Once you’ve discovered riding a motorcycle, especially if you do it later in life as I have, you quickly come to realize that this isn’t something you’ll be able to do forever. Motorcycling is physically and mentally demanding and you’d be crazy to do it without your faculties intact. The thought of not being able to ride after discovering how freeing it is isn’t a comfortable one. If you get so decrepit that you can’t do the things you love, what’s the point of being here? Melissa Holbrook Pierson does a wonderful job of conveying that feeling in The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing. If you’re looking for a pensive, profound motorcycle themed read, that one will do it for you.
The other day my buddy Jeff was finally able to make a deal for an old BMW R100RT that has been sitting in a shed in the woods for over a decade. My son Max and I burned out of school on Friday afternoon and followed Jeff and his lovely wife up to their cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.
A neighbour five minutes down the road had purchased this BMW back in 1999 and had ridden it until 2005. On a cool September day eleven years ago he rode back to Kincardine from a conference in Peterborough and parked the bike, it hasn’t run since. Jeff discovered the bike a year ago while over there at a garage sale, but the old fellow didn’t want to part with it. There was hope that he’d eventually get it out, clean it up and feel the wind in his beard again. Jeff gently persisted, letting him know that if he ever did decide to sell it he had a buyer.
While over there getting the bike out of a shed hundreds of yards back in thick trees the owner told me, “I came to the realization that I’m not riding any bike, let alone this bike. When that happened I finally decided to let it go.” He’s still physically active even though that activity has landed him with metal pins where his bones used to be. Struggling against old age is a pointless exercise, but I was right there with him – I’ll be him in thirty years if I’m here at all. The real tragedy is that he’s as sharp as a whip; the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.
We were both enjoying the stories he was telling of how he went down to North Carolina to pick up the bike, and what it was like to bring it back across the border in the pre-internet age. This guy had always wanted a BMW but when he was younger he couldn’t afford it; this was his dream machine but it has been sitting in a shed as the seasons spin by outside, alone but for the sound of creeping rust. It turns out this Bimmer was Jeff’s dream machine as a young man as well, but you can’t buy a $3500 bike when you’re making six bucks an hour. You can when you’re older and it’s under a decade of grime though.
We were both so excited going over there to get this bike out of the woods, but Jeff had said the owner was having a hard time doing it and our excitement quickly turned to ambivalence and then reflection as we heard the story of how it ended up parked under the trees. While we struggled with conflicting feelings we were at least confident in the fact that we could bring this old machine back to the world. Machines can sometimes offer this kind of immortality.
If you never take any risks and lead a sedentary life of caution, being old is just another day like any of the others in your tedious, careful life. It makes me wonder what you hold up as your accomplishments if fear drives most of your decisions; I bet it’s nothing good. However, if you get out there and take risks and live, perhaps the memories of that life well lived, the chances you’ve taken and the adventures you’ve had, will make easing into old age less onerous, and perhaps even rewarding. To me motorcycles are a symbol of that belief in embracing risk. I hope anyone who has ever looked at me with a disapproving frown when it comes to riding is very comfortable in their old age; I imagine it looks like any other day in their beige lives.
Knowing me I’m going to be very bad at old age if I get there at all, but I’m trying to take care of that now, on two wheels.
If you’re looking at another clear eyed examination of death and our society’s inability to deal with it, check out: https://temkblog.blogspot.com/2020/06/a-psychologicalmetaphysical-one-two.html