Faith and the art of motorcycle maintenance
Road to recovery littered with smiles and tears for local man Kevin 'Bear' Riddle
Craig — It’s warm on this Friday afternoon, a rarity for a Colorado day in November. The sun shines brightly, pushing itself up in the sky for one last day against the cold, oncoming gray winter.
This is inconsistent – or maybe contradictory is the better word for it – with the usual facts of life, but that’s just the beginning of the story.
The burly man sitting on the lawn chair that’s too small, in front of a Colorado Street home that isn’t his own, is drinking a beer. Only, he’s a recovering alcoholic.
He is clad in a black leather jacket, sunglasses and motorcycle T-shirt. He loves motorcycles – in fact, he credits part of his salvation to them – yet his 1996 Vulcan Classic sitting a few feet away has a “for sale” sign on it.
He talks about 50 hard years – years of drug and alcohol use, marriages and divorces, running afoul of the law and a collision course with hitting rock bottom. He talks about finding peace, finding God’s love, forgiveness and understanding.
Yet, he’s a biker. A biker to the core. Sometimes, that lifestyle doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Almighty.
But, when it comes to Craig resident Kevin “Bear” Riddle, there is a hidden element, something brewing beneath the surface that you don’t see at first glance and don’t know upon first introduction.
The beer, that’s a good place to start. It’s non-alcoholic.
True, the motorcycle is for sale, but Bear is keeping his street cred intact: He’s selling the Vulcan so he can buy his dream bike, a 2008 Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide.
The bikers he runs with belong to the Christian Motorcyclists Association, an interdenominational, evangelic group that raises money for charity and conducts ministry outreach.
The biker gear, there’s nothing intimidating about it – the T-shirt is from a CMA run, and just below a ferocious bear claw earring in his left ear is a second earring, a gold crucifix.
Inconsistent indeed. Or maybe contradictory is a better word for it.
Bear’s story starts out like many others.
He was raised in a God-fearing, Southern Baptist, middle-class home. There was a doting mother, a loving if not a little distant father, church on Sundays, sports teams and ballgames, the usual run-of-the mill slice of Americana.
At 13 years old, the story diverts.
Standing 6 feet tall, and weighing a stout 190 pounds, Bear learned he could walk into a liquor store and purchase alcohol without suspicion. Routine partying soon began, and the old habit of going to church gradually faded.
“Particularly through high school, every weekend, I drank and what not,” Bear said. “When I got to the Navy, it was like graduating to Party Central. So I just got worse.”
After his Navy stay ended, he “came home, attempted to settle down,” met his first wife and started work as a truck driver. He also earned an associate’s degree in marketing management from Pikes Peak Community College.
At 24, he was invited by friends to visit their church. There, he reunited with Christ.
“They said just come as you are, in your Harley shirt and jeans,” Bear said. “Because of the love I saw and the presence of the Holy Spirit, I made a decision. : When I surrendered to Jesus, I quit drinking, getting high, all that stuff.”
The peace he’d found, however, was short lived.
After his father, a man Bear loved and revered, died from Lou Gehrig’s disease and his marriage crumbled, he reverted to old habits.
“I got way off into left field,” he said.
The years passed and Bear evolved – or maybe devolved is a better word for it – from drinking and smoking weed to drinking heavily and using cocaine. A rehab stint helped kick the coke, but the drinking stuck around.
He was dealt another blow when his mother passed away in 1990. Bear fell further into darkness.
He cavorted in honkytonk bars and roughneck joints, places “you wouldn’t take your girlfriend to,” he said. He got arrested, saw marriages disintegrate, was homeless for a while, drank heavily and started using “biker bathtub crank,” or methamphetamine.
“There was a time I had a death wish,” he said. “I didn’t care if I had people pull guns on me. It was like, ‘do me a favor. Pull that trigger and take me out of this (expletive) hole.'”
Today, he’s surprised he’s not “dead, in prison or in an insane asylum.”
In those years, life was hollow, bleak. Or maybe Bear has a better word for it.
“My life had turned to (expletive),” he said. “I let it by the choices I had made.”
There have been two constants running through Bear’s life: the fits and starts in his relationship with God, and riding his motorcycle.
Riding, he said, ranks behind only faith and family.
“Jesus is No. 1 in my life,” he said. “Family is second, and riding comes along right with it.
“Being able to climb on my scooter when life is tough, firing it up and getting out there, that does me a world of good. That is an extension of worship to me, connecting with God at 80 miles per hour. It’s a form of sanctuary and prayer.
“It’s just God, me and the wind.”
He became a member of the CMA, for which he serves as road captain of the Grand Junction chapter, in November 2006. He’d always been a biker, but joining the CMA was different.
After a lifetime of riding on his own, or, at least, under no official banner but his, he decided to “put a patch on it” with the CMA.
“You’re taking an oath,” Bear said. “You’re brothers for life.
“When you become a CMAer, you’re taking on a responsibility, first of all, to Jesus Christ, and to the organization that you’re going to represent the Kingdom of God. : When you put on those colors, people are watching. It’s a constant reminder – that I am held to a higher” standard.
Joining the CMA coincided with a three-years-and-counting period of sobriety. He’d wrestled for years with life, frustrations, addictions, loss and faith.
After a while, he got “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He reconciled himself with the past and with God, and got clean and sober by going to Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“God told me, he said ‘your life is fixing to change,” he said. “Clear as a bell, He told me.”
Today, Bear wouldn’t have to travel far to relapse. A liquor store is within a football field of the Colorado Street home, where he lives with friends.
It’d be easy to stand up from the chair, walk into the store and open up Pandora’s Box. It could all go down in just a few minutes.
“It’s been a struggle,” Bear said. “I guess the easier road to take is to pick up the bottle and get lost in it. I have no desire whatsoever (to relapse). I know where that road leads. I did more than my fair share of research.
“I say I have an allergic reaction to alcohol: I break out in handcuffs.”
Instead, he focuses energy on work – he is employed at Superior Seamless Gutter in Craig – the CMA, faith, riding and speaking to friends who are struggling with their own addictions.
“I’ve got a clear picture in my mind of what God’s purpose is for my life,” he said. “It’s about Jesus, it’s not about me. Never in my wildest dreams would I want to go back.”
His cell phone sometimes rings late at night – not all the time, but sometimes – and he’ll counsel the person on the other end, someone usually battling his or her own demons from substance abuse.
The message Bear tries to imprint on them is the same one he’s been versed in:
“Nothing is so insurmountable it can’t be overcome with hope, prayer and perseverance,” he said. “Faith is what brings us through.
“There were times I felt like ending it. But tomorrow promises a brighter day.”
Hope, he said, is the key. And there are no better words for it.
“If you just hang on, you can see your way through it,” he said. “There are a lot of us who have been out there and don’t realize there is hope. I tell people there is always hope.”
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