Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trip to The Gap

Mike and Dale’s most excellent adventure, fast times at the Gap,

or thoughts on relationships

Last March I called my old Wheaton College buddy and fellow motorcyclist, Dale Mitchell, to see if he could get away for our annual trek to Deal’s Gap to run the motorcycles. A date was set in May for the trip. Unfortunately, when the date rolled around, I had been diagnosed as being terminal ill with cancer and was trying to recover from an aborted liver resection. So, no trip. I figured there would never be another trip, as I was toast. My learned doctors told me I would not likely survive past June and that I had best “get my affairs in order,” whatever that means.

However, when September arrived and I was still very much alive and feeling pretty good, I thought Dale and I just might do the Gap trip after all. I called him and suggested that we go in October, providing my health held up. Dale said he was in and a date was set.

Last Monday, right on time Dale pulled up to my house towing the trailer, ready for the 10 hour slog to the Gap. We left Tuesday morning. I drove the first 225 miles. I hate driving. If I never drive another car in my life, that is just fine with me. I am spoiled, I know. Airplanes are so much quicker.

We used the first part of the drive to catch up on what was going on in our lives, with the wives and children, and our work. Just small talk, guy-style. For several hours of the trip neither of us said anything. We drifted with the driving. This would make a lot of people uncomfortable. Not us. Dale is a man of few words, to begin with. We are a lot like an old married couple who each knows what the other thinks about most things, so why discuss them?

We arrived at Deal’s Gap uneventfully and on schedule. After a good meal and a night’s sleep, we were ready to ride the next morning. Before I go further, some of you may not know about Deal’s Gap, known to the informed as The Tail of the Dragon. Let’s simply say that if you have a fast car or motorcycle, regardless of whether it is street legal or not, if you think you are fast, or you really are fast, if you can get your machine to the Gap, you can drive or ride the snot out of it on 10.8 miles of perfectly paved two lane highway featuring 318 turns. No cops, no turnoffs, no stop signs, no stop lights, no hassles. Just the opportunity to play boy-racer to your heart’s content or until you screw up and crash. Which happens frequently. But not to men like Dale and me, because we may be old, but we are still slow.

In the memorable words of a young sport bike rider, who was admiring our bikes, “It is good to see mature gentlemen on sport bikes." I did not know whether to thank him or smack him. For the rest of the trip, we referred to each other as Mature Mike and Mature Dale.

While I really liked riding my bike at the Gap, that was not the best part of the trip. The simple truth is that hanging out with my friend Dale was the best part of the trip. The conversations over dinner each night were interesting, funny and sometimes sad.

One evening, Dale commented that he couldn’t imagine that Lynne was still with me after 35 years, as I was still pretty much a jerk and life with me had to be a pain. I agreed and responded that he wasn’t a bit better and that Sue had to be a saint to put up with him. He agreed, saying that it amazed him that she was still around. We both concluded that our wives were truly remarkable for putting up with us. They both have had multiple occasions and reasons to dump us, bur continued to hang in there. I suggested they stayed simply for the entertainment value we unwittingly provide.

Dale said that he had had a business reversal, coupled with his own cancer issues. He can’t run and can hardly walk because his hips and knees are worn out from countless sprints up and down the basketball court, when he played at Wheaton. At least one knee has been replaced and the other one needs to be done. He has an ugly scar from tearing up a tendon in his arm playing basketball. In short, he’s banged up pretty bad.

I’ve closed my law practice and do not miss it a bit. Good riddance. I have torn rotator cuffs from swimming, six broken ribs and a punctured lung from a motor cycle misadventure, a broken neck and punctured lung (the same one) from a mountain bike problem, together with an old scar running from my breast bone down to where it can’t go any farther, coupled with my new one which starts over my diaphragm and goes south for ten inches before veering off to the east for another 6 inches. Not pretty. It turns everybody’s head when I walk into the swimming pool, I guarantee you. Physically, both of us are shot to pieces but still limping, literally, along.

Both of us were in agreement that neither of us could have foreseen our lives turning out the way they have. Dale is soon to be out of work and is falling apart physically, while I am dying of cancer, so they say. Neither of us could figure out how we ended up doing what we did or still do for a living. The jobs

have been good to both of us and our families, but now Dale’s job is gone and I have quit playing lawyer. Who would have thought?

Dale asked if I would still be working, if I hadn’t gotten sick. I admitted that I would never have quit, until I died at my desk. Dale commented that I was almost there anyway. Soon to be dead, just not at my desk. True.

From time to time, people have asked me about this “dying in slow motion” business. It is hard. You measure what you do by how much time you think you have left on the clock. Like any of us know that. I was supposed to be dead last June, but here I still am. I’m dead, the doctor’s say,

but they do not know when. So I am in a sort of limbo. I never plan anything move than 30 days away. Five minutes during the day do not go by, where I do not think about how much time remains. It haunts, taunts, and stresses me. I have periods of sadness each day when the situation gets me down. I suppose it’s depression.

The doctors are quick to tell me to “get out there and live,” whatever that means. They seem to suggest that I should be working on my “bucket list.” Not a one of them have a clue. I watched that movie, The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Most people thought it was about checking off the things you wanted to do in your life. Wrong. It was about two lonely men finding each other, developing a mutual friendship, and then reconciling with their estranged families. You do not have to climb a mountain to do that. I may not know much, but I know this. In the end, there are only these things: you and your God, you and your family, and you and your friends.

Last Tuesday I got my latest test results back. To my doctor’s astonishment and delight, I seem to be disease free, although she was quick to point out that the cancer is just deciding where to land. I’m dead, she said…just not yet. Soon, I will be “worms’ meat,” as Shakespeare called it. I seem to be refusing to die on schedule just as a contrary lawyer would do.

At the end of the appointment, Dr. M (who truly is a saint) looked at me and said, “Do you have any idea how lucky you are?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I am married to the greatest woman on earth who loves me beyond reason and tells me she loves me everyday. I am surrounded by lots of friends who truly care about me.” And Lynne. Darn right I know how lucky I am. Probably the luckiest guy around, I am

pretty sure.

Mike out.

P.S. I promised Dale I wouldn’t tell anyone that he ate all six chocolate covered donuts from Krispy Kream on the drive home. I did not promise not to write about it.

PPS. Cousin Scot rode over and met us at The Gap.


  1. You are so funny, Mike! You should have been a comedy writer for a very dry sarcastic comic. I would be a huge fan! Glad you got home safely!

  2. Mike, you are a gift - thank you for sharing with us.. I'm so glad you had fun, but mostly that you got to enjoy your friendship - blessings for whatever is next....

  3. Hey you old cus Mike...well, guessin' I can spout that since I'm one in the club too. Glory be - I would've dropped anything to be with you guys at The Gap - true Mecca for any biker. Dale and I missed you last year but it also gave us a chance to 'get caught up on those relationship things'. Yeah I know what you mean - ridin' The Tail is AWESOME and a blast (as long as you're the one that stays upright or at least at a respectable slant) - but the time spent together was even better even with a FRIEND of 'few words'. :-) WOW must be contagious - I mean the part about our wives that somehow stay with us and say they 'love us' to boot. Well I know it can't be the money in my case.....maybe I provide that entertainment value you noted...yeah that may be some of it. Thankful that God has kept you livin' MIke - and kept your humor about you - guess I'm too far away to experience that annoying side that Dale so truthfully spoke of. Only kidding Mike - yeah right! Maybe a trip out there is needed.
    Say 'hi' to Lynn - bless her heart!
    Signing out - Don M