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Ride of Memories

Dale Bike

Just before the ride

How many truly special moments have you experienced in your life? If you could create a movie of all of those special moments,  how long would it be? If you were to compare that with how much time you have lived so far, what kind of percentage would that work out to be?

Perhaps like me, you get up early Monday to Friday and go to work, come home, eat supper, maybe watch some TV or use the computer, then go to bed. On the weekends you might sleep in a little, go for a long walk with the dog, spend some time on the computer, watch a movie, or do some chores you would rather not be doing on your day off. However, once in a while you might do something special, like spending some time with family or friends, or doing some activity you really love. These are the moments we live for; the moments that make life truly worth living. Unfortunately, these are also the moments we often don’t make enough time for, or take for granted at the time.

I thought about this a lot on my last motorcycle ride. Although I ride to work every day, this ride was special. I had ridden to Kamloops to see my Dad, but I took the long and scenic Duffy Lake road to get there. While this might not sound too special, for me it was, because it had been several years since I rode a motorcycle anywhere other than work or University.

Several years ago, my wife and I used to ride a few hundred kilometres almost every other weekend during the summer months. For a short day ride we often went North to Whistler. On long weekends, we would sometimes head west into the BC interior, or south into Washington, or even east to Vancouver Island. A few times we went for rides that lasted a couple of weeks, and travelled along beautiful twisty roads in Oregon, California, and Montana. Unfortunately, those riding days are just a distant memory now, but they still remain some of the happiest times of my life.

In the past few years, I have found myself reflecting on my life more often, and wondering if I’m really making the most of it. I usually imagine a chart showing years across the bottom, and a jagged line going up and down like a commodity on the stock market. My goal is to try and have most of that jagged line in the upper “happy” portion, compared with the lower “unhappy” portion. While it’s easy to plan a vacation that would give you a week in the upper half, some things you don’t plan can drive you deep into the lower half. That’s life. Sometimes I even wonder if the best years of my life have already come and gone.

Looking back, I feel that my last great peak was almost 10 years ago in the summer of 2003. My wife and I were on a two week vacation and we were riding through Glacier National Park in Montana. It had been a great ride so far on my cherished YZF 750, with lots of beautiful twisty roads to enjoy. At one point during the ride through the park, I stopped by the side of the road to just soak it all in. There was a tall majestic snow capped mountain peak in the distance, a couple of spectacular waterfalls, and lush green grass with a sprinkle of colourful wild flowers. It was as if I had walked into a painting of a scene that could only exist in someone’s imagination.

Glacier National Park Montana

Glacier National Park Montana

As I stood there, I thought about my life up to that point. I had been through a lot of tough years, but the past three or four years had been among the best years in a long time. I was living in a nice new condo that my wife and I owned, I had a good job, I had a lot great friends I could ride and socialize with, and I finally had a really nice motorcycle. Even the rest of my family were all pretty happy and healthy at this time. How much better could life get?

At that moment, I realized how truly precious this moment was. I tried to savour every detail of my surroundings; the way it looked, the way it sounded, the smell of the mountain fresh air, and the feeling of the sun on my face. I knew that there would be many times ahead of me where life would seem to do it’s best to beat me down, but for now, this moment, I was truly happy. I felt that if I remembered this place clearly enough, whenever I needed to come back here, I could just close my eyes and the sights, sounds and smells would come back to me, and the feeling of peace and happiness I was feeling at that moment would return.

Even though I realized my life had just hit a rare and special peak, it was tinged with a bit of sadness. I knew that in the next few minutes my ride through Glacier National Park would be over, and a few days after that this enjoyable trip will also be over. However, life at that time was still pretty good. I could never have imagined that over the next three years my life would spiral down to a depth lower than almost any other time in my life.

By the summer of 2006, I had lost my mother to cancer, my job, and a couple close friends I rode with. I had even been forced to sell my cherished motorcycle. Also, since we had recently moved from our tiny condo to a new townhouse, we had to find almost double our old mortgage payments. To add to the stress, I had also started a University course to finish my degree which compounded the financial difficulties, and also erased all of my free time. It was as if everything and everyone I cared about was suddenly taken away from me. I wasn’t living life any more, I was surviving it.

While I still had my health, a roof over my head and food on the table, by the summer of 2010, even these last few things seemed to be jeopardy. After being laid off for a third time, I had decided to start my own business, and although it was slowly growing, the revenue was nowhere near enough to live on. As the date for my EI benefits running out drew closer, the thought of becoming homeless was beginning to seem like a very real possibility.

During difficult times like this, relationships can sometimes be strained to their breaking point. Ideally, while one person in a relationship is going through a tough time, the other person will be there to offer support and encouragement. Unfortunately, the person I needed support from was also drowning in a sea of despair herself. At one point, we were both unemployed at the same time.

Around this time, I kept having a recurring dream, or should I say nightmare. I was riding my motorcycle through the Fraser Canyon on my way back home. I was leaned over taking a right hand curve, but for some reason, I was drifting wide. There was a large truck coming toward me in the oncoming lane, and I could see myself heading straight toward it. I remember watching the front of the truck coming closer and closer until the inevitable impact. At that moment I would be jarred awake and find myself lying in bed with my heart racing. Although I wouldn’t claim to be clairvoyant, there have been times when I have sensed things that have come true later. The question I asked myself was, is this just a dream, or my destiny?

For me, birthdays always seem to force me to evaluate my life, and act as a constant reminder that I’m getting older. When life is going great, I never want it to end, however, when life is in a tailspin, the end doesn’t seem to look as ominous. After several months of working from home, my spare bedroom office felt more like a jail cell, and my home had become a prison. I felt if I didn’t do something to break free of this prison I would lose my mind. Since my birthday was coming at the end of June, I thought it would be nice to celebrate it by going for a nice long ride. I wanted to enjoy the feeling of carving through a twisty road on two wheels one more time before I possibly lost everything. As well as having some fun, there was always the outside chance I would have an epiphany on the ride, and come up with a million dollar idea. On the other hand, if the recurring dream I had came true, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about any more. Either way, I could feel a change in my destiny was about to happen really soon.

I remember hearing a funny quote somewhere: “If you want to make God laugh, make plans”. I never could have imagined that my plan for a birthday ride would get screwed up by a job interview. I also never could have imagined that two weeks later I would be working at my old job again. The only explanation I have is to say my plans were changed through divine intervention. Not only were my previous employers kind enough to hire me back, they even allowed me every other Friday off to finish my degree. Suddenly, I went from having no future at all, to having something to work towards and hope for the future. To say they saved my life is not too far from the truth, and I feel I owe them a debt of gratitude I can never repay.

Two years later, and seven years after I started my University program, I was very happy to finally receive my Degree with Distinction. I had sacrificed a lot of time and money to get it, but the feeling of pride and accomplishment is something I will carry with me the rest of my life. The only sad part was my mother never got to see my graduate, however, a part of her was with me that day. On my last trip to Kamloops, I removed a leaf from a tree planted in my mother’s memory, and that leaf was inside the pocket of my vest, next to my heart, as I crossed the stage.

Now that I was finally finished University, I wanted to enjoy my life again, and do all the things I couldn’t do for so long. Top among those things was going for a nice long ride on a motorcycle.

Around this time, August 2012, my brother phoned me to say he was coming down from Prince George to visit our father in Kamloops, and thought it would be nice for me to come up and visit as well. I thought it was a great idea, and I looked forward to riding up there to see them. I imagined a nice scenic ride up through the Fraser Canyon, and perhaps taking the Hope Princeton highway on the way back. It had been a long time since I went for a nice long ride, and I was really looking forward to it. I never could have imagined that my plans would be changed by a simple tip-over while leaving my driveway that left me with a broken collarbone.

I still went to see my brother and father, but since my arm was in a sling, I had to take a Greyhound bus instead. Not the kind of trip I had imagined. It was eight months later, with a mismatched yellow panel on an otherwise orange bike, and a collarbone that was still aching, I finally went on my long awaited ride to see my father.

Although I was looking forward to seeing my dad and his wife, and enjoying the ride along the way, there was another more important reason. A few weeks earlier I found out my dad had prostate cancer. He was having an operation to remove it, and I wanted to visit him before surgery. While I was confident everything was going to be OK, the fact that my mother passed away from cancer in 2006 was on the back of my mind.

