Sometimes you have to keep that ride promise, no matter what
Story & Photos by Terry Sowden
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.
My 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
When 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
Upon 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…