Before our 2011 ride, word was just starting to get out, to all of you guys, what we were up to and that what we were up to wasn’t something to be easily dismissed. However, getting Rick’s attention and presence was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I had no doubt he’d mesh with everybody who was already riding together, and I had no doubt that he really needed the fellowship.
But, c’mon, the guy builds skyscrapers and summers in the Hamptons. He knows how to correctly pronounce De Tomasa and all, and I knew he had a more greasy handed, wood chopping youth than his ‘chauffeur to Manhattan everyday’ life might appear; but some people work when they work and still play when they play; but back then Rick mostly worked. He still does, of course, and I still worry about him. But I digress. Getting his attention was not going to be easy.
So I stole his motorcycle.
Looking back on it, I really wish I’d never told Ellen what I was going to do, and that I’d really just stolen it. That would have been much cooler. But without her help I’d have never got Rick down to South Carolina and then to ride back up to New York.
In 2000 Rick and Ellen rode up on Rick’s 1995 Harley Davidson FLSTN Nostalgia and, as I’ve already said, I imprinted on that bike like a duck imprints on the first thing it sees when hatching. I cracked out of my motorcycle-less shell and laid eyes on that dark gray and black and chrome soft-tailed sucker and fell in love. I was 44 years old and had as much business being on a motorcycle as a squirrel does, but soon, through a convenient deal with a guy working on my house, I had my own 1989 Sporty. Kelly Boyd would get that bike running for me… and you know?…I don’t have a picture from then at all anywhere, but of all the bikes I’ve owned that’s the only one I think I’d buy if I could find it again. And it would be interesting to see how I’d ride a bike like that now. In those days it was throttle wide open on anything straight and slow down quick-Fred Flinstone twinkle-toes on the slightest curve. Rick and I went riding together one warm summer night when it was “monkey see, monkey do” and like two eight year olds on bicycles we’d compete to lay the longest brake skid marks at every stop. I remember Rick saying then… to ‘his preacher’, I guess… “you don’t ride like I thought you would.” He offered no explanation and I’ve never asked, choosing instead to take it as a compliment of some sort, but for all I know he recognized that I had no idea what I was doing.
So in 2011, Summer, a few weeks after our Grand Canyon ride, with thunderstorms nation-wide that year, I stole Rick’s bike.
I’d left the Ducati st3s in Denver after our Grand Canyon ride, then just a week or two later flew back to Denver where I did a John Mark show and hung with now best buddy Raymond. Ray left with me from church around 6:30pm and rode almost all the way to Kansas before splitting off. I would roll into a friend’s house in Columbia, South Carolina at exactly midnight the next day. Remember the time difference of two hours and you do the math. I think that might have been an Iron Butt qualifier, fwiw.
That all night ride through thunderstorms in the plains and all day through midwest showers and the thoughts I had about my father when I was riding down the long, twisty downhill stretch of interstate I40 leaving Knoxville and coming in just north of Asheville in blinding rain after being awake and riding for over 24 hours is another story all unto itself; epic to me but you’ve all got your own stories. I left the Ducati in Columbia at my friend’s house. This was all part of the carefully laid out master plan to seduce Rick Cook back to where I thought he belonged: on the road with his pals.
A couple of weeks later I flew to New York. I keep going on about it, but do you remember the thunderstorms that year? That’s the same summer we were caught in the rain before splitting up in Utah. Seems like it must’ve rained all summer long every where I went, anyways.
And because of those storms, flying to New York wasn’t easy either; every flight was delayed or canceled and I changed planes three times and airlines twice to finally arrive at Newark 2am. Faithful as always, Cmack was there, ready and willing accomplice in the great bike heist of 2011.
I’d traveled light… surprise… but Cmack and I had carefully planned every detail of the caper and his part was this: I was counting on him having some rain gear and a helmet for me. I’d left my best gear with the Ducati in Columbia and that’s where I was headed. Cmack was dependable and maybe the smartest man I know. And he owns a helmet company.
The original plan had me landing on what I’d thought would be a hot summer day in New York and going south to even hotter weather. Reality was, it’s 2 in the morning, rainy New York and I wasn’t exactly ATGAT back then; I was going to freeze if Cmack didn’t help but I wasn’t worried. I was going to be fine with whatever he’d prepared. You heard me, right? He owns a helmet company.
We get to Rick’s house around 2:45 am and Ellen had left the key right where… well somewhere near… where she said she would. Everything took extra effort that trip, including getting into the tiny garage Rick had built just to house the Nostalgia. We rolled the bike backwards down the custom crafted ramp that always reminds me of lowering the castle bridge to cross the moat.
I full choked the S&S. Twist the throttle twice. Hit ignition, and Harley wakes right up. Then, immediately off choke, let it idle and began putting on the gear Cmack had brought.
You know, you have to be thankful when a friend will show up in the middle of the night and help you sneak off with another friend’s bike. But in the midst of thunderstorms, setting out on a 13 hour trek; my buddy who OWNS A HELMET COMPANY hands me…
…a half helmet, dark tinted goggles and motorcycle windbreaker with questionable water repellant abilities. THE GUY OWNS A HELMET COMPANY AND BRINGS ME A #@^&@#HALF HELMET!… cause, he says, “well, you’re riding a Harley and it says Harley right there on the front.”
