D-Day survivor and motorcycle enthusiast Francis Gangley, Gadsden Alabama
Editorial – Scott Cochran
I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Pumping gas, putting on your gear in a parking lot, or eating in a restaurant. A total stranger will walk up to you and start a conversation about motorcycling.
It happened to me in Gadsden Alabama. I was at a restaurant counter waiting on my order when 82 year old New Jersey native Francis Ganley walked up and asked me if I was on that motorcycle outside.
Over the next few minutes, I learned Francis stormed the beach (Omaha) during WWII, and when he came home he bought a used Iron Head HD for twelve dollars! When he recalled the decades he’d spent riding various motorcycles, you could hear the longing in his voice to take one last ride before his passing. But, he knew that wasn’t possible. He said he couldn’t trust his knees, and watching him walk, you knew that was an understatement. The strength was no longer there to balance a bike, or even straddle the seat of a trike.
My food arrived, and I thanked Mr. Ganley for the conversation. I told him how much respect I had for him, and wished him a good day. After lunch, I was outside getting ready to gear up when Francis appeared and asked me if I minded if he took a closer look at my motorcycle. “That’s a good looking bike” he said, as he walked around it. “I had a FLH once with leather saddlebags.” I could tell there was something he wanted to ask but he wasn’t sure it was appropriate.
“Would you like to sit on her?” I asked. “Do you mind?” He replied. “Be my guest.” I said.
I moved in to help steady him in case he decided to straddle the seat as most would, but Francis sat down sideways, gently reaching to the handlebar. What he did next caught me completely off guard.
A big smile lit up his face and he twisted the throttle and playfully said, “VROOM VROOM!”
As his smile faded, Francis said, “I’d give anything to be able to take one last long motorcycle ride, but my knees won’t let me. But I sure do miss it.” I took his photo and thanked him again for his service to our country. He stood by and watched as I cranked up the bike, waved and rode away.
An hour later, as I was carving the twisty roads along Lookout Mtn Parkway and Little River Canyon in North Alabama I caught myself obsessing about deadlines, balance sheets, and business opportunities. I pulled off at one of the overlooks. As it was a Monday afternoon, it was deserted and peaceful. The only sound was the occasional bird and the tick, tick, tick of the v-twin as it cooled. As I sat there I thought about that old man and our conversation. Here I was, doing the one thing that he longed to do, and I wasn’t fully appreciating the moment.
Sitting there I realized how important it is to occasionally view your life from the perspective of your future. Asking yourself, “Will I care about this when I’m 80?” is a good way to prioritize your life.
I wanted to go back and find him and apologize. I wanted to go back and shake his hand and tell him that from now on I will enjoy every minute I get to spend on two wheels because one day (If I live long enough) that pleasure will be taken from me, just as it has from him.
But there was no going back. Even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to find him.
Godspeed Francis. I hope you feel the breeze one more time before your day ends..
Until next month, ride safe, and always take the road less traveled.