During the time my mother was dying, I rode to Kamloops along the Coquihalla highway every two weeks. For this trip, I was adamant that I was not going to take the Coquihalla. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with the memories of that time of my life, especially under these circumstances. Although I originally thought a nice ride along the Fraser Canyon would be a good idea, after some consideration, I eventually decided to do an even longer route via Whistler. I really wanted this ride to be special, since I had no idea when I would have the chance to do a ride like that again.

Flying Swan Cafe

Flying Swan Cafe

Back in the “VROM” days (Vancouver Riders of Motorcycles), a decade or so ago, most long rides began with breakfast at the Flying Swan. Julia used to run the little café, which was adorned with motorcycle memorabilia everywhere you looked. I was introduced to Julia by my co-worker and fellow riding friend Bog. Between 2000 and 2004 we shared a lot of good times together.

As I walked through the door of the Flying Swan, I was glad to see it hadn’t changed, at least in appearance. What had changed was not being able to hear Julia’s enthusiastic greeting: “Dale, how’s it going, it’s so good to see you”. Instead, Julia’s elderly mother greeted me with a conservative smile, and showed me to an empty table. I was glad to see it was busy; at least business was good. After placing my order with my waitress, I walked over to the wall of photographs. It was nice to see some old familiar faces, and pictures of happier times on many of the VROM rides. Occasionally I would see a picture of myself, or a picture I took. If only I could build a time machine and go back to those days.

Mural of Julia riding her Honda CBR 600 F4i

I struck up a conversation with my waitresses and found out it was Julia’s ex sister in law. I told her a little bit about my memories of Bog and Julia, and she shared some memories of Julia as well. It felt good to be visiting the Flying Swan again before going on my long awaited ride. It was almost like a special ritual that had to be done first.

Although my ride had started the moment I left home, I never really felt like I was on a special memorable ride until I saw the sign telling me I was entering the “Sea to Sky Highway”. A few minutes later, I saw the blue water of the inlet, and the white capped mountains in the distance. The smooth twisty road stretched out ahead of me, and I felt a long lost sense of elation at thought of the ride ahead. The weather was beautiful, although the wind was still chilly when riding in the shadows.

After a few minutes of riding I saw a sign saying Porteau Cove. A feeling of sadness came over me as I passed the sign. I remember hearing the news about Ethan being killed at Porteau Cove on a ride to Squamish. Somehow, he crossed the center line on a right hand corner and crashed head on with a Jeep Cherokee.

I was supposed to be on that ride, but my wife had a meeting to go to that night, so I missed it. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t there. It was hard to imagine that someone I was riding with just a few days earlier had met such a tragic death. It was also the first of four motorcycle related accidents I would attend.

I rode into Squamish and stopped by the Starbucks there. As expected, there were at least a dozen motorcycles parked outside. I’m not sure what it is about Starbucks that seems to attract motorcycles like a moth to a flame. This was the main destination for many night time rides with the VROMies. I always wanted to go, but I was usually walking the dog while my wife was cooking supper. Sometimes on those walks, I would see my friends riding over Burrard street bridge on the way to Squamish and wished I could be going with them, but being married comes with obligations.

After getting gas at the Chevron station at the other side of town, I turned on to the highway to head towards Whistler. The long straight road ahead just seemed to be beckoning me to open the bike up a little bit and eat up some miles. Suddenly I could see a traffic warning sign above the road that read “Motorcyclists Watch Your Speed. Ride Safely”. The superstitious part of me began to wonder if this was a sign meant just for me, so I decided to take the “sign” seriously. I backed off the gas a little and resumed a more conservative pace. A minute later, a police car drove past me in the oncoming lane.

The ride towards Whistler was a breathtaking experience. Every once in a while, I would find myself looking at an incredible mountain range, and thinking how lucky I was to live somewhere so beautiful.

Most of the times that I had arrived in Whistler it had been my final destination. This time, it was not even the half way point to my final destination. Although the road improvements done for the winter Olympics had made my ride quite enjoyable so far, those nicely paved roads with sweeping corners were about to come to an end. It was a slightly twistier and bumpier ride to get to Pemberton, but that was nothing compared to what lay ahead.

As I passed the McDonalds in Pemberton, I thought about one of my VROM rides. I was on my way to Kamloops to see my mom and dad, but thought it would be nice to ride with my fellow VROMies since they were also heading that way on a weekend ride. For some reason, we ended up leaving late, and missed meeting them at the Flying Swan before they left. However, I was really happy we managed to meet up with them at the gas station in Squamish. What started as a day of missed opportunities had seemed to be a good day of riding after all. From there it was a nice group ride into Pemberton, and it brought back some good memories of Sportbike West and our trip to California.

After everyone was gassed up, we were ready to get going to Lillooet where we would all have lunch together. However, my wife decided she was too hungry to wait until then, and wanted to have something now. Although I wasn’t too happy about this decision, I tried not to get too upset about it. After all, there would always be other rides or parties in the future. I never realized until later how that decision would come back to haunt me.

As I rode along the winding road out of Pemberton, I started to get my riding legs back a little. This was a good thing since the uphill switchbacks were coming pretty soon. Unfortunately, before I reached them, I had caught up to a small red car. Unlike the Sea to Sky Highway, there are not too many passing opportunities on the Duffy Lake road, so I had to be patient and wait for a safe place. Minute after minute passed, and rather than seeing a nice open road as I imagined, I was staring at the back of this car.

Suddenly, just as I was contemplating a somewhat aggressive pass, the little red car put his signal on and began to pull over to the side of the road. I guess he realized he was being tailed by a slightly impatient sportbike rider, and decided to be kind enough to let me pass. I flew past the little car, and gave him a wave to say thanks. Now I was happy. The road was finally mine to explore, and I was going to enjoy every minute of it.

After riding mostly uphill for several kilometres, I noticed the temperature had cooled off significantly. Not surprising since there were traces of snow starting to show up on the sides of the road. Higher and higher I climbed, and the traces of snow began to look more like snow banks. I wondered if I should pull over and put on a sweat top, but then I thought about how hot it was going to get on the other side of this mountain. I thought “an hour from now I will be missing this cool breeze”. A few minutes later, I was thinking “cool breeze? I’m freezing my ass off.”

Snow Ride Manning Park

Snow Ride Manning Park

I began thinking of one of my most memorable early VROM rides. It was late in the riding season, and a few riders planned a ride to Manning Park. However, by the time we reached Hope, some riders decided to turn back because it was too cold. A few brave (or crazy) riders pressed on, but there were moments when we wondered if it was wise to continue, especially after seeing snow on the sides of the road. Thankfully we all made it safely to Manning Park for a hot lunch and a good chat. On the way back we all posed next to a snow covered parking lot nearby for the brag picture. It was one of those rides I will never forget, and every once in a while when reminiscing with my old friends, one of them might say “remember the snow ride?”

Sportbike West 1999

As I rode on, eventually the road began winding down a little, and I finally began warming up. A few minutes later I saw a familiar looking lake on the left. It brought back memories of my first ride to Sportbike West. My friend Bog had told me all about this gathering of hundreds of Sportbikes, and it reminded me of the Isle of Man TT. I really wanted to go, but since I didn’t have a bike of my own at the time, I rented a Yamaha Seca for the trip. This was the spark that got me back into riding after a four year hiatus. I had a really great time on that trip, and on my way back home along this highway, I pulled over to take a picture. I ended up putting that picture on a cork board in my cubicle at work, and stared at it hundreds of times over the next few years.

After an hour or more of riding, I was starting to get pretty warm in my leather jacket under the baking afternoon sun. As the road began to get really twisty again, I knew that I would be arriving in Lillooet pretty soon, and I could finally get something to drink. But first, I had to navigate a very windy road with steep cliffs that followed the river hundreds of feet below. Even though the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, I couldn’t spend too much time looking at it, because I would have a very long tumble down to the bottom if I went over the edge.

It was a nice feeling of relief when I finally reached the gas station just outside Lilooett. I took a long relaxing break in the shade while enjoying a cool juice, and figured the most challenging part of the trip was over. No more patches of gravel, sudden bumps or giant cracks in the road to worry about. Best of all, there were no heart stopping tankslappers this time.

Once I felt rested enough, I set off for the next leg of my trip. As I passed through the junction towards the highway, I took a long look up the hill towards the centre of town. I began thinking of the last time I rode a motorcycle here. That was the ride my wife and I had lunch in Pemberton rather than Lilooett. I remember how happy I was arriving at the restaurant in town, and finding my friend’s bikes were still parked outside. I hoped there would still be enough time to have a coffee with them before they left, but they were just walking out the door as I parked my bike.

