Friday, July 4, 2008

The Last Ride Before I Became A Cripple

It had been three weeks since the epic ride to West Virginia, and my motorcycle never left the garage. Work commitments kept me from sneaking out during the week and family obligations consumed two consecutive weekends in the blink of an eye. My biological clock was winding down but I never realized it at the time. Cartilage termites were breeding in my knees but I attributed the growing stiffness to rainy days and hours sacrificed to sitting at my desk.

The K75 had been ridden hard and put away wearing its war paint. Streaks of road grit from four states trailed back from the fender along the engine and gas tank. This bike desperately needed a bath. Attempting to move it around in the garage drew ominous grinding noises from both of my knees and hips. I shrugged this off as post-ride joint fatigue but realized it would be tough to wheel “Fire Balls” out the door holding a cane in one hand.

I improvised.

Molly, a 20-year-old firecracker who could be a model in any magazine, volunteered to make a few bucks the hard way -- by washing and waxing my bike. Her incredible good looks are exceeded only by her ambition and work ethic. She accepted the case, provided she could work in a bathing suit to catch a little sun while spreading the suds. What could I do? I had no choice.
Molly is now my #1 Pit Crew Member In Charge of Motorcycle Gleam
Photo by Leslie Marsh
© Copyright Leslie Marsh 2008

Five hours later, the K75 gleamed like the avarice in an attorney’s eyes. Molly had actually used q-tips to get around the bolt heads on the engine casing. (I know this for a fact as I watched her do it, occasionally handing her new swabs.)

This cleaning job was both a blessing and a curse. While the machine shone, I had no desire to get this bike dirty again. This was my excuse to let it sit on damp days. The stiffness in my joints gradually gave way to a new level of pain, which I treated with benign neglect. An ounce of denial is sometimes as good as pound of reality. My ability to ride this bike is my gauge of personal deterioration. I shut my eyes to the fact that I was now leaning on a cane for every step.

The road eventually began to call me again, using the voice of Pete Buchheit, who suggested that the West Virginia crew assemble for lunch; preferably at some relaxing joint with a view of the water -- weather permitting. (Pete had just washed his bike and wasn’t eager to get it dirty either.) There was a potential for thunderstorms, and he suggested we could avoid the wet weather by taking our trucks. Clyde Jacobs pointed out that he too had washed his bike but would rather put on a dress than not risk some storm grit. (Pete then asked him what dress he was going to wear.)

Thus shamed I attempted to mount my bike. I attempted to mount it six times. I couldn’t get my leg over the seat. On try number seven, I lunged like a dolphin going through a hoop and clawed my way over the tank. My knees felt like they were made of glass. It took another few minutes to get my feet on the pegs. My legs were demonstrating symptoms of rigor mortis but everything seemed to stretch out into some facade of normalcy after 20 minutes on the road. The K75 is an incredible motorcycle. It lends dignity to the way I ride and instantly improves everything.

I rendezvoused with Clyde and we had a pleasant 68-mile ride to the Tidewater Grille, in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Pete was sitting at the bar wearing a face like a human sacrifice. The Tidewater used to have a cozy bar that encouraged cigar smoking. The restaurant has recently changed hands and philosophies, however. The bar has been expanded and cigar smokers are now persona non-grata. The place used to have a great barkeep named Sarge. Sarge has been replaced by a new bartender who can’t find her ass with both hands. We waited 20 minutes (sitting at the bar) to place a drink order. A gentlemen next to me offered to sell me half a glass of beer for $10. He’d been there since the day before, apparently.

Yet all this became inconsequential as soon as we got our table. This restaurant was made for summer. It is situated where the mighty Susquehanna River flows ito Chesapeake Bay. There is an outside deck on a lawn, right at the river’s edge. Some patrons arrive by boat, yet there are docks for seaplanes too. Sitting outside, as close to the water as possible, gentle breezes lulled us back to good humor as sloops and yawls plied their way on the bay. Amtrak trains trundled over a picturesque bridge to the north, and even more picturesque waitresses made us feel like kings in incognito. Coyote decoys are poised on the lawn. We were told this is to discourage the geese. The coyotes are in a crouch position, which gives them a kind of Tasmanian devil look.

The high point of lunch came when the manager appeared at our table -- usually a bad sign -- and requested us to hold down our umbrella as a helicopter was about to land. We exchanged that raised eyebrows look, as if to indicate “not another helicopter,” when the chopper roared into view. It landed about seventy-five feet from us. The umbrella barely rippled. The pilot and his pal nonchalantly climbed out of the machine as if everybody traveled this way. Women looked at them like they were gods. Clyde had the presence of mind to spit.

The day was so perfect that lunch turned into a three hour affair. It was thus that we came to watch the ace and his passenger take off. Once again, the manager slithered out and advised us to hold the umbrella. The two sports climbed aboard and triggered the starter. The engine turned over and died. They tried again. Again the engine rumbled and stalled. They tried a third time with the same result.

Pete looked at me and said, “I didn’t know Harley made a helicopter.”

The pilot held the starter down again and the machine finally caught. (Lucky for him. I was going to get my cables out from under my seat on the bike.) Clyde wondered if you could push-start one of these units by dropping it off a 60-story building. The breeze set up by the rotors shook the hell out of the coyote decoys, giving them a strange humping motion.

We left shortly thereafter. I mounted the bike with all the grace of that rare American bird -- the bison. It was different this time though. Everything seemed to hurt a little. I became grateful for the red lights, so I could put my feet down. On this day, however, nothing seemed to help. The pain in my right knee was so bad on the return trip that I pulled over to rest three times after crossing into Pennsylvania. (That’s right... I pulled over three times in under 20 miles.)

