The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Motorbikes

Finding yourself at home


The cold air has reached my core, through the layers of leather, and wool, and the copy of the free nickel ads I put underneath my leathers against my chest. I didn’t feel cold yet, but the cold was there, wooing me with its last breath against the blooming morning.

I only recognize its intrusion when I dismount the bike at an old building adorned with old stuff – a wagon wheel, a giant set of spurs, horseshoes nailed to the exterior wall. The smell of winter road-dust, kicked up by my exhaust, greets me as soon as I pull of the mask protecting my face from the wind. I survey the cafe front, first as a way in, and then as is my habit, as a way out.

It will do for both.

I duck under the dried-out beam of the entry-way, and let the door-hinge squeal out it’s exuberance at my entrance. The voices inside hush for a brief instant, and then resume their chatter. I scan the interior of this small-town cafe for people and an open table. I find both, and choose a seat where I can see and hear them from a distance

There’s a television in the place where I’d have expected an open fireplace in a different town. A fishing show drones on about lures, periodically trying to excite its audience with dramatic music, quick, flashing clips of action and breathless exclamations. By the interaction of the other diners, it’s only real purpose is to not be the noisy, jangling prattle of big city culture.

Three old geezers, ensconced in their morning Conference Table across the way from me, are holding audience with some out-of-towners seated next to them in the corner. One of them is explaining the architectural wealth of the town, describing in some detail the historic stage coach stop. It was almost as if he’d been perhaps one of the stable boys, so rich was his memory of it. The other two nodded in agreement with the ancient wisdom, and the travelers listened, wide-eyed, completely caught up in another time. I started to smirk a little inside, knowing full well that, as old as he was, it was highly unlikely this codger had ever seen a functioning stage coach stop. But I didn’t think harshly of him. This is how tales are told in the thousands of Small Places. I left them to their morning reverie, turning my attention to the building itself, which was busy trying to get my attention, wanting to tell me a similar tale.

Dark stained pine boards lined the room, rough-sawn, worn smooth by backs leaning against them, thighs and shoulders, wiggly child hips squirming in their seats, jackets tossed, purses and bags stashed against them, each one adding to the Tale of this cafe. A pair of horseshoes clinched the Pine frame together around the air conditioner, shelves built over the windows held antique relics to bemuse diners as they waited for their orders.

But there were neither all that many relics to be pondered, nor all that much time to ponder them. A quiet waitress with a disarmingly comfortable smile knew already what I wanted, and merely waited patiently for me to say it. She was pouring coffee. The ordered food seemed to materialize in a matter of moments, and I was already starting in as the travelers gratefully thanked the codgers for the visit, and their troupe swirled out to the bustling cacophony of thank you’s and have-a-nice-days, the sliding ring of the cash register, the sudden thudding silence of their absence as the door pulled shut.

There was a moment of silence.

When it settled, the old codgers got back to business. And by “business”, I mean aches, pains, the latest deeds of stupid local kids, and recounting of the winter of ‘62, as contrasted by this one. The Pine boards all around me seemed to nod their agreement, the semi-circular sawmarks standing out as a testament.

There is little to say here in this place that can match the mesmerizing entertainment value of the national news networks. There is little use in them trying to compete for the slick, sophisticated story-manufacturing that happens in the cities, where every aspect of people’s lives is artificial. The stories of these folk may not always be true, but they always satisfy my worry for humanity. Here, in these dusty places, live people with real things to do – ranching, logging, farming, feeding geezers, and entertaining strangers. I love these people. I don’t know why, but I do.

As the three codgers break up their morning committee meeting, one tips his hat to me across the gulf between us. And with that simple acknowledgement, there is no gulf between us. I nod back, he tosses cash in the counter the waitress will find when she comes back out from the kitchen, and the three file out to their respective vehicles, explaining their day’s plans to one another even bough they all already know.

