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Scott and I sat in the company cafeteria. He gazed into the distance as though death itself had passed before his eyes.

poppa wheelie

Not Scott. Scott is a foot or so taller.

“You gotta do something to stay young” he said. “Look at people around us: Overweight; bored; moving slowly; all looking miserable.”

Scott had made his choices about how to stay young. He rode motorcycles — fast ones.

He was an early inductee into the cult of the Suzuki Hayabusa, which for years held title as the fastest street-legal motorcycle. As we sat on the plastic furniture under the florescent lights eating egg salad or something, I could tell he’d rather have been out on Yarnell Hill or Canyon Lake, leaned over and taunting the edge of the road.

He had other things that kept him young: A ranchette in Wickenburg, a Clydesdale he rode as a saddlehorse,  and a wife as unusually short as he was unusually tall, and as nervous and excitable as he was lumbering and phlegmatic. They were perfect for each other: The Great Dane and his boss, the Chihuahua. Both were/are terrifically generous and open-hearted people.

I was at a party at their former home in Scottsdale once. A girl saw Scott ride up on his Hayabusa. She squealed “Pop a wheelie!” Scott turned the bike around in the middle of the block like it was a Schwinn with a banana seat, and right there on that sleepy little residential street he revved, clutched it up and pulled off a nice one. We all cheered. It was all 300-something pounds and 6’5″ of Scott enjoying life and staying young. He’s one of the few riders who could make a Hayabusa seem miniature.

We used to meet up early on Tuesday mornings before work to do a few laps at Bartlett lake. Scott wouldn’t bother riding the Hayabusa during these times. He knew whatever I was riding, he’d be faster on his Harley Sportster. And we were both OK with that.

I haven’t talked to Scott in years, but his “stay young” comment stays with me — as both inspiration and caution.

At one time my entire social life revolved around motorcycling. One year I managed to put 35,000 miles on only one of my four bikes. The happiest times of my life up to that point had been spent in the saddle. It was my peace.

Then I got remarried with the intention of starting a family. The day after the wedding, I heard from another riding buddy that two friends of ours had crashed into each other and died on Yarnell Hill. That put a chill on things for me, though I still rode.

It’s just hard to stay in touch with the old crowd. It’s hard when I need to pause before calling or emailing to wonder if they are still alive, still walking, and even if they are — what news they’ll bring about others we knew back then.

Whatever keeps you young can also end up killing you early.