Ride for Rash

Story by Terry Sowden// Photos by Terry Sowden
May 1 2015

Sometimes you have to keep that ride promise, no matter what

Just a few years back, my brothers and I formed a family motorcycle club. We call it the Amibros MC, and in truth, it’s really just an excuse to get together for road trips. We are all in our fifties and are spread across the continent, and this “excuse” helps us stay connected. The name, while a playful take on badass biker gangs, also encapsulates how we feel about each other: we are both friends and brothers.

Ride for RashMy younger brother Lorne had been out of biking for a number of years, and as the most recent recruit to the club, we had some fun treating him as the plebe. Of course, being an MC club, naturally we all had to have biker handles. Lorne’s is “Rash.” This was teasingly bestowed on his first club ride when he rashed his arm, and he lost all hope of losing the name when, on the second ride, he rashed his bike. In both cases the road rash was minor, but not so his misfortune of having us around to witness it. As is typical of Lorne, he humorously embraced his handle, and the ribbing.

We’d planned a future filled with road trips, and Lorne often talked of riding in California. Having ridden there before, I was particularly keen to “show him around.” The ride was teed up for 2015. But fate had other plans: cancer claimed Lorne in April 2014, at just 53 years of age. We never got that California ride.

A New Steed for the Stable

Road signWhen Lorne passed, I decided his 2010 Yamaha FJR1300 sport-tourer should stay with the Amibros, so I bought it and had it shipped from Ontario to Victoria, B.C. This presented somewhat of a dilemma, in that it meant selling my 2005 version of the same bike. I felt a bit guilty. We’d been together since new and had shared 93,000 km of adventure. Did I imagine it, that first day in the garage, or was one headlight eyeing me mournfully, and the other shooting scornful darts at the “younger woman”? But being newer, with much less mileage, and above all the brotherly connection, which bike would you keep?

Months later I found myself lamenting our ride left undone. Nothing about it seemed okay. “What the hell then! We will do this ride together, damn it!” Of course, “together” now would have to be “after a fashion.” Though Lorne was gone, his bike was not. For this trip we’d have to improvise: I’d ride the bike and he would ride in spirit.

And so it was that Lorne and I embarked on a three-week grand circle tour of California in September 2014.

Out here on the West Coast, almost any destination ride to the south usually begins with a day of mile-munching on the I-5 super-slab. So it wasn’t until day two, when “we” reached the coast of California, that our ride really began. We Amibros do love our pictures, and an early must-do was to get one together at the California border. Alas, a portrait and the bike had to stand in for Rash, but that picture is now a treasured memento all the same.

You might think a ride like this would be a journey devoted to solemnity, and it was, but it wasn’t without its humour either. And this was as it should be, for Lorne did love a good laugh. It was in northern California on day two, deep in the redwoods forest on CA101, that we experienced our first bit of mirth.

Watch Out for CHiPs on the Road

Yosemite in sierra nevadasUpon encountering traffic stopped for roadwork, I did what many bikers do and headed to the front of the queue. Rightly or wrongly, we do this on the principle that road improvements are an opportunity for ride improvements. Now to do so, of course, I had to cross the double yellows. But I was only going about 15 km/h and at the time there was no oncoming traffic. No danger to me or to anyone else. What incredibly bad luck then that the California Highway Patrol was stuck in the same line, three cars back from the front. On went his cherries as I approached. Damn! Still, though caught red-handed, I hoped to salvage a reprieve. I doffed my helmet as quickly as possible to play the grey hair card, hoping for just a stern rebuke: “You old fart, you oughta know better. Now smarten up and be on your way!” Alas, to no avail. As I waited roadside for my “souvenir,” there was minor consolation and a touch of irony, in that I was able to spend some time admiring the pure majesty of those colossal trees. I’d been meaning to stop to do just this. Getting ready to head off again, I asked Rash, who was going to pay up, and imagined Lorne laughing and replying, “You can pay, Terry. I haven’t had much use for cash lately.”