I remember having a chat with Bog outside the restaurant, and he mentioned they were thinking of watching a movie in Kamloops, and asked me if I wanted to come. I told him   couldn’t this time, but I would love to meet up for a movie next time. Although I was sad that ride didn’t go as planned, I thought there would be always be another time when we would watch a movie, or ride together. I never could have imagined it would be the last time I would ever talk to him. He was killed a month later while riding to Lytton.

While I could spend a lot of time thinking about what I wish I had done differently; how I wish I had taken more time to be with my friends while they were still here, I had to remember the main purpose of my ride. I was going to see my dad and his wife, and make new memories I will cherish. I reminded myself I needed to think about what I had to look forward to in the future rather than wrestling with the regrets of the past.

The road to Cache Creek was much smoother, but unfortunately a lot straighter than the Duffy Lake road. While I enjoyed the nice scenery and challenging corners, it felt nice to be on a road that wouldn’t bite back if I wasn’t careful. After a relatively uneventful ride of about 45 minutes, I arrived in Cache Creek. It had been a very long time since I was last here. It was almost a regular place to see in my twenties, but times change, and I haven’t been up north in many years now.

I was feeling a bit anxious to finally get to my Dad’s place, and caught myself riding at speeds that were a little higher than I should have been. Every once in a while I would force myself to slow down a bit and take it easy. I didn’t want to ruin what had been a good ride up till now. Several minutes later, my patience paid off, and I finally rolled into my father’s driveway.

It was so good to see my Dad and his wife again. We sat outside in the garden for a while before heading to the balcony to barbecue some steaks for supper. As we sat and enjoyed the wine and sunset, my Dad said “We’re losing the sun, son”. It sounded so funny we had to laugh. Although hearing those two different words being said together was funny, there was something else. Since I never grew up with my Dad, I wondered how many times has he had the chance to look at me and say “son”? On the other hand, how many times have I had the chance to use the word “Dad”? I think that’s what made that moment so special and memorable.

A little while later, my Dad and I talked a little more seriously. He wondered about how many more times we would see each other before he is gone. We had missed so much of our life together already, and over the years it had only been a few days here and there. It seemed like there was always somewhere else we needed to be, or something else we needed to do. I reminded my Dad that I would be back in 6 weeks, and we would probably see each other this fall at his mother’s place. Yes; one more day in a few weeks, two more days in the fall, and another year would be gone. If we put all those days together, we might only have a month or two left to spend time with each other. It was a sobering thought.

The next day I had to head home. Although my detour route along the Duffy Lake road had made for a pleasurable ride, it meant my time with my Dad was shorter than I would have liked. I was thankful that I had made plans to come back in a few weeks, but next time I would take a shorter route. My Dad and his wife made sure I had lots of food and drinks for the trip home, as they always do. I felt almost like a kid whose parents were making sure their child didn’t get hungry on the long trip back. I guess age is irrelevant, I will always be their son, and they will always be my loving parents.

There were a couple reasons why I had decided to go home via the Hope Princeton Highway. The first was I wanted to avoid the boring Coquihalla, but the more important reason was because I wanted to visit a very close friend. There have been a lot of people throughout the years I have called my friend, but Stormy is different. I have known her since I was four years old. She even came to visit my brother and I while we were still living in England, and that’s where our friendship grew stronger.

There are very few people I know I could call in the middle of the night, and they would drop everything to be there for me. Stormy is one of those people. I know that because it happened once. I was with some tree-planting friends, and they gave me some brownies, however, they also contained an extra ingredient I wasn’t aware of. By the time I found out, I had already eaten a couple of them.

To make matters worse, they decided to go out to a place called the Ivanhoe in a less than desirable neighbourhood, and I went with them. While I was there, I decided to call Stormy and told her the situation. She dropped everything and raced over there to take care of me. By the time she arrived the effects of what I had eaten were definitely kicking in, and I was completely out of it. The moment I saw her, I felt like I was looking at my guardian angel. I have never been so happy to see someone in my entire life. She took care of me all night, and made sure I stayed safe. I will always be grateful to her for that.

I left Kamloops and followed the Coquihalla to Merritt. I was thankful to get off the Coquihalla as it started bringing back some painful memories of my mother. After getting gas and having a drink in Merritt, I started heading along a two lane highway towards Kelowna. A little while later I turned off that highway to take a smaller twistier route towards Princeton. I had ridden this road a few times before, but that was a long time ago. It’s funny how you remember little things here and there when you see them, but you would never be able to recall them just from memory. Every few minutes I would have a Déjà vu moment. While the road was fairly twisty towards Princeton, it was in pretty good shape, so I was able to relax more than riding the Duffy Lake road.

I stopped at the Chevron Station in Princeton to fill up. Memories of one of my first VROM rides started coming back to me. I was riding my old Kawasaki at the time, and it was having some minor engine trouble. Whenever I opened up the throttle aggressively, it started spluttering like it was running out of gas. By the time I limped into Princeton, I could see Bog and a few other riders sitting down drinking coffee. I noticed Ethan just coming out of the station with a Starbucks coffee in his hand, and I asked him if they had been there long. He replied “this is my second cup”.

After getting gas, I phoned Stormy to arrange to meet in Hedley. About twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of our meeting place, and within seconds, Stormy also pulled in. She greeted with a big long hug, and an even bigger smile. Although she had been going through some rough times, it was nice to see her happy. We talked for almost an hour about everything we had been up to lately, as well as remising about some good times in the past. Unfortunately, it was only a short visit, since I still had a long ride ahead of me.

As I was getting ready to leave, she said “The last time you rode up here was when my mother passed away”. She barely made it to the end of the sentence when the tears began to flow. A year after I lost my mother, Stormy lost hers. Not only was it a great loss for her, it was also a loss for me as well. Stormy’s mother was a very close friend of mine, and her loss hit me pretty hard.

Memories of her came flooding back to me. At times, she reminded me of the grandma from the Beverly Hillbillies. I think it was partly because she grew up on a farm, and was a very tough strong willed woman. Also, her silver hair was always tied in a small bun at the back of her head. However, rather than a long dress she always wore jeans. Even when she was in her late sixties, she could still swing an axe to chop firewood. Although I had always considered Stormy’s mother a friend, the last few years we became close friends.

Part of that friendship came from the fact that we both had a love of ancient history; not the kind of history typically taught in history books, but the type that inspired movies like Chariots of the Gods. She had spent years researching dozens of books trying to find the hidden truth about our long lost history, and the fascinating world we live in. Sometimes I felt like Neo talking to the Oracle, or Mulder from the X-files searching for the truth.

During one of my talks with her, I said I wanted to write a science fiction story about some of the things we had discussed over the years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until she ended up in hospital for a brief stay that I thought I should stop procrastinating and get writing. A few weeks later, I showed up at their home with the first chapter. As the months went by, the chapters grew. I really enjoyed reading my latest chapter with Stormy and her mother whenever I came to visit, and they always made me feel special.

Also, not only did we share a love of the mysteries of our world, she was also an ex rider herself. She told me all kinds of stories about her riding friends and the bikes she rode, like Harleys and Triumphs. One time, I said I wanted to write a short story about her motorcycle adventures, and take a couple of pictures of her next to an old motorcycle like the one she used to own. We arranged to go to the Trev Deeley Museum, but since they were only open on weekdays, I had to take the day off work.

I remember heading over to her place with great excitement and anticipation of the day we would have together, but unfortunately when I arrived, Stormy was gone with the van. We waited, drank some tea, talked, and waited some more. Minutes eventually turned into hours, and by the time Stormy returned it was too late to go. I was going to re-schedule, but due to my procrastination I never got around to it. Shortly afterwards, the land they were living on got sold to a developer, and they were forced to move to Keremeos.

A few months later, I remember getting a phone call from Stormy saying her mother was in the hospital again. I rode over to Princeton to visit her, and I also took my mini tape recorder with me. I was looking forward to having a chat with her and hoping we would have some time to talk about her riding adventures for that story I had planned to write. Unfortunately, she was much sicker than I had imagined. Also, because she was having a reaction in her throat to the medication she was taking, she couldn’t speak at all.

