Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On losing a friend...

Sunday morning, my better half and myself were puttering around, getting ready to take a little road trip in the van. She had stopped into the computer room to check on e-mails before we left, when I heard her ask aloud: "Is this a joke...?" She asked me to come in and read what she had in front of her. It was an e-mail from a young woman whom I knew from back home. Her name is Cheryl and in her e-mail, she was informing me of the passing of her uncle Eric, a very dear friend of mine. Very few of us ever called him by his given name. To us, he was simply 'Spider'.

Eric 'Spider' Boutiler hailed from Porter's Lake in Nova Scotia. He was not only my best friend and most favorite fishing buddy, he was also my first and only sponsor in AA that I ever had. Spider and I have been friends for more than 18 years now. He was instrumental in my grasping the program in my early months of sobriety and can well accept some credit for the fact that I will be celebrating 19 years of continuous sobriety this June.

I stood there staring at the words on the screen. He died last Saturday at 8pm Mountain Time, from a massive heart attack. No forewarning, no prolonged illness, nothing. I had an e-mail sitting in my Inbox from him, scarecely 2 hours before he died. I found it hard to register anything. I just felt numb. I could hear his voice in my head as we clowned around and tormented the girls at the Tim Horton's on Number 7 Highway. It just didn't make sense. My wife told me how sorry she was, that I should have lost such a good friend. I had to go. I wanted us to go out and do somehing life-affirming. A little road trip, perhaps retracing the 2007 Ride For Dad. There was a great route. Some truly beautiful countryside.

So that's what we did. Our journey was interspersed with anecdotes of my recollections of Spider and the adventures we had. We stopped and wandered around Almonte for a few minutes, as my back was really acting up and I periodically needed to 'unfold' from being in the van. A short walk was all I needed to straighten up and relieve some of the pain. We headed back on the road taking CR 29 on the way out of Almonte. As we began our journey down CR 29, my better half's hunger got the best of her and, goaded on by a sign promising the Fulton Pancake House, we began a comical and fruitless search for said restaurant.

We twisted and turned down a number of small country laneways and improbable dirt roads, lured on by the promise of food. I did not time this particular effort, but as an educated guess as a longtime traveller of some note, I would hazard to guess that we were at it for a full 40 minutes. I have to say that we finally did find this ill-posted and obscure place, at the end of a road from which I expected to see springing Appalachian mountain men, intent on devirginizing my nether regions. It was basically a sugar shack, closed for the season as reason would have it. All we had managed to do was to whip our already appreciable appetites into a frenzy. My wife laughed that it reminded her of many people's favorite Sopranos' episode, where Michael and Paulie are stranded in the winter woods of upstate New Jersey, fighting over Tic Tacs and packets of ketchup...

Finally back on track and some 35km later, we stopped off in Packenham for a lunch at the local diner. We both ordered up what has to be one of the best hot chicken sandwiches I've ever had. The main course came with soup and dessert. The fries were huge and tasty as well. I topped off my meal with a bowl of 'red' Jell-O. Don't ask me what flavor... It was cold, it was red and it was tasty.

Heading out of Pakenham, we took the Waba Road for the next leg of our journey, which would take us to White Lake. This is a beautiful area which skirts the lake itself. It leads to the Burnstown Road, which in turn becomes the Calabogie Road at the junction of CR 508. Heading West, we passed through Spruce Hedge, Springtown and stopped for a little stretch in Calabogie itself. We stopped in at the local rider hangout, Murphy's Landing. There were a few bikes cooling outside as we entered the parking lot. True to form, they were parked in cliques. The 'Harley' crowd was on one side and the sportbike, motocross crowd was on the other.

My wife had decided that for as good as lunch had been, it didn't feel 'complete' without a little something sweet for dessert. We trooped inside to see what the locals could offer. It felt a little awkward being amongst fellow riders and wearing my 'sidewalk commando' clothes. We both ordered a tea and were informed that apple crumble was the dessert item of the day. Feeling happy about this, we grabbed a booth by the front window, where we could observe the goings-on outside. We amused ourselves by watching some of the enduro-type riders, pulling their socks off so that they could wring them dry and lay them over the fence, in an effort to dry them out. I've often had to do that at the end of a day's riding, but I never got 'em wet on purpose...

