I drove to Denver Colorado, then rented a motorcycle and rode it to Sturgis to honor the fifth year of my son’s passing. I stopped in Arvada, where he died on his motorcycle, and took his mountain bike into the Rockies to record the following:
I rode his bike today, the old grey iron horse up the dusty road, standing to get more power but less traction. The back tire skipped on the little rocks. The front fork slid up and down on smooth pistons across the larger ones. My lungs ached, burned by the thin air. Gone was the heaviness of humidity replaced by the heaviness of loss.
I felt it since waking up past midnight on the 27th the 5th anniversary of Aaron’s death. I had an insatiable itch in my shoulder blade. Just like Baloo in the Jungle Book, just like my oldest son, the only cure was a prickly tree or a hewn post to scratch up and down. Who wakes up with an itch? And why now?
The heaviness was not abated once crossing into Colorado or climbing on the Iron Horse. He once rode it down dangerous peaks abandoning his brakes for balance and grit. I have little of either left, beaten down by concussion, wipe outs, and just plain life.
I’m stuck between mindless gatherings and living on the edge. It seems I became a spectator to both. Pretending to be the man in the arena, I’m the witless spectator who knows neither defeat or victory. The old man in the movie the Green Mile, left to feed a little mouse, longing for another chance but knowing the illusion of what some call life.
For how can you be recognized for recognizing what others can’t? Even John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul knew their recognition was fleeting and tomorrow their head would be a gift to a vengeful wife, their cloak a prize for an ignorant guard, but their life a legacy for tomorrow.
Today I will ride back up the hill to my lean-to clinging to the eroded side of an abandoned mine. Somehow despite not a thread of gold, Queen Elizabeth Mine survives somewhere between the mundane and the miraculous because maybe there is still gold to be mined by a heavy soul on an old Iron Horse.
I abandoned my plans for a grand book tour and elected for a more private trip to Arvada, Colorado then to Sturgis Colorado. My son died the day before he was to leave for Sturgis with his boss and his boss’s wife. He had taken the trip before and I wanted to experience what he would have experienced. It wasn’t really a “memorial ride” but I remembered him all along the way. It didn’t bring a greater awareness to others about motorcycle safety, particularly when one motorist cut me off so sharply I had to swerve and jam on my brakes. It wasn’t a book tour as I didn’t approach anyone to sell my wares. My trip focused on getting away but getting into a part of my son’s life I knew little about.
While I seemed to find out more about myself than my son, I wasn’t sure I accomplished anything after two weeks on the road. On the next to last night, I sat in my truck, not able to sleep at the free camp ground I found in Louisiana. It was 92 degrees and sweat ran from the back of my neck and down my shirt. I wasn’t sleepy at 3 in the morning so I started up the truck and headed down the road. At the first convenience store I saw, I parked in front of the pumps. I didn’t need gas but I got some anyway. I wasn’t tired but I went in to get a cup of coffee.
When I made eye contact with the clerk, he blurted out that he has to work 12 hours, then go to a second job in the morning, and he just found out his 15-year-old son ran away. I wasn’t hungry but I payed for an over-priced, over-sized cookie at the counter when his wife busted through the door.
“I am done!” she shouted. “If he wants to live with his ‘gangsta’ friends, then let him.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said as I walked to the door.
“Do you want a 15-year-old, I have three at home,” she replied. I stopped. I had to.
“I had a 15 year old once who wanted to run away but five years ago he was killed in a motorcycle accident. So as bad as it was when he was 15, I now know it can be worse, much worse.” She stopped, what else could she do? The anger in her face melted. Her husband came to her side.
“I don’t know anything about you,” I said, “I just know that in my case, we worked things out, he grew to be a good man, and had a fulfilling life.” I told them to breathe and I will pray for them. I had nothing else to offer.
The clerk asked me to pray for them as I left the store. Back in the truck and down the road I thought of so many better things I could have said but didn’t. I could have given them a book, my card, I could have quoted scripture about the prodigal son, but didn’t. They had work to do and so I left.
I left knowing that driving a truck with no AC over half-way across the country, then clinging to a motorcycle to Sturgis, then driving into the heart of a sweltering Texas finally had purpose.
To see Andy’s new book, “When Sunday Smiled,” depicting his triumphant mountain top experience along the Appalachian Trail, go to: Amazon.com.