Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

There comes a time in a relationship when parting becomes the
necessary
WORDS: Ralph Couey
Photo: Courtesy of Darryl Cannon: Killboy.com, Powerhead Productions

There comes a time in a relationship when parting becomes the
necessary, even logical thing to do. For riders, a guy especially,
the time we spend with our bikes is less "ownership"
than "relationship." Over the years and the miles, a bond develops
between us and our machines. It's difficult to articulate exactly
why this is so.

In most cases, riding is viewed as a solo activity. Whether it's a
ride through spectacular natural beauty, a vigorous prosecution of
hairpins and switchbacks, or simply time spent clearing one's head,
the experience is an internal one. Ronald Reagan once said, "The
best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse."
Change "horse" to "motorcycle" and most riders would sagely nod in
agreement.

A motorcycle, despite our willful anthropomorphizing, is a mechanical
construct; an engineer's vision executed by an assembly line. Many
would insist that it is a soulless collection of metal and plastic
parts. But once in the saddle, we can feel the collection of
parts rise and transcend themselves to a higher plane of existence,
taking us along for the ride.

Riders change, acquiring more skills as time goes on. The bike that
was such a challenge to us in the beginning now seems to be unable to
follow us to the places our skills can take us. "Upgrade" is the
operative word here. Also, our habits change. At first, maybe we
were content to commute and take rides in the country over the
weekend. Now perhaps we feel the horizon calling and need a bike
that can haul camping gear and a couple changes of clothing. Also,
we have a desire to share the things we love with the people we love,
which means that person needs to have a comfortable place to enjoy
the ride.

Whatever the reason, we will find ourselves one day ruminating about
Making a Change.

I found myself in that spot over the past two months. My bike, a
1995 Honda PC800, has been my constant companion for the last 8
years. In that time span about 75,000 miles has receded in the rear
views. The bike still navigates twisties like a micro surgeon and
the engine still hums like a Swiss watch. With new shocks, springs,
and cables, a measure of the machine's youth has been restored. But
my wife, whom I readily admit to loving more than my motorcycle, has
continually expressed her desire to accompany me on my trips. She
has never been comfortable on the PC, complaining that the seat was
too hard and the wind kept trying to rip her half-face helmet off of
her head. So, with 94,000 miles showing on the clock, I made "The
Decision."

I half-heartedly posted an ad on our group's website. Almost
immediately, the e-mails began coming in. One potential buyer from
Western Canada dropped out based on the reality of distance and the
onset of winter. Others wrote and asked polite questions, then never
came back. One day, I received a note from a fellow in a town that
was only about 40 miles down the road. And on a cold November
afternoon, he appeared at my front door, a delightful individual with
a ready smile, full of anticipation.

We went to the garage and after several minutes, I fired up the
engine and with some trepidation, watched him ride off down the
street. It was similar to the first time I saw a young lad take one
of my daughters away for an evening of movies and fun. While he was
gone, I nervously puttered about the garage. My hands were busy, but
I was at war with myself. It was hard to think about that empty
space in the garage.

After a period of time, he returned, wearing a big smile. My heart
sank a little. He shut down the engine, swung off the bike, and
after some conversation, looked me dead in the eye and said those
fateful words, "I like what I see." We haggled, settled on a price
and shook hands. He would return in a week to pick up the bike. He
then said something surprising. "I'll need you to ride the bike to
my home, because I don't think I can find anyone to bring me up
here." I felt like he had unintentionally tapped into the emotions I
was feeling. He was giving the chance for a farewell ride. Of
course, I accepted.

After he left, I went into the house wearing a sad look. My wife
looked at me and asked what had happened. I mumbled, "He wants the
bike." The silence of the house was broken by her shriek of
joy. "Now we can get that insulation done on the house!" I looked
at her with surprise. I felt like we were selling a church in order
to pay off a credit card. I guess it is hard to mix the magical with
the mundane. Of course, she was right. Our outrageous heating bills
from last winter made this a very necessary thing to do.

Later, I went back out to the garage, got out the polish and lovingly
gave the bike a beautiful glow. As I worked, my mind went back over
the years, remembering all the special times. The time in Colby,
Kansas, getting caught in a surprise late-season snowstorm. And the
night I pulled into my campsite at Two Harbors, Minnesota after a 700-
mile day to find Lake Superior aglow with the silvery touch of a
majestic full moon. I remembered the group rides I hosted in
Missouri, looking back to see a line of 16 motorcycles following us
through the Weinstrasse in eastern Missouri. The marvelous, gentle rhythm
of the road through the Flint Hills of Kansas; the plains of Texas
and New Mexico under a bright summer sun. The Rockies, the
Sacramentos, the Alleghenys. Tombstone, Arizona; Estes Park,
Colorado, the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan, Lake Erie, and
the penultimate experience of Deals Gap. All the places that had
feasted the eyes and touched the soul the bike and I shared in that
somehow indescribable way.

Finishing up, I stepped back, taking in the bike. It was beautiful.
In a way, I was saying goodbye and thanking this machine for all the
wonderful days we had shared.

That last ride down the Pennsylvania Turnpike was perfect. It was a
glorious sunny day, so unusual for November in the Alleghenies. I
rolled through the gentle twists, the bike gliding effortlessly. All
too soon, the ride ended, the transaction completed, and my wife and
I were pulling away. One last time, I looked back, seeing the bike's
new owner regarding the machine with that quintessential new bike
owner's grin. My sense of loss was tempered by the comforting
thought that the bike had gone to the right owner, one who understood
the magic.

Come springtime, another bike will occupy
The Sacred Space in the garage. More trips will be made, more places
will be visited, and many more miles will unwind in the rear view
mirrors. Another relationship will be forged. I guess in the end,
it's not just the bike; it's the ride that makes the magic.

And it's that magic that makes riding an unforgettable act of spirit
and passion.