While my hopes of recording any of her riding stories were gone, I had managed to bring something special for her; the latest version of my science fiction story. However, this time it wasn’t just another chapter, it was the outline of the entire story from start to finish. Before I left home, I had been desperately trying to work out how everything was going to fit together, and wanted to share it with her. Although it was a bittersweet story telling experience, she seemed to enjoy what I had put together for her. As I left the hospital, I told her how much she meant to me, and promised I would return again soon.

A few weeks later, as promised, I returned to the hospital for another visit, but this time she never woke up. Her condition was very serious, and it appeared that the end was near. I sat next to her and held her hand for a while, and wished I had spent more time with her when I had the chance. I thought about all of that knowledge, and all of those great stories that were locked away inside her, and because of my procrastination, they would be lost forever. Not only that, I was also losing one of my closest friends.

After so many people I cared about had passed way in the last few years, I felt almost numb with grief by this time. When it was eventually time for me to leave, I kissed her on the hand and said “I‘ll see you again on the other side”. As I rode home along the Hope Princeton highway that night, she passed away.

Six years had gone by since that time, but it felt more like six months. I looked into Stormy’s eyes and said “I remember that time”. I walked over to Stormy, and gave her one last long hug before setting off towards Hope.

The highway was almost as twisty as the Duffy Lake road in parts, but the condition of the road was much better. I found myself hanging off the bike a little bit in a few corners. I hadn’t done that in a long time, and it felt great. Unfortunately, the deer were also enjoying an evening beside the highway as well which was not so great. Thankfully, there weren’t any really close calls this time, just a few nervous moments to keep me on my toes.

Along the way I passed Manning Park and saw the lodge I had lunch at during one of my rides. A few minutes later, I noticed the spot where the snow picture was taken. By that time I was starting to feel a bit chilly whenever the sun hid behind the trees or mountains, and had to pull over on the side of the road to put my sweatshirt on.

After arriving in Hope, I got some more gas and ate some of the food my Dad and his wife gave me for the trip. The sun had just set behind the mountains, but there was still plenty of light out. I was glad because there was one more important stop to make before going home. I pulled out of the gas station and went into the grocery store nearby. Thankfully, they had what I was looking for; flowers. I looked at all of the different colours and shapes on display when one of them jumped out at me. They were mauve, Julia’s favourite colour. Without hesitating, I purchased them. The hard part was trying to find a way to carry them. Eventually I was able to squeeze them into my jacket, and set off for my last destination before home.

I knew Julia’s spot was near Hope, just before a left hand corner, or if you’re heading into Hope, a right hand corner. I had only been there a couple of times, and the last time was several years ago. I was hoping I would be able to find it OK, preferably before it got too dark.

I began to head towards Boston Bar, although I would not be going that far. I scanned the scenery on both sides looking for clues to remind me where the spot was. Once in a while I would notice something that would get my hopes up thinking I was close, only to have them sink as it turned out to be wrong. On and on I rode through the Fraser Canyon. I began to wonder how far I should ride before giving up. I really wanted to find Julia’s spot, but if I didn’t find it soon the light would be gone. I began second guessing myself, have I missed it, or is it still ahead. When should I turn around? What if I turned around, then realized later if I had just gone one or two kilometres further I would have seen it. How far was too far?

After riding for over half an hour, I made the reluctant decision to turn back. I could feel the bouquet of flowers in my jacket pressing up against my chest as I began to head for home. Although I was a bit sad at not finding Julia’s spot, I began to notice how beautiful the scenery in the Fraser Canyon was at dusk. The tops of the mountains still had a bit of sun shining on them, and there was certain kind of calmness in the air, giving a serenely peaceful mood. The temperature was perfect, not too hot like Kamloops, and not too cold like Manning Park. There was also no-one else on the highway except me. I began to feel a sense of being one with the bike and my surroundings. As I rode along the highway, the bike seemed to melt away from my view until I felt like I was flying rather than riding a motorcycle. As each corner came, I gracefully flowed through them like an eagle soaring between the trees. Suddenly I realized that everything about this moment was perfect. I began to think to myself, “Life doesn’t get any better than this”.

And there it was again; one of those elusive perfect moments. One of those moments where you feel that this is what makes life worth living. A moment that will become a treasured memory you will hold on to and cherish for the rest of your life. I also began to wonder how many times I had experienced one of these special moments, and how many more will I experience before I’m gone.

I recently watched a Japanese movie called “After Life”. It was about a group of people who had died and gone to a waiting area between earth and heaven. They were given three days to decide on a single memory that they felt was the most special for them. After they chose this memory, they would spend the rest of eternity living in that moment. While it took the people in the movie three days to come up with that special moment, I decided on mine before the movie ended.

For me, that moment I had in Montana, riding through Glacier National Park on my motorcycle, was probably the moment I treasure the most. However, it wasn’t just because of the beauty of the scenery, or because I was riding my favourite motorcycle, it was also because it was one of the happiest times of my life. It was also a time when all my friends and family were happy and healthy, and I was able to enjoy doing something I loved with my wife.

Just as I was enjoying this perfect moment of bliss, I saw something ahead that grabbed my attention. There was a gentle sweeping corner to the right, and I thought to myself, “I’ve seen this corner before”. I slowed down a little, and after taking the corner, I peered into the darkness and found what I was looking for. I pulled over on the side of the road, and began walking towards the spot I had been trying to find for over an hour. In front of me stood a white cross about five feet tall, with Julia’s name on it.

I walked a bit closer, and noticed that the paint was chipped and fading. On the ground beside the cross was a tipped over vase full of dead flowers. It looked like no-one had been here for a while. I picked up the vase and placed it back down on its base. I carefully took the flowers out of my jacket, and after realizing they wouldn’t fit in the vase, dug a small hole with my fingers next to the cross, and planted my flowers. After a few moments of reflection, I knelt down next to the cross, closed my eyes and said a small prayer to Julia.

I remembered how she lent me her motorcycle to ride to California, and later lost her life at this spot riding that same bike. It’s times like this when I’m thinking about Bog and Julia and how they died, I wonder why I still ride. However, when I think about how I felt a few minutes earlier, it becomes easier to reconcile. While I still fear the thought of getting into an accident, living a life with no special moments to make life worth living is something I fear more.

After one last look at the flowers I had planted, I walked back towards my bike. Now that I had completed the final stop of my two day journey, it was time to head home.

The long ride back along the highway was more tiresome than exhilarating. The only view that caught my attention was the endless stream of red lights that represented all the cars ahead of me. As I pushed on through the night, I thought about my life, and those moments of happiness and sadness that I had experienced along the way. More important though, I realized how my outlook on life had changed since that special moment I had in Montana. When I reached that peak of contentment ten years earlier, I soon had a sense of dread that my life could only get worse from that moment. When I had that same kind of special moment a couple hours earlier, I felt more like a surfer at the top of a wave; enjoying that blissful moment while it lasted, but also looking forward to riding the next wave that was coming along. It had been a long struggle, but finally, life was good again.

By the time I arrived home, I could tell by the darkness of the windows that my wife was already in bed. I put the bike in the garage, patted the gas tank as if it were a horse, and said “thanks for getting me home safely”. Although I was happy to be home, I was a bit sad that the trip was over. I began to think about what lay ahead. In a few more minutes I will be sleeping beside my wife, and a few hours after that I will be back at work, toiling away in front of a computer. After work I will come home, walk the dog, eat some supper, watch some TV, check my e-mail on the computer, then go to bed. The day after that, I’ll probably do the same thing all over again. After a few brooding seconds, I had to remind myself tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, and for those last few minutes of what had been a wonderful weekend adventure, I paused to savour the moment.

I have heard people say that in the last few seconds before you leave this earth, you will see your life pass before your eyes. My only hope is when I get to watch the movie of my life played out in those brief few seconds, my collection of special moments will leave me feeling that it was a truly worthwhile journey.

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First on the new bridge

Golden Ears BridgeOn June 15, 2009, just before 11:00 p.m. , I arrived on my motorcycle at the foot of the North East ramp to the Golden Ears bridge. I had heard on the news that the new bridge would would be opening at midnight, and wanted to be among the first people to cross it. Perhaps, I thought, I might actually be the first “motorcycle” to cross the new bridge.

