This is not a story so much about bikes, a favorite ride, or even about the number of bikes owned; it is a story about love. It is a story about the love two brothers have for each other, the love of seeing the country on a motorcycle along back roads, and the adventure of seeing new places and people. You see, this particular trip was the 42nd year in a row that Chuck and Ernie had been on an extended ride. Seven different bikes; nearly 300,000 miles; 22 states, and then throw in Mexico and Canada for window dressing.
To set the stage, we were all riding Goldwings: Dad (Chuck Taylor), my uncle (Ernie Taylor) and my best friend (Dan Parks) on 2008s, me on a 1996 SLE. This year, Dad had just turned 82 and Ernie was 78. Normally we covered 300-350 miles in a day, stopping often to appreciate our surroundings. I know that is small potatoes for many riders, but we all have our styles, and this fit ours. It was late May 2011, day six of our trip, and we were staying along the San Juan River, in Hat Creek, Utah, on the edge of Monument Valley. This trip started from Tracy, California, as we headed east over Carson Pass on Highway 88. This was the fourth year in a row Dan and I had ridden with the “Seniors,” and it was always worth the price of admission.
First, it was the pounding on our interior wall, then our motel room door, just to make sure we were awake. As Dan and I started to stir, the unmistakable quote my dad and uncle liked to use from John Wayne, “We’re burnin’ daylight!” was shouted through our door. We opened the curtains to check the activity in the parking lot only to see Dad and my uncle moving around and preparing their bikes for the day’s ride in total darkness.
The Streak started in 1974, when Dad and Ernie bought two used 750 Hondas to make a trip with some friends back to Iowa for a high school reunion. Dad said he was only buying the bike for this trip and would probably sell it after it was over. That never happened, and six bikes later they were still going strong.
They usually started these trips with a destination in mind. The goal was always to stay on secondary roads and avoid interstates as much as possible. They always camped, using a two-man tent. Dinner usually consisted of beans eaten out of the can and some apricot brandy, and then to sleep before the sun went down. They loved being out in remote places, most times not even in campgrounds.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that they decided they would start using motels; they would still be camping but they wanted to take it easy on me and Dan. The truth be told, I know they just got tired of waking up with ice on the tent and no hot shower or a warm cup of joe. They wanted the comforts of a warm bed and a roof over their heads.
As they started their trips on 750s, they moved through the Honda models and always upgraded. They went through the Aspencades, the 1000s, the 1100s, the 1200s and finally the 2008 Goldwing GL 1800s. Dad would be the one that would work on the bikes when they had an issue, and they usually had some type of fix that was done on the fly. Of course, there were always the calamities that befall riders that maybe during the moment don’t seem funny, but after the fact they truly are the moments that make you smile. There was the time the “Seniors” found a great camp spot after they forded a small creek.
Dad was repairing a broken clutch lever with a small pair of vice grips that would then be used as his clutch. Ernie had gone back across the creek and was coming back for the second time when his bike slipped out from under him. Not having completely fallen over, Ernie struggled to hold the bike up. Dad walked to the creek, sized up the situation, and asked if he could help. Ernie told him, yeah he could use a hand, Dad told him he would, but he would get his boots wet. Brotherly love was alive and well with these two.
They never missed the chance to terrorize a waitress, only to make them laugh at their attempts to act like mean guys. They also never missed a chance to tell me and Dan stories of their early trips, their adventures as young brothers growing up and, of course, their love for the experiences of the ride. They had always ridden for the road. It was never really about a destination, it was always, “Let’s see where this road takes us.”
On one trip, we were crossing Cedar Breaks, Utah, on Highway 148, and the weather was not very good. As we twisted along the road and climbed to the summit, we ran into snow. Now this was not just a dusting and the last six miles we followed a snow plow to the bottom of the grade. When we got down to where we felt safe to stop and try to thaw out, a guy in a four-wheel-drive truck asked us if it was safe to go over the pass. Incredulously, Dad replied, “Only if you are on a bike.”
Our time with the “Seniors” did not come without rules. Before the first trip we made with them, they tried to lay out the ground rules for our behavior on the trip. Things like: the only votes that count were those of the senior Taylors; there will be no complaining, whining or criticizing decisions made by the senior Taylors; and my favorite: the only coffee stops would be at McDonald’s so they could have the added benefit of the senior coffee discount.
Our trips took us to Tombstone, the White Mountains, Highway 36 in California, Highway 1 from California through the Avenue of the Giants and up into Oregon, along Highway 50 through Nevada, and the list goes on. We rode through Arches National Monument, Canyonlands and Monument Valley. We took one-lane roads that were blocked by snow drifts, paved roads that turned into dirt roads, and so many roads with no names or numbers that one cannot count. We watched as Dad and Ernie rode like 30-year-olds, amazing us each and every day as we crisscrossed the Western part of this great country.
For 42 years, they enjoyed the road on their iron horses, like a couple of cowboys looking for the next range to cross. I enjoyed telling folks I had just been on a motorcycle trip with my dad and uncle, and they would ask, “Wow, how old are they?” The reaction I would get when they heard was priceless.
This past Christmas, Dad and I were discussing where we would go this year. He was a little worried about how his shoulder had been bothering him. He was afraid he had a pinched nerve, he might need surgery, and that might delay the trip. After several doctor visits, it was not until early March that we found out it was more than a pinched nerve. Dad had stage 4 mesothelioma cancer. He had lost the use of his right arm, and it was clear there would be no ride this year. “The Streak” was coming to an end.
I was with him the night of his first chemo treatment and we talked about a lot of things. He kept saying, “It will be OK, you just have to play with cards you are dealt.” I told him I had a friend that might be able to get me a bike with a sidecar so he could still go on a ride. Ever the comedian Dad replied, “Are you riding in the sidecar?” It was then that Dad told me he wanted me to take his bike, and I needed to take the ride that was planned for May.
On April 21, 2012, we had a birthday party for Dad as he turned 83. The grandkids and great-grandkids were there, all running like they do, and he had the biggest smile on his face. On April 24, 2012, Dad passed away. He had done all he could do, loved all he could love, and did not want any of us to go through the pain that he knew would come from this horrible disease. He had made peace with the future and died at home.
We said goodbye to Dad and stood with Mom as we shed tears that we had hoped would not come so quickly. We all knew it was best for him, we just did not want to let go. I rode his bike to the funeral service, parked it in front and had a picture of Dad and his bike from one of our trips at the podium.
In May, we took the ride we had planned. Dad wanted that. Uncle Ernie would be sitting this one out. On our trips at the end of each day we would always talk about the best part of the ride from that day. This trip was no different, except each evening it would usually be, “Boy, Dad would have liked…” until we would get quiet and eventually start telling stories of Dad. It was bittersweet.
The “Streak” may have stopped at 42 years, but in September we will be taking a ride and Uncle Ernie will be going with us, so will Dad. From now on, I will be taking some of his ashes on our trips. One day, we will be at a spot that will be the perfect spot and we will say goodbye again. But this time it will be with smiles on our faces.
When I started this story, I said it was not so much about motorcycle trips as it was the love two brothers and best friends had for each other. The winding roads that you experience on motorcycle trips are like no other and it is hard for some folks to understand. If you are reading this, you certainly get it. Each and every time I start his bike now—and it will always be his bike—I smile and think about what started 42 years ago, knowing that I can only hope to live life like my dad did and continue to see the country as he loved to—from the back roads—and relish each and every turn.