Since once again immersing myself into the world of motorcycling over the past year, I have loved reading others’ ride reports and have done my best to contribute some of my own. Sure, my rides have mostly been in the Midwest with short one or two night stays, so they are pretty similar to read – even boring. With my kids at their current ages and our busy schedules, it is what it is and I am lucky to have any opportunity I can get.
But, there are times when I think about my first go around motorcycling in my late teens and throughout my 20’s. Each time I reflect on my cross country, “keep going ‘til you hit the ocean” rides in the past, I wish I would have taken more pictures and written about them. But, once in a while, some of those seemingly lost memories ease back to mind like a soft breeze waving the wheat fields in Kansas.
I forgot his name. He was an elderly man in St Francis who let me use his chain oil when my KZ 1000 chain was bone dry, loud, and on the verge of self destruction in the middle of nowhere. After having toured from Illinois through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, I turned east at the top corner of Kansas and could no longer ignore the major trouble I was having. I didn’t know better as my previous bike had shaft drive. Rookie mistake.
St Francis has a retired rest area that allows for free camping. While setting up my tent and wondering what I was going to do, I saw him ride by, a frail old man with perfect posture and a sparkly blue helmet on an ancient CB350. Caught up to him at the gas station, asked for help, and he took me to his house. His wife sure wasn’t too happy to see a long haired, bearded transient youth at her house. The old man and I enjoyed hours of conversation, and I received some much needed help with my chain.
Well, free camping in such a pleasant place became a must stop for me on my way from IL to the mountains and the Pacific. I made sure to stop by his house the next summer on my way out. Didn’t need any help, but enjoyed the company. We sipped cokes talking about the weather, bikes, the nation’s troubles, and just about everything else. His wife recognized me and seemed only a little less guarded. I think she may have said “hi” before walking into the house. Maybe not. Come dark, I went back to my tent at the rest area and was happy to see him ride up the next morning when he came by to get me for coffee.
When the following summer came, I planned for St Francis on the way out West again. It had become a good, solid regroup stop before launching into Western landscapes and unknown destinations. No matter where the trip was going to take me, St Francis was the last touchstone of familiarity and a safe starting point.
It was still pretty light out when I got to the old man’s house, so I knew we would have a lot of time to hang out together and get some dinner. When his wife came to the door she said, “I was wondering when you'd get here again.” She started crying. The old man died over the winter. She came out to the porch and hugged me a long time. She told me how much she missed him and how he would have been happy to see me.
In the autumn, he was very ill, but could still occasionally get outside. He would go in the garage and stare at his bike, wiping it down sometimes. She took me out to the garage and continued sharing the stories he told her last fall. Some of them he had never told her before. He would talk about rides he had taken. He sometimes spoke of me and said how he wished he could have joined me. He enjoyed our time together and hoped he could “make it” to my visit this summer. By the time the Kansas winter took hold, he was back in the hospital. Stayed there until he died.
She teared up again and took one of the towels covering the bike using it to dust off some old, pitted chrome. All the while, she talked of him. As I looked around that corner of the garage, I saw his motorcycle stuff, the sparkly blue helmet, some odds and ends of a windshield he must have been repairing, the same can of chain lube…
That was my last cross country ride nearly 20 years ago. As I make plans for next summer to ride the mountains, I count on making that long first day ride on the Interstate 80 Superslab, exit in Lexington, NE, and the last couple of hundred miles on two lane highways. All day to St Francis; eight hundred and some miles. I saw the park on Google Earth and street view. It’s still there. I know I’ll have a nice place to free camp, regroup, and start with the Western landscapes on day two.
I wonder if I will be able to find his house. It’s a very small town, so I bet I can. I imagine his wife will no longer be there. There will probably be a swing set in the yard and Big Wheels in the driveway. But if I find it and it seems quiet, an old person’s house, I may knock. I wonder if the can of chain lube will still be in the garage next to that old CB350.
* All pictures captured from Internet. I simply did not take enough pictures then - nor had money for film.