There is a lot of open road between here and my destination. The sun, doing its best from its shallow angle of winter, brightens but only slowly warms the outside. The door, ever-exuberant, squeals again as I depart, accompanied by the tinkling sound of a spoon in a coffee cup behind me. The sounds shift, the diner’s quiet scrum of people gives way to traveling sounds. A semi-truck lumbers it’s way through it’s gears from the town stop sign. In a few minutes, I will be passing this truck as it labors up the grade northbound. The sudden, confident roar of my exhaust moves my mind to these matters of the road.

But I’ll be back someday. And when I return, it will be like a homecoming. That waitress will recognize me. Those codgers will, lord willing, be sitting there, probably telling the same tales to new travelers. If ever you find yourself looking for a home, this place – and the thousands like it – are here and waiting to take you in. Come as yourself – come honestly – and you will find yourself at home.

Now I lay me down to sleep

Sometimes, when I am getting in late for the night on a trip, I find myself unable to bear the thought of enclosing myself inside a room just yet. My blood is still up, to keep out the cold, to meet the rush of the wind, to do the work that a rider does. These are not idle pursuits that I have. They require all of me, body and soul. And the soul does not always get off when the body does.

It is in these moments that I find myself lingering outside. I step a bit back from the freshly-unloaded bike, and stand in such a way as to admire its lines.

And because my soul is still on the bike, my body yearns to get back on, to continue into the night leaving baggage and gear behind – to just go.

But instead, I consider this bike. I think about what was done today, the mountain passes, the tortuous wending paths that we crossed together.

And I think to myself, “what a Beast”

I see it’s dents, and scuffs, and the bent pipe, and the loose bolts. I see the bug splatter and the road grime, splashed up from below or dripped from the engine. Or both.

I am not tempted to grab a rag and commence to wash. It’s not that kind of bike. We don’t rub one another down. Well… sometimes on a hot summer day, in the driveway when there’s no riding to be done. But not out here. This is a Campaign, the time for touch and feel is another day.

Indeed, what a beast.

And my soul says, ” hey, lemme see”.

And in this way, I entice it off the bike, back into union with the rest of me. And with a heavy sigh, we accept the stifling cocoon of civilized dwelling for a few hours.

Rolling Thunder

From 3000 miles out the sound of one bike rolling through a mountain pass echoed the thunder in the valley below. Where thunder rolls, something important has happened. The sting of rain pelted the rider’s face, reminding him he was still alive. As long as he was alive, there were fallen to be honored.

From a thousand miles out, groups of riders began to appear. The one bike became scattered groups, riding east with intent, to make known their dedication to honor the Fallen, echoing the thunderstorms from the south, and from the west.

From ten miles out, that one lone rider passed bike after bike, groups of bikes making their presence known, to each other and anyone within hearing, gathering tighter, echoing the remaining thunder. The storm had spent itself escorting them in. Now the sound of the gathering million bikes tried its own voice in growing numbers, swarming, gathering, still rolling.

And finally, at the appointed place and time, the million bikes came together in one mind, one storm, rolling like all the thunder in the country through the Capitol to remind all who heard that honor was still alive.

And while honor still lives, it will create more honor. The country it serves will remember its best, forgive its worst, and create better.

Ride Report: La Pine to Crescent City

Thunder rolls up from beyond the bay, across the bar.

Blown in suddenly from the south-west, out of the sea and over the Cape. I turn from a vivid western sky laying its sun to rest, to watch this new cooling rain washes away the tracks of today’s ride, and it somehow satisfies me to rest now, to step aside and watch from the protection of the hotel room carport, while the wild forces have their raucous celebration. It gives me a chance to look back in my mind’s eye to the those tracks, to commit them to memory, quick, before they are washed away.

They started a long way back.  Hours ago…

The first tracks of the day were laid in a cloud of red dust, dirt tracks in the volcanic rock of Central Oregon. The dirt road leads reluctantly out of the wood, winding its way across the river, toward the only highway it knows. By the time I reach the long thin ribbon of asphalt that drains away to the south, the heat of the day was already wearing on me.

Highway speed: that speed that pushes enough hot air over and through and around you that you begin to feel a little relief from the heat. Today’s highway speed was fast. Danged fast. A mad dash straight into the enemy, jaw set. Fate be cast aside.

