I got to Columbia, South Carolina on a Friday night, late and weary, but dry, and checked into my motel.
Saturday was spent getting ready for Rick. I went and got the Ducati from my friend’s house where it’d been sitting for a couple of weeks, and parked both bikes side by side proudly under the awning right there by the front entrance. I had fun with a guy who was staring wistfully at the bikes by telling him my riddle, ” I am but one man, yet even still I rode those two motorcycles here. Tell me how.” Doesn’t seem so brilliant right now, but my delivery must have been incredible, for the old guy kept repeating my words, scratching his head and finally said, “How did you do that??? One man, two bikes…???” He wandered away muttering to himself, overly troubled.
I went to the Harley Davidson dealership just to make sure we could get gear for Rick and found out they were closed on Monday. Rats! Part of my plan was for Ellen to just get Rick on a plane in his shorts and flip flops; we’d outfit him in Columbia. Rick was getting in on Sunday and we were supposed to literally ‘head for the hills’ on Monday asap. But we had to get equipped. I found the manager of the store, Head Harley Dude, said a quick prayer, and then proposed, “If you’d please please please open up early Monday for just an hour I promise you it will be worth your while.” I laid it on thick as I could, how special this was for my friend, a famous architect who didn’t even know he was getting hi-jacked and kidnapped and flown down here to go on a motorcycle ride. I told him about Rick’s Manhattan skyline skyscraper that he designed and built all by himself with his bare hands, his appearances on National Geographic and other TV shows of the like; the charity work he’d done around the world. How he wasn’t just famous like a movie star, but famous like… like… “encyclopedia famous!” But mostly I told him if he’d open up Rick was going to buy no less than a full helmet, armored jacket, boots, gloves… everything but a motorcycle.
“He’s not gonna buy a motorcycle?” the manager was asking, as if that would seal the deal.
“He’s already got one, sorry.”
Disapprovingly, the boss faintly, slowly shook his head and I blurted out, “It’s a 1995 Harley FLSTN Nostalgia!”
Those were the most magic words I could think to say under pressure. Kinda still are.
Seemed like he was teetering so I repeated, “Encyclopedia famous! And, remember, he needs…”
Cutting me off or finishing my sentence, I’m not sure which, but it was the manager now saying, with me nodding ‘yes’ to punctuate every word rolling out of his mouth,”Helmet? Jacket? Boots? The works? That’s what you’re talking about?”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
On Sunday morning I did ‘John Mark’ for the Columbia church and on Sunday afternoon I took the motel shuttle and picked up Rick. He reminded me of a cartoon character who just got hit in the head with a frying pan, still a bit surprised and confused; he’d woken up thinking he was going home to Rockland County and ended up in South Carolina. I’d wanted Ellen to not tell him anything until she dropped him off at the airport but her nerve had broken… “C’mon Ellen!!!” … and she felt she had to give him a head’s up before leaving the Hamptons. Rick was reluctant and resistant and reticent and a bunch of other ‘r’ words, but he surrendered and got on the plane; arriving with a wane smile and the best attitude he could muster. I’d seen this nearly condescending “what is this preacher trying to talk me into” look before and I knew I had to get him on his bike quick or he might just turn around and head home.
When the shuttle pulled up to the motel and Rick saw the Ducati and his Nostalgia sitting there he made some kind of sound that I’d never heard before . Well, that’s not true, I’d heard it, but only in my own head, never… never… from another guy. Kids squealing with delight at Christmas is just one manifestation of near indescribable joy, but this wasn’t a squeal coming out of Rick. It was deeper and primal and certainly not loud; the driver couldn’t hear or feel it but somewhere angels did, and I did, and now I realize the sound most reminded me of a sound I make, when I’ve been asleep and I wake up and Lisa is on top of me smiling and kissing and I’m trying to be cool and calm and all James Bond but don’t even realize that I’m already on the verge of that explosion of happiness… but I hold it together and only allow her to hear that deep animal part of me growl. An almost undetectable but undeniable growl came out of Rick.I don’t really remember if he totally expected to see his ’95 there, but seems like when he actually touched it, rubbing his hands over the seat as if an identical ’95 might feel different, he was Neo taking the pill that would soon wake him up out of the pod. He wasn’t out of the pod yet, but he took the pill out of my hand and slowly put it in his mouth and swallowed.We’d already talked about all the time spent hatching the plot with Ellen, Cmack sneaking me over at 2am, the ride in the rain…monkey butt.. all of that; but still he asked me all over again, “How did my bike get here? You rode it?”
