A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

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Cornwall To Say See Ya

By Ren Withnell

Ride Date 18 - 20 October

I'd known Mike Q for about 27 years. I met him when I first moved to Bury after the birth of my favourite son. He'd have been in his early thirties then and was every bit the hairy biker with cut off and beard and mad bushy long hair, oh and a Harley. I'd have been 19 or 20 and yeah, I didn't hero worship him but I set out to be like him one day. 

Mike suffered from arthritis. Living in the cold and moist conditions of Bolton weren't helping and in '94 he moved to Cornwall in search of a better climate. After that point I'd only see Mike from time to time during various holidays and trips. When we did catch up it always felt as though it had been merely a week since we last spoke, but my eyes could see his condition deteriorating.

I last saw Mike in January 2017 on my Cornwall In Winter trip. He could barely walk, his hands were warped and gnarled and he was obviously in some discomfort. Despite this he was completely alert, sharp witted and obstreperous as ever. 

I received a random call on Saturday evening a few weeks back. I wasn't going to bother answering, I didn't recognise the number, it'll be a sales call. But, not on a Saturday evening surely? The voice on the end of the phone was instantly recognisable as April, Mike's wife. She'd never call under normal circumstances so I knew the news was bad.

I don't need to go to Mike's funeral. He was a friend but we weren't bosom buddies. It's a long way to go just to attend a funeral. No-one would think less of me, I daresay no-one would even notice. And yet, somehow, I want to go. 

It's just a long way. I guess if Stephen Cooper of 1,000 miles a day is reading this then he'd scoff at the mere 330 miles, what, that's only one third of a PROPER ride. Yet for myself and my delicate derrière and my "get's tired easily like a small child" ways then 330 miles is a long ride.

It wouldn't be so bad if I were there for a while, like a week's holiday or whatnot. However time and circumstance are against me, it never rain's it only pours. Sharon's Kwakker is in bits and needs putting back together for a short weekend away we have planned next weekend. My car has dissolved the power steering pipe, that needs sorting for the impending MOT. My life, everybody's life does this, it's a thing, just deal with it don't freak out.

So I'll ride down on Thursday, attend the funeral on Friday, return home Saturday, put Sharon's bike back together on Sunday and with a little luck fix my car Monday. All in time to get back to work on Tuesday. There's a lot that could go wrong here isn't there. Hmmmmm...

I set off 0545 on Thursday morning otherwise I'll just be stuck in traffic around Manchester. At least the weather is on my side with clear starlit skies and the weather report suggesting I'll have a dry ride. 

I watch the sun rise as I pass through the now omnipresent roadworks on the M6, it's busy but traffic is flowing at the 50mph limit mercifully. I somehow manage to get past Birmingham without too much suffering at rush hour. I relieve my numb bum at Frankley services. I dine and refuel at Morrisons Weston-Super-Mare. I take a breather near Launceston. I arrive at my campsite at 1415. 

The CB500X outside a regular morrisons in Weston Super Mare
Good 'ole Morrisons. Fuel n food.

Remarkable! I am indeed tired. I am indeed a little saddle sore. I am certainly ready to be off the bike. It has taken me 8.5 hours but I am here and while mile-weary I am not a broken man. I put the tent up and settle in for a rest.

The 500 and the tent set up at the Doubletrees campsite near St Austell
Home sweet home. 

This evening I ride to April's and once Mike's house. April has family and guests with her. I suspect she'll welcome the distraction yet also yearn for a few moments to reflect and adjust, to grieve. She seems in fine fettle but she and Mike were together for at least the 27 year's I've known them, probably longer. There'll be a Mike shaped hole in her life that'll take a while to come to terms with.

My friend Ron and his wife Joan are here too. Ron's 67 and his dicky ticker means they've opted for a much more civilised way of getting here - they've flown here and rented a car. They've also opted for much more civilised accommodation - the local Travelodge. There's a part of me that wishes I'd done the same but then I wouldn't have my bike with me and my sense of achievement from today's ride.

That night the camping is cool. I'm not shivering in my sleeping bag nor do I have that warm cozy snuggled up feeling of a proper bed in a proper building. I do OK sleepwise, enough for my needs but I'm up early enough to enjoy watching the dawn across the bay.

Hazy clouds and light blue skies and the sun look huge as it rises above the Horizon in Cornwall
Good morning Mr Sunshine!

We gather at April's place for the funeral. I meet a few faces that I've not seen since Mike moved here in '94. There's a good number of bikers, the local Harley chapter is present as well as several friends such as myself all ready to ride. Mike arrives, late as ever even for his own funeral.

A motorcycle and sidecar, with the wicker coffin in the sidecar
An appropriate hearse.

Funerals are as funerals are. Mike was not religious so at the service there was no religious guff, in fact amidst the tributes and memories there were quite a few laughs which made the whole experience far more positive and far less morbid. 

After a few hours back at the house eating burgers, pasties and butties I bid my farewells and return to the campsite. Rather than sit in the tent and waste time I decide a short walk to the local pub is in order. With a glass of pop in hand I make small talk with the barmaid and a local couple. 

All I have to do now is ride home, put Sharon's bike back together and fix my car! My ride home is pretty similar to the ride down. It's a long way, it's certainly not very exciting and yet I do it and do it well in a similar time. 

I am a little sad Mike has died. It's not the yawning chasm of emptiness that a close friend, partner or relative leaves because I'd only see Mike every couple of years or so. I daresay I'm also a little relieved, he was in a fair bit of pain and now, well nothing can hurt him now.

Reader's Comments

NigelS said :-
A well written and poignant tribute for a friend.
31/10/2018 8:47:39 AM UTC
Paul S said :-
Written straight from the heart, honest and open. Mike would have approved no doubt.
31/10/2018 8:06:39 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers. If you spot the lady in the picture with red things on her head, they are bobbles as you'd find on a bobble hat. Mike had a red bobble hat that April HATED him wearing. So they'd be out and about and just to be rebellious and awkward he'd pull it out his pocket and put it on at the least opportune moments. For example in a cathedral or at a meal. We were all issued with red bobbles with bells at the funeral.

Would Mike approve of my missive? Probably not. He'd say something akin to "Shut up Ren, I'm bored now."
31/10/2018 8:26:24 PM UTC

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