John Otterbacher
Author, Speaker and Adventurer



I park my motorcycle for good when our son John Ryan is seven. Throw a blanket over it in the back of the garage. I entertain the delusion that parking it will protect him from the temptation to take up cycling.

Fat chance.

By seventeen John Ryan has not one but two motorcycles of his own. Two bikes and his father’s nomadic genes.

What a ride those years are, for father and son alike.

John parks his cycles a few years later, to pursue college, graduate school, and a film career. He is deep into fatherhood now, happily married, a five-year-old daughter of his own. So it’s a bit of a surprise when he shoots me an impish grin over lunch and pulls a motorcycle helmet from under the restaurant table. Doesn’t say a thing. Just savors my surprise, and greets my eventual laughter with laughter.

“Don’t want to get you in trouble, Dad – you are probably too old to be climbing back on – but I’m going to do a little riding.”

After lunch he straddles his shiny new BMW 600 in the parking lot, turns to wink at me, then disappears down the road.


A week later I swing by a local garage to pay our mechanic for his latest resuscitation of our daughter’s bedraggled college car. Yoz is hunched over the hood of an ancient Mercedes Benz, explaining its ailments to a traumatized customer. I go back outside to keep from interrupting.

Another customer is waiting his turn in the driveway, standing next to his prized new position: a 1991 Kawasaki 750 cycle. Cherry red.

“Nice bike.”

“Just bought it yesterday, down in Indiana. Been looking for years.”

“Hard to find, huh?”

“Damn near impossible. Had almost given up. I snapped it up before someone else could steal it.”

“She’s a beauty.”

He nods his appreciation.

“Perfect size. Small enough to handle, more than enough jump.”

“Sometimes” – he is beaming now – “you get lucky.”


That evening, waiting for Barbara at a neighborhood coffee shop, I wander onto Craig’s List, and scroll down through the available bikes in Michigan. A new listing pops up: 1991 Kawasaki 750: Allendale Michigan, and a phone number. Posted at 9:15 PM. It is 9:17 PM when I call and talk with Tom.

“Forty thousand original miles,” he tells me. “Great condition.” He’s got my attention.

“First two thousand dollars buys it.”

We agree to meet in the morning. “You’re first in line,” he assures.

Fifteen minutes into my questions next morning, I like Tom as much as I like his bike. Straight up guy. Could just as well be from the old neighborhood. Loves his bike, but his daughter is looking into colleges, and he needs to sell.

“The bike’s been driven out to California by her original owner,” he tells me. “Bought it from his wife for a song after he died.”

“That’s a tough one.”

“Yeah,” – and this is probably too much information – “he drove his other bike into a tree out in the woods. She just wanted to get rid of this one.”


Neither of us know where to go from here. Tom breaks the silence by offering me a test drive. He climbs aboard and starts it. Off balance, I freeze up.

“Not been on a bike in thirty years,” I stammer, then reassure him when he flinches. “I don’t need to test drive it, Tom. I trust you entirely.”

It’s simple really: I want to buy it and he wants to sell it to me. We settle on a price. I write him a check for the deposit.

“I’ll take off work tomorrow, Tom. Be here by 9:00 AM with the money. I’m going to want to warm up a bit before taking on the forty miles to Whitehall.”

“Sounds good, John,” and extends his hand. “See you in the morning.”

Again Pic 2

I tell Barbara over dinner. She shakes her head, looks down in her lap, then back at me.

“Still crazy,” she smiles, eyes atwinkle. “I love that about you,” and reaches her hand across the table.

Talk about lucky.


I don’t sleep well, a nine-year-old on Christmas Eve. When I do fall off in the early hours, excitement takes a dark turn. In my dream I am pulling my new bike out of the garage. I brake at the top of our ski-slope driveway. More than a pause, I stop altogether. I am looking down the steep incline, paralyzed.

I am terrified.


I am still awake at first light.

I pick up my bike before 8:00 AM.

Again pic 1


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Awards for Sailing Grace

Best New Non-Fiction Book, National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist, Best Book Awards, USA Book News Winner, Michigan Notable Book Awards

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