Ok… beggars can’t be choosers and all and thank you very much and then he hands me the goggles… TINTED!?!?!? It’s dark as death and threatening to rain and daylight is three hours away which is hopefully 200 miles from now at least and he’s supplying TINTED GOGGLES… but ok… thanks, so much, again; amigo. Skimpy wind breaker on… but it, too, says HARLEY!!… HALf helmet in place, goggles snug… I finally pull out of Sneden’s Landing and head for the New Jersey Turnpike.
I’m on the bike squinting to see through the doubled darkness maybe 20 minutes and then…
…and from then on for the next 4 hours…
…the rain begins.
I get to the dark as pitch turnpike which is already beginning to look more like a river than a road and at least there’s a few cars out. The cars are helpful for me to be able to have an idea where the road in front of me is suppose to be.
Fortunately it’s only a few cars out this time of day so the traffic isn’t much of an issue… it’s 3 am!… but I can use some tail lights to follow.
The rain and the dark and the stinking tinted lenses…
… and the rain is stinging worse than I’d imagined rain could possible sting riding a bike at a slow 70 mph, with one hand covering my face CAUSE IT HURTS!
Thanks again for the half helmet MR. ACUMA MA TATA!
One hand trying to cover my face, one hand on the throttle of course, rain pelting down and now, on top of the fact that the lenses are dark … THE GOGGLES START FILLING UP WITH WATER! I have to keep flipping them up to try and let the water out, and blink the water out of my waterlogged eyes and follow the blurry blurry blurry tail-lights and squint to see the white lines dividing the lanes which are under water…
… and fish are swimming in the goggles across my sight line and … oh thanks again… the rain gear isn’t just leaking it’s directing all the water straight to my seat so that after less than an hour I’m already getting Monkey Butt and squirming around hopelessly trying to squeegee the water from out of my lower cheeks so that even with the noise of bike, noise of wind, noise of rain; the fart sounds of wet squirming roar above the din of all else and I’m just fog horning down the road.
I remember every detail of that ride: the gas station on the turnpike where I stopped and tried to dry up but realized I had to go back out in the rain and keep heading south, the short visit with the farmer where I’d invested a crop of pieris japonica and me telling him about Lisa being sick but him filling me in on how my whole crop had died; the rain stopping for about 45 minutes as I passed around D.C. but resuming soon there after and not to stop until…
I promise, fwiw, what I am about to tell you is totally true, as it happened. Make of it what you will.
Just before Petersburg, Virginia where you begin to cut over on 85 towards Columbia, just past noon and I’d been riding for 9 hours and wet…drenched… most of that time. But now, suddenly, the hardest, most blinding, most stinging deluge of torrential rain came on like a waterfall-carwash-relentless-river-rapids-from-the-sky-like…
…Hey? You ever been water skiing?
Ever hang on to the rope too long as the boat is jetting away trying to pull you up but you’re half under water and you just can’t get up? But you don’t let go and your mouth, your head… everything gets flooded and you’re choking and your shorts come off down to your ankles which are the only thing beating on top of the water like drumsticks doing ‘wipeout’? And then you let go and dive for your shorts?
This wasn’t like that.
This was like that only you’re tied to the rope and CAN’T let go or you will surely die.
And on top of that, this isn’t like the earlier time that day, in the dark, with a few cars on the turnpike serving as road markers and stalking horses. This is three lanes full of cars, almost bumper to bumper, hitting brakes in this blinding flood from the sky; and …
… remember, I swear I am not exaggerating and you know I know how to do that… cars are pulling off on the side. It’s raining bad enough for wiser drivers who realize their limitations to pull off on the side of the road like you only do in truly bad bad bad weather, while on I go…
…on a motorcycle…
… one hand covering my face, one hand on the throttle and covering the front brake, as if!
I’m struggling for a long time with this and finally, desperate, I pull the goggles up for a moment to see what it’s like on the other side of the dark lenses.
And that’s when I get scared.
I mean, truly alarmed; for the rain, outside the aquarium glass I’m peering through, ISN’T REALLY THAT BAD! I can see better with the goggles off!
Eyes barley razor thin slits, I realize that cars are pulling over on the side of the road in a rain that doesn’t merit slowing down, much less pulling over. That’s when I realize I’m riding with idiots all around me; awful drivers; and here I am, one handing it down the road like I’ve got nine lives or something. So, I realize, who’s the real idiot in this picture? The dry, warm safe people in the comfy cars or the monkey butted, half helmeted, water logged blob sloshing down the road with one hand on the bike and one hand covering his face making fart noises louder than the pipes on the Harley!
Then the rain increases as if the weather has its own throttle and has revved it up higher than ever, again, and I’m forced to pull down the goggles and hang on with both hands in spite of the billions of needles machine gunning my face and then I scream, I mean really out loud scream…to the Lord… sincerely…
“GOD! PLEASE! I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
I told you, make what you will of this, but it ain’t worth lying about. What happened next is the honest truth, so help me Lordy.
The rain stopped instantly.
Not a minute later. Not a few minutes later.
Like it was a faucet and God just turned it off.
I’m thanking God again as I remember this for you. The rain stopped and stayed stopped for the rest of the ride. I still had hours to go, but for the rest of the ride from southern Virginia, through North Carolina, past Charlotte and down 77 into Columbia I was desert dry and warm and two hands free to hang on any way I liked. The warm summer afternoon turned into an even warmer South Carolina night.
But then, just 10 minutes outside of Columbia, a one minute shower hit me and then went away just as quickly and returned to nothing but clear sky; as if with a wet whisper the Lord said, “Remember who loves you and who can stop the rain…”
(more later as Rick enters the scene and the Ducati catches on fire…)