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Rides Not Ridden

by Tammy Lee Cook

“Wow! That was close” I thought while Ricky deftly swung our chopped Triumph Bonneville back into our lane in a long graceful arc just inches in front of an old station wagon ponderously leading a parade of slow moving cars and half a heartbeat ahead of an oncoming truck.

I lost count of the near misses when we blasted by at least a dozen cars so closely that the fingers of my right hand brushed at least one of their filthy fenders. The warm mid morning May air shoved aside by the oncoming truck violently buffeted my bare arms and forced me to wrap them around Ricky’s waist just as he shifted “Bonnie” into fourth gear. Here in the wind, the tangled traffic of our life together was no more than a minor annoyance to be flown around in a blur of motion and blaze of noise. Although measurable only by heart beats and inches life was once again ours to ride. This was just fine with us.

After the rush accompanying our passing each long line of cars, I administered a swallow of wine to each of us from the goatskin flask held steadied against the wind blast and squirted into wide open mouths. Then I would lean back against the sissy bar, squeeze Ricky between my thighs and together we would groove on Bonnie’s joyous defiant song bellowing from her open exhaust pipes. This weekend we were traveling light and moving fast with no more than the minimum stashed in our bed roll tied across Bonnie’s handlebars. I had remembered to pack insect repellant, suntan oil, spare underwear, and hidden our stash, a dime bag of pot, in the green military utility bag worn on my belt. With two six packs tied to the sissy bar and our goatskin wine flask slung over my left shoulder, I was determined to make this beach weekend completely memorable. It was our last before Ricky went to Vietnam...

I met Ricky near the beginning of my High School senior year when I brazenly approached him in the school parking lot and told him I really liked his bike. Tall, muscular, with soft brown eyes and longish hair he was easily the biggest and strongest guy on the wrestling team and even more interesting to me, rode an old Triumph Tiger Cub motorcycle. He was known around school as someone not to mess around with and had a reputation for finishing fights started by others.

Soon he was riding me home from school after practice and hanging around our house. My step mom began inviting him to stay for dinner and best of all, my Dad, with whom mother sent me to live when life with my step father became utterly intolerable, and Ricky hit it off right away in spite of Ricky’s leather jacket and longish hair. Daddy was more than a little mechanically challenged and Ricky proved adept and willing at fixing the lawn mowers and garden machinery.

Ricky’s grades were not great and his graduation prospects uncertain. Worried, his Dad offered him a new motorcycle in exchange for graduation. This suited me just fine and my mission was perfectly clear, Ricky had to graduate. So we spent most of our senior year together actually studying when we weren’t out riding on his old Tiger Cub. My scheme worked out perfectly. I did my homework while Ricky was in wrestling practice, rode with him to my house on the Tiger Cub and after dinner helped him with his homework and study for tests. During our graduation ceremony we both clumped across the stage wearing huge grins with boots and jeans under our gowns. Afterwards we skipped the parties and roared off to the beach on a very sweet, almost new 1968 Bonneville.

We moved in together late in the summer before I began college. Ricky started a job with a building supply company and for the next few months we giddily started a life together. I felt content and secure for the first time in my life and Ricky seemed to smile every time he looked at me. Then, as with so many others living in that time, the Vietnam war and the draft exploded our tranquility.

Ricky was one of the last drafted into the Marine Corps and our first and only major fight was over whether he should go into the Marine Corps or move with me to Canada. I both furiously resented the interference into our life by others and detested the thought of being left behind without him. Ricky hated walking away from a fight by leaving the country and wasn’t certain he would even see combat. To make my point, I even went so far as to find some used leather saddlebags for Bonnie and loaded her with all our stuff while badgering him into moving in with some of my distant relatives in Quebec. The more we argued about it the more determined each of us became until late one night in utter frustration I stormed out of our tiny basement apartment and sat in our favorite spot along the river crying by myself. I sat cold and angry on the bank until I heard his quiet footsteps behind me and felt myself engulfed in his gentle arms. While laying with tear filled eyes in his arms and with both of us bathed in the late autumn moonlight, I guiltily realized that this wasn’t only my life to ride, it was his as well.

