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Three-and-a-half years ago, Bob Zimmerman was diagnosed with base-of-tongue carcinoma. Little did he know, the prognosis would be a new beginning to his life.
By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers

Three-and-a-half years ago, Bob Zimmerman was diagnosed with base-of-tongue carcinoma. Little did he know, the prognosis would be a new beginning to his life.

In January 2004, en route to Arizona from visiting his son in Florida, Zimmerman felt a lump in his throat. Reluctantly, he went to his doctor to have the abnormality examined.

Doctors quickly informed Zimmerman, 62, the lump was malignant. Afterward, he transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale for further treatment.

?I never smoked a day in my life and here I am with cancer in my throat,? he says.

Mayo Clinic physicians told him they could remove the tumor, but he would more than likely need additional radiation treatments to decrease the odds of the malignancy from returning.

He?d need to have a feeding tube as well, they said.

Zimmerman agreed to go through with the radiation treatments, but he refused to receive a feeding tube.

After 31 radiation treatments and a diet of Ensure and soup, Zimmerman was left to recuperate and regain his strength.

Unfortunately, despite the ongoing support of his wife at the time, she asked Zimmerman for a divorce after the completion of radiation treatments.

When he thought cancer would be his death, divorce nearly destroyed him, he says. To his surprise, he loved his wife dearly, but knew he needed to accept the loss.

For the next few months, Zimmerman lived in isolation in his home in Yarnell. The condition in which he lived was much different than his previous life.

By the time he was at the legal driving age, he was already an experienced automobile racer and regular at Daytona Speedway in Florida, his home state.

As a matter of fact, in 1972, Zimmerman won the Central Florida Championships in an Austin-Healey sports car, similar to his current ?Bug-eyed? 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite.

His love for racing cars extended into sailboats. With his 15½-foot Windmill sailboat, he placed second out of 54 competitors in a national competition on Lake Ontario in 1974 after coming in 50th the year before.

?I?m a nutcase for racing,? Zimmerman admits.

In 1973, Zimmerman started an import auto parts company. The massive growth of the company took up most of his time and his play days subsequently ended.

He says when he moved to Arizona 15 years ago, everything he used to do ?tapered off? into average days.

After cancer treatments and divorce, with recurring thoughts of physical and mental turmoil, Zimmerman says he nearly lost his mind.

All of a sudden, one day, everything clicked. His growing lack of concern for self-identity accompanied a decreasing need for possessions.

Before Zimmerman could realize what he was doing, everything that once defined him materialistically he either sold or gave away.

Zimmerman went as far as to put his house up for sale. He sold it completely furnished.

Before he signed the closing papers on the home, Zimmerman sold his BMW RT1150 motorcycle and bought a brand new BMW R1200GS. Afterward, he drove his Jeep back to Florida with the motorcycle in tow and gave the Jeep to his son.

With nothing but a laptop computer, clothes, wallet and his BMW, Zimmerman ventured off.

?It was the first time in my life with essentially no commitment to anything,? he says.

For the next three months, Zimmerman rode every day.

He plotted through the South back to Arizona, then returned into the mountains of New Mexico.

He was snowed in for three days in Colorado but freed himself, heading

westward into Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Zimmerman met some friends in Montana and traveled through British Columbia, Canada, toward Alaska.

When he reached the Arctic Circle, he turned around.

?It was a unique feeling never being in a position to go home,? he says.

Eventually, Zimmerman took a friend?s advice and returned to Arizona. He found a condo to rent in Sedona.

Today, Zimmerman has possessions. But, instead of things taking up space with no real meaning, he chooses to hold on to those things that do.

He?s in a new relationship with a woman who compliments his taste for adventure.

In addition, he?s added a Kawasaki KLR 650 and a 1972 Formula Vee to his collection of toys. In April, he?ll take up racing the Formula Vee.

Most importantly, Zimmerman?s working on a photo album and scrapbook of his life made specifically for his son in Florida. Poetry that he?s written defines him now.

Zimmerman insists his journey began as a ?matter of sanity,? yet the lessons he teaches in his actions are ones of living life to the fullest and never accepting complacency.

Since his rebirth, Zimmerman drives motorcycles regularly. In the past five years, he put nearly 100,000 miles on two wheels.

Last year, he traveled the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico on a Kawasaki KLX 250.

Afterward, on his KLR 650, he drove a massive portion of the Baja California peninsula, crossing over to the east to view the Sea of Cortés.

Currently, he?s tempted to do the ?four corners,? which requires touching each furthermost corners of the United States: California, Florida, Maine and Washington.

In a couple years Zimmerman can receive a clean bill of health free from cancer. Until then, Zimmerman attributes his new life to the 17,000 miles in three months on his motorcycle.

?Some people say motorcycles can kill you. You know what? They can also save your life,? he says.

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