I was a little surprised that nobody else was there, considering the fact that it was the first major bridge to be built in the lower mainland in decades. After a few moments of contemplating where I should park my motorcycle, I eventually decided to park it on top of the chevron markings between the ramp and main highway, so I wouldn’t be blocking the road or the ramp.

It was at least half an hour later before a minivan finally pulled along side me. There was a family of people inside who were really excited at the prospect of being first over the bridge, and were taking lots of pictures. I even took a couple of pictures for them.

A few minutes later, more people started arriving, eagerly awaiting the big opening. A cameraman from Global TV also showed up and began interviewing the people in the van, since he assumed they would be the first over the bridge because of where they were parked.

As time passed on we heard various reports from different people that the bridge opening might be delayed for several hours. A few people decided not to bother waiting anymore and left.

Eventually, I asked the driver of the van if he wouldn’t mind me parking my bike in front of them, in preparation of driving onto the bridge. The driver replied “Of course, after all you were here first.”

At around 2:00 am, a police car stopped in front of the wooden sign barrier, and the policeman got out and removed it. I was getting really excited now, and I just prayed my bike would start, since the battery had been giving me problems lately. This would not have been a good time to try and push start my bike.

Golden Ears Bridge (Bill Keay / Vancouver Sun) [PNG Merlin Archive]Finally, after idling for over 15 minutes, the police car started slowly driving up the ramp. I was so happy to be right behind the police car that was taking us over.

After I arrived on to the main highway heading towards to the bridge itself, I looked over at the slip road on the other side, and noticed the first vehicle up that side was a rider on a Harley (I was NW he was NE). I figured he was also wanting to be the first vehicle, or at least motorcycle to cross the bridge. However, since he had a three quarter circle slip road winding its way to the bridge, he was about 100 feet behind me.

As the bridge got closer, I noticed I still couldn’t see any vehicles coming the other way. It appeared that the ramp I was waiting on was going to be first on to the new bridge. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was actually going to be driving, or in my case riding, the very first vehicle to cross the new bridge!

At that moment of realization, I began to feel guilty that my wanting to have the distinction of being the “first motorcycle”, and now the “first vehicle” over the bridge was an honour I didn’t really deserve. I started to slow down a bit, just as I was crossing the bridge, and beckoned the Harley rider to catch up to me, so we could both share the distinction of being first. A few seconds later he caught up to me, and we both rode over the bridge, side by side. What an unforgettable moment that was!

However, by doing this, the person in the minivan behind me, moved over to the right lane, and pulled in front of me. I was a little surprised at first, but then I thought “Oh well, what the heck”. I think they really wanted the distinction of saying they were the first people to “cross” the bridge.

All in all, I think it worked out pretty well. Now, three different people can claim they were first, in their own way.

I was just hoping to be the first “motorcycle” over the bridge, but I’m happy to share that with the Harley rider. At least I can still say I was the first vehicle “on” the new bridge.

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The Last e-mail

Imagine you were writing an e-mail to someone, wondering if it would be the last e-mail you would ever send to them; what would you say? Not too long ago, I was sitting in front of the computer contemplating this very thought. It was late at night, on the eve of another great motorcycle adventure. I was always filled with a range of emotions on a night like that; excitement for the good times the ride could bring, but worried about paying the ultimate price for my enjoyment. However, this night was different; I felt a strong desire to say something important to friend before I left.

But what led up to this fateful night in 2005? To tell this story properly I would need to start back in 1999. I was working at a company called CityXpress, and met someone named Bog. Since we both shared a love of motorcycles, it was almost inevitable we would become good friends. However, it was his enthusiasm to ride, and his Monday morning water cooler stories of his weekend adventures, that enticed me to own another motorcycle after a 5 year hiatus.

Bog & I – Sportbike West 1999

Sportbike West 1999

Some people may wonder why anyone would ride a motorcycle. They see the news, and hear about another motorcycle rider getting killed, or hear about a friend’s relative getting seriously injured, and think motorcycle riders must be crazy. To be honest, some are, and eventually meet the fate that many predict; but a lot aren’t, and ride for many years, eventually dieing from old age or some other cause. There are also some riders who have crashed multiple times, and lived to tell the tale, while others who have only crashed once, and didn’t. Everyone has their own philosophy regarding fate, life, death, or simply the theory of “when your number’s up, your numbers up”. I also have mine as well.

For me, I prefer the theory of “risk management”. For everything you do, there is a risk; climbing stairs, crossing a street, driving a car, etc. In fact, it is commonly said that most accidents occur in the home. So what do you do about it? You hold the handrail going down stairs, look both ways before crossing the street, and drive defensively, etc. For riding a motorcycle, taking training courses, wearing good protective clothing, and riding at a safe speed for the road conditions and your abilities will help reduce your risks. This philosophy had served me well so far, and I was hoping the trend would continue.

After renting a motorcycle in 1999 to attend Sportbike West with Bog, I finally bought a bike again in 2000. Bog welcomed me into his motorcycle club called “Vancouver Riders Of Motorcycles” (VROM), and I began going on group rides with my new friends.  At the time, all I could think about was how much fun I was having riding again, and the possibility of having a motorcycle accident was the furthest thing from my mind. However, all that all changed in 2001 when I went to my first motorcycle related funeral for a fellow VROM rider named Ethan. I never could have imagined at that time it was just the first of several funerals I would be attending in the coming years, although not all of them were related to motorcycles.

In 2002, the VROM club was in its second year, and for me, those were not only the best times I ever had on a motorcycle, but some of the happiest times of my life. That was also the year I went on my first great motorcycle adventure. Our friend Marky organized the first VROM ride to Laguna Seca, to watch the motorcycle racing there. The only thing wrong with this great ride I was about to go on, was my beat up old 400 Ninja was in the shop being fixed.

I remember sitting at the Flying Swan talking to Julia about my dilemma. Julia was Bog’s girlfriend, and the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. I used to drop by the Swan at least once a week for lunch, and almost every time I saw her, she was so excited to tell me the latest news or next big event she was planning. I have no idea where she got her energy from. When she heard about my bike problems, she said “If you buy me a set of tires, I’ll let you borrow my F4i” (Honda CBR 600). I was floored by such a generous offer, but told her I couldn’t possibly accept, and my bike would probably be fixed anyway. However, the night before we were about to leave, my bike was still in the shop, and I was faced with the choice of borrowing Julia’s bike, or not going at all. Of course, Julia insisted I go, and said “This is going to be the trip of a lifetime, and you only live once”. I still remember hopping aboard Julia’s shiny red Honda CBR 600, thinking “This is the nicest bike I have ever been on. Julia’s right; this is going to be the best time of my life”.

My wife and I left a day earlier than the rest of the group, but met up with everyone in Grant’s Pass in Southern Oregon. That night we all went to a little Mexican restaurant to celebrate. Since we had only ridden on the highway up to that point, we were all excited to begin the best part of the ride the next morning. At the end of the evening, Julia’s insisted on paying for everyone’s meals and drinks, and no-one could talk her out of it. She was always so generous to her friends. The next morning, as a way for me to say thank you to Bog & Julia, I got up extra early and quickly washed their Hayabusas of the dirty road spray caused by the mixed weather riding of the day before. I’m not sure if they ever realized that.

Mexican Restaurant in Oregon

Vrom Group – California

VROM group, California

VROM group – San Francisco

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Over the next few days, we rode on some of the twistiest roads I had ever seen in my life. It was also some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen as well. We rode along the coast, and every good back country road we could find, all the way to Salinas California. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.

After we all arrived in Salinas, my wife and I went out to eat with Bog and Julia. I decided to treat them to supper as a way to say thank you for helping me make the trip. After the meal, Bog ordered a large strawberry sundae, and I can still remember him smiling like a big kid as he dug in to the delicious treat. Even though Bog was one of the older VROM riders, he was very much young at heart. Unfortunately, that was also our last evening with the group, since time and money prevented us from staying to watch the racing.

Oregon Coast

Sportbike West 2002

Early the next morning, we left for the scenic ride home. We rode east to Yosemite, then north west to Eureka California, and finally north along the Oregon Coast. Although this was the longest group trip my wife and I had ever been on, we had gone on several smaller trips with the VROM riders. There were several trips to the Okanagon area over long weekends, and many other rides that were just a single day; sometimes a very long day.

