A week ago, I went to a club meeting, the once-a-month meeting of the guys from the Tuesday rides and folks who can’t ride during the workweek. There were 12 or 15 of us at the meeting. I sat next to my friend Jerry, a guy I like but have not mentioned in my pieces about those rides.
Jerry told me he is going to quit riding. He’s selling his K1100LT to his son, who lives in the southeast. Jerry still has the bike, but when winter is over, his son will fly here to Denver and ride it home. Suddenly, Jerry will have nothing to ride. The spot where a bike always was: empty.
Jerry is no kid. He’s probably late 70s. Nevertheless, I was surprised when he said he’d decided to quit. He has no apparent problems and has been riding for decades. I’ve happily followed him for miles and miles through hundreds of curves.
I asked him why now, in this winter of ‘16-’17, has he chosen to chuck it in.
“It’s my neck,” he said. “I can’t turn my head the way I used to. I suspect I’m not as safe on the bike now. Time to stop.”
He looked at me as he spoke. Sad eyes. Like a boy wanting me to say it ain’t so.
I told him I’d miss him on the rides, that he’s my friend. I asked him if he’d still come to meetings and maybe meet us for lunch on Tuesdays in his car. He said that’s just what he intends to do.
Artwork: Mr. Jensen
I wrote about Dale a few issues ago. Dale’s ankle was damaged badly in the crash I told you about. Months later, he still has lots of discomfort. Some days are better than others. He got a fine settlement from his insurance company, a decent sum of money for a 200,000-mile bike. It’s surely enough to buy a smaller motorcycle outright, or go a long way toward another Wing.
I don’t believe Dale has been looking at bikes of any size, and he may not, not ever. Maybe he’s like Jerry, a recent ex-rider. Maybe the crash and long, painful recovery make riding seem not nearly so attractive. Easy to imagine.
Dale, as I’ve told you, was our ride leader and to my mind a truly competent motorcyclist. I would have bet the ranch that he would never quit, never have that empty place in his garage and his life where his motorcycle used to be.
Bob, the guy who rode immediately behind Dale on dozens of Tuesday rides, sold his white Wing at the end of the summer. He says he has no intention of replacing it. As he promised, he’s still active in the club. He shows up at lunch and comes to meetings, even organizes rides.
Again: all three guys appeared to love motorcycling. They were, I thought, forever riders who intended to ride to their own funerals, as people say. I never saw quitting coming.
But all these guys are in their 70s. Me too. I suppose, when a guy’s in his 70s, he can take the long view, weigh the joys and risks. He can balance a wealth of experience against slowing reflexes and physical setbacks. He can say to himself, “Hey, maybe it’s time. There’ve been lots of great rides, lots of fine times with the club or the guys or the wife. Maybe I’ll call it quits.”
Maybe that’s maturity. Maybe that’s how thoughtful individuals, folks who are not ruled by their passions, choose to give up one thing and go on, one hopes, to others.
Maybe that thoughtful individual in his 70s feels he’s already enjoyed a lifetime of riding, decades of club day rides and longer journeys, decades of roads he rode once and wanted to ride every year, of homemade-pie-small-town cafes, marginal motels where the desk clerk loaned him a hose, a bucket and a squirt of dishwashing liquid…
You might have a different list but you know what I mean—all those people and places and experiences that make your rides sparkle, and make the rest of your life look kinda gray by comparison.
When I think about guys like Dale and Jerry and Bob, who decided one day that the time had come, I think about all of us riders who are growing older. I think about you and I think about me.
Is what has happened to them bound to happen to us? Oh, man, I hope not…
I really don’t want to quit riding. I could have set the word really in italics or bold, but I figured you’d know what I meant without added emphasis. I’ll bet you don’t want to quit riding either.
If we want, you and I, to keep riding, we have to look after ourselves on and off the bike. We have to resist impulses to insert ourselves into perilous situations or ride when we’re not at our best.
We can’t let health problems linger and grow worse. We can stay active and healthy. We don’t want the doctor to tell us to quit riding… and we don’t want that little voice in our heads to tell us to quit riding. That little voice that Dale heard, and Jerry heard, and Bob heard.
Maybe all of this is fear talking. Maybe I’m whistling in the graveyard, braving myself up. Maybe waving goodbye to Dale and Bob and Jerry was three glasses of ice-water in my face.
I really don’t want to quit riding.
Maynard started a Facebook page for motorcyclists and road cyclists that use blood thinners, but have continued to ride despite the added danger. If you ride despite it all, please go to facebook.com/WarfarinRangers and post something: a story or a photo. And be careful out there!
This column originally appeared in our May 2017 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.