We threw his tiny gym bag… the only thing he had… into the motel room and jumped on the bikes; helmet-less, of course, for we were in the land of the free, home of the organ donors, South Carolina! We cruised to a Chile’s and got some food and caught up on each other’s latest stories, along with Rick spending a lot of time talking about how he loved not wearing a helmet; how his peripheral vision was so much better and he was more aware of his surroundings without the helmet. Seems like he may have even tried to build a case for how dangerous helmets could be, obstructive as they are; and about how there’s a certain ‘look’ that goes with riding a Harley, especially one as iconic as the Nostalgia. Wear a full helmet? “Why not just put a bucket on your head, Steeeeeve!”
Then, heading back to our motel, the coolest thing happened –
The Ducati caught on fire.
Flames. Real jumping flames under and behind my right foot. Rick, who was pulled up on that side, said, “Hey, Steve… uh… your bike’s on fire.” Real nonchalant of course, keeping with that certain Harley ‘look’, and all. Well, I forget if I beat the flames out with my bare hands or if we just looked on dumbly wishing we had marshmallows; but for sure the fire went out and I rode on back to the motel only to realize that, along with the fire, the rear brake went out, too.
I still had the front brake, and truth is, in those days I was such a noob that I was prepared to go ahead and hit the road tomorrow sans rear brakes; but seems like there was more to worry about than that. Maybe Rick can help me remember better. I just know that it was enough of a bother that we spent the next hour looking through the internet directory for motorcycle mechanics in Columbia, who would be open. On a Sunday night.
Pay attention now.
It’s a Sunday, NIGHT! in Columbia, South Carolina, and I need a mechanic who can fix a Ducati that just caught on fire.
This was before ‘smart phones’. Oh, we had cell phones in those days, certainly, but we went to the motel ‘business office’ and got online. And there was a place called Moto Gizmo that had the usual wording about working on European and metric bikes that is a hopeful signal that this is a shop that knows its way around a Ducati. But did I mention it’s Sunday? Faithlessly we call the number and there’s the predictable answering machine with the ‘we’re closed’ and ‘regular business hours’ message. But at the end it gave us a personal number for emergencies, which this clearly was the most important emergency south of the Mason Dixon at the moment. We leave a message, expecting nothing, but soon Mark calls. Mark Gillotte.
Sunday night, early evening when most locals are still eating dinner, we need a mechanic who knows Italian, we find a guy who actually calls us back and on top of all of that…
… it’s his 36th wedding anniversary!
Mark gillotte of Motor Gizmo, had us meet him at the shop and drop off the Ducati on Sunday night of his anniversary and instantly becomes my hero and my new best friend…
He’s the only Ducati mechanic in town. God seemed to want this trip to happen, too!
Only certain kind of grown men can sleep in the same room. We’ve got habits and noises and smells and rituals, but economizing sometimes helps guys bond as well as foxhole experiences; Rick and I slept in the same room that night. And I could take an hour describing the talk we had until we both mumbled off to sleep. God and Jesus and family, yeah, but that gave way to the ‘treehouse’ kind of talking you did when you were in third grade and had a best friend that you’d share the same bottle of grape soda with. We talked about Rick and the older greaser with the car who’d tie a rope on his bumper and pull Rick and others, on their bikes, and how one time that ended up with Rick bloody in a driveway getting yelled by the old lady in the house… and somehow that talk turned into Rollie Free and the 1947 record he set on the Vincent in his bathing suit… and how one thing leads to another with guys… like… you could go faster if you took off the leathers… maybe we should shave your back… what if we TIED THE ROPE TO THE BIKE SO YOU CANT LET GO we were talking in the dark and laughing snot bubbles until we fell asleep.
Next morning at 8am I take Rick to the Harley store. They let us in and then they lock the door behind us; this is a private sale for Rick Cook only. I think they still talk about it. The day they privately opened for the ‘encyclopedia famous’ guy who bought a complete outfit. And though Rick had owned boots and gloves and jackets and riding junk before, this was his first ever FULL FACE MOTORCYCLE HELMET.
