The heart trouble came in January, and after some dicey moments, including having his heart shocked, 62-year-old Pat Roche knew there was no time to waste.
If the retired electrical engineer, who worked at the Celanese textile plant for decades, ever wanted to take a long motorcycle trip, now was the time.
But this was no trip like others he has taken over the past few years. This was a voyage. Across the country and back, alone.
"He had to do this," said Marilyn Roche, his wife of 39 years.
It started on a Thursday, April 17, at 10 a.m. Roche, pronounced Ro-shay, pulled out of his Rock Hill driveway wearing his black leathers with three bags piled on the back of his 2001 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic and a pile of Internet maps. He had a foldable tent and a bedroll for nights when he couldn't find a motel or a relative. A CD player with jazz and country. His wife's cell phone.
The only other things he had were guts, and a promise to call his wife every night. He made Birmingham, Ala., the first day. Natchez, Miss., on Day 2, "when I ran into the only real rain, and it was rain -- especially on a bike," Roche said.
Day 3, he made it to Houston, Texas, where he stayed with a brother for two nights. Then, back on the open road to San Antonio on Day 5. All the way to El Paso on Day 6.
"That was probably the longest stretch," Roche said. "Texas is a big state. Especially on your rear end on a motorcycle."
Day 7, he hit Tucson, Ariz., after avoiding a tire in the road that would have sent him and his Harley rolling, like a few years ago when a deer left him in a heap with broken ribs, collarbone and shoulderblade.
"You can't hit anything on a bike," Roche said. "You hit something, you might be done. Permanent."
Marilyn Roche knows that.
"I must have had 100 people in Rock Hill praying for him to come home safe and in one piece," she said.
On Day 8, he rolled into the Harley rally in Arizona and stayed three days at a campground. During that time, he ruminated on that first motorcycle 35 years ago, how he gave up riding when his four sons came along, how he finally bought this Harley, "with a seat for my wife on it. She rode for frozen yogurt one day on the back, five minutes, never got back on."
By Day 12, he hit San Clemente, Calif., and the Pacific Ocean. He stayed with an uncle for a couple of nights.
"My mother drove a car all the way from Alabama to California, alone, in 1944 just to marry my father," Roche said. "At least she stayed and they had me. I had to drive back home."
Day 14, eastbound, finally, he rolled into Las Vegas -- "Had to hit Vegas," he said -- and won $60 on a single $20 bet. Day 15, the majestic canyons of Utah's National Parks, then a foiled attempt to see the north rim of the Grand Canyon, halted by closed roads.
"I figured it was time to head home," Roche said. Day 16 he slept in Albuquerque. Day 17, Amarillo, Texas. Day 18, Fort Smith, Ark.
"I had seen this beautiful country and countryside, beat the cold and the heat, had time for reflection and thinking about my family. I could smell home."
He made Jackson, Tenn., on Day 19 and Knoxville on Day 20. Then, on the 21st day, late, he rolled into his own driveway. Just a shade over 7,100 miles.
Marilyn Roche heard the rumble of the Harley's exhaust pipes. She rushed outside, wrestled off his silver helmet and planted a big fat kiss on her husband.