My computer was crashing all last week when I needed it most. Somehow though, I was able to get some stories written and the paper put together. My brain was frazzled from a long day of reading and writing, so I sat in the yard, enjoying a beer, when my sister called, emotional and crying, telling me my father was in the hospital and he probably wasn’t going to make it.
The next day was payday and while I had hoped to catch up on some much needed maintenance costs that were fast coming due, I knew I needed to go say good-bye to my dad down in San Bernardino, Calif. It’s a 500 mile ride from Ely and it’s a grueling drive in my truck let alone making the ride on my bike, so I had been putting it off.
My dad went downhill real fast beginning earlier this year. In January, I rented a room in a house across the hall from a room he had rented for some five or six years, and one day he asked me to help him get out of his chair and walk to his bed, which was about two feet away. It was a shocking experience.
In the days that followed, he fell on the floor twice and couldn’t get up, laying there for hours until someone came home and found him. I would often threaten to put him in a nursing home if he couldn’t make it to the bathroom; and that threat scared him, forcing him to struggle to get there on his own, but he soon ran out of strength, which made me regret my past threats because the time had come when I really did need to put him in a nursing home and I didn’t want him to be afraid.
But it was better for him; he needed 24 hour care. I assured him I wouldn’t abandon him and for the first couple of months, I went in every day, sometimes twice a day to bring him his newspaper and some food to eat. He became acclimated to the place and somewhat comfortable. My sister would visit, too, and take care of him as often as she could.
Then I got hired in Ely and I had to leave him; but he was ok with it. He knew I had to work and he saw it as a sign that he had raised a responsible son. But it hurt to leave him and I worried a lot about him.
I was lucky I was able to have a friend come up from Riverside, Calif., to watch my dog, a girl who loves Ely and likes to tear up the town whenever she arrives. I knew she’d be out having a blast all weekend and I could make the ride to San Berdoo, visit with my dad, then ride home without anybody missing me and my dog in good hands.
I had four days to make the ride to San Bernardino, visit, and then ride back, a harsh ride across the desert and a lonely one. I set out south on Highway 6, through the mountains and down to the Lund turnoff, a beautiful ride every time I get on that highway. I cut through Lund and my going 25 mph through the core of the city really disturbed the Cadillac Escalade that drove inches behind me, showing no respect for the laws of the people of that town.
I don’t understand a lot of drivers. So many times I’ll pass these fools on the open highway and yet, when we’re entering a town and the speed limit slows to 45, 35 and then 25, that’s when these morons speed up and pass me. “Go get you your ticket,” race car.
Anyways, south of Lund there was construction going on and they were taking cars one direction at a time, so if you got there when they were bringing cars your way, you waited until they came to get you. My timing was excellent that day though, as I pulled up just as the last car was leaving, making me the last one to leave and not having to stop at all.
The road was fine gravel and I had to lay back to avoid the cloud of dust the car in front of me was spewing toward me, but I made it through and then got back on the open highway. From there it was a long way through nowhere, nothing but hard core desert riding all the way to Highway 93, the road to Las Vegas.
The scenery was pretty but nothing amazing. I did ride through one spectacular narrow canyon though. I parked in the middle of it, admiring these gigantic stone cliffs shooting high toward the sky, surrounding me on both sides. There were all kinds of weird noises going on in there, probably the wind bouncing off of the sky and echoing around the steep brown rocks. It was really spooky but cool at the same time.
There were no cars anywhere on the road and I could have been the last person on earth for all I knew way out there. The isolation of this side of Nevada is something incredible to experience. You just ride and ride and ride, and yet never seem to get anywhere.
Even on 93, the road was void of any human life form until I hit the tiny hamlet of Alamo, which has a combination gas station and grocery store — and that’s about it. My rear end was sore after 150 miles of riding, so I fueled up, walked around a bit to get loose, then set back out on the highway, 100 more miles to Vegas.
The temperature began to rise the lower toward Sin City I got, and it was running about 110 when I finally made it onto the 15. I haven’t been on an interstate in almost three months so being amongst all that traffic woke me up real quick, but then, as I made my way toward downtown, it became stop and go.
It’s a challenge riding crowded freeways. You have to watch everything going on in front of you and on the sides, giving yourself space to move out of trouble in case some jerk jams you too close or cuts you off. I’m always looking at the entire road ahead. I do check my rear-view mirrors now and again, but I almost never like what I see going on behind me.
