Monday, February 11, 2013

Living Memory

I have been riding street motorcycles on and off since I was 18 years old. For the past several years, riding has been an integral part of my life. While the fifty thousand or so miles I have logged in the last five or six years is not a huge total, it is more than the average “hobbyist” logs. And those I ride with are not hobbyists. We know the risks; we accept the danger; and when we ride we are responsible for predicting every stupid move unaware drivers might make. This ability to predict and ride as though drivers don’t know we are there does not come from a book and it cannot be taught in a weekend “motorcycle safety” course, it comes from experience and riding with others who have many miles under their belts. Even with this awareness and level of concentration, the danger still exists. Lots of things are dangerous and riding a motorcycle is one of them. The best we can do is to mitigate the risk so that we can enjoy an activity that brings so much richness to life.

Once in a while, that risk we take becomes all too real. Yesterday morning we lost one of our own doing what we love so much. The community of riders I ride with in the Sacramento, Calif. area is rather large and it is part of an even larger community that has nothing to do with motorcycles. Mel Deaton was a core member of both, a man who was as active and dedicated in this fellowship as he was to riding. I met Mel through this larger community about eight years ago, before I got back into riding, but I got to know him much better after I bought my first Harley about seven years ago. Through service work to our fellowship and through frequent rides with those of us who ride frequently, I gained a level of respect for Mel that I reserve for only a very few. We were not close friends, but through intersecting circles of friends, we had a relationship that transcended motorcycles.

While the details of the accident that took Mel out are not readily available, by all accounts he was not at fault. This comes as no surprise; I have ridden with him enough to know his level of skill on two wheels. This might come as some comfort to those who were very close to Mel, but it doesn’t change the outcome. The fact that he was doing something he loved, however, might ease the pain a little. But it does point out that even for someone as careful and skilled as Mel was, it still does not erase the danger or enable any of us to fully predict the unpredictable, to fully anticipate the scope and magnitude of inattention and stupidity some people drive with. I know from personal experience. I can’t count the number of times a driver was looking right at me approaching on my Harley and still pulled out right in front of me like I was not even there.

But I do not want to go on a rant about stupid drivers – it won’t help and it won’t change anything. The risk still remains the same as it always has. I do want to honor Mel Deaton who so unexpectedly left us yesterday morning. They say that as long as one’s memory survives, one is never really gone – the spirit lives among us as long as the memory lives. If this is true, Mel’s spirit will be with us for a very long time. He was a man who overcame much and helped more people, directly and indirectly, than could ever be known. Had Mel not done what he did years before I joined the fellowship, I would not be where I am today. There are literally thousands who would say the same. Mel left a lasting memory and, more importantly, a legacy. Mel’s spirit will live among us at least until the end of my days because he is a man I will never forget.