Photo by Cara Totman
The Final Ride
Memories Link Riders for Eternity
When my brother-in-law, Rob, and I announced we were going to Nova Scotia, our families said, “Are you sure about this?”
We were vintage riders on vintage bikes. In Rob’s case, it was a pristine, meticulously maintained 1982 Honda Silver Wing. In mine, it was a low-mileage ’95 BMW K75.
Compatibility? Good question. We were lone riders. Rob recently returned from a solo trip through Pennsylvania, and every year I traveled by myself from New York State to visit my daughter in Charleston, S.C.
Plus, Rob was an early-to-bed guy, asleep by 8:30 p.m., up well before dawn. I am seldom in bed before midnight and have not seen a sunrise in decades.
Finally, there are those pesky day-by-day decisions: Stop here? Keep going? Trips have disintegrated over less.
The morning we left Connecticut for Nova Scotia, Rob’s wife, my sister Carol, wished us luck as though we were really, really going to need it. We caught a high-speed ferry in Bar Harbor, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and were on the Cabot Trail in a few hours.
We stopped at pretty Lunenburg seaport, a UNESCO Heritage Site, stayed in mellow Baddeck, where Alexander Graham Bell had an estate, and circled back to the friendly city of St. John, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, famous for its spectacular tides.
Along the way, we developed a system. After Rob conked out for the night, I stayed up and reviewed possible routes for the next day. While I was snoozing in the a.m., he was checking tire pressures, cleaning the windshields, packing the bikes.
In those moments when we paused to decide whether to stop or keep going, I always knew what Rob would say: Do more miles. We did, happily.
A week later, Carol was amazed when we returned, not only still on speaking terms, but talking about another trip.
The process was always the same. One of us named a destination. The other computed the scenic way to get there. I said, “Hudson Valley,” and weeks later there we were, rolling through sleepy towns along the Hudson River north of Manhattan—Croton, Beacon, home of Pete Seeger, Cold Spring with its stunning views of West Point.
Or Rob said, “Harpers Ferry,” and that became what we dubbed the Civil War Run, through Gettysburg, where we got up early to ride the battlefield, silent and haunting in the morning mist, on to the preserved town of Harpers Ferry, with Civil War reenactors wandering the streets, down to Fredericksburg, and west to the Blue Ridge Parkway, because we felt like it.
One day, I said, “St. Lawrence Seaway.”
For the first time, Rob said no.
His prostate cancer was aggressive. Subsequent surgery, radiation, drug treatments tired him.
He sold the Honda.
A few months later, he rallied. Rob decided he had one more trip in him. Why not the St. Lawrence Seaway?
He rented a Honda ST1300, and we traveled the Seaway Route in upstate New York, heading west to the charming lakeside town of Sodus Point, then swinging south, to the Finger Lakes, stopping at Lodi Point State Park to revisit a memory.
Rob once took his older son, Ben, swimming there as a toddler. I pointed to a “No Swimming” sign nearby. Rob laughed, “But it doesn’t say, ‘No Swimming, Ben.’”
My stop was the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to get a Brooklyn Dodgers cap. And we headed to Lake George, because Rob always wanted to see it.
That was our last trip.
Rob continued to fight the good fight, but, one morning in April, he was rushed to the hospital. Four days later, he was gone.
I sent photos from our trips to his sons, Ben and John, not sure if they would mean anything. It turns out Rob talked fondly and often about our travels.
“I still laugh when thinking of the Lodi Point State Park ‘No Swimming’ anecdote,” Ben wrote to me. His brother added, “Our dad always opting to go the extra miles? Surely, you jest. (OK, maybe not…)’”
I like to think Rob lives on for all of us in memories of those great rides.