snow, towing my kid sister behind me in her red plastic sled. That’s when you taught me that kids need room to be kids.
As docile as the Honda Trail 90 was, the bike you rode terrified me. It was a 1977 Suzuki TS400 dual sport, a big bore two stroke widow maker that was narrow, powerful and at idle it shook like a savagely unbalanced washing machine. That you could ride that beastly bike when all it wanted to do was kill you made me think you were all that more manly.
Then, on one of our countless trail rides in our mountains, you on the widow maker Suzuki and me putting along behind you on the Trail 90, I saw you dump the bike on purpose and desperately grasp at the chinstrap on your helmet while simultaneously slapping at your ear.
A bee had flown into the ear pad of your helmet and was trying its best to pollenate your ear canal. You struggled with the chin strap, slapped at your ear and danced in mad panic. That’s when you taught me that no matter how manly you think you are, it just takes one tiny thing to take you down.
As I grew through my teens and went through the usual progression of dirt bikes you surprised me and brought home a street bike, a barn-find 1974 Honda CB550. It had been tucked away and forgotten in your uncle Ole’s goat barn for years, getting used as a latrine by his variety of goats. It was metal flake orange ugly, rusted from urine and I saw no redeeming value in it at all, but you wanted it to run and would not take no for an answer.
So we tried, setting the bike on fire twice before I finally pulled the bank of carburetors. It took me probably two weeks of steady work to clean and rebuild all four of them on the kitchen bar, much to mom’s chagrin. I don’t know why I used the kitchen bar to dissect those carbs, but I really didn’t mind that the morning pancakes had faint overtones of carb cleaner and gasoline. Mom naturally, didn’t see it that way.
When we installed them, it ran. Oh, did it run. It made bellows out of those four worn exhaust pipes that when I remember it, still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That’s when you taught me how perseverance pays off.
So I stole it from you. And you got angry, as you should have. But I returned it the next winter, riding it home in the frozen northwest fog during break from college, channeling my Trial 90 winter riding skills from when I was young. You welcomed me with open arms. That’s when you taught me the power of forgiveness.
During my late twenties and early thirties I left riding for a time to raise my family and you kept riding without me. Then, with hope in your heart, you gave me your 1981 Suzuki GS1100E, anticipating that I would join you on your travels.
But the timing was wrong. There was no way I could ride with you for days as the image of my wife and three young kids waving goodbye in the driveway lingered in my memory. I sold the bike and I know you were more than a little disappointed. The time would come for us restart our shared passion for two wheeled travel, just not yet.
Years later, after moving back home to Wenatchee, Washington and buying a house a mile from you, I bought my 1998 Honda VFR800 and began touring with you, picking up right where we left off. That’s when you taught me the power of patience.
Now, we have been touring together in earnest for years. So many trips and adventures together that I cannot recount them all, but I know that my bike has kept count. It has 85,000 miles on the odometer and climbing with every tour.
Every once in a while I have to remind myself that you are 76 years old. Your spirit for life, travel, adventure and family is contagious. Those two wheels keep you younger than your thinning grey hair and smile lines would attest. Yet I know that one day, this golden time in our lives will end. This is when you are teaching me, as Carly Simon once sang, “These are the good old days”.
You also taught me that success has to happen to somebody, and that famous household names were once just nameless faces in the crowd. So with your encouragement I started writing about our trips, documenting our adventures so they would not be left to campfire storytelling or simply lost to the specter of time. At first, I only wrote for us and our biker family, but my writing caught speed, accelerated and launched a writing career which has taken me places, given me adventures I never imagined.
Now, when I see your name pop up on my phone as it rings, I know that something is in the works: a trip to plan, an adventure to undertake, and usually a good story to tell afterwards.
Or, maybe you just want me to change your rear tire and swap out your brake pads like I did last Saturday because after all, as I have to remind myself, you are 76 years old.
Somehow, the spinning of the wheels in your life has slowed time and the aging process relatively beyond Einstein’s ability to comprehend. There is no other way to explain a man whose speed rarely drops below his age. Which reminds me of the biggest lesson of all you have taught me.
Two wheels keeps you young.