One of my best friends, Bob Steen, passed away suddenly on December 3rd, 2021. Bob was a not only a great friend but also one of the best people I have ever had the good fortune to be around. I've known him for going on 30 years...
Bob and I first met in Michigan and bonded over motorcycles (riding and "engineering") and starting a long-term friendship. Bob wasn't computer savvy per se but he possessed buckets of common sense and a very analytical way of looking at problems, so we worked well together. He was always a great sounding board before I started a project or a life-line when something got sideways. We were drawn to a similar style of motorcycles and a more nomadic mode of travel - more about journey and company than the machine or the destination. He helped me with many of my motorcycle projects and was especially good with anything a little out of the mainstream. Bob was my introduction to Ducatis and an enabler of my motorcycle habit. When my grey market Honda NSR "street" bike seized up, Bob knew more than a bit about 2-strokes and helped me get it fixed and running. When I threw my NSR "race" bike down at Grattan raceway, he helped me fix that too (doing the real work while I physically mended). In this instance, we both learned that carbon fiber conducts electricity which makes it difficult and dangerous to weld around. Bob did a fine job putting out the exhaust fire and the spot or two of melted carbon fiber that remained always led to a good track-side story.
When I moved to Washington in the late 90s, Bob would visit when he could and we'd always have fun outings. Bob was a machinist but enjoyed working with his hands on anything could be broken (whether he broke it or not) or improved (whether it needed it or not). While his hands were calibrated for foot pounds, he sometimes went with "tight enough". Whoever defined tight as "a half turn past stripped, then backed off a quarter turn" probably had Bob in mind. I'd regularly refer to things as "Bob tight" when I needed heat or a longer lever to free it up. On one of his visits to Washington, Bob was playing Legos with my boys Chase and Teague (now 26 and 23). I left him alone for a few minutes and he was able to take apart a Lego airplane and make it into a boat. The boys were amazed and thrilled! Bob mentioned that the airplane was pretty hard to take apart. I said it was probably because I had glued it together.
When I was still living in Washington and changing jobs, I took a 2-week break. I flew to update to New York with all my travel gear, bought a motorcycle, and rode it across the country. Bob was keen to ride along, so I picked him up in Michigan. We took the high-speed ferry across to Wisconsin and he rode with me up to just shy of Minnesota. We wandered around Wisconsin and more North than I planned. Bob was planning to take the scenic route through the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan back home. I added Duluth onto my route, so it wasn't too out of my way. It was well worth the extra time and solidified our "no reservations" approach to food and lodging while on the scenic route. We parted ways in the upper end of Wisconsin. As always, Bob didn't dilly-dally on the way home. He was through the UP, over the bridge, and back home about the time I was settled in for the night in Duluth!
When I moved from Washington to North Carolina in 2013, Bob and I were able to get in more frequent rides; Michigan, North Carolina, and in between. [An epic trip to Newfoundland was pandemic delayed but still in the plan.] For one trip, Bob and I met up in Cherokee, North Carolina at the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few days later, we'd ridden every mile of the parkway and stiched in a few scenic side trips too. We parted ways just after Shenandoah National Park (Front Royal, Virginia). I'm pretty sure Bob made 650 mile trip to Grand Rapids in about the same time as I took for the 280 miles to Raleigh.
Now that I am a lot closer to Michigan, I try to visit more. It is great to see friends and family in Michigan (and Ohio). I usually bring a motorcycle along so Bob, I, and other hearty souls can wander off for a few days of riding. I've enjoyed (re)visiting Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Petosky, Mackinaw City ("Mackinac"), and the UP. On one trip, Bob and I made it up to Sault Ste Marie ("the Sue") and went looking for the "Captain", a fond memory from trips many years prior. The shop owner said the Captain had seen better days and was put into storage years ago. Bob said "Same with us! Can we bring him out for a bit?". She let us bring the Captain out of the attic storage and it brightened everyone's day. Also on this trip, we visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (the Edmund Fitzgerald was my lure) and tried to visit the lighthouse on Crisp Point. Of my tries at this lighthouse (2 with Bob), I am currently 0 for 3 having been thwarted by weather or deceptively deep sand. Another try? For sure! But, as a great scholar once said, "do or do not, there is no try".
Bob Steen, you will be missed but not forgotten. Safe travels my friend, the sky is not the limit...