Although the riding was really fun, it was the social aspect that I always enjoyed the most.  Since I grew up working in a family run store that was open seven days a week until ten o-clock at night, it meant for many years, I had no social life at all.  I remember watching movies like “Stand by me” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” with wistful envy, wishing that I had a group of friends to share good times with, rather than just one or two here and there. It wasn’t until I became friends with Bog and Julia that I finally had a lot of friends I could share adventures and happy memories with. It was one of the rare times in my life, that I stopped living like a social hermit, and began going to parties and having fun.

Bog and Julia loved the social aspect too, and there was always something happening; backyard barbecues, birthday parties, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, New Years parties, Motorcycle Mondays, and more. And no matter what event it was, Julia always made sure there was lots of food, and also insisted I take some home with me (she probably thought I wasn’t eating enough). Living so close to the Flying Swan was great because it meant I hardly missed many parties. However, in 2004 all of that changed.

Julia’s Birthday Party – Behind Flying Swan. I’m on the far left.

Winning a prize during Motorcycle Monday at the Flying Swan

Flying Swan. Fireman’s Charity Ride. I’m leaning on the lamp post.

Keiko, Me, Julia, Bog

Living downtown had its advantages, like being close to work and the Flying Swan, but my wife was sick of being crammed into our 580 square foot condo, and wanted to move into something bigger. While having a bigger home meant we could finally have a garage to park the bikes, it also meant being an hour drive from downtown. Another factor was the much bigger mortgage, which meant less money for everything else, including riding. It also meant no money for other luxuries, like eating out for lunch, which sadly meant my regular visits to the Swan for lunch were forced to come to an end. It seemed like the happy life I had enjoyed with my VROM friends was slowly dwindling away. I couldn’t have imagined at that time that the worst was yet to come.

In July of 2004, my friend Bog was killed while riding to Lytton. Not only was he one of the greatest riders I have ever known, he was like a father figure to many of the younger riders, offering advice, and always looking out for them on a ride. He enjoyed riding more than anyone I have ever met. Over the past few years, he had ridden enough kilometers to circle the globe several times, carving thousands of corners. In all that time, he only ever crashed on a corner once; and that was all it took to end his life.

Bog’s Funeral Procession. I’m on the right.

Celebration of Bog

Me at Bog’s Funeral

Bog News report

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It was a terrible blow not only to Julia, but to the entire motorcycle community. Bog had spent years bringing riders of all kinds of bikes and models together. In his eyes, it didn’t matter what type of bike you rode, just as long as you rode. The procession ride to the cemetery, was one of the largest motorcycle processions the city had ever seen, with around 500 motorcycles attending. It was touching to see every type of motorcycle there, from scooters to Harleys. Bog would have been so proud to see his vision realized.

Of course, everyone wanted to help out in any way they could, and since my trade was in graphic design, I was asked to create the memorial brochure and card for the funeral. I was also honored to be chosen as one of the pall bearers.

There is rarely a good time to die, but I felt that fate had been particularly cruel in this case. Bog was supposed to be heading to Laguna Seca in just two more weeks. He was really looking forward to riding to California again, and had spent months carefully planning all the roads he wanted to ride on. For Bog, it was going to be the trip of lifetime. To be robbed of that ride made the pain even harder for me to accept. Why now?

There was also something else that bothered me. A couple weeks earlier I had dropped by the Flying Swan. I clearly remember standing in the doorway about to leave, and feeling the sudden urge to mention to Bog & Julia just how much their friendship to meant me, but in the end, I felt too shy to say anything, and left. A couple weeks later, the tears welled up in my eyes as I wrote in Bog’s memorial guest book “I never got to tell you how much your friendship meant to me”.

Bog’s Memorial Ride

The following year was very tough financially, and I hardly went on a single ride all spring, except for one. There was a special ride going to place a monument at the spot where Bog was killed. Even though I had a very important math exam coming up, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity to honor my friend. I left early and met up with the group in Pemberton. From there I followed behind Julia to Lilloet and beyond.

Along the way, I noticed a large rock in the middle of the road. I remembered that a few minutes before Bog was killed, he pulled over on the side of the road, and removed a large rock off the highway. He said to his fellow rider that someone might come along and hit that, and he wanted to make sure the road safe for the rest of the riders who were following. In the spirit of Bog’s gesture, I did the same thing.

After the group arrived at the spot, we put up the memorial, and took time to reflect on the good times we had shared. We also took a couple pictures and said a prayer. It was quite an emotional time for many of us. For the rest of the ride home, I followed behind Julia. She always rode at a pace I found comfortable, not too fast and not too slow. It was just like old times.

A few weeks later, I dropped by the Flying Swan for lunch, and talked to Julia about a dilemma I was having.  The racing at Laguna Seca was approaching, and this was the first year for the premier Moto GP class to race there. My wife had bought tickets the year before, but that was before we ran into financial difficulties. Realistically we couldn’t afford to go, and I was seriously considering doing the sensible thing and selling the tickets. However, my wife was insisting we should still make the trip. I asked Julia for her opinion on the matter. Of course Julia suggested I should listen to my wife and go. She said “Life is too short to miss an opportunity like that”. I should have known Julia was going to say something that.

I can still recall dropping by the Flying Swan a couple days before the trip, and thanking Julia for convincing me to go. It felt so good having something to look forward to, since my life was in such a tailspin at that time. Julia also had a lot to look forward to as well, following the devastating events of the previous year. She had become engaged to Robert, a long time friend and fellow rider, and they were going to be getting married in a couple of weeks. She also mentioned that she was really looking forward to going to Europe on their honeymoon, and renting a couple of motorcycles to do some touring on. With a beaming smile, she said “It’s going to cost a lot of money, but who cares; I’m having too much fun right now”. It was really nice to see Julia filled with her contagious happiness and excitement again.

So here I was in the summer of 2005, sitting in front of the computer late at night, contemplating the long ride to Laguna Seca. I should have been going to bed because I had to get up early, but for some reason, I felt a compelling urge to write an email to Julia. I thought if something were to happen to me on this trip, at least I would have finally told her how much her friendship meant to me. This is what I wrote:

Hello Julia.

In a few more hours, I will be on my way to California again. I can’t help but remember the last trip I had. It was one of the best times of my life, and I owe it to you. I will be forever grateful to you for lending me your bike and making the trip possible. I know I haven’t been dropping by as often as I’d like, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore. My heart is always with the VROM crowd, and you are in the forefront. I look forward to dropping by the Swan when I get back, and we can exchange stories of how our holidays were.

Dale.

The next morning my wife and I set off for California. When we arrived in Grant’s Pass, we went to the same little Mexican restaurant that we celebrated our first great VROM ride in. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, but I peered through the window and remembered how happy all of us were at that time.

Yosemite National Park

Getting ready for Parade Lap – Laguna Seca

Getting Rossi’s autograph

Laguna Seca

Laguna Seca

Over the next few days we rode on some of the same roads we went on last time, and some new ones as well. It was the highlight of the year. When we arrived in Monterey, I bumped into Valentino Rossi (five time world champion), who was asking me for directions to get to the race track (no wonder he was late getting there). I thought to myself “What a story that’s going to make”.

Unlike the last time we went to Laguna Seca, we stayed to watch the racing, and it was quite a spectacle. It truly was worth going to. I couldn’t wait to drop by the Flying Swan wearing my new colourful Rossi shirt, and telling Julia all about the trip.

Although the scenic ride down was pretty fun, the ride home didn’t go as well as planned. I had endure two long grueling days of riding my wife’s bike, with no front brake. It felt like a minor miracle that we actually made it back safely. Even though I was glad we made it back home, it was a bittersweet moment for me, because now I would have to sell my beloved motorcycle to pay for the trip. I tried to convince myself that I would get another bike in the near future, but somehow, I felt that this was probably the end of my last great motorcycle adventure.

After parking the bikes and taking off my leathers, I decided to listen to the answering machine to see who had called while we were away. Unfortunately, one of the messages was confusing and somewhat troubling. A lady whose name was Amber asked if I could make a memorial brochure and card for Julia, similar to the one I created for Bog. My initial confusion began to turn to dread as the words began swirling around in my mind. I thought to myself, “Oh no, please god no, don’t be what I’m thinking.

With trembling hands, I went on to the VROM website, and sadly, my worst fears were confirmed. Julia had lost her life in a motorcycle accident near Hope. I was utterly devastated by the news. I hadn’t even gotten over the death of Bog yet, and to suddenly lose Julia too was almost unbearable. At that moment, I felt like a part of my soul had died; the part that had lain dormant for most of my life but had finally awoken, allowing me to seize the desire to live life to its fullest. Because of Bog and Julia, I had bonded with a group of friends that I had enjoyed some of the happiest times of my life with. Now, I felt that an unforgettable era in my life had come to an end.

