If you’ve been unwise, bored or in the most unusual of cases interested enough to have followed the Take A Seat journey from it’s conception, you might remember a man that uttered such timeless quotes as “I feel like an abused porn star”, and “that ends my portion on the bike thank God” – the first of my 270 companions to ride on Achilles the tandem, way up in the very north of Alaska, in a world that exists almost before life creeps into the earth from underground.
That was Charlie Kunken, a man I described as a cameo from the A-Team, sporting a US flag bandanna and a handsome and awe inspiring handlebar mustache – the kind Burt Reynolds would hunger for. The same man, though clean shaven and somehow innocent looking came face to face with me again at my book launch in south west London. Not only was this wayward New Yorker on the same continent as me once more, he was in the same country, and he wanted to read a story that he’d help start.
Lying in bed a week later, with a mild champagne hangover the morning after the grandiose wedding of two friends of mine, I recognized an opportunity too good to miss. Achilles the tandem was in London. So was I. So was Charlie. This moment, this brief convergence of paths had to be profited from……I had 3 hours before I had to be at the train station, and I had that kind of an unnatural hunger that only a hangover can create, and only a thoroughly greasy full english breakfast can cure. I called Charlie.
An hour later, there he was, in front of Burger King in Victoria station and the long over-due catch-up began. He had a day or twos growth on his face, making him a fraction more recognizable than he was, squeaky clean and desk-job like at my book launch.
An hour after that, after a short bus ride, and after my friends who were looking after Achilles has locked themselves out of the house whilst waving us goodbye (and after I’d got a rose thorn wedged between my shoulder blades while climbing over their roof to unlock the door from the inside), Charlie was bobbing eagerly away behind me on the bike, every bit as uncomfortable as he’d remembered.
After the breakfast I’d been longing for all morning, we rode through the streets of London reminiscing, talking about Alaska, his new job, and everything in-between. Riding dangerously close to traffic on the embankment heading towards the houses of Parliament, Charlie mentioned that this was roughly the route of his commute to work. “Its nice” he said, “but the worst thing about it is that at the end of the commute I arrive at work”. Classic. I looked over my shoulder at him and saw a man eager to escape on another adventure.
He left me at the entrance to platform 13 at Euston, and after forcing the ticket woman to snap a photo of us, he walked back up into the station while I cantered along the platform with Achilles to head up to book signings in Manchester. Charlie was the first companion on the bike (well, other than my dad way back on the test run in Blighty), and he was the last (well, except for the fella that’ll ride it back to the bike’s manufacturers in Bristol).
Before leaving he pressed something into my hand. I looked down to see the freshly laundered USA bandana that he’d been wearing when I’d first met him. “I’d be honored if you’d take this on your next adventure” he said smiling.
I certainly will Mr Kunken. I certainly will.