Firstly, there is nothing as indiscriminately malicious as cancer.
If you value your life and those around you and cancer has touched you in some way, you know there’s nothing quite as menacing as this disease. Don’t put up a fight and it’ll tear you and those around you to shreds. Even when you do fight, it might not even blink.
While I was filming episode 2: Bridges with Steve, he mentioned to me at some stage that I should do an episode on his friends Chris and Karen. I asked why and he said, “Because they’re awesome, because Chris’ bobber is madness, because Karen is battling breast cancer and because that I heard she had told Mark (Hawwa) that if anything ever happens to her for him to never let Chris stop riding.”
Right there, in that simple story from Steve, I could see an incredible love. One that didn’t just bring two people together, but spanned each other’s’ world entirely.
The story really stayed buzzing in the back of my head for quite a while. Itching to fill a cup of curiosity. For the reasons above, but also because it was shortly after my own Mum was diagnosed with cancer. A different, but equally cold, pancreatic cancer.
It’s taken a while to come to terms with, to accept that, yes, this terrible thing is happening. And, like what Chris and Karen have found, it’s a pretty shit experience, but good things can come of it.
What good did I find? Well, the biggest thing is that it’s brought my Mum and I closer. The cancer gave us a good excuse to bury all the other crap we’d been lugging around and get on with just being awesome to one another.
The other thing that came good from it was that it made me want to do Stories of Bike.
Realised life was too short to wait.
People who have seen the vids have said things like, “this is inspiring”, “makes me want to go out and ride”, “this is living”. I don’t know if it was, at some stage, a conscious decision to have the videos feel this way. But I know that I want to show these stories as a celebration of life, of how these people are using their bikes, crafting and riding their machines to milk the best of life on the top-shelf.
INTROS + MEETINGS
But it didn’t change the fact that I was incredibly nervous to approach Chris and Karen. I didn’t know them. I wasn’t sure if they had seen any of the earlier vids.
I remember the very awkward introduction of myself on Facebook. When I look back at it now, in my mind it felt like I was interrupting something private, treading somewhere that I knew I probably shouldn’t.
But Chris, was totally cool. When we finally got to chat over the phone, his easy nature got me to relax a little. I’m sure it’s a story he’s told a tonne of people, but he didn’t show it. He told it as though sharing a beer with a mate.
Not only were the details of how he’d built the bike impressive (coming up to 3 years now since he finished it) but also how he met Karen as teenagers had me totally gushing kittens, rainbows and baby seals.
I remember as they told their story in front of the camera it was just cute, sweet and cool. All wrapped in Chris and Karen’s wonderful smiles as they told their story.
But I also finally got to see the Tiger in person.
Chris’ Triumph is a little deceptive to look at. At first when you see it, it’s bold and standing cat-like, ready to pounce. There’s a real quiet strength to it (a lot like Chris himself) that I found myself drawn to.
But when you get close to it, there are some amazing details that you might miss if you don’t take the time to soak the bike in. Things like the beautiful pin-striping dancing up and down the body of the bike on tyre rims, front and rear guards, battery box. Even on the tank. It’s so precise and delicate that I actually didn’t see it until my third or fourth walk-around.
There’s an operating instruction panel from an old war plane which is fixed to the headlight hood which reads:
“Before starting, opening oil tap fully. If exhaust shows excessive blue smoke, adjust oil tap until only tinge of blue is visible. Dangar, Cedye & Malloc, Ltd.”
And, of course, there’s the little Ratfink figures hiding away on the battery box and tyre valves.
When I was shooting the ride-by scenes, I just loved hearing the sound of that Tiger 650 engine. In a few different locations that I’d set up the shot, I’d just ask Chris to ride by 4 or 5 times. I didn’t have the heart to tell him and I only needed him to ride by 3 times at the most to get what I needed. I just loved hearing that engine tear apart the air around me as it went by.
One of the hardest things to do in the whole editing process is to make the calls about what details I need to leave out to tell the story.
I read the introduction to some story (I can’t remember which), but in it the author said something like “Details are the death of any good story.” He then went onto to say that the audience fills in the details with moments from their own lives to make the story meaningful.
I thought, okay. That makes sense. Leaving out too much detail also helps to move the story along.
The hard part comes with the deciding which details have to go. As a viewer of the finished video, you’re mostly oblivious of what I’ve left out, unless you know Chris and Karen personally.
But during the edit process, it’s a bit of a stumble through the dark at first. With Chris and Karen’s story, I had to leave quite a bit out either for pacing or timing.
Here are a few bits that hit the cutting floor you might be interested in:
- Chris didn’t sell all of his bikes. He kept one, his German Maico, which often gave him the holeshot against newer faster bikes in his later racing years.
- Chris’ favourite part of the bike is the polished alloy coated tank, which had never been done before (it took 3 days of sanding and polishing)
- Before they got the BMW GS1200 they used to ride together on the Bonneville (which Chris was shown to be working on as his next project)
- Chris and Karen to a tonne of travelling, they talked about their awesome experience in Papua New Guinea watching a hot coal eating ceremony
- Both want heaps of Grandkids!
- Chris has only had his road licence for just over 3 years. He got it with his eldest son, Tom
The first time I drove out to Chris and Karen’s home, about an hour and a half north of Sydney, I was struck by how beautiful this country side was so close to the city.
There was a real peace of mind I found just being there and instantly knew why Chris enjoyed riding on these roads. There are just so few people around and when you’re on the road it really does feel like your own personal playground.
During the shoot I opted to stay at a local conference lodge overnight. Besides the elderly lodge owners who were in their separate residence about a hundred metres away (about 330 feet), I was the only person there in a 5 kilometre radius.
The stars was bright, it was so quiet and calm during the night and when I woke up the next morning I was greeted by a ghostly morning fog that hovered over the landscape. Filming the horse-riding scenes that morning was stunning.
When we got the BMW out with Karen on the back, it was quite moving to see what Chris had been talking about in his interview, so see them both just enjoying each other’s company on two wheels.
Karen would give Chris a squeeze with her arms and he’d reach back and give her a pat on her leg.
The Beemer was a huge bike, but, as Chris told me, once he was riding, even with Karen on the back, it felt really light and playful.
Made lighter, no doubt, by the company of love.
UPDATE (29th Oct, 2013)
This is truly wonderful, happy news!
Karen, who featured with childhood sweetheart Chris in EP7: Romance, recently got given a clear bill of health!
It's not 100% out of the woods yet, but we couldn't help but do a little dance on the spot and scream with joy when we heard! Please join us in wishing them the very best of everything and thanking them for sharing their amazing story.
Chris & Karen visited The Gawler Foundation during her recovery and found it immensely valueable in beating Karen's breast cancer.
UPDATE (12th Dec, 2014)
Unfortunately, Karen has passed away, surrounded by her husband Chris and her sons, Tom and Josh. She went peacefully in her sleep. Read about my farewell to this amazing woman here.