The Last Ride
Written by Mike Grifantini
I had stayed at this campground before. It had an idyllic stream flowing past it, which held small and speckled trout that came to the surface for insects most evenings. I looked forward to returning and felt a sense of renewal after staying there. As a bonus, it was never full! It was located on a secondary, curvy road distant from heavy travel; consequently, the road attracted more motorcycles than 4-wheeled vehicles. It did not surprise me when I spotted a lone Harley and tent in an out-of-way spot, as I slowly drove into the campground.
After setting up camp I took a stroll through the loops, planning dinner. “Hey, how are you doing?”, the biker shot out as I passed by. I quickly scanned his camp and his appearance and decided to keep the conversation short—“pretty good, just a quick walk before dinner”. The biker, sporting long, scraggly hair, an unkept beard and a black leather vest over his checkered shirt, shot back “I have a bottle of wine.” I had no way of escape! “Come on over in an hour. I will have a quick pasta dish put together by then.” He responded in a practiced manner: “How about if I come over now? I can help.” So began our evening.
While I sauteed meat and opened several cans, he opened the wine and began talking about his travels–his time in South Dakota, with one of the tribes. He dug out a picture from deep inside his wallet. Another picture came out, and with it the story of being in the prairies of Canada, where a family had taken him in during the apple harvest. There were more pictures–each showed him with his friends– arms around each other. “I have a lady friend up in Oregon, that’s where I am headed now. She is a great person and wants to show me a beach that no one else knows about—at least not many people” he said with a chuckle. “She is a kind and gentle lady” he ended with a sigh.
The wine went well with the pasta. It was an excellent meal, punctuated by the stories that he (who became known to me as “Buddy”) shared. He had spent his life, seemingly, on his bike. Of course, he had a job–as a mechanic–but every vacation was spent on the road, usually with friends from his southern California town. But now he was on a trip alone, taking a sinuous route across the continent, enjoying every day and every person he met. Each story exuded a sense of wonder, as if he was a teen bent on exploring and learning about the world.
I looked out the window of the trailer and commented, “there is still enough light for a short time on the river. Would you like to go with me? Maybe we will catch a trout?” His eyes flashed with pleasure and his face broke into a broad grin. “Maybe you’ll catch breakfast.”
We made our way from camp down the trail to the river. Buddy perched on the hillside so that he could watch but not be in the way. I waded out into the clear, cool water and slowly moved upstream until I neared a fish that had been rising below a large boulder. I casted several times, floating the mayfly imitation over that spot, when the fish rose. Realizing it had been hooked, the silvery creature raced up and down the riffle then jumped, sending droplets into the air.
Behind me I could hear Buddy clapping and yelling encouragement–to me, I suspected, but then wondered if maybe to the fish? Eventually, the trout tired and rolled onto its side as I pulled it close. I thought about what Buddy had said—should it be breakfast? My new friend, by now standing directly behind me along the streambank, whispered: “that is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.” My decision was made—I reached down, grabbed the fly with thumb and forefinger and gave a twist. The trout righted itself and slowly swam back into the current.
We walked back to camp in the deep dusk and opened a new bottle of wine, this time from my larder, sharing stories of fishing on distant rivers and rides on the blue highways. After Buddy left late that night, my sleep was full of dreams in which I felt the coolness on my legs and sounds of rippling water.
I woke early in the morning and started my morning coffee when Buddy, who had already loaded up, was preparing to leave. He slowly pulled up to my camp spot, leaving his Harley idling in its characteristic rumble. “I had a great evening! Thanks.” He reached into his pocket and handed me a business card. I noted the picture of his Harley and a phone number. As I put it in my pocket he gave me a hug. “Maybe see you soon?” he said, then he was off.
I camped for several more days, fishing, resting and hiking. The speckled, sleek trout rose each evening and were eager to sample my fly. I did not keep any. Back at home, after unloading the camping gear, I thought again about Buddy and found his card. I viewed the bike and phone number—then turned it over. “THE LAST RIDE” it said! Intrigued by these words, I angled the card to get the best light for reading the very fine print: “Buddy Collins—Diagnosed with cancer March 20, 2002–Given 6 months to live. Thanks for the memories and companionship! Maybe see you soon?”
The card still sits on my desk and sometimes, when looking for something else, my eyes rest on it. Then, I think of camping, the stream and the fish and Buddy’s encouragement to us all.
The Siskiyou Writers’ Club is a local group of folks with a passion for creative writing of all genres. We generally meet the last Thursday of the month in various locations throughout Siskiyou County.
Our next meeting will be Thursday, January 26, 2023, 5:00 PM, at the Natalee Thai Restaurant in Yreka.
For more information about the club, contact Bob Kaster, 530-598-5204, email [email protected]
or Mike Grifantini, 530-710-4882, email [email protected].