2019; it was the best of times and the worst of times. At 57 years old, I was ignobly sacked from a very well paying job and all it’s comforting benefits including a car allowance and the freedom to continue Charlie Bravo’s mantra “service every need as it arises and you will find your ministry”. It was also a soul sucking job without direction or purpose that I absolutely hated, one that not only required a great deal of lying to my customers, employer, my family and myself, but also one that seemed to reward such “creative”. But I also have no one to blame but myself, for when I took the job, I knew exactly what I was getting into. I remember telling my wife that I would be lucky to last a year; I actually made it a little over two.
A successful sales person is always his or her own worst enemy, as one’s successes during their first year must be improved over the next regardless of changes in the market, service failures that cause a customer to question the effectiveness or honesty of the company represented, or to be perfectly candid, the tendency as we get older to stop giving a shit. After being kicked from my crate, I actually walked out of the door laughing, not realizing that not only had I been fired, but that the huge corporation that I had worked for was also petty enough to block my unemployment benefits. I could say that it really upset me, but in truth I experienced a feeling of freedom, despite the fact that I realized that I was going to have to do things to survive in my mid fifties that would have caused me to have a stroke if I had known of these eventualities back in my forties.
It was during the end stages of this corporate incarceration that my dad passed away from the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. He had been on palliative care for some time when I was called away to yet another meeting in Kansas City. Although we all knew that his time was short, we didn’t know just how short, so I agreed to go with the stipulation that I drive instead of fly in case something came up or went down, as it were. And of course, the inevitable happened; I woke up the last day of the meeting with an awful premonition that I had to get home right then. Of course, this was also the day that I was to do a presentation for the class on “market share”, “competitive strengths, or some other form of Salesforce byword bullshit that involved multiple uses of the term “paradigm shift”. The prospect of doing this presentation didn’t bother me in the least, but my superiors sure thought that I was using my “premonition” as an excuse get out of it and to hightail it back to Little Rock. But legally they couldn’t stop me, so hightail it I did, making the 6.5 hour trip from Overland Park to the VA Hospital in Little Rock in a little less than five, including a stop at MacDonalds to gas up the car and myself. As the elevators at the VA are notoriously slow, I ran up the seven flights of stairs only to find that I was a just a bit too late, as dad was laying in that way that there is little doubt as to any life remaining: mouth agape and eyes open and staring at eternity.
There really is no other way to say it: I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t even disappointed; I was highly pissed off. Not that I had missed his last moments, as he had been incommunicado for quite some time, and if he had still been able to communicate when I came through that door he would have probably said something that would have made me cringe. My dad and I were polar opposites when it came to temperament; while he was one of the finest, most upright men I have ever known, he could sure find a way to sometimes say things that somehow would set my teeth on edge. The real reason that I was so pissed was because that his eyes were still open. Really? What the…? I realize that this is the VA and all, but can’t you at least take the time to close his eyes? But it was my aunt, who had been in the room with my mom at the time, who informed me that he had passed only seconds before; it was almost as if my dad had been waiting for me. I remember thinking at the time, “if I just hadn’t stopped for those McNuggets…” And to be forthright, I sometimes think it still.
But those eyes. Something had to be done about those eyes. I remembered years of watching old westerns, where the dying cowboy would gasp out his last words and leave the responsibility of closing his eyes to the unfortunate confidant in attendance, and there I was. I have had a lifetime of strange experiences, but never even considered that I would someday find myself standing beside the bed of my dad under these circumstances, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Just like I envisioned Woodrow Call performing the service for Augustus MacRae in Lonesome Dove, I put my hand on my dad’s forehead and pushed his eyelids shut. And it didn’t feel weird or pretentious at all. In fact, it felt totally natural, like I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what needed to be done at that particular moment. There was no future, there was no past, “right now” was all that existed. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get his mouth to stay closed, so I had to let that part go. I can only imagine my own son standing beside my own deathbed at some time in the hopefully distant future and having exactly the same problem with me, but for an entirely different reason.
