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When life gets in the way

Tuesday, January 2, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ken Frick #199204

Standing side by side you'd be hard pressed to guess that Chuck and I are brothers. First impressions being what they are, our physical differences just scratch the surface. The truth is we couldn't be more different.

For decades, blue collar Chuck earned his living surrounded by massive machines in a huge Fortune 500 factory, while I ran my small photography business out of my home. Chuck and his wife raised their two girls in a double-wide, their address on a quiet rural county road, scant miles from where we grew up. Sitting on his half acre there's a backyard pool and every summer he does his best to grow the tastiest tomatoes in eastern Ohio. I long ago moved to the big city, my wife and I raising our son in a house we restored that's on the National Register of Historic Places. For nearly two decades it was the showplace where we returned after all our adventures. A few years ago we downsized to a downtown condo, 14 floors up, overlooking our capital city.

Although Chuck's mellowed a bit, for most of his years he's been a gregarious fellow. And although I'm not quite what you would call a wallflower, I still easily get lost in his shadow. I dare guess there have been many occasions when Chuck's evening beer consumption was far more than my annual six-pack indulgence. I think you get the idea.

There were times in years long past when the hours distance between our homes seemed more like decades. Back when we were raising our kids we saw little of each other. There was never a feud of any sort, maybe simply the recognition that we were so different. Better stated, and I think Chuck would agree, our very different lives got in the way.

But a few years back things began to change. It may have been a monthly lunch we began to share, or maybe the exchange of e-mails about what we were doing. Whatever distance there was between us dissolved. Receiving one of his letters became the highlight of my day.

Ask anyone who knows us and they'll agree that we do have one thing in common: our love for motorcycling. And that's true, sort of. My motorcycles have taken me to places I could never have imagined. The past four years alone I've ridden from my central Ohio home to the west coast, last year riding to Alaska. And although I'm getting close to a half million miles on two wheels, my motorcycle sits in our garage for long stretches at a time. As important as it is to me, I've made other choices. My bike's only a part of who I am.

That's not the case with Chuck. Add up all of the miles he's ridden over the decades and he's well beyond a million miles. He and his Can-Am Spyder are inseparable. His bike defines him. It gives him life. The past two years on his Spyder he's tallied just short of 100,000 miles, last year, at age 62, riding the most he's ever ridden in a single year.

You could say that Chuck rides for the same reasons we all do, and that's true. But with Chuck there's a purpose, a reason to keep his tires rolling forward.

All things considered Chuck has everything he needs in life, with one exception: good health. He suffers with muscular dystrophy. If Chuck's muscles are his fuel tank he's running out of gas. Sadly, to be honest, he's probably already on reserve. MD plays a mean game. You can be going along for quite some time before it takes another whack at you, chipping away at what strength you have left. Neither Chuck, nor any adult with MD, knows how many more whacks they can absorb. Chuck knows there's a wheelchair in his not too distant future. So maybe, in desperation, although he would never call it that, he rides on, spinning his odometer higher and even higher.

He knows there are some dreams beyond his reach. Back in the 1970s, he'd slipped on his trusty Honda 750, the bike I would purchase from him months later, and rode from his Zanesville, Ohio, home to Goodland, Colorado, a distance of over a thousand miles—in one day.

He'd thought about going that distance again, but with the MD he's let that dream slip by. He's also chosen not to pursue that one last trip to his favorite old haunt, a shanty of a lean-to somewhere up the western Michigan coastline, simply to taste their special smoked trout. He's become very aware of his limitations, choosing to be home and to sleep on his own bed every night. He's not been out of Ohio for a long time.

Those of us who know him are in awe. He shouldn't be able to do what he does. Yet every day, off he goes, mile after glorious mile. Riding puts a smile on his face. It takes him somewhere else, somewhere beyond his limitations. In a matter of speaking it's become his magic carpet.

But for years there's been a dream, something far away on Chuck's calendar. We'd talked about it often, and it was coming our way. It would be a show that nature puts on every few years somewhere around the globe, and it would be only 300 miles away. The show Chuck wanted to witness, needed to see first-hand, was the total eclipse of the sun.

Over the months leading up to the event we'd written back and forth often, discussing that day. In our minds the only thing we needed for certain was clear weather. It never occurred to us that something else would pop up, that being a family matter, something so important it would sadly keep Chuck close to home.

All that time I thought, the years, the dreaming, for what might be Chuck's last hurrah on his motorcycle, now vanishing, leaving behind his dream unfulfilled. From his backyard he'd get an 83 percent look at what he'd dreamed of witnessing. But he knew, in the matter of an eclipse it was all or nothing. There is the grand spectacle, and there are bits and pieces. Yes, nice bits and pieces, but in truth still a consolation of sorts.

I understood, if our positions were reversed I would have stayed home as well. For Chuck, that was where he was needed. He wished me well, and maybe trying to disguise his disappointment, asked me to come back with some nice pictures.

For years this was to be a team effort, we two seeing something, no, sharing something so special in nature. His big brother and my little brother, side by side, watching the sun slowly disappear, then return, day becoming twilight, then day again. During the winter, when both of our bikes were parked, this was what we wrote back and forth about. Now the trip was to be mine alone.

Riding into Kentucky I thought of my brother. He never said as much and maybe it hadn't been something he'd considered, but was this to be his last long ride? Had the eclipse, still years away, kept him going? When this day had passed, what was there next? Where is his next dream? Or is there one? Had he given it any thought at all? How couldn't he? Staring up at his 83 percent, where was his heart? Was there sadness, uncertainty?

I need to believe that for Chuck tomorrow will be just another day to saddle-up and to head out, and the next day and the next. I need to remember that Chuck has never been one to dwell on the negative. In Terry, he has a great wife, and in Maren and Lindsey. two marvelous daughters.

He lives life to the fullest. There's a lesson in how he's moved forward for all of us who are able-bodied. In each of us there's the physical, the mental and the spiritual aspects of how we live our lives. While Chuck may be limping along in one, he more than makes up for it in the others. I know that for Chuck there are more miles to be ridden. I know he wants to see his odometer reach 150,000, maybe even this fall. Who can guess what his numbers will be in a year or two? Or seven!

I recently learned that in April, seven years from now, there will be a similar eclipse, that one rolling within miles of where I live. Chuck will be only an hour away. I can't begin to imagine his strength lasting that long, but I would never bet against him.

But my heart gets heavy; seven years is a long time. What is it that will keep those wheels moving? Maybe, with this opportunity gone, he'll want something else special for down the road, maybe heading up north for some of his favorite trout. Even if the ride to Michigan slips into his mind, will he, can he? Will he want to, and with the eclipse now passed has the disease robbed him of his dreaming as well?

So many years behind us, so many miles. All those opportunities missed. All our lives we've barely shared more than a hundred miles together. Two men, once so young and vibrate, filled with life, now old men.

So Chuck, where are you now? Is there still one special place that calls to you? Is there room for a brother to tag along? Wherever it is, you won't be able to go it alone. You're going to need a bit of help.

Isn't that what big brothers are for?

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