My right knee was the size of a football the next morning. I packed it in ice and took the medication I had. The arthritis hit like a thunderclap three days later. And I had waited just long enough for both of the doctors I normally see to go on vacation. That was a little over two weeks ago. During that time I have been a virtual prisoner at my desk. Getting up to take a piss has been an ordeal. I have been sleeping on the sofa because the stairs are impossible at the end of the day. I passed on the Mac-Pac breakfast (my riding group) at the Quail’s Nest restaurant because getting into my truck that day (at that hour of the day) seemed like an impossibility. It would take me 10 minutes to get up the stairs to take a shower, and about an hour to complete that process.

Still, there is humor in everything I do.

My oldest friend in the world (not Mack Harrell, who is simply the oldest living thing in the world), a buddy of mine for 44 years, was holding a life celebration party for his wife who had passed last February. The party was in Bayside, Queens, NY. I was determined to attend this. My tasks that day were to take a shower, get dressed, and drive to Queens. This would also entail gassing up the truck.

I was out of pain medication and seeing double. Conducting a cabinet by cabinet search, I had hoped to find something that had been prescribed for me in the past and which I had forgotten about or overlooked. I uncovered a dark blue pill bottle, that without my glasses, I determined held tramadol, which I had taken two years ago. I just didn’t remember a blue pill bottle.

“This will help,” I said to myself, filling a cup with water. Intrigued by the blue container, I found my glasses and discovered this stuff had been prescribed for “Atticus Marsh,” our German shepherd.
"Atticus Finch" -- Our 145-pound German Shepherd
Photo courtesy of Leslie Marsh
©Copyright Leslie Marsh 2008

It was at that moment Leslie walked in and said, “I can’t believe you just took the dog’s pain medication. Do you eat his lunch when I’m not here too?”

This could have been a catastrophe if the pill gad been for heart worms or something. (I do not worry about being neutered as I have been divorced twice.) For the record, I do not advocate taking strange pills... Especially if one of the side effects is a reflex action to bury your nose in women’s crotches.

To be continued...

I deeply regret letting this blog go so long without a recent post. The fact is that I have not been riding for obvious reasons and have not been in a mood to write anything cheery. I'm dealing with these issues now. -- Sincerely, the author.

Jack Riepe
© Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- Perdition's Socks (With A Shrug)


Anonymous said...

Jack, so very sorry that your knee problems have progressed to their current state.
At least in the midst of all of this, you have maintained your sense of humor. Glad that blue pill was not some viagra left by a guest or some other character in your world.
Have to get you better so PS rides can happen as well as the forthcoming ride to Maggie Valley.
Get well quickly, my friend,
EZ Ryder PS 14

BMW-Dick said...

If you need your knees iced again, I know a couple of guys from New Jersey who will happily shove you in their meat locker.
Seriously, sorry to hear about your further deterioration. If I can help drive you to Dr. Patela's office or help with very light choirs, give me call.
You ancient, bruised, and bikeless riding buddy,

Anonymous said...

Your sympathy in recent days, even though I didn't deserve it, compels me to return the favour.

So All The Best, and Get Well Soon.

scooterboy said...

Hey, Jack, I enjoy your accounts of rides with pals and comments on the state of life on earth. Have you thought about artificial knees? My grandfather had both knees replaced and they served him well. It would be a shame for you to lose the joy of riding to the god of pain. I fight pain in an over-used throttle hand--not crotch-rocket excess, but stupid jobs over the years that have caused harm to joints. Leads to fear of not being able to ride, but so far so good.
Best of luck,

Anonymous said...


You've gotten enough sympathy.. so now the nag.

Post the photos of Molly you took to document the bike getting washed. We all know you have them.

PS: Get well soon. New knees might be an answer.

Anonymous said...

Dear EZ:

If it isn't one thing, it's something else. I'm under an orthopedic surgeon's care and some noticeable improvement has occurred. However, it is going to be a long row to hoe.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

There was a lot of progress on Friday, and then the water seemed to find it's usual level. I am delighted I can get up and move around again, but the weather is playing hell with the range of movement. Still, I am ahead of last month's game.

I don't feel so bad, considering you're not riding either.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK:

Actually, I'm envious of your situation. I'd trade places with you in a second.

Fondest regards,
The Lindbergh Baby

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Scooterboy:

Various pre-existing conditions preclude reconstructed knees and hips as an option now. Thee are a number of things I can do to make things easier on myself, but I have resisted those as well. I do plan to try riding again next week.

Thanks for dropping by!

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Don:

You have no idea what I am doing with the photographs of that event.

Thanks for dropping by.

The Lindbergh Baby

Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Jack, I do love your determination and honesty with yourself. I laughed and cried at the same time. I'm cringe reading about all the pain you're in. Yet, as you've said, your life seems replete with humor nonetheless. I haven't yet read the next entry--but are you saying that things won't/can't get better?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dave:

The treatment they now have me on is starting to work. The swellig is down and I no longer feel so damn lethargic.

I'm going to take the bike out for a run this Friday.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

As noted, the swelling is down and the range of motion is better. I'm going to ride on Friday if it stops raining. I'm thinking of calling a lunch meeting, but I don't know who would come. Jim Ellenberg is generally good for a few laughs, but he crashed too!

He sent me a copy of his leg x-ray today. The damn thing is pinned up like a baby's diaper. And let me tell you something, riding without you will be strange. At least I won't have to listen to all your crap about how slow I ride.

Fondest regards,