Our waitress returned and informed us that the dessert had yet to be put into the oven for the day. A little put off by this, we cancelled the teas and told them we'd have to try them at another time. Ah well... everything happens for a reason, so it seems. No sweat... We bade them farewell and piled back into the van.

On our way out of Calabogie we went by way of Mill Street, to link up with CR 511, or Lanark Road as it's known. At the intersection of these two streets, sat a gas station with a country store attached to it. We had hit paydirt! They had all manner of home-baked goods for sale. We picked up a package of carrot cake squares, a package of Nanaimo bars (Niomi bars, as I call 'em...) and a package of hermit cookies. I also picked up a couple of bottles of ginger ale for myself and a bottle of water for my wife. $14.00 later, we left the store giggling over our treasure trove of 'badness'. So ya wanted something sweet, did ya...???

We took off down Lanark Road, taking our time and enjoying the rolling, swooping bends of the road. It's a very good road and the surface is great. I can hardly wait to take it on again this year on the bike. The 511 ended at Wolf Grove Road and we turned North-East for our final leg back to Almonte. The day had passed so quickly, yet we had enjoyed being out and about in each other's company. It truly doesn't take much to keep us entertained or to make us happy. For the price of a tank of gas and a sense of adventure, we will never be bored. We arrived back home a little after 1700hrs. I backed Baby out in the driveway, intent on washing her from Saturday's ride in the rain. She was a sight, alright. It was slow and laborious, made all the slower by my back which was still protesting.

I decided to wash my wife's van as well, while Baby drip-dried some. Finally, taking several microfibre cloths I use solely for this purpose, I dried Baby off. I knew when I had finished, that there were still some areas that harbored pockets of water. There was only one way to get rid of these. I'd have to take her out and 'air-dry' her...

I told my spouse what I was fixin' to do. She was concerned that it was now passed 1900hrs, the sun's rays were slanting, couldn't I wait and do it tomorrow... I put her mind at ease and dressed to go. The idiot light for fuel came on as I thumbed her to life with the starter button. *Sigh!* Guess I'd have to fill her up before I took her for a romp out in the farmlands. Fine...

I stopped at the Shell station across the street and fed her. Leaving there, we headed down 10th Line and onto Old Montreal Road, heading East into Cumberland. Traffic was light and Baby purred along. I had been thinking about Spider all day. How he would have liked the roads we had travelled, the scenery they had provided. I started thinking about all those conversations we would have back home. Either after a meeting at Tim's, or sitting in a small open fishing boat in the middle of Grand Lake, howling with laughter as we compared ourselves to the reigning Bass Master champions. We would talk about how we would both get back on two wheels and make the great cross-Canada road trip, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. We'd spend hours 'bench-building' these bikes and riding them through the fertile fields of our imaginations.

But some dreams are not meant to come to fruition. Either that or they become lost along the way, superseded by other events, other priorities. We are the ones who lose our dreams. Nobody takes them from us. We give them up. As I rounded the bend back from Dunning Road onto Innes, I thought to myself how this ride was for Spider. "This one's for you!", I yelled over the roar of the pipes, choking on my tears. And the sun shone down on the bike and the road, with that hard-chrome edge that it has near the end of the day. It was one of those beautiful moments when all seems right with the world and there is no place better to be, than in the saddle. I had needed this window, this space of alone time to come to terms with my grief, to process my feelings and give vent to my sorrow. This would be the first of many such instances, I had no doubt.

It is never easy to lose a good friend. But I rejoice in having had him in my life and will always have the memories of good times and roads travelled. I will dedicate my upcoming trip down South, to the memory of his friendship. I too have been putting this off for far too long.
I hope to do the Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park (, the Blue Ridge Parkway (, the Tail of the Dragon ( and the Cherohala Skyway (
In his own passing, Spider has provided me with the impetus I needed, to make this one longtime dream a reality. I guess that's just one more I owe him...

Rest easy, Spider. You will not be forgotten.

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