I’m one lucky guy. Since I was a kid it seems things have somehow gone the right way for me. Whenever I’ve come to a fork in the road I’ve managed to choose the correct path. Granted the ride hasn’t always been perfect and I’ve been bruised a bit, but I’ve generally made good choices.
Almost all of this can be attributed to dumb luck, accidents, good guesses or simply not knowing any better. Looking back, little in my early years seems of much importance. But when I reached age 12, I got my first motorbike, a Lambretta motor scooter. On that day my life was forever changed. From my first ride until today it’s been a continuous adventure.
My youngest brother, Chuck, was watching. Growing up six years behind me, he watched the life I had chosen and wanted no part of it. He was brash, boisterous and full of life. The choices he made early on would take him on a very different path. Over the Christmas break, near the end of my college years, everything seemed to come together. This was so long ago that Chuck was still living at home. His ride at the time was a ’72 Honda 750. Although Chuck had owned the bike for only a few years, he’d decided to move on. That bike fit me perfectly. I bought and owned it for 25 years, reaching all of the lower 48 states on it. I have photographs of each of the three times the odometer turned over. I loved that bike. There’s no telling how different my life would have been if Chuck hadn’t sold me that motorcycle, the one filled with magic.
Over the past four decades I’ve owned only two motorcycles. Chuck, on the other hand, has owned more than two-dozen. When I find something that fits I wear it for a long time, whereas Chuck is always on the lookout for the newest and brightest. The only thing all of his bikes had in common, other than Chuck, is that they never went anywhere with a clear-cut destination. No matter which bike he owned at the time, he brought that motorcycle to life. And the bike did the same for him.
For almost all of my life I’ve loved to ride motorcycles. The rain, sleet and snow, hot and cold, and the flat tires are merely part of the adventure. But this story is about my brother. There is no way to compare how we two feel about riding. Riding is something I do, something I love. But it’s who Chuck is. It consumes him. A quick ride might be two hundred miles. Wanting to eat one of his favorite fish sandwiches might mean riding 400 miles to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Weeks after I’ve parked my cycle for the winter Chuck will still be out. He leaves me in his dust. With our shared enthusiasm for being on two wheels, it’s a shame we haven’t ridden together more than a few times.
Beyond our natural aging and excluding some degree of mellowing, little about Chuck has changed with the exception of his physical problems. And Chuck’s physical limitations are the reason for his race. Chuck may not refer to it as such but that’s how I see it. Chuck, and our brother, Bill, have muscular dystrophy. The insidious disease is slowly robbing them of the strength in their extremities. They’re gradually losing the power they have in their arms and legs. Both have converted their homes to accommodate their coming need for wheelchairs.
Chuck wrote me a painful letter four years ago in which he described having his beloved BMW RT fall away from under him. He had just pulled into his driveway and was parking the bike. It started to slip and he didn’t have the strength to stop it. Or to pick it up. He wrote about looking at it on its side from his kitchen window. Looking at it for hours, laying there, needing someone to come by to help him get it up and off the ground. And knowing in that moment that his riding days were numbered. I had tears in my eyes as I read it.
But this didn’t mean that Chuck was giving up. That’s never been his nature. He found a beautiful BMW Hannigan trike-conversion that became his next ride, followed by a Can-Am Spyder. But the writing was on the wall. How many more miles will his body give him before he’s confined to a wheelchair? He told me that he doesn’t feel that he’s regressed much over the past few years, but I’m not so certain. MD plays a mean game. You can be going along the same for quite some time before it strikes and knocks you down another notch. Neither Chuck, nor any adult with MD, knows how many more notches they have left.
Chuck still has goals, motorcycle riding milestones he would like to reach. Right now he’s within 20,000 of hitting 1,000,000 miles. That’s his race. When you add up all the miles of his being on two wheels he’s within a whisper of hitting the really big time. Not many people ever sniff a million miles. That’s 40 times around the earth’s equator, or the equivalent of two trips to the moon and back!
Chuck wrote me this not long ago. “Right now I do have one goal. If I can make it to the summer of 2017, I plan to ride to Farmington, Missouri. It’s for a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, a total solar eclipse. I’ve seen them on television and marvel at their eerie light. So, for once in thousands of miles I’ll ride with a definite destination. This total eclipse will shade a five-mile swath from South Carolina to Oregon. When I first learned of this event in 2007 it seemed like I’d have to wait forever. But now, not so much.”
Chuck’s future is spelled out in front of him. His limitations are a constant. The medical people see this as a one-way street, one with no return. For Chuck and his motorcycling, it basically boils down to numbers. Weeks, months or maybe years. Will he, or can he?
Someone in his shoes might choose to ride with the goal of simply reaching seven digits. Not Chuck. He’ll ride for the same pleasure he always has. For Chuck, getting there means that he’s been able to do what he’s loved for more than 40 years. Beyond that, beyond the end of his riding, is a slope we haven’t discussed. But that is hopefully far away. Right now, the question is will he still be able to climb on in two years? Or three? No way I’m betting against him.
Some time back I asked Chuck why it is he loves to ride. His answer was the same as mine: he didn’t know. It changes from trip to trip. But after some thought he quoted Neil Peart of Rush in their song, Prime Mover.
From the point of ignition
To the final drive
The point of the journey is not to arrive
Anything can happen…
That same afternoon, at dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, the following was inside my fortune cookie. “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
The solar eclipse and 2017 aren’t that far away. Maybe I’ll ride along with Chuck. I think he might finally need his big brother.
Ken Frick was a regular contributor to Rider in the late ’80s and ’90s. He is running the New York City Marathon as a fundraiser for MDA in November. For more info visit crowdrise.com/MDANYC2014/fundraiser/kenfrick. The Muscular Dystrophy Association website is mda.org.
(This article Chuck’s Race was published in the October 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)