Ricky left for training after Christmas and took with him my stubborn refusal of his marriage proposal. I missed him desperately and yearned to go to his training camp just to be near him. But in the end I stayed behind and continued my next semester of school. I was in shock from the realization that what I dreaded most had come to pass. My life went on hold and I marched through the endless dreary winter days studying, working in a Suzuki shop and writing him as often as I could. Bonnie was now my only tangible connection with Ricky and our former life so I rode her everywhere I could. Ricky returned once for two precious weeks of leave and near the end of May was sent to Vietnam.

That summer while the anti-war protests spiraled relentlessly toward a thundering climax, I found myself embracing each of his letters while shuddering with horror at stories in the press of a place near where he was stationed called My Lai. He wrote me that his officers kept them in the bush most of the time to avoid the awful morale in the rear. In June, I sent him a chocolate cake for his nineteenth birthday and he wrote me fondly about his squad and how they took care of and depended on one another. Feeling awful after he wrote that Marines only received fresh water and food every three or four days while the Army had hot meals flown into the bush every day, I sent him Kool-Aid to improve the taste of his water and cookies to improve his morale. I felt even worse as the summer wore on when I realized, from so carefully reading each letter over and over, how death and devastation in that horrible far away alien place was hardening his open heart with cynicism.

His last letter arrived with the start of school. Hurriedly written just moments before they marched into a valley of dry rice paddies surrounded by mountains to try and rescue a group of Marines that had been sent to rescue the Army but had themselves been ambushed in a terrible battle, it told of three young children who brought NVA ammunition to the Marine Landing Zone in hopes of selling it for cash. When the children were paid and long gone the booby trapped ammunition blew up and killed a Marine.

Ricky was just three months “ in country” when the worst letter of all arrived and almost stopped my life completely.

“Dear Tammy” read the letter written in a strange hand. “I’m sorry to have to write you this. Ricky was killed Sunday afternoon....when our squad came under mortar attack while on patrol... Saturday night during a break in our march he talked about you and his motorcycle and how much he loved you and missed riding with you. He was the best buddy a Marine could ask for and was always there when you needed him, we’re going to miss him but not near as much as I know you do...I know his parents will be notified and he asked me to write you if something happened to him..... My deepest sympathies.........G”.

Before going overseas Ricky sent me a green field jacket with his name and USMC stenciled over the pockets so that I’d have a warm sturdy riding coat. I cherished that jacket and wore it proudly every day. So I was deeply hurt and confused by the angry taunting and evil stares my jacket brought from the war protestors at school. Not one of them ever bothered to ask me about the war nor cared what I held in my heart. The war, the protestors, and our indifferent government soon too filled my heart with cynicism. I will never ever understand why those that fought, those that died and those that loved them seemed so hated and eagerly forgotten.

Ricky, like too many others, never had the opportunity to ride his life. He left me with his jacket, shoe box of letters, a dime bag of pot, USMC Zippo with “Da Nang 1969” engraved on the back, a chopped Bonneville and a heart filled with memories.

This past Memorial Day after riding with at least one hundred thousand other bikers to the Veteran’s Memorial during Rolling Thunder, I carefully placed in front of panel 18W; the Zippo, an open pack of Camels and a picture of me on my Triumph looking back over my shoulder from one of our favorite country roads along with a note that read:

“Ricky, you’ll ride with me always. I promise I will never forget your smiling eyes, impish smile, soft voice, gentle touch and honest heart. You gave me the most precious gift anyone could ever receive; A life that is mine to ride...”

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Story copyright© Tammy Lee Cook, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


From Tam:
"The second story from Recipes for the Road is Rides Not Ridden and tells of a crazy, confusing time when so many of us had to grow up far too soon. It's about loyalty, mutual respect and of course, love." Tam spends more time riding than posting, but you can visit some of her favorite forums,
Women Riders International (WRI), Harley-Davidson Women Riders (HDWR) and Women Who Ride.

WHAT YOU NEED to Know! Cyclechex Motorcycle History Report.
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