MADAWASKA, Maine — People react differently to hearing bad news and certainly, news confirming a terminal illness is about as bad as news can get.
But when Fred Carter, 51, was diagnosed last fall with stage four stomach cancer, he simply incorporated the information into his philosophy of “life is good, live it well.”
Saturday morning Carter, a native of Old Town, rolled into Madawaska on his 2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra motorcycle, completing the “Four Corners Ride” in which cyclists visit all four corners of the continental United States in one continuous ride.
“Three or four years ago when that movie ‘The Bucket List’ came out I wrote down all the things I’d do if I found out I was dying,” Carter said Saturday from Madawaska’s Four Corners Park.
High on the list for the longtime motorcycling enthusiast who now resides in Petersburg, Virginia, was completing the Four Corners ride.
When his cancer was confirmed last fall, he and his wife of 27 years, Rhonda, began planning a trip of a lifetime, even as Carter underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“I felt as if I stopped riding or planning rides it would be a bad thing,” he said. “But I never want to do anything that does not add value to the planet.”
So Carter joined up with Stand Up To Cancer, an online organization devoted to raising funds for cancer awareness, support and research.
Through his team My Bucket List Ride, Carter has raised close to $2,000.
“Everyone knows someone who has cancer or who has lost a loved one to cancer,” Carter said. “My goal with the ride was to make people aware that, just because we have cancer, it does not mean we are dead yet; we are still living and loving.”
Fred and Rhonda Carter started their journey May 18 on their wedding anniversary and 37 days, 12,552 miles later, arrived in Madawaska where a group of friends and family had gathered to greet the couple.
“There was joy and laughter in my heart when I saw all the people here waiting for us,” Fred Carter said.
Among them was their daughter Katilyn, Fred Carter’s father Byron Carter and Rhonda Carter’s mother Carolyn Cust, both of Old Town.
“This is really something,” Byron Carter said of his son’s completed ride. “But he’s always been one for an adventure [and] I am just so proud of him.”
Fred Carter’s friends and family were able to follow his ride through daily video posts on his Facebook page and on Saturday close to a dozen of them were in Madawaska to cheer his arrival.
“There is such a sense of pride in his accomplishment,” Terry Hill, a lifelong friend, of Shin Pond said. “We could not be happier right now.”
When Fred Carter got that diagnosis last fall, he suspected he was in for a rough time with treatment, but a bigger regret had more to do with time on the road.
“I was really kind of bummed because the riding season was almost over,” he said. “But I had cancer and as the treatments went on and the tests showed the cancer was getting smaller I saw my life getting longer and I promised myself I’d ride long and hard the next year.”
Carter never once considered making the epic journey without his wife, and on Saturday she said it was a trip she would not have missed.
“Though, there were some days my head told me to get on the bike but my body did not want to listen,” she said with a laugh.
Now that it’s over, Rhonda Carter did say it was bittersweet.
“It’s kind of sad, actually,” she said. “This is something we planned and hoped we get to do [and] for the last 37 days we just lived the adventure focusing on each other [and] now the focus is back on cancer.”
In fact, her husband goes in for a CT scan on July 6 which will tell them the status of the cancer which had invaded several organs and lymph nodes of his body.
“Last year when Fred was diagnosed, the doctor said we should do whatever we had wanted to do and don’t wait,” Rhonda Carter said.
“Planning this trip and doing it really kept him going.”
Following the diagnosis Fred Carter resigned from his post as public works director at Fort Lee Army Base, a job he described as “the best ever.”
Rhonda Carter is a federal employee with the Social Security Administration and once worked in the agency’s Bangor office.
“A lot of the people I used to work with there donated their leave time to me so I could take Fred to his appointments and be with him,” she said. “The agency has been wonderful and so supportive.”
While optimistic and positive in their outlook, the couple is nonetheless realistic and know each new scan or test could bring more bad news.
“We really don’t know how long [Fred] has left,” Rhonda Carter said. “We don’t know how long this feeling good will last.”
For Fred Carter, the time he has left does not matter. What matters, he said, is how he spends that time.
“I’m probably not going to live to be 88 which was my original plan,” he said. “But I want to live my life well and I want to die well — at least I get to know it’s coming.”
Walking around the Four Corners monument and taking in the sights and sounds of his loved ones who had come out to support him, Carter nodded and smiled to himself.
“It’s a good day,” he said.