I left him there belaboring the helmet thing and trying on various types of attire.. funny, he picked the ‘pull over your jeans’ leather chaps and yeah, we joked plenty about just forget your jeans and put on the chaps by themselves…
I went to pick up the Ducati, kiss Mark Gillotte on the cheek which seemed to make him smile funny, and rode back quickly to find Rick ready to ride.
It’s almost 9:30am now and this is Columbia’s version of rush hour and it’s already about 110 degrees and muggy and we’re bumper to bumper getting out of town, heading north, trying to get some daylight and I’ve already screwed up; we’ve started the trip doing everything Rick hates: traffic, waiting, hot, leather, FULL HELMET…
But we scoot through the boring part and move faster and faster as we go further and further north. I punch the st3s and look in my rear view. No need, he’s not in my rear view, Rick is punching the Harley right there beside me. I twist some more and we get up to over 90 several times and are weaving through the last trickle of traffic jam and are going faster than the flow of the rest of our interstate fellow travelers. The speed feels good, so does the wind that cools us a little bit, and after about an hour we make a gas stop. I’m hoping Rick isn’t too disappointed… I’m hoping that we got revved up enough for this to start looking and feeling like fun. Rick jumps off his bike and and flips the lid of his full face, but modular, helmet… he’s already got that flip thing down pat… he almost forgets his kick stand he’s so excited but rushes over too me and says..
“THIS HELMET IS GREAT!”
He’s a torrent of words, articulate as ever, and he’s a fast talking New Yorker all the time anyways. But now he’s shouting and machine gunning out a burst of excitement like he just discovered sex or Jesus or both for the first time.
“I was soooo wrong. You’re vision is much better in here. And the wind isn’t getting in your eyes and ears and you can actually see and your cheeks aren’t flapping against the back of your head. It’s like your own world in here and you’re in control!” And on and on.
This was the first sign that maybe the pill was working and the pod might deliver us a Neo Rick.
Think I’m making this up? Rick wrote me this just this morning after reading the last email I sent out:
Reminded me that on that trip I discovered the pleasant micro environment of the full face wonderland.
An ephinany .
No flapping middle aged face flesh.
No bugs in the teeth .
Like a Caribbean vacation.
Yes I had worn one on snowmobiles ( obvious).
Just Harley’s and full face , not cool.
I was wrong ,it is a new and wonderful life of comfort in side the magical world of a full face helmet.who knew?
The further north we rode towards the Blue Ridge, the higher the elevation and the cooler the air and the bigger the grin I could see when Rick and I would glide along side by side. We found the way to Hot Springs, our first night’s destination; highway 209. I spent rainy Portland winters plotting out routes for the best summer rides I could imagine and I found 209 while exploring from my living room, long before I found Hot Springs and the house I would end up renting. The wiggly, spaghetti twisted look of the road sold me on Hot Springs and now we were riding it; from idea to actually there riding with my buddy Rick, the Manhattan, world famous, got a dad gummed skyscraper iconically sitting on the dad gummed New York City skyline and two days ago had no idea he wouldn’t be at work today cause it’s Monday for Pete’s sake and only losers and lazy people aren’t working on Monday and now he’s riding …motorcycles!… he’s riding motorcycles with a guy he haven’t seen in God knows how long… and he… Rick.. is leading me on one of the twistiest roads in America, scraping floorboards on every turn! Watching him was like watching a god wake up. Neo had indeed sprung from the pod. And Lordy, he could fly!
I’ve been going on a while now, I know, but this is one of those moments… moments? heck fire! … it was a week full of moments and these kinds of moments you remember forever. Part of me trying to remember and write down all this beautiful, amazing junk is that I’m amazed how we, the 10 of us, have so many of these times to remember. The world is full of folks who don’t have moments like these. Too many don’t even have a friend which is worse than not having a motorcycle. And let’s not get started on all the lost ones who don’t have Jesus. Any one of our stories could be a life time bucket list destination and experience for most of the world. That’s what I think, anyways.
I’ll skip the details now, where we stayed, meeting Cmack and his brother Mike, riding Tail of the Dragon and then heading up the Appalachian chain for New York…
… all the laughs, the funny things, like bifocal motorcycle sunglasses. Says a lot about the demographic.
