A Ride in the Night

One summer evening, Charlie and I and a friend, Dick James, decided we’d pick up Penny and go on a night ride through the country on our bikes. Dick had a BSA Clubman’s Gold Star, a racing 500cc single with a thumping exhaust note and a GP carburetor that made it difficult to kick start. He had, as a result, adopted the typical racer’s “bump start” approach to getting the Goldie going. This involved running beside it for twenty feet, then jumping aboard sidesaddle, and dropping the clutch. Most times this would provide enough momentum to turn the engine over and spectators would be rewarded with a bellow from the muffler and the sight of Dick trying to climb on the now-moving machine.

On this evening after accomplishing the starting ritual and rattling the beveled glass panes in the windows along Ardwold Gate, he turned the Gold Star around and came back to Penny’s driveway. She climbed onto the pillion and Charlie got on the back of my brand new 1959 Triumph T-110. This was the single carb version of Triumph’s 650cc-twin line and was capable of 112 mph with one rider, or 105 with two.  Either way it wasn’t as fast as the Gold Star, but both bikes were “real” bikes because they could go over the “ton” or 100 mph.

A Triumph T-100 similar in appearance to my larger and faster T-110.

We wound our way up Avenue Road to the 401 and then onto Highway 400. Dick and I opened up our respective machines and the speedometers spun round to the hundred mark and beyond. I remember him coming up beside me and I remember looking at Penny clinging on the back. Here in one glimpse was the most powerful bike I had ever seen and a breathtakingly beautiful woman, her hair streaming in the wind, and all of this over the ton. At this point, Dick dropped into fourth gear and walked away from me, turning into a red point of light far in the distance in the balmy, black night.

We spent the night cruising the highways, running past Stayner to Wasaga Beach for toast and coffee, and then ghosting through the quiet Ontario farm country, under a silvery moon. Finally, the sky in the east began to turn light, then pink and the sun peeked over the horizon like a red ball of fire. We stopped by the side of the road, just south of the Holland Marsh, and took out our cigarettes. Only birds chirping broke the silence around us. The view went for miles towards Lake Simcoe, all covered in dew that sparkled in the first light. The inhaled cigarette smoke was like perfume.

And there was Penny, like a fashion ad for expensive jeans, looking gorgeous, exhilarated and alive.

The four of us, on the two bikes, returned to the “Gate,” as quietly as possible, it being well before 7:00 am and dropped off Charlie and Penny. Dick and I watched the two of them walk towards the front door and go in.  We knew that minutes later Charlie was going to get laid. I have never wanted anyone or anything as much in my life; Charlie and Penny seemed to be like a god and goddess, come down to the planet to taunt us mere mortals.

I don’t remember vowing or praying or pledging, but within two years I would have a Gold Star of my own and within four, Penny. What’s that old expression? He whom the gods would destroy, first gets his wishes granted.

(An excerpt from my biography, More than Enough. Read Penny’s letter for February 17, 1962 for her recollection of this night on Highway 400).