Way back in 1973, three 19-year-old pals embarked on a 1,700-mile motorcycle trip to Yellowstone National Park.
They enjoyed it so much that they vowed to do it again when they reached age 62, which they figured would be their retirement age.
Two of the three have yet to retire. But the trip is on, baby.
And this time it will be even longer.
On July 15, the trio is heading to Anchorage, Alaska — 4,000 miles from Akron. With a number of side trips planned, including Denali, Glacier National Park and the big annual Sturgis motorcycle festival in the Black Hills, they expect to cover 10,000 miles.
We’re talking 500 miles a day. We’re talking nine or 10 hours on a bike seat.
Who are these lunatics?
•?David Saunders, 63, of Kent. Graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High in 1972. Still working as a contractor. His bike: a 2008 Honda Gold Wing GL 1800. Bike he rode in 1973: a 600cc BMW.
•?John Lamer, 64, of Bath. Cuyahoga Falls High class of ’72. Retired carpenter. His bike: a 2000 Harley-Davidson Road King. Bike he rode in 1973: a 750 Honda.
•?Chuck Turner, 63, of Louisville. Green High School class of ’72. Retired from Republic Steel after several decades of service and now works as a custodian at Aultman Hospital. His bike: a 1989 Honda Gold Wing GL 1500. Bike he rode in 1973: a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
Last week they got together at David’s house because they had some ’splainin’ to do to a columnist whose idea of a grueling road trip is three hours in an SUV.
The crew is immediately likable. Funny and quick, they have the easy interaction of people who have known each other for half a century. They talk smack about who is better-looking, who has a nicer bike, who needs to suck in his gut for a photograph.
All three have been married for decades — 118 years combined — and all three wives had no problem giving them a green light for a trip that is expected to last as long as a month.
In fact, quips David, “Chuck’s wife paid me to ask him to go.”
The wives certainly shouldn’t have been surprised, given that this has been in the works for 44 years.
Long time gone
The riders, who have dubbed themselves “the Alaska Three,” say they believed over the years that another trip would happen. But a lot of things change during four decades, and, at times, turning this into reality seemed very far away.
When David started his contracting business in 1977, he sold his bike and bought a pickup truck. He didn’t own a bike again until just a few months ago — three days after the guys got together and he realized everyone was fully onboard.
He didn’t exactly struggle to get back into the biker mode: He has already put 2,000 miles on his new toy.
Although the trio spends a lot of time raving about the first trip, not everything went smoothly.
Six or seven days into it, they were about 100 miles past Mount Rushmore. David, in the lead, didn’t notice a stop sign hanging from an overhead wire until he was almost into the intersection. When he slammed on his brakes, John plowed into him from behind.
“His bike hit my bike and took me clean off of it,” David says. “My bike slid through the intersection. My momentum got me up running, and I was running after my bike, which was still sliding down the road.
“[John] pulled off to the side. It took a chunk out of his knee.
“We picked our stuff up and it still ran, so we went to a hospital and got him sewed up. Then we went back to a campground and sat there for a night or two and decided we better go back home.”
After traveling 1,400 miles, they were only 300 miles short of their destination. But they figured it was time to pull the plug. On the way home, they hauled butt.
Says Chuck: “I’ll never forget sleeping in a cornfield one night [in Iowa]. We had been riding all day. We got really tired and pulled our bikes in.”
This time around, the chief navigator, John, has made overnight reservations for the first six days. After that they’re going to wing it in case they want to spend extra time somewhere or change their course.
The guys have brewed up a website, www.alaska3.com, that includes pix of them from 1973 and today. David is going to wear a GoPro camera and record parts of the journey, which he will transmit to his son to edit and post on the site, perhaps as often as daily.
They plan to slug it out regardless of the weather conditions.
“We’ve got rain gear, two helmets — a half-helmet and full — riding gloves, boot covers, all this stuff to ride in the rain,” says David. “If it’s raining, we’re still riding.”
Here’s hoping the geezers get wall-to-wall sunshine.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31