One time I was stopped at a stop sign, wanting to make a right turn, when I looked in my rear-view mirror to see a woman in a car fast approaching, looking at her phone. I knew she would never stop in time and I couldn’t turn because there was too much traffic coming, so I just braced myself for the hit — and it came, but she had slammed on her brakes at the last second, just bumping the back of my bike, which I held on to and held up.
I put the kickstand down, got off and walked back, asking her what the “blank” was wrong with her.
“You don’t need to talk to me that way,” she responded.
Does anybody out there still wonder why I am the way I am?
Getting back to this story though, the freeway was stop and go for miles and I just pushed forward until I was able to get off and eat. When I got back on, the traffic had thinned and I had a pretty straight shot to the California border and across. I made it down to Baker, Calif. around 6:30 p.m. and my butt was killing me from all the riding. I took a break, checking out the World’s Largest Thermometer, which proudly reported that it was 106 outside.
I’ve lived in the desert most of my life, so high temps don’t necessarily bother me. I was worried though because I’ve been living in Ely since May and I thought I had maybe been acclimated and wouldn’t be able to handle high temps anymore, but that was a myth. I’m still the same desert biker I’ve always been.
I got to Barstow and it was getting dark, so I stopped at the Home Depot to trade out my sunglasses for some clear safety glasses. I learned a long time ago, you can pay $100 for some Harley Davidson clear glasses that break after a month, or you can buy some off-brand clears for $30 and they last for a month, or you can pay $10 at the Home Depot for a pair of safety glasses that last for a month. Yes, I’m a careful shopper and I should probably write a consumer column, but not today.
I got back on the freeway and a truck had burned up on the side of the road so I was stuck in stop and go traffic again. Fortunately, you can split lanes in California, and that’s what I did, breaking through the crush of cars until I was finally moving again.
By then it was real dark outside and I had to ride over the Cajon Pass, a ride I don’t even like to take during the daytime. The traffic moves fast, the wind blows hard and with my old eyesight, getting through is a challenge. Somehow I made it though and I rolled down the hill into San Bernardino. By then I had been on my bike most of the previous 11 hours and my butt was killing me and I absolutely had to stop.
I pulled into some ghetto neighborhood and stood outside the Circle K for 20 minutes, probably only 20 minutes from the hospital my dad was at, but I had to give my body a break.
I finally got back on, rode down to a store to pick up a Mississippi Mud, the idea being to enjoy my buzz while my dad was enjoying his prescription pain killers. I grabbed some snacks for him as well, then rode over to the hospital where he was fast asleep.
I sat there and let him sleep, sipping on my beer, the nurse guy came over and asked what was in the jug.
“Water”, I told him, hoping he didn’t smell my breath.
He said, “Ok”, then explained that drinking in the hospital was against their policy.
I told him I wouldn’t do that. After 11 hours on the road, I become a good liar.
My dad woke up after awhile and we talked some, but he kept falling back asleep, so about 3 in the morning, I rode over to my sister’s house and slept.
I visited him again on Friday and then spent most of Saturday afternoon hanging out with him. He was real weak, he couldn’t eat but a couple of bites, and he couldn’t stay awake long, but we were still able to talk.
Late Saturday afternoon though, a friend came and got me and we had dinner. I had turned on a pre-season football game for my dad, even though he wasn’t able to focus on the TV. To my surprise though, when I got back from dinner, he was watching the game and knew what was going on. He even stayed awake until the end and then some.
Around 9 I told him I had to get going as I had to leave early to make the 500 mile ride home. It was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever done in my life. He was laying there weak and helpless, dependent on the hospital workers for his every need, even a sip of water.
I said good-bye and started to leave, but as I looked back at him, I realized this would probably be the last time I ever saw my dad. I started to cry and went back to him and grabbed him and told him how much I loved him and appreciated him being my dad. I told him he was the greatest dad ever and thanked him for all the times he was there for me.
This was the guy who, when I was young, taught me to play baseball, football and hockey, all of which made my childhood a fun time. He made sure I made it to practice everyday and to my games every week. He took me to watch professional games in my hometown of Detroit, the Tigers, the Red Wings, and a couple of summers he even drove me hundreds of miles so I could watch my favorite player, Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine, play down in Cincinnati. He was a dad like no other and I am so thankful to have had a father like him during those years of 0-16.
Oftentimes I hear people say that they wish they had one more day to talk with their parents, to be able to have the opportunity to tell them how much they love them.
Thanks to my Harley, my father can pass and I’ll have no regrets, only gratitude.
Marty Bachman is editor of the Ely Times and an avid biker. He can be reached at email@example.com or 760-550-3943.