As I sat in front of the computer, numb and heartbroken from the news, I eventually decided to check my e-mail. It was at that moment my heart skipped a beat; there was an e-mail from Julia. My thoughts raced back to the night before I left, and the e-mail I had written to Julia. As I opened up the e-mail, the tears began to flow as I read the last words she would ever say to me…

Dale,

Have a fantastic trip. There’s nothing I won’t do for you and Keiko. Bog and I truly loved you both. Have a great time and remember I’d be going if I could.

Julia.

Thoughts and images flashed through my mind, as I sat there. Shock and disbelief was slowly turning to pain and sorrow, then, one memory seemed to come into focus that began to change how I was feeling. It was the vivid recollection of Bog’s Funeral, when I wrote “I never got the chance to tell you how much your friendship meant to me”. It was during that moment, I realized that the urge for me to write an e-mail to Julia on the eve of my trip, had prevented me from that terrible sense of regret I felt at Bog’s funeral. What was meant as a possible last e-mail to Julia really was, but in a strange twist of fate, it was Julia that passed away, not me. That realization that I had been able to thank Julia, and let her know know how much I cared, was like an invisible hand of comfort being placed on my shoulder, and for a brief moment, I felt a small sense of peace.

There’s an old saying that states “Time heals all wounds”. While this may be true, some wounds leave deeper scars than others. It’s been several years now since Bog & Julia passed away, but it feels like just a few months ago.  I can still picture their smiling faces, and hear their voices in my mind as vividly as ever. I hope that never changes.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to drop by the Flying Swan for lunch. Walking inside was almost like walking backing in time; nothing had changed. Toy motorcycles still hung from the ceiling, pictures of VROMies on their weekend rides still hung in the hallway, and the large painted murals of Bog on his Hayabusa,  and Julia on her F4i still adorned the walls. Julia’s brother and son were there, and it was great to see them again. We talked about old times, and what was new in our lives. I also took some time to take a closer look at the wall of photos. It was very nostalgic for me seeing some of the faces of people I hadn’t seen in a while, and even spotting the occasional photo I took, or someone took of me. I’m so glad that nothing has changed at the Flying Swan, and I have those precious memories to cherish.

Looking back at my time with Bog and Julia, I feel that I gained more than just treasured memories, I learned a valuable lesson. It is better to share your heart with someone while you can, because the only pain that hurts more than losing a friend or loved one, is losing them with unspoken words trapped in your heart.

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Bog’s memorial brochure

Julia’s memorial brochure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Julia – Memorial brochure

Julia beside her Hayabusa

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Bog and Julia – ART course

Bog and Julia

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In 2003, My wife and I went Sportbike West with VROM. I was trying out our new digital camera with the movie feature. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the quality setting was set to e-mail mode, and the videos were so tiny. I almost deleted them, but I’m glad I didn’t.

SBW 2003

SBW 2003

SBW 2003

SBW 2003

SBW 2003

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The long ride home

There are many times in a person’s life that are fondly remembered as phases. There’s the baby phase, which most of us can’t remember, the early childhood phase where we begin school, the teenage phase where thinking of the opposite sex seems to be the biggest preoccupation, and finally the adult phase. This last transition is often considered the most important, and in many countries there are even rituals performed when a young man or woman becomes an adult. One of the most daring examples that comes to mind, happens in the jungles of the New Hebrides, where a young man climbs a 100 foot ladder, ties a vine around his ankles and leaps off. I can just imagine what must pass through a person’s mind at that point. Thinking of everything they had accomplished up to that point, before summoning up all of their courage to literally leap into the next chapter of their life; if they live of course. For many people in the western world however, Graduation Day is often considered the official coming of age event. For me though, it was my trip to Scotland, and this is where my story begins.

It was the summer of 1982, and I was living in England in a small town called Prescot, about 15 miles from Liverpool. I had just turned 16, and my stepfather decided to get me a “coming of age” present. It was a black Yamaha DT50 motorcycle. Since it was only 50cc, it was officially recognized as a moped, which was short for a motor assisted bicycle. To add insult to injury, the government had also decided that these 50cc bikes had to be restricted to a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour (as if a 50cc engine needed any restriction). At the time though I didn’t care, because from that day, the world became just a bit smaller, and I had gained a little more freedom. It was the same feeling I had when I got my first bicycle, and could venture much farther from home in a day, than would be ever be possible by walking. Now though, it seemed that there was no place on the whole Island of Great Britain I could not get to, given enough time of course.

For the previous three years, I had been having a long distance relationship with a Scottish girl named Joyce. We had met each other on a camping trip three years earlier and became, as we called it, boyfriend and girlfriend, although pen pals would have been a more accurate description. There was a good 200 miles separating us, and without wheels or money, it may as well have been the other side of the world. I kept promising to return to Scotland to see her, but I never had the chance to get back there ….until now.

Before making such a trip though, I needed some camping supplies. I bought a small pup tent, a thin sleeping bag, a small gas stove, and a few other small items. If only I could go back in time and mention one more important item – RAIN GEAR. Another important accessory for any trip is a map. However, after examining all the coloured spaghetti representing roads, and having the further complication of being prohibited from riding on the motorway, I asked my older brother to write up some easy to follow directions. This was later taped on to my gas tank as a quick reference guide. With all my preparations made, the only thing left to do was wait for morning.

I have never been a morning person, but on that day, as soon as the sun came up, I was wide awake. It was as if I was four years old again, waiting to open my Christmas presents. This was the day I had been waiting so long for, and now it had finally arrived. I was going back to Scotland, to see my girlfriend Joyce. I strapped my tent and sleeping bag over the back seat, slipped on my back pack, tied on my helmet, and climbed on my little black bike. After a couple swift kicks, the engine sprang to life with its distinctive two stroke shrill, and off I went, leaving a light trail of blue smoke behind.

I looked down at the map and started reading my brothers directions “Go to St.Helens, When you get there look for signs leading to Preston…..”. That sounds easy enough, St Helens was only 15 miles away, and I’d been there hundreds of times. This whole trip is going to be a piece of cake. Half an hour later I was on the phone to my brother saying “I must have circled the roundabout in St. Helens five times, and there are no signs telling me how to get to Preston, where am I supposed to go?” I couldn’t believe it, 15 miles from home, and already lost. My brother calmly replied “Just head towards Southport, and you’ll probably see signs along the way telling you how to get to Preston”. I said “OK, I’ll try that”. So off I went, and sure enough, about thirty minutes later, I saw a sign for Preston, and I was well and truly on my way.

Pretty soon, I was on a two lane highway going north, and that’s when I realized just how small and vulnerable I was. Every few minutes, a huge truck travelling seventy miles per hour would roar past me, so close I could reach out and touch it. I remember looking at those big tires whizzing past me, by what seemed like mere inches away, and hoped I wouldn’t get sucked under them by a big gust of wind. In hindsight, I should have just ridden on the hard shoulder, rather than the actual highway. I was so lucky not to have been sideswiped by one of them.

It was during this trip that something remarkable happened to me for the first time. I saw a group of about ten motorcycle riders, heading towards me on the other side of the highway. Suddenly, one by one their headlights blinked on and off as they rode by. I didn’t realize why for a couple of seconds, but then the penny finally dropped, they were saying hello to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had been welcomed into this group of people like I was an old friend, even though I had never met any of them before. In that instant, being a motorcycle rider took on a whole new meaning for me, and I realized I shared a special bond with all of the other riders on the road. From that moment on I began greeting all the other riders on the road, and being greeted back, regardless of the kind of motorcycle they rode.

After a couple of hours of riding, the scenery started to slowly change. The buildings became more scarce, and the factories and chimneys started to give way to trees, and small cottages. The beautiful landscape of the Lake District was getting closer by the mile. Then it finally dawned on me, I had never ventured this far from home alone before. Suddenly the picture postcard scenery of the rolling green hills, stone walls and cottages, and distant sheep grazing in the hills became that much sweeter. I had actually ridden here, and I had done it all by myself.