For an hour I charged. For an hour the desert highway threw what it had to throw at me. For an hour, grim-faced with my mind set on conquering, I pushed through the heat. When finally I reached my junction, the air above the pavement rippled a nod, a tacit acknowledgement that this wasn’t over, we would meet again. There is no winning. Only surviving. I turned west, and throttled up, away into the mountains.

At 5000ft, it still took the sudden jolt of raindrops on my bare arms to unset my jaw, and relax my grip on the throttle. Just a few drops from a wayward thunderhead, but enough to disengage from the battle. My pace slowed, and I took in a whole new scene, the alpine forest of the Cascades. Green was everywhere, on either side, above me, even up against the road’s edge. The bike splashed through the dappled shadows on the road like a spring foal. It held tight and steady through the mountain twists and turns, and dove over the summit eager for the ride down the other side. The sense of freedom ducked around every turn and rise like a will-o-the-wisp. Always there, never there, leading away to where my spirit was meant to go.

On the other side of the mountains, waiting like a Hatfield cousin, was another kind of heat. I entered this 7th level of hell knowing it would be there, ready to endure again. I opened myself to this heat, let it flow into me, and basked. knowing this was the only way through it. I left the main highway for smaller back roads to work my way over to Grants Pass. It was beautiful farm country, mostly hay and horses, but hotter by far than the desert air. The occasional river provided short spells of relief, with shaded groves and waysides, but I knew that to truly escape I had to get over one more range of mountains, and find the comfort of the sea. So I pressed on.

With Grants Pass and the Rogue Valley behind me, the temperature finally began to drop. Passing Cave Junction, and later smaller sister town of O’Brien, felt a little bit like leaving civilization for good. the houses thinned out and disappeared and the road finally hopped over the summit to begin the twisting descent to the sea by way of the Smith River.

The western side of these mountains are steep, rugged, and inhospitable to the Lazy. The River starts as a stream deep in a ravine, and the road narrows and hugs the north side of the canyon. The rocky slope comes in close against the west-bound lane, its grass and blooming plants only an arms-length away as the bike weaved its way down the winding descent. This narrow road feels intimate, and gives me a sense of belonging to this place. But the reality of belonging comes with a price. Respect must be paid to the deep gouges in the asphalt, especially on the inside turns. The realization that these deep pits are the marks of giant boulders that have fallen from above, and that there are plenty more waiting for their time up above me, weighs darkly enough to remind me not to stop here, not get too acquainted with its charms. Instead, I find a rhythm in the sweeps and turns. The rock gouges form the percussion of a powerful symphony of movement and space, lines drawn across each other, highway and this canyon.

The River itself is not a kind place. The water tumbles and falls through cuts in the exposed rock bed of the earth 100 ft below the highway.  This is no place for asking forgiveness. This is a stern river, not interested in accommodating the frail human body. I pass a creek named “Hardscrabble Creek”, and with one glance I believe in its name. I can picture the old prospector, using language as hard as the land, on a mule equally toughened, asking no permanent place nor easy life here.

The canyon widens, and begins to be a gathering place for other ravines, and other creeks. From the left and right, I can see the land ahead and below me like folded fingers, interlocked ridges drop in from the high mountain lines on either side of the River. The sense of the eventual sea begins to impose itself on the western horizon, shaping the light through an indolent afternoon haze.

Only just below me now, I catch the scent of a familiar place, a place where Monarchs reign. The highway draws away from the River, drops altitude, and instead of riding on top, looking down on the path ahead, I find myself in it, escorted on either side by high, close walls. I have entered the realm of the giant redwoods.

These trees have lived here for longer than any kingdom of mankind, sustained by this unique combination of soil and fog. They live only here, in this one inconspicuous, out-of-the-way corner of the world. I ride into the gathering darkness, and as my eyes adjust I see the Giants all around me, standing watch, guarding an ecosystem as complex and old as any on earth. The trees themselves are gigantic.

I suddenly feel very, very small.

And quiet.

