Returning to Normal…

Yesterday was a big day for me. I rode Rene’s motorbike for the first time since he died. And I bet you thought this was going to be about COVID. Hardly. Aren’t we all just a little tired of even talking about that?

As mentioned on numerous occasions, Rene’ and I had very little in common. I had a history with motor bikes dating back to childhood and then motocross into my teens due to a boyfriend of many years. Rene’ not so much. I always wanted a street bike in the early years of marriage to ride to work but he felt it was too dangerous. So I rode a mountain bike to and fro during the warmer months for many years. Personally I think it was more dangerous from a traffic point of view. It also took so much longer but in the end it was a very needed bit of aerobic activity as well as alone time away from a growing brood of kids.

My personal midlife crisis came early. I was twenty eight when I panicked. I was married with two kids. The oldest was turning nine and I felt like a fraud. We had a house, two cars, educations, good jobs and a beautiful family. The problem was I felt so inadequate. A few years later a third child sent me into another panic. A child. Raising children. What was God thinking? It came and went and luckily I came to realize in time that my life was blessed with all its ups and downs and the whole world was ill prepared for adulthood so I fit right in. Rene’ was in his early fourties when his crisis hit.. He wanted a motorbike. A big one. A custom signature one that was way too much money.

2007 saw Victory Motorcycles team with Arlen and Corey Ness as they proceeded to create signature series designs with the Vegas Jackpots. Corey’s design caught Rene’s eye at a bike show and he had to have it. Silver in colour it has a blue and orange based graphics design. The billet wheels have a pointed jagged design that blends well with the pointiness of the graphics. The stitching on the seat matches the graphic design giving a nice cohesion to the entire look. The ginormous back tire makes turning a little harder as that baby just wants to stand upright but that long fender sure looks nice as you cruise by. The handles and foot pegs have a diamond design which brings to mind the vegas name as they glitter in the sun. Even the billet band case cover matches the overall theme. There is a ton of chrome on this bike as well and the mirrors are teardrop shape. A Ness thing. Its a beauty. There is no doubt about it. I was surprised at the price tag as my extremely frugal husband went all in on this purchase. The only thing he changed was the pipes which make people in the next neighbourhood hear you coming.

Rene’ talked about getting his bike licence. He was under the impression I already had one since I had ridden in my youth. Hmmm. Well that didn’t occur to me. A bike license? Easy peasy. How hard could that be? Turns out you have to redo the written test that you did when you get your learners permit. Which I did at the age of fourteen. So, cocky as I was, I was sweating as I did the computer version. It shuts down on your fourth error and I already had three wrong. I aced it when I was a kid. Rene’ hadn’t ridden much but he got the concept. So we enrolled in refresher classes rather than lessons for new riders. They had smaller bikes for us to use and the first day Rene’ was showing me his skill set as he tried to kick start his bike. Nothing. It was pretty funny. As he looked the bike up and down wondering why it wouldn’t start I walked over, grabbed the clutch and pressed the starter button. It roared to life. He was not amused. I sure was. Bu not for long. They put us through the paces for a couple of classes basically covering everything that we would have to do on the riding test. Again, I was cocky. I knew how to ride. So on test day it was Rene’s time to shine as he got a perfect score. It isn’t an easy test especially for a newbie. Obstacle course, circle eights, stop on an incline, drive on a line slowly without putting your foot down, always put left foot on the ground, stop with front wheel on a line. All the while doing everything correctly with your clutch and brakes. He was a superstar. Me? Oh… Um… well I passed. With maximum errors allowed. His turn to laugh.

And so the trips began. His bike wasn’t really built for the long haul. He didn’t have any saddle bags. They would spoil the look. He was vain about his bike. And his car. He did install roll bars which I don’t care for but they do save the paint job if you lay it down. So, I was the pack horse. I had the saddle bags and my passenger seat had a high backrest so I carried a huge travel bag that strapped on with bungees. When we camped I had the tent, sleeping bags, blow up mattresses, stove. food, dishes and cookware. I also carried anything we would need for repairs to the bikes including tire repair. Most importantly we had an AMA card. That paid it for itself. When you ride you learn to pack well. I had one pair of jeans I wore to ride. Flip flops and a couple of sport bra’s. A few tank tops and a pair of shorts. One warm hiking shirt and a cotton skirt that was rolled up tight. Some extra socks and off we went. Toiletries are minimal as well. We use camp suds which can wash your hair, your body and your dishes. It is concentrated and a small bottle goes a long way. At hotels we used the shampoo they provide. Sunscreen and mascara are the only makeup. There were times when we travelled at high elevations so even in the spring it was bitterly cold. Extra warm bike gloves were not a luxury. They were a must. Rene’ had a small back pack that rested low on his seat that carried clothes and a tank bag that had magnets to strap across his gas tank that carried maps and money and passports. Easy to get on and off. We figured we could buy anything we might need along the way. Its a good way to travel.

