The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for February, 2014


I have a favorite stretch of road that starts around Cloverdale, Oregon, and runs up almost to Tillamook. If you’re in a car, as a passenger, it’s a guaranteed herk in a bucket. As a driver, its narrow lanes and blind corners will leave your fingers cramped on the steering wheel, and your ears ringing from the screams of your passengers. On the motorbike – As night rides go, if traffic or weather are bad, it can be a tedious, treacherous, twisted up bit of nightmare.


But when conditions are right, when the night air is cool, and the pavement dry, and the traffic absent – on those nights, it is an intimate, magical dance with a machine and bit of blacktop. It is a symphony of country smells, arching trees reaching out from the forest, darkened pastures dotted with sleeping cows, and gravel lanes drifting in to century-old barns.


The north end of Cloverdale ends when I can first see the 55mph sign. I don’t know what to call it – a click in the back of my head like the latch on a bird cage maybe, but I twist the throttle and put the last street lamp behind me. The bike roars, and surges forward into the open road, like deep sea surf over an outer reef.


For the next few miles I surge and fade through twisting dairyland, with barns and old equipment lining the road. Dirty hoof-prints and tractor tracks cross the road from pasture to  barn, and giant blackberry patches claim everything not being used. I find a rhythm, and all too soon the town of Hebo wakes up to find me in its glow.


With just one sharp turn in the middle of town at the junction, I accelerate again before this grumpy old codger of a town has even pulled on its glasses, and I dive headlong back to the open darkness. I find my groove again, passing a pickup truck while I cross the bridge. I’ve navigated this river – canoeing under this bridge, when I was a young lad. Memories begin to file through my mind.


This ride is a homecoming for me. I slow into the midst of the corners, and feel the bike’s strength as I surge out. This isn’t a race, it’s a dance. I hear music. It’s heavy on the bass.


Landmarks spring up. The curve where once a raccoon appeared in front of my ’65 bug on a stormy night. It didn’t go well for either of us, but I’m here writing about it – he isn’t. The place where an ancient black walnut tree fell crashing across the road – I and another driver reached into the backs of our cars for our chainsaws to clear the road in the rain – looms ahead and then passes behind without incident. I pass as quietly as can be done on a Harley an old friend’s VW shop, a tin building with dozens of retired and retiring buses and bugs, resting quietly at the edge of another village. And then again, dive into the dark surf of the highway for the last set of curves.


My attention to the road is just beginning to become a strain when one last sharp right-hand curve rolls around a hill, and then after, the terrain begins to open up. The hills fall back away from the edges of the road, and instead of tight, intimate curves the road begins a grand sweep, and I lean back in the saddle, satisfied, kick my feet up onto the highway pegs, with the triumphant stanza of a symphony in my mind.


The first time I saw Tillamook, it was from this southern approach. I had just finished 6th grade in Tempe, AZ – worst year of my life, and we were moving north to our new home in Tillamook. We stopped at a rest area, Dad driving his ’72 Pinto, and Mom drove the family wagon, a ’71 ford Gran Torino station wagon. We pulled into the rest area just south of town where the last of the hills of this drive fade away into the wide, flat valley. The mountains stood, as they did tonight, a stark barrier against the city life beyond. Two giant blimp hangars – Tillamook’s claim to WWII fame – stood out from the surrounding pastures. One of them burned down a few years ago, but I still see it in my memory, looming out of scale with its background. From that first moment, this place was my home.


And so at last, with these memories flooding through my head, I turn off onto a small country road. The dairies press against the roadside, threatening to take over entirely. Another turn, and the lane follows the river, where widened turnouts serve in the morning as fishing holes. I pull off the pavement into the grassy riverbank, shut off the engine, and as the night’s quiet snaps up the echos of my engine, I look up at the star-filled sky in the darkness. The Hunter stands above me in the sky. He gives me a sideways nod and gradually slips behind the curtain of tomorrow’s approaching storm, and I return to the earth. the sounds of the wind whispering to the trees feels like a language I know.. As I continue to listen, I realize I do know it. On this riverbank on the roadside in the night, I am home.



Desert traces
Seeking shelter from the swelter,
in my love’s embraces

Winter’s pardon
Seeking Grace from War’s disgrace
Heals the battle-hardened

Summer’s pillow
Flowered vase for love’s embrace
Devotion’s languid billows

Emotion’s ships
Oasis charted,
Garden started
Meadow gartered
Loneliness’ eclipse