Five years ago, I showed up at my MSF class and met my coach for the weekend class. Carl was a funny guy, tall and thin, with a quirky sense of humor, I often decribe him as a 'biker-cowboy'. We hit it off immediately and during the class, he was using me to do the demonstrations of the exercises. The funny thing was, that before that class, I had never ridden a motorcycle on my own before. It was a duck to water kind of relationship I think and Carl could see that.
After the class was finished for the weekend, Carl and I often rode together. It was a great friendship, I followed him around New England roads for about 5000 miles that summer. It was like having a private instructor and I know that my riding with him has made me the rider that I am today. He cut me absolutely no slack whatsoever.... we would be riding down the road and he would slow down, put on his blinker, quickly look back over his shoulder and if the coast was clear, Carl would 'bang' a u-turn, leaving me still riding straight. U-turns are the bane of existence for many beginning riders. I lost count as to how many times he did this and how many times I fogged up my face shield swearing about having to do another ***** u-turn!! When we stopped our bikes, I would say, "I can't believe you made me do ANOTHER u-turn, I think you do it on purpose!" I would pretend to growl at him. Carl looked at me and would say, every single time, "Summer Girl, you did it, so what are you complaining about?" I would reluctantly smile in reply, muttering "well, I can do them but I don't have to like them."
Carl called me Summer Girl... one of his many references to songs that he liked. Carl would often talk to me with musical metaphors interspersed, and in keeping with his love of teaching, he would not ever surrender the reason for the reference. I would have to look it up and find the connection. I wish I could remember the actual song that this came from, as Summer Girl is not the title of the song, but a girl mentioned in a song from the 60s that he liked.
I found out early on that Carl was fighting cancer. He lived as if he had it beat, right up until the end. We would ride long hard days, and I could tell that it pained him to walk, but he did not speak of it much, preferring to live in the moment. He did not tell me when he had to go for spine surgery, but sent me an email after it was all done. That was just like him... frustrated the heck out of me, but he lived his life his way. Carl had plans to winter in Tucson in a condo he just bought and come back to teach MSF courses in the summer. That winter, he and I spoke via email, he was trying to coax me into taking "The Ride of A Lifetime" with him the next fall. I was afraid that I would not be able to take the month off from my store to go for the full ride, but promised that I would do part of it. It was a 10,000 mile ride to many of our national parks.
Sadly, life had other plans for him. His cancer was terminal and he was given a year to live. Undaunted, he still felt that he could beat it and was still planning The Ride. I ran into a mutual friend right before Easter and was told that Carl had been downgraded and given less than 4 months. My heart sank and I called my husband at work, telling him that I needed to go to Arizona immediately. A few days later, in a rental car, I pulled into Carl's driveway in Tucson. I knew his time was very short when I saw a piece of paper with a schedule taped to his fridge... the header was from the local Hospice. He was in a wheelchair, insisting on being independent and getting himself around. His struggle was difficult to watch and I allowed it for only a little while before I told him that he had better suck it up and let me help. We laughed and that broke a lot of ice, he relaxed and allowed me to help him for the weekend.
When I arrived, he had maps of Arizona spread out on his table, waiting. He began telling me where I was going to take his Road King out for a ride. I tried to argue, saying that I was there for him, not to ride. But it was soon evident that I needed to do this for him, it was important to him. Within an hour of my arrival, he sent me out into the canyons surrounding Tucson.
He thought it would take me about 4 hours, but instead it took me nearly 7 hours. I arrived back at his place in the deep cold darkness of the desert, to find him sitting in his garage in his wheelchair, waiting. He only said, "The only reason I did not call the police to look for you is that I know who your teacher is and knew you were fine."
We spent the rest of the time together mostly eating chocolate ice cream.
I told him to hold out his hand and in it I placed a tiny pewter heart. He asked me what that was for? "Because I love you" I said. The next day, he told me that he could not find it... so we searched his house until it was located... I had no idea what this little gift actually meant to him until then.
It was time to say goodbye, I packed the rental car, knowing that this would be the last time I would see him. I oh-so-gently hugged him as he was in constant pain, gave him a kiss on the top of his bald head and drove the two hours to the airport to go home.
Carl passed away about a week and a half after that. How grateful I was to have had the chance to laugh and eat ice cream with him that last time! As I spoke to the friend who called me with the news, I asked if it was possible for me to have the little heart back. It would mean nothing to anyone else. It took a long time to get back to me... finally arriving by mail the day before I was to go on a two week ride. The tiny heart is now always on my bike.
So, as I get ready to set out on my own version of the The Ride of a Lifetime, visiting many of the places that Carl had planned, he crosses my mind often.
To Carl, I dedicate my journey.