In life Rene’ was the cautious one. In the stock market and on his motorbike he was more reckless. His bike has a sixth gear that was like overdrive. He could crank that baby into pass mode like nobodies business. However, my engine was smaller and frankly weighed down. So I would lumber past vehicles at top speed hoping some passive aggressive driver wouldn’t mess with me. It is a thing out there. Rene’ drove fast. Never in a car but on the open road he let it all out. Oddly enough I get it. His bike just wants to go fast. You would think we would take it easy. Do some short rides. Get the feel for the new bikes. Or, maybe just drive to Wyoming. It was a learning experience for him all right. It was the first of many trips to the States alone and with groups. Sturgis is a motorcycle enthusiasts Mecca so we went. Not during the rally week. Not my scene. But the black hills are incredible and the ride was great. I always wanted to ride the coast highway in California but is too hot in summer and winters no good as we can’t get there on the bikes. But in the spring we did quite a few trips south. Lots of back roads. Bear tooth pass. Gotta check the weather as the roads may or not be passable. Even in late June. Its bloody cold I tell you way up high. My sister lived in Washington and we headed up the coast one year after we stopped to see her. So beautiful. We both agreed that the worst ride in the world is the interstate in eastern Washington. Ick. It is awful. At least in a car you can sleep. But on a bike you have to fight the boredom. The ferries are a lot of fun. Bikes are either on first or on last and you have to tie them and block them so they don’t fall over during the trip. I can tell you the first time you do that you spend the entire ferry ride worried about your bike. We enjoyed so many trips to the States. Even just popping down to Seattle to watch the Jays play the mariners.

Riding was one of the things we both loved. Funny thing though, after Rene’ died I heard through the grapevine that he only got a bike because I insisted. I love rumours. Especially when they are about you and you have the inside scoop. There were many mishaps in our riding lives. Running out of gas and coasting into Boise on fumes. Wondering where the rest of the group was and finding out a friend was lucky to be alive as he hit a deer mid day and no on knew. Looking for a dealership to screw a part back into the pipe after it jostled loose and bounced down the highway. I was behind Rene when it happened. Closed my eyes and kept going straight as I prayed it didn’t bounce up and hit me. One fellow was always flagged at the border as he had the same name as a criminal. He warned us ahead of time. We stayed in some dumps I’ll tell you but we also ate some incredible food in very backwoods towns. After the United States lost their minds and forgot how to vote, we decided to explore our own country as we were boycotting the entire country. I actually bought organic ketchup from the Czech Republic in my quest to not buy American. All organic foods in my little healthy store seemed to come from the States so I had to adjust my buying habits. It did provide us with the greatest trip of our lives. A bike trip across Canada. What an amazing country we live in. And holy crap how big are those great lakes. The entire country was lacking rain that year and yet it rained on us every day. In fact it hailed on us in PEI even though they said it hadn’t hailed there in years. They were amazed. We weren’t. The moisture followed us everywhere. Our grandkids laugh at some of the stories. Like when it rained so hard in Quebec City but it was dark and we couldn’t find a hotel room close by and there seemed to be construction EVERYWHERE! So we took refuge in a McDonalds to charge our phones and dry out. And so we just spent the night there. There are odd people in McDonalds in the middle of the night. Or the night we tried every hotel in town and we couldn’t find a vacancy. The next campground was an hour away and the sun was already set. We were in a parking lot between a Tim Hortons and a chocolate store right across the highway from an RCMP detachment. So we slept on the benches outside the chocolate shop. There were outlets to charge our phones. Timmy’s was right there. Food, coffee and washrooms. It was safe with the cops so close and it was a beautiful warm night. No rain for once. A good night. The most beautiful sight on the whole trip was at the overflow camp site in a Provincial park on the Cabot trail. There was a meteor shower that night and when we arrived there was a young couple on a date using our picnic table. They were waiting for the shower and they were eating a pizza. And so they shared with us as we set up our tent and we all enjoyed the heavenly night show. The next day we awoke to the sun rising over the ocean. Being from the west that isn’t something we see. We see it set over the ocean. Funny the things you take for granted. We hit all of the provinces except Newfoundland, which my sister says you need at least a month to explore anyways. I will go there alone one day as we always planned.