And the fact that we both got em at Tail of the Dragon store there at Deal’s Gap.
This was August of 2011, after the other 6 of us took that Grand Canyon ride. What a summer!
The following May, 2012, would be the first time Rick would ‘join’ the group. We met at Thunderbolt Raceway in New Jersey.
And then Rick joined us in August that same summer, 2012, for the famous Creede Ride: parking lot of marbles and rabid dogs, ghost lady floating around, day in the dirt and Ray running over me on purpose; then a final fabulous ride, for some of us, over Cottonwood Pass in the rain and mud and snow even at the top. And in this little paragraph, a paragraph that for most guys would be the highlight of their entire life, I left out more details than you’d sit through me retelling. Besides, you’d rather tell em yourself. : )
You guys are the best; you bought me a rear tire for the ducati and Rick would go back and forth between the Daytona and the Italian Wonder all the way from Denver to Durango to… I didn’t even mention Bart and Mel…
… or that this was the first time this guy came along with us…
… later. We’ll get to that hero later…
But let me go back to Rick and me, getting separated from Cmack somewhere in West Virginia or Pennsylvania. Rick, who rode up with his wife on a ’95 and inspired me to start riding now tells me thisis the longest he’s ever ridden on a motorcycle. His first real biker’s road trip.
As we get closer and closer to the city, we get wilder and faster and freer and by the time we’re in New Jersey and back to bumper to bumper traffic … we’re splitting lanes! We ain’t stopping! Playing chase! We’re two kids on bikes and heck with the world and everyone else and when we get in sight of the famous skyline and you can see 1 Bryant Park standing there distinct and proud from a million miles away Rick stands up, one hand on the throttle and the other fist pumping in the air and even though we’re going 90 mph and it’s impossible I swear I heard… and still hear… him shouting in the wind and shouting at Gotham “YEAH! YEAH BABY! THAT’S MY HOUSE! YEAH!!!”
We get back to Sneden’s Landing and Rick says, “Wanna get a burger?” I always want to get a burger but more than anything, I wasn’t ready for our time to be over.
I’m not going to give all the details to the talk we had over burgers on the picnic bench at the little grill near Rick’s house. Maybe Rick would like to share about it sometime. For me, it was one of those sacred moments when men, in joy but deeply reflective, bare not just their souls as the cliche goes, but even more, stop protecting our jugulars and hand our hearts over to one another. Rick would replay the ride, his evolution and metamorphosis from getting off the plane to ending up back home. He’d compare it to going to Jamaica and he’s got to be the one to write that down, one of the most beautiful analogies I’ve ever heard about the time it takes to leave the modern world’s illusion of important things and relax our feet in the water, our toes in the sand. He’d talk about how he felt seeing his skyscraper as we got back to home. Oh… got to tell you this… we both had trouble getting the same thought out, we laughed so hard… but when we were splitting lanes in New Jersey at a zillion miles an hour we were also both making up our story for the cops for when they stopped us (didn’t happen) but we’re laughing about being grown men but reverting to teen agers making up a story justifying completely unjustifiable actions… and them asking us, “and what do you do for a living?” … a successful architect, a pitiful preacher, riding motorcycles as grown ups but no more than 14 years old in heart…
… that’s not the best part of our talk at the picnic table. Tears and hopes and fears for our kids… there was some deep stuff that day. But I went home with Rick and before riding away I helped him roll the Harley up the draw bridge to the little castle I had robbed only a week earlier.
Was just thinking about setting up the rides.
It strikes me that part of the magic of the rides is that Steve understands that the “ride” is a thing itself, which is stronger than any one individual, yet dependent on each. I would even say interdependent on each other. What is on my mind is that we each ( while Lord knows we each have our issues) believe that the larger ride, that which we share together is more important than any one individual.
The genius of the rides is finding a way for us to group up based on preferred riding temperament and still prioritize the time together by making that a priority.
Being a person who needs ALOT of “hand holding” to make it on the ride I am deeply appreciative that this does not make it so I am exclude. Steve has a way of making us each feel that we can be ourselves and the the larger “ourselves” is worth it.
One other phenomenon is that the rides exist all year, they become pearls on the necklace of life that we wear with us everyday.
I am proud to be part of this group , knowing that I only have 1*.
This was on my heart and wanted to share it.
CO (rick cook)