In the midst of his grief after my mother died, my 72-year-old father began to ride a motorcycle again. He hadn’t been on a bike in over 40 years, since his first son—my brother, Chris—was born. But as he traveled rural Carolina roads on two wheels, whisking along at great speeds, carving turns into the asphalt, my father’s veil of sadness began to lift.
That’s when he joined the motorcycle club in his retirement community, Sun City Carolina Lakes, a “gang” of roughly 70 men and women who, like my father, love to ride. They also, like my father, love to eat, hence their motto: “Live to Ride, Ride to Eat.” And so they do. Every Wednesday and Sunday, weather permitting, the posse takes off en masse for a food destination—usually a barbeque joint or famous diner within a few hours of Indian Land, S.C. They take the most adventurous and scenic route, twisting through mountainous topography to a place to share a meal and enjoy each other’s company before returning home.
A hodgepodge of seniors from different backgrounds and different parts of the country make up this audacious gang, all who have become friends in a fashion fueled by a specific passion, one that brings exhilaration and meaning to a time of life often complicated by uncertainty. These are men and women who will certainly not go gentle into that good night.
My father’s friendship with one gang member, a Tennessee gentleman named Gary Crabtree, offered him something particularly valuable. Both men had lost their wives to cancer and they often shared long conversations about the experience. But it was Gary who first attempted an intimate relationship as a widower, falling for and eventually marrying a woman he had known for many years. Gary’s example inspired my father to be open to new love, and soon he met Arlene McCarthy, a successful, charming and independent Sun City resident.
On one of their first dates, Arlene, who had never been anywhere near a motorcycle, bravely climbed on board my father’s Kawasaki 750, wrapped her arms around his waist and held on for dear life, screaming “Yahoo!” as they rocketed into the distance.
On a Sunday ride last year, as the crew of riders collectively cruised along, my father’s dear friend Gary quietly veered off course and crashed on his side. Doctors and witnesses suspect that Gary had passed before hitting the ground. The gang agreed that leaving this life on your motorcycle, surrounded by friends, as Gary did, was a good way to go.
I don’t know when or how my father will go, but I know, for now, he is happy and vital. He has friends and family and a passion that carried him out of shadows of grieving into the light of life. And in this, his 75th year, my father will keep riding on roads where the sun will shine on his shoulders and the pavement will blur below his feet, his new companion on the back of his bike and the motorcycle gang by his side. Yahoo!!!
Published on The Parade Magazine: Journey Back: Rediscovering Life and Love on the Open Road