There were some freaky moments as well. We were towed three times, replaced three tires and a clutch and had two flats. Its a scary sound when your tire blows going 130 kph and you hope you can keep the bike up. Luckily it was the back tire. I was almost run off the road by a truck pulling a trailer. He was so busy looking in his side mirror he didn’t see me right beside him. There is a reason they teach you to shoulder check. As he crossed three lanes of traffic to go left as the road split I was forced over speeding up to get ahead of him. It happens so fast. All of a sudden I was ahead of him, leaving the highway on the off ramp and headed into a town I was not planning to see. Rene’ saw it all happen and followed the truck. I pulled over at the first intersection and sat and cried for ten minutes. Shock helps you save yourself but it messes you up afterwards. We did experience three cars on the wrong side of the road. Twice in PEI. On a two lane highway with no shoulder. I am in the lead with Rene’ and two other riders behind me followed by a car. Just before Victoria by the sea the highway shifts left but you can keep heading straight on a mini offshoot. It is one way and people leaving town turn off a little before to get onto the highway. One little old lady just came screaming onto the highway going the wrong way and didn’t really even thing about what lane she was in. Seeing her come right at me I just let the throttle go and tapped the back break. I slowed quickly but there was no way I could avoid her. No shoulder to drive on. Nowhere to stop. Three bikers behind me. I was hoping to slow enough to drive into the ditch without laying it down but the two bikers following Rene and I might not have the time. Time goes so slow and your subconscious takes aver. Thankfully she swerved around us onto her own side of the road. We all pulled over and had a heart reset break. Leaving a Tim Hortons in Charlottetown I turned right onto the street and came face to face with a truck. His light was red and he wanted to go into the Tim Hortons parking lot but the line was long so he just came into my lane instead. Unfortunately we were already turning as he made this decision. He shouted out the window for us to back up. An angry fellow. The light changed and traffic pulled up behind us. We all waited until someone in his own lane let him in. As he passed us he flipped us the bird. Have you ever noticed how stupid people get angry at you when they mess up? That is some kind of odd defense mechanism. But the final driver was in New Brunswick. The TransCanada highway was divided and the two westbound lanes were a distance away and came in and out of view. Something caught my eye in my rearview and I realized something had flown off the bike. I pulled over and Rene followed suit. I realized I had lost a flip flop. We walked back a bit checking the ditch. Not seeing it we walked back to the bikes. I had crossed over to the other side of the road to check that ditch. All of a sudden there is a flurry of honks. I look up but can’t see anything. I wonder if people think our bikes aren’t far enough off the road. Or perhaps they are greeting us. I keep walking and as I reach Rene’ he says “Did you see that Guy?” Turns out there was a young kid in a car screaming down the passing lane going the wrong way. The horns were the cars swerving to get out of his way. He just kept right on going not slowing down. I think that flip flop flew out at just the right time. We were stopped. How he got onto a divided highway going the wrong way is beyond me. Frankly its so much scarier on a bike.

I am so glad we made that trip before he died. The AMA card earned its weight in gold with the three tow trips. In the long run though we were forced into unscheduled stops. Which made us see and do things that were never planned. We met people in the oddest places. It was a great time in our lives riding together. Our last trip was just before his diagnoses. We spent a few days in Vernon with the grandkids at my daughters new cabin. He was tired and didn’t feel good but they will have those memories of Bumpa. And I will as well. He was sick and he was an old guy but he still kicked everyone’s ass waterskiing. We biked, kayaked and camped. Playing basketball with the kid or just sat on the dock. My little office worker who morphed so well into the cutest biker. It suited him and he became freer on his bike than he was ever was in the rest of his life. On the open road we were free. There is nothing like it in the world. It is heaven.

Last summer I finally worked up the courage to ride Rene’s bike. I found the keys and headed for the garage. I had built this up in my mind and it was another hurdle to jump over. I turned the key, hit the starter. Nothing . The battery was dead. I was heartbroken and felt someone had punched me in the gut. I sat on the garage floor and bawled. I thought I was ready but the universe had other plans. In time I bought a new battery. It sat on a shelf in the closet over the winter and then I finally felt it was time. So I set about changing the battery. That’s the thing about bikes. I know mine like the back of my hand. But his. It took forever to do a simple task. When I finished I started the bike. It roared to life and I felt Rene look over my shoulder. But that was enough that day. And so it was Missy’s last lacrosse game of the year. On the other side of the city where we spent many hours watching our own kids play. Its a powerful bike so I took the backroads. Cruised 17th. Got the admiring looks he used to get. And it was healing even though there were tears. After the game was over I walked back to the parking lot. Something had change. I felt lighter. Different. Excited. I got out of the community and onto a major road. I opened her up and let that baby fly. He wouldn’t have wanted me to take it easy. He would want me to live large. Throughout our many years together he always gave me freedom. He understood how much I needed it. He didn’t try to reign me in even when he didn’t get it. Riding that bike full throttle made me feel incredible. Like we were doing it together one last time. And then I pulled off, brought her back down and rumbled down the strip again. One more milestone. Another step in the return to normal. Everyone asks if I am going to sell his bike. One friend even worried that it is much too big for me. I just smile. Rene thinks I will be fine. I know that now. Its not just a bike. It was part of him. When I ride it I feel him. I have learned that death doesn’t really take people away. You can feel them if you try. I want to keep trying.

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