I relax my grip on the throttle, trying to use as little as possible. The whole grove that I’m riding through seems enormously quiet. But as the bike winds its way through the giants, it seems that it’s not the volume, but the pace of life in this insulated world that makes the difference. The stillness calls out, I can sense the dissonance between the life in this woods and my own furious westward charge. Slowly amongst the trees. There is a knowledge here that can only be expressed in a sense of time. The urge to stop is nearly irresistible. The call to park, and walk away from the bike, and just stand and hear Life being lived, to change my pace to match this place pulls hard at me. I dare not stop though. Something inside tells me how the scene would play out.

I can imagine myself stepping through the the forest floor, climbing over a log, and looking back to realize the road has completely disappeared. Reaching an open spot amidst the trees and looking up into the coliseum of Life. There is no clamour, only patience. Conscious patience waiting on me to reach for it.

And me, stretching my arms like a child, an expression of hope, knowing I cannot reach that patience today, but in time.

And planting my feet, like thus.

And then, maybe, that would be the last anyone would hear of me. Unless they too quietly strode into a forest to wait.

And maybe this old human body would change to a young sapling of the same age. And in a thousand years. if such things still mattered, I might begin to think I understood what it means to be.

At Peace.

But today, in spite of my instinct, I ride on.

Perhaps it is because I’m not ready for Peace.
Perhaps my soul has more to gather before it rests.
Perhaps it is because I’m destined only to be a minstrel, not a King.
But that peace now follows me, hovering like a stationary mirage, calling out once in a while, just to remind me of its voice.
And it leaves deep tracks that are not so easily washed away in a summer thundershower over the bay.

The Place for Me

Colfax, Washington:

In the wee, pre-dawn hours the lights of Main Street shine on the wet pavement from last night’s storm, the twin rows of darkened brick buildings, and little else. After 5 blocks, one light shines from a window, and a cluster of pickups line up, parallel parked in front of a glowing sign.  Clusters of Pickups at this early hour in a small town like this can only mean one thing.
This is the place for me.
Breakfast smells float out the door to greet me as I open the door.  The old men stop for a moment to inspect the outsider, and shrug off the intrusion.  The stocky waiter slides a cup of coffee into the table where I’ll be sitting once I get my gear off.  The chill that surrounds me swirls, catches his attention, and he asks me where I’m going, what I’m doing out so early.  His voice is the voice of a man who’s been out there, someone who can tell a fake answer from a real one.
My name this morning is “bud”.  Not “Hon”, or “Sweetie”.  Just “Bud”.  It’s a welcome change from the truck stop waitresses jonesing  for a a bigger tip.  He speaks like a man who is serving you from his own personal grill, who won’t accept anything less than you leaving full, satisfied, and adequately caffeinated.
Jackson Brown comes on the radio, and in the back, he belts out the lyrics, drowning out the small-town blather of the old men.  It was to be only a short  stop, coffee and a quick basic breakfast, and as I suit up, he’s moved on to singing with REO Speedwagon.  It’s gonna stick with me for a few miles longer than the breakfast itself, I’m afraid.
The light of day is on the street outside now, and I’m itching for the wind.  But I hope places like this never disappear.  This – in between the miles of open farmland, mountains, plains, and River roads – this place where I take brief respite from the Open Road, this is the place for me.

The Lay of the Land

Let’s go back in time a couple years – and a few millennia while we’re at it.

January ride report – 2012:

The Dalles, OR.

Those who know anything about the history and geography of the Columbia Gorge will understand the pivotal influence this town has for the region. The Dalles lies at the western end of the Oregon Trail.  The ghosts of Wagon trains still scent the air, assembling in a spirit that almost can be heard in the roaring spill-water of the modern dam.  They once gathered there – in a very different river – for breakdown, to be turned into rafts for river travel through the wild River highway of the Columbia Gorge, or to be fitted for the even more insane route over the rugged Cascades, depending on the mind of each wagon owner.  Each way was treacherous, and the expectancy of peril can still be felt, if you step away from the interstate just a little way.