On every road trip there ought to be occasion to discover a new favourite road. And so it was on this ride. Tiring of inland CA101, we took the Shoreline Highway (CA1) from Leggett over to the coast. The best part was when we quite suddenly broke out of the forest onto the coast. Wow! From that point to Fort Bragg I now refer to as “Little Big Sur.” I’ve ridden the Big Sur several times, and in a more condensed way, this northern road clones all its virtues with much less traffic.

Continuing southward, the superb weather on the coast held and gave us the best possible experiences for riding the world-class Big Sur, the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, the slightly terrifying freeways of LA, and then bumping down through the surf towns to the sandy palm beaches of San Diego. There, on what would have been his 54th birthday, we shared some beers. I helped Lorne with his.

Deserts and Mountains

For the return loop, we explored the drier and higher aspects of the state – east along the Nevada border. Route CA395, the Eastern Sierras Scenic Byway, runs along the valley floor between Death Valley to the east and the Sierra Nevada to the west. I had not been this way before, and on a map it looks straight and rife with potential for boredom. I was delighted to find that looks can be deceiving; the riding and vistas were superb. This leg also provided some humour.
Crossing the Mojave high desert near Edwards Air Force Base, we stopped to set up the camera for a tripod selfie against the desolate emptiness. The scenery was right out of the Clint Eastwood cowboy duster High Plains Drifter (in fact filmed farther north on 395). And dust there was! Huge winds brought whirlwinds and tumbleweeds to life, and set the sand drifting across the road like snow in winter. I set up the camera, clicked the timer and ran back to the bike. Just as I see the timer light start flashing, the gusting wind toppled the camera, sending it face first into the shoulder gravel, resulting in a scratched lens. But it was an old camera, and it wasn’t long before I was having a chuckle at my adding some additional “rash” to the trip.

Farther north, CA395 climbs to over 2400 metres above sea level, and being late September, it got pretty cool up there. A little higher up there was snow, and at just 5 C, the rain was sporadically morphing into sleet or freezing rain. I was wearing my brother’s gloves (as another connection to him) and they were soaked. At speed, the wind chill overwhelmed the heated grips, and my fingers were cramping up with the cold. Stopping, I peeled off the soaking gloves and was momentarily stunned; my fingers, wrinkled like prunes, were purple! “My God, I knew I was cold, but holy moly!!” It dawned on me a few seconds later that in fact, as cold as my hands were, the purple was actually just dye from the leather. I imagined Lorne looking down having a chuckle at my expense. “Serves you right for swiping my gloves!”

Our journey saw us traverse 30 degrees of latitude for the round trip, or a third of the distance from equator to pole. That much asphalt provided ample time for my thoughts and feelings about loss. These rattled around in my helmet, sorting themselves into some kind of meaning. There is something about being solo on a bike, out on the open road that is therapeutic.

Time to Reflect

I talked to Lorne quite a lot during my ride , about all kinds of things: the passing scenery, funny things from the past, family stuff, my feelings at his loss. At first this seemed forced or contrived, but after a while, it felt completely natural and right to be doing so. There was solace in it. Neil Peart, motorcyclist, author and drummer for the rock band Rush, talked of this in his memoir, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. He called it “the healing road.” Also on a bike, Peart explored some of the same geographical and emotional territory I was in while dealing with the dual loss of his daughter and wife. I think he’d agree that the essence of why motorcycling is good therapy is its dichotomous duality. While it provides the solitude to reflect on loss, you cannot dwell on it. By its very nature, motorcycling also demands attention to the here and now.

Thus was my memorial “Ride for Rash.” I like the title, alluding as it does to the annual Ride for Dad events for cancer awareness. Lorne was, above all things, devoted to his family, and is survived by two daughters, the loves of his life. His wife predeceased him, also from cancer. Such a cruel fate for one family is a reminder to us all that indeed we don’t have all the time in the world.

It may not be very inventive of me, but when I first got Lorne’s bike, I gave it the name Silver, for no other reason than its colour. But it strikes me now that this is doubly appropriate. They say every cloud has a silver lining. In this tragedy, for me that lining really is silver. Riding Silver will keep a special connection with Lorne, and always remind me of his life, sometimes with sadness, more often with a smile. And that’s just how it should be.
Rest in peace, Amibro. We got in that ride, after all.


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