"For Some There's Therapy—For The Rest of Us, There's Motorcycles." Among the dozens of stickers on the back of my truck (yes, I'm a sticker junkie), I have this one. I've made it a habit to regularly look through the offerings at Biker Rags and anywhere else I happen to find these little stickers—some of them really sum up why we ride quite well.
This one in particular gets me thinking about two good friends of mine, Rick and Ruby Connacher. Owning and RIDING a motorcycle truly changes a person, almost always for the better; as a former motorcycle salesman, I've had the honor to enable and witness this transformation for many, many fine folks. Everyone's experience will differ—some, like me, take up riding as a kid, just grab the throttle and go, throwing caution to the wind. As we grow older we find that the youthful ignorance of our mortality is a luxury lost to years gone by, to tales of riders gone down, killed, or crippled, and we become more careful—but, hopefully, not fearful.
For the latter group, Rick and Ruby provide a great example in living the Good Life: To become seasoned, experienced riders, to regularly rack up the miles year-round on a bike traveling with friends, traveling all over the country. Riding has become a way of living for these two, now in their 70s and getting things done with more energy than I myself can muster at half their age! These two are regular fixtures at Smokey Mountain Harley-Davidson—Rick is a lead instructor for the state MSF program, leading rider safety classes every weekend throughout the year until winter arrives. Ruby schedules herself several times a month inside the lounge with her heavy-duty sewing machine, ready to stitch up any new patches or repairs to your leather (or synthetic) riding gear. When they're not around the dealership, chances are they're either riding or happily impersonating two retirees—I'd hardly call them "retired" at all, busy bees is more like it...
Their story begins two or three decades ago in Annapolis, Md.: Rick was the classic workaholic with a six-day schedule doing restoration work, grinding away day after day, as the inevitable "rut" begins to appear. "You're gonna have to do something to avoid having a stroke or heart attack," Ruby says. "You should find something to do in your spare time that you really used to love doing." We should all be so lucky to have Ruby's advice; Rick began thinking about this seriously. "I used to love drinking, thank goodness I gave that up, that's not it—how about motorcycling?" Although Ruby had always told her kids never to take up riding—both her boys had grown up to be police officers—here she was considering the idea of her husband resuming a hobby he had abandoned decades ago. "Just get a small bike, see if you like it" was her advice—that was the first mistake. Rick ended up buying a used '87 FLH from a local shop. "We got took," was his answer to what he paid for it.
They told their kids "Hey, we're just gonna ride around the east coast"—they managed to do that and then some. Ruby took her very first motorcycle ride with Rick on her 65th birthday—that was just the beginning of their journey. Fate threw them a decreasing radius turn when Rick got a diagnosis of lung cancer; being given such news forces oneself to take stock of things. Rick retired, they sold their home, bought a toy hauler (a new concept at the time), and began planning the travels they had always dreamed of. The lung cancer diagnosis turned out to be a false alarm—but by the time they learned of this, things had changed dramatically.
"The way we see it, the bike was free—we'd have paid much more in medical bills had Rick kept going and had a heart attack or stroke." Ruby says. "It was the best thing we've ever done, and we've done it together all along." They joined their local HOG chapter for the membership discounts, found the camaraderie much more valuable, and have been involved in HOG ever since. Like so many others up north, they began looking for a more ideal place to live, a locale just a tad bit warmer than what they knew.
After taking a group ride and meeting with friends in Jefferson City, Rick and Ruby began looking around East Tennessee for a new home. Now, they are self-proclaimed "trailer trash" in a nice, well-established park here in Maryville—with a slightly larger than normal garage to accommodate their newer FLH sidecar rig. Last year they traveled to Texas in the sidecar rig with their cat Alex, and had a ball. Folks, I'll speak for myself and just say I hope to get around to doing as well as these two if/when I get into my later years...
As Rick was getting back into riding motorcycles, he had a very good thought: "I figured since I hadn't ridden for over 24 years, I'd better take a motorcycle safety class to refresh my memory and skills." Out of a class of 12, only four passed. "Our instructor was a woman, a real hard-ass, she seemed to resent having to be there teaching all us poor suckers," he says. "Back then the MSF worked more like a boot camp, boy did she work it like one for us!"
Since then, Rick has become one of the most popular mainstays of the local beginner MSF training classes. Perhaps as a result of his earlier experience with the "boot camp" style of doing things, Rick incorporates his relentless wit and sense of humor to put his students at ease. "Most of these folks are real nervous coming into these classes, especially many of the girls, so I figured if I can get them to laugh and enjoy themselves in the process, they'll do a lot better." Many of Rick's former students will testify to the truth in that—over the years I was there, most weekends, I would see them come and go from Friday to Sunday working the course and the tests. Most of them ended up passing the course, with a smile from ear to ear, quite often marveling at Rick's technique, candor, and care.
We should all be so lucky to find The Good Life, as Rick and Ruby have done, leading by example with great fun and laughter, serving as road captains for all of us as we roll down the road together. Nothing lavish, just keepin' it simple, silly, rolling down the road, riding for the sunset.