Now, the area is central to the flow of grain, livestock, fruit and nuts from their sources in the vast range, farm, and orchard-land to the markets down-river. On top of the drone of nature’s historic obstacles a rhythm of commerce drives daily life up and down and around the River.  No one moves here but to its beat.  The Dalles is its heartbeat.

Riding up the Gorge last night from Portland, I began to feel something I often feel when leaving the Big City – that sense of the real world coming out from behind the mask of urban protection. There is something Vital that is lost on those who dwell in the sanctuary of the City – a place that is a refuge from the harsh reality of nature. The open-ness of riding the motorbike unseals the mystery of how the world is made, and why we develop the way we do into cities, towns, ports, and villages. I rode last night out from the lights on either side of the Freeway into the black, unlit road, and the blacker river beside it.  The loneliness of being out there, away from People, on my own without the support of the corner hardware store weighed on my mind like an adventure.

This ride from Portland to The Dalles, or more usually the other way around – it was, long ago, the ride of a lifetime. Not by road, there was no way to build a road on the steep edges of the Gorge, but by raft. The westward Overland Oregon Trail ended at The Dalles, and from there folks either went over the Cascade mountains, or down the river rapids by raft. There was no way to travel overland through the Gorge with wagons. One did not just ease down the interstate. There were no dams, no road, hardly even a path, and the river was a wild maze of rapids.  It was not unusual for a raft to leave The Dalles and pass silently as splintered debris past the wide waters of the Willamette River delta – and the burgeoning insulated city of Portland.

Into this history I rode, between the two cities.  One city protected, insulated from the elements, fed by a lush lowland valley, and the other closely tied to the fickle quirks of nature: geology, the comparative frailty of the human body, and the stout tenacity of a different sort of people who prized their freedom more than the ease of urban life. The lights of the Bonneville Dam seemed meager compared to the giant mass of black night that surrounded it. As the road darkened, so too the City’s languorous apathy dimmed and my senses quickened.  The traffic dwindled to the occasional semi, and I was left, for the most part, thinking about what I knew by day of the shapes I could only identify by silhouette in the night.  I knew this highway well, and it only took occasional recognizable landmarks to place myself in its full landscape.

I rode on this way, white dashed lines tolling beneath my feet until I came around a final shared bend in the river and road.  There, before me, was the blazing pocket of lights against the endless horizon of darkness – the port they called “Grandes Dalles de la Columbia”, the Great Rapids of the Columbia. Seeing it like that, at night, and in its function to me as a harbor for the night, a harbor from the Great River and the adventures coming west from the Outlands, made me more keenly aware of how it fit in to the landscape that usually was just a blip on an interstate. And that awareness hung with me through the night, and into this morning.

The geography of this area is immense, and very much in your face about itself. The mountainside on the north side of the Gorge shows its sharply defined sediment lines like an experienced bodybuilder, competing for your admiration.  It shows how it used to be buried before it pushed up and into the light. At one place the lines cant crazily down into the river, in others they act like level tide-marks from another era. I studied these lines as I sat at breakfast at a country Inn.  The lines read like a story to me, a mystery that I would have to ride over to understand.

And so the morning began.  Breakfasted, and geared up against the brisk winter morning air, I warmed up the bike in my usual manner – partly at rest while I checked my rigging, and tires, and lights – and partly in a moving meditation of thoughtful riding, listening to the bike’s mood, the road’s mood, the timbre of the wheels over the tarmac, sensing the grip of the tires, and the balance of the load on the back.  Finally, with everything satisfied and ordered in my mind, I turned the bike across the steel bridge that passed in front of the Dam’s spill-water, and eagerly began my day’s journey.

The climb began immediately.  Up this wall of history my road climbed, pulling me epoch by epoch out of the Gorge and the past, and dropping me on top of the landscape and present, in the form of rolling volcanic hills. To the west, the volcanos themselves loomed in a row with snow capping their now-silent craters, but everywhere there were the reminders that this landscape was, not that long ago in geographical terms, a violent, dangerous place to be, where the very ground moved and