After several hours of riding, It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it all the way to Scotland in one day. At around 5:00pm, I started looking for a place to stay for the night. I had made it to Kendal, which was a small picturesque town in the heart of the Lake District. It was almost half way to my destination, but since my rear end had become really sore by this time, it seemed as good a place as any to call it a day. I phoned my parents to let them know where I was, and how the trip was going. Even though I was ready to look for a campsite for the night, they insisted that I stay in a Bed and Breakfast while on the road, and save sleeping in the tent for my friend’s farm in Scotland. I agreed and checked in to a little B&B place, then had some supper. It had been a great trip so far, and I had taken several pictures of my bike parked here and there along the way. I guess a self-timer camera would have come in handy on this trip, but I didn’t care, having my bike in the picture was proof enough that I was there.

The next morning when I woke up, there was a brief moment of bewilderment as I looked around the unfamiliar bedroom that I had just slept in. A second or two later, my brain finally went “Oh yeah, I know where I am now”. That’s when I smiled and thought, “So it wasn’t a dream after all….I really am on my way to visit Joyce.” After a traditional English breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage & tomato, I was on the road again. Several hours, and several more photo stops later, I could finally see something in the distance. My heart raced, and a beaming smile grew on my face as I approached a large white sign with a red dragon on it, and large black letters spelling out the most beautiful name in the world, Scotland. It was a sweet moment of triumph, and a symbol that I was almost at my final destination. I could see some people getting their picture taken at the sign, and I asked them if they could take a picture of me there too. I’m glad they did, because it is the only picture I have of me on my bike for the entire trip, and the only picture I can find of this trip today.

A few hours later, I was riding into the town of Biggar, 30 miles south of Edinburgh. Although the main purpose of this trip was to see my girlfriend, I was also visiting and staying with some dear fiends of the family. They were a retired couple by the name of Don & Elizabeth, and they owned a small farm in Biggar where my brother and I first camped three years earlier. I was given a warm greeting and a hot meal, then I started putting up my little tent in their large grassy field. The sheep were all staring at me as I figured out which pole goes where, and eventually got it all set up.  It was too late to visit Joyce at that time so I just relaxed around the farm talking with Don & Elizabeth before heading off to my tent to sleep. The stars seemed so bright out in the country and away from the city lights, I could gaze at them for hours. As I settled in to my little tent for the night I made another discovery. It gets really damn cold at night.

The next morning I finally rode up to the farm where Joyce lived. It was so nice to get to meet her again, and we had a lot to talk about. The next ten days were wonderful, and I spent several days visiting Joyce at her farm and going for walks. I also spent one day hiking up a local mountain, and an entire day wandering around Edinburgh castle. It was a great holiday, but like all things in life, it eventually had to come to an end. I remember riding over to Joyce’s farm for the last time the night before I was going to leave. Her parents weren’t home, so we talked for a while, then lay down beside each other in front of the fireplace. We kissed and held each other for the first, and last time that night, but being only sixteen, kissing was enough for us. It was a teary goodbye, but I didn’t leave empty handed. Throughout my visit with Joyce, she always wore a black and gold beaded necklace, but when I left, I was the one wearing it.

The next morning I packed up my tent, and said goodbye to Don & Elizabeth, then rode through the town of Biggar for the last time. As I started to fill my gas tank for the ride home, the first few drops of rain started to fall, almost as if the heavens began to cry at my departure. By the time I reached the main highway, the rain had started coming down fairly hard. I didn’t have any waterproof clothing, and it didn’t take long before my jeans and denim jacket became soaking wet. The cold wind seemed to pierce right through my wet clothing as I rode, and it was less than an hour later when I made my first stop. I pulled into a small coffee shop on the side of the road and bought a cup of coffee. I sat there shivering and soaking wet for over an hour hoping the rain would stop, but it didn’t. Eventually, I knew I had to press on, rain or no rain.

I climbed back on my wet bike, wincing as I sat down on the cold wet seat, and started heading back down the highway. To keep myself from thinking of the cold, I began to sing a song from one of my favourite movies at that time, the Life of Brian. “Always look on the bright side of life…..” After only half an hour of riding, I couldn’t take it any more, and had to make another pit stop. As I pulled into the next gas station, my whole body was so cold and stiff, I could hardly get off the bike. My hands were the worst though, since I was wearing only thin, perforated, leather gloves with no lining. They might have been useful for preventing road rash, but absolutely useless for retaining heat. I ordered my coffee, but I had a heck of a time trying to fish the money out of my wet jeans with my numb hands. Again I sat, drank, and waited to see if the rain would let up, but it didn’t. The hours that followed were pretty much the same ritual. Ride for half an hour, pull in somewhere, have a coffee and warm up, then ride some more.

By about 8pm, it was starting to get dark, so I began to look for a place to stay. There was just one small problem. Since I had made so many coffee stops throughout the day, I had spent most of the money I had saved for the ride home. I started looking around for the cheapest place I could find, and eventually found a tiny little room in an attic that I could rent for the night. I didn’t care how small it was though, just that it was warm and dry. As I climbed out of my wet clothes and into the warm bed, a sinking feeling came over me. I had only reached Carlisle, which was just over the border from Scotland. I was only a quarter of the way home, and almost out of money. I had to get home tomorrow no matter what, because I didn’t have enough money to stay another night somewhere else. That also meant the end of those half hour coffee breaks too.

I woke up early the next morning, because I had a long way to go. I grabbed my clothes from the back of the chair I threw them on, and found they were still damp. There is nothing worse than putting on cold wet clothes. I peered out the window hoping there might be better weather today, but it was still raining. After breakfast, I looked at my dripping wet bike outside, took a deep breath and thought “this is it, I’ve got to make it home today, no matter what”. I climbed aboard, and that familiar feeling of a cold wet seat was there to greet me. The hours seemed to go by so slowly, and I cursed the fact that I was restricted to a mere thirty miles an hour. “One day”, I thought, “I’m going to have a really fast bike that could eat up those long miles in a matter of minutes”.

By the time I reached the Lake District I was faced with another problem. Since I was almost completely out of money, I realized I might not have enough gas to get home. I filled up my gas tank up for the last time, looked at my fifty pence worth of change, and wondered just far I could get. Every hill I came to I pulled the clutch in and coasted down it, trying to conserve every drop of gas I could. At least worrying about my gas kept my mind off the cold. By this time my whole body was shaking uncontrollably, and my teeth were clenched so hard my jaws began to ache. When I eventually reached Lancaster, I used my last fifty pence to put a few more drops of gas into my little bike. I was still about 75 miles from home, and my gas tank wasn’t even full.

I thought to myself  “If I run out around Preston, I will have to push my bike about forty miles, but If I can make it to Southport, I will only have push it about twenty”. Each mile I rode from then on was one less mile for me to push my bike. I was convinced there was no way for me to make it all the way home with the little gas I had left, the only question was, when and where it was going to run out. Mile after mile went by, as I cautiously listened to that little engine, trying to hear the first signs of it spluttering to let me know I was down to my last few drops. By the time I reached Southport, I was starting to feel more and more relieved. I hadn’t turned over to my reserve yet, and I was still going. A glimmer of hope started to slowly emerge as I thought “Wow, I might not have to push my bike after all”. For the last few miles, all I could think about was finally getting off this bike and out of my wet clothes. It was about ten pm at night when I finally turned into my driveway at home. I was more cold, tired and hungry than I had ever been in my life, but I had made it. I had completed the almost impossible task of riding over two hundred miles on a little fifty cc bike in the pouring rain. I must have had a bad case of hypothermia too, because I was still shivering two days later.

When I look back at that trip almost twenty years later, I am proud of the determination I showed. To think that I was willing to push my bike twenty or thirty miles if I had to, demonstrated the depth of my conviction to make it home on my own. I may have left home just ten days earlier, but in that time, I felt that I had changed, perhaps matured a little, and that life would never seem quite the same again. It wasn’t a graduation ceremony or any other officially recognized coming of age celebration, but in that moment, my childhood was officially over, and the rest of my life was just beginning.

As for my old girlfriend Joyce, I saw her for the last time a couple years later, and remained in touch for a couple years after, until she got married. As for the necklace she gave me, I’m holding it in my left hand right now. It has been in the pocket of my motorcycle jacket for every trip I have ridden on since then, and I consider it my lucky charm. Although that ride to Scotland was my first big trip, it certainly wasn’t my last. One thing I’ve learned over the years though is this: no matter where you ride to, you will always have to face the long ride home.