As painful as it may be, some things must come to an end so that other things can have a beginning, and many things came to an end in 2019. My dad, my job, my relationship with church leadership that was becoming exponentially more controlling and even dictatorial, it was time for a change. My buddy Trevor Ware had been hit by a drunk driver and left severely incapacitated some years before and is now living just south of the Canadian border in Linden, Washington. In the spring of 2019, there was a parole hearing back in Little Rock for the drunk driver that struck Trevor down, so he and his mother Pam made the lengthy trek back to Arkansas to appear and express their feelings concerning Nathan Ray’s early release. It was during this visit that Pam suggested that I tow a trailer of Trevor’s motorcycles and shop supplies that were in storage here in Little Rock out to Washington state, then use that opportunity to cross the US and camp with Charlie on the way back home. Well, I see your trailer and I’ll raise you a truck; wouldn’t it be a better idea to rent a Uhaul and take my own Honda CB1100 west as well, then ride it home with Charlie as my pillion? How could I pass up such a golden opportunity?
But the question was “how long would such a trip take?” The same answer as “how long is a rope?” Answer: twice as long as half of it. Or “How far can you walk into the woods?” Halfway; because then you’ll be walking out. Or “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros?” Elephino. Basically, there was no intelligent answer; it would take as long as it took. But then the whole adventure took a definite hard turn left when my brother from a different mother contacted me from southern California; if I would “swing through” California en route to Washington state, he would donate his personal BMW motorcycle and side car to Trevor so that others could assist him in following his passion for riding. My geography isn’t the best in the world, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t just “swing through” California on the way to the Pacific northwest, but a chance to hang out with a bunch of Adventure Riding reprobates at the Warped Rally was not a chance to be missed.
Most motorcycle trips gone bad start on a bike and end up in a Uhaul; ours was exactly the opposite. We left home in a Uhaul and returned on a bike. Upon arriving in Kernville, CA, we made an alarming discovery; the sidecar rig would not fit in the UHaul with Trevor’s other bikes. Adapt and improvise; we rented a trailer to tow behind the Uhaul truck, and a after a few days of witnessing the appalling debauchery of the ADV inmates of Warped, Charlie and I were heading up the California coast to Washington. After unloading the bikes at Trevor’s and returning the rented equipment, Charlie and I saddled up on my Honda and started the four thousand mile trip back to Arkansas. The Cascades in Washington, the Bonneville Salt Flats and the red rock wasteland of Moab in Utah, across the Rockies in Colorado and New Mexico, the grinding miles across the plains of Texas and Oklahoma (Oklahoma, the Alzheimer’s of good road trips), overall four weeks on the road before arriving back at the Casa del Whackos. The unplanned trip of a lifetime would never have even been a consideration had it not been for the decidedly unpleasant events that had taken place earlier that year.
Charlie and I wrote the following piece shortly upon out return; life is what happens in the curves…
The Art of the Curve
It’s been a while since Charlie and I had been on a bike, and it was starting to show. After the 3900 mile and three weeks trip from the upper tip of Washington state back to Arkansas, I wasn’t too sure she would ever want to ride again. So, due to the grueling conditions I knew we would have to face crossing 1500 miles of New Mexican dirt, I decided to let Charlie sit that one out, and then came the accident within ten miles of the finish that pretzled my leg and kept me off bikes for the last six weeks.
So tonight I exchanged the walking boot for a pair of riding boots and gingerly took the DR650 out for a spin; Charlie was NOT happy to be left behind, but I needed to see how the old ankle was going to hold up. When I got back to the Casa, I took a chance at suffering canine-inflicted soft tissue damage by uttering the magic words: “wanna go?” She looked at me in disbelief, as if she wasn’t too sure if we would ever ride again, then vaulted onto her bike, the big Honda CB1100.
As we began to hit the twisties, I heard an odd sound coming from behind me. Charlie is notorious for her earsplitting “CHARK!”, but this usually occurs at the beginning of a ride, as if to tell me “c’mon, dad, we’re burning daylight! It’s time to roll NOW!”. But this was a sound I hadn’t heard her make before in the thousands of miles we’ve ridden together;
It was a yowl of pure ecstacy, rising and falling as we dove into the curves.
