SULLIVAN, Ill. | Travis Mundy hops aboard a Gold Wing to talk to God or shout at him, depending on Mundy's mood.
And his mood is a lot better these days, since a friend's cleverness, backed by the love and money of Mundy's parents, have got him back aboard a motorcycle and on the road to a better place.
"Being on a bike is an awesome thing," he said from the seat of his 1500cc celestial white Honda Gold Wing motorcycle parked outside his home near Sullivan. "It's a spiritual thing, too; just me, the bike and God. And if I want to get out there and scream, nobody is going to hear me except for him. And if I want to talk to him like a friend while I am riding, well, I can do that, too."
The long and winding road that led Mundy to this place began 10 years ago, when he was a self-confessed "bad boy" who saw nothing wrong with an alcohol and horsepower cocktail. Only on this occasion, it was a friend who was driving and they were in a car, but the friend was drunk, too, and crashed.
The resulting accident left Mundy pretty much paralyzed from the waist down, although he has since gained some hard-won leg movement. But he still needs a wheelchair to get around and a medically implanted "pain pump" that can be triggered to give him shots to ease recurrent bolts of nerve agony in his left leg that would otherwise drive him back to the bottle to cope.
His greatest joy had always been riding a motorcycle, but his post-accident prospects looked as though he had driven himself into a place motorcycles couldn't go.
Then, almost two years ago, his parents, Bill and Teri Mundy, surprised him with the big white machine, held upright with a matching sidecar, and on a wing and prayer hoped their son's lifelong friend Tyler Cruit could be commissioned to make it rideable. What their son needed was power-assisted and push-button hand controls to operate the brakes and change gears.
Helping a hurt friend stay alive on a bike the size of a compact car turned out to be no biggie for Cruit, 29, a Realtor with Bill Mundy's Real Estate Shoppe firm and something of a wizard with technology. He's just finished up a degree in electronic system technology at Southern Illinois University and is a technical sergeant in the Illinois Air National Guard.
He saluted smartly and told the Mundys he'd get right to it and put their money to good use, which he did. It took him a couple of days to work out the technical drawings for the brake actuator — the gear operator was soon to follow — and a few days for fitting, testing and adjusting once he had all the parts he needed.
Cruit said he could have gotten the project done faster, but his friend wouldn't leave the new bike alone. Eventually, Mundy went off on an extended trip with his dad, when his mom called and told Cruit the coast was clear and he zipped on over to finish up the bike's modifications.
"Travis is the type who was going to get on that bike and try and ride it regardless of whether or not he could stop," Cruit said with a smile. "I just wanted to keep him from killing himself. I was amazed at how smoothly the project all went, and the fact it worked out so well."
Mundy now has a bike with an air-powered actuator handling his braking: There are two buttons by his right hand, black for graduated braking stops and red for slamming on the anchors in an emergency. His gear changes are temporarily being handled by another brand of electric actuator that was fitted just so he could get out riding, but it's due to soon be replaced by the much better and air-powered gear-changer dreamed up by Cruit; this also works at the touch of a button.
Mundy said the other hand-operated systems out there for disabled bikers are big, clumsy things that clearly mark the motorcycle as being different. The systems invented by his friend are cheaper and have small, neat controls that are not noticeable. Pass him on the road, and you would have no idea his other set of wheels is a wheelchair.
"When I stop somewhere, the question I get asked a bunch is, 'You got a little dog in the sidecar?' " he said. "I say 'No, I've got a wheelchair in the sidecar.' When I'm on the bike, I'm just another biker, I'm not a paraplegic."
Bill and Teri Mundy are so pleased with the way things have turned out, they have put up the money to create a new company, Ride-Able, to market the pneumatic brake and gear devices in kits, selling for half what rival systems cost. Cruit's inventions are in the process of being patented and commercial production is already underway. No matter how successful Ride-Able becomes, however, it can never achieve more than it has already.
"The fact that Tyler was able to come up with this system that has got our son riding again gave us all the joy in the world," said Mundy, 63. "Now maybe we can help someone else fulfill their dreams."
As for the younger Mundy, he's always ready to get his motor runnin' and head out on the highway, forever grateful you can go home again to the joys of the open road. "I'm a blessed person to have the parents I've got and the friends I've got," he said. "I owe them everything."