And that’s what it’s all about; the curves. Anybody with a bit of hand/eye/foot coordination can go fast in a straight line, but the corners is what separates the apprentice from the journeyman, and ultimately a master craftsman.
Stay with me, now; we’re going on a little ride; I promise to tie it all back together.
First, there’s speed. If you enter a turn too slowly, you lose much of the momentum needed to smoothly exit the curve and set up for the next. But the obverse is true as well, as if you carry too much speed into the curve, you usually have to brake at the most dangerous time, when the bike is leaned over and traction is diminished. Even if a crash is avoided, the result is the same as if you entered too cautiously; momentum is lost.
And one of the worst things you can do is coast through a turn, as this allows the bike to rise in its suspension with the resulting decrease in traction. If you stay on the throttle, the bike stays settled, the contact patches where the rubber meets the road are increased due the steady twist of the wrist that prompts the engine to transfer the power to the rear wheel, keeping the bike “planted”.
Then there’s lane placement. It’s always easy to spot an inexperienced rider, or even a seasoned one that is fearful due to fatigue or other circumstances. They will usually be hugging the inside line in the belief that by distancing themselves from the danger of oncoming traffic, that severe dropoff, or whatever else they fear, they are somehow “safer”. The truth of the matter is that the setting up to the inside severely limits how far you can see through the curve and identify any hazards that may be lurking just around the corner. What you can see can often be avoided, but you can’t negotiate what you can’t identify as a hazard.
I could go on all night with the intricacies of the art of the perfect curve, but what does this have to do with life?
Life is what happens in the curves. A curve might be a loss of a job, a birth of a child, a divorce, a death of a spouse, anything that causes a distinct change in direction. In my life, turning fifty was a major curve, and I was doing all of the wrong things to set up for it properly. I was set up to the inside, the “safer” route, which severely impaired my vision of the road ahead. I was coasting, which lessened my contact with the road, i was even braking way too early. Surely, I thought, my best years were behind me, the kids grown and going on their own journeys, why throttle down towards a future that appeared a bit bleak and uninteresting?
One of the most important facts in motorcycling and in life is what’s known as “target fixation”, that you always go where you look. If you’re concentrating on where you don’t want to go, that ditch, that dead possum, that oncoming truck, there’s a very good chance that’s exactly where you will end up. You have to acknowledge the hazard, but at the same time, focus on the road beyond it.
I was fixated on a future that I could not imagine being any better than my past, and as a result, I was racing headfirst to the exact result that I wanted desperately to avoid. But there was so much more on the other side of that curve, and there always is; we just have to be set up in a position that we can see further down the road.
But often the curves start to come harder and faster than we can ever imagine we could possibly handle, and sometimes it pays to use the straightaways to slow the bike for a bit and regroup. There is nothing wrong with intentionally slowing, but you can never stop; being stationary on the side of the road is one of the most dangerous places a motorcyclist can be, as you become the target that others will inadvertently fixate upon.
Zig Ziglar once said “if you’re not green and growing, you’re ripe and rotting”. Regardless of our perceived age or position in life there is always more to expect hidden beyond that next curve, and the same curve that may conceal a hazard will always reveal an opportunity. If I hadn’t had the motorcycle accident that almost ended my life with a ruptured colon, I probably never would have even been in the right frame of mind two months later to stop on that deserted country road and check that nasty crate. True, the encounter with the stump and the resulting colostomy were unexpected and VERY unpleasant curves to have to negotiate, but the ultimate outcome was finding Charlie Bravo. And finding Charlie didn’t just alter my path, but put me on a brand new road, destination still unknown, but it’s been an awesome ride.
It is my earnest hope that each of you who are currently encountering a particularly strenuous set of twisties will find your own personal Charlie on the other side. In the meantime, you can continue to borrow my Charlie vicariously, as she really belongs to all of us anyway. Or, as she no doubt believes, we all belong to her; she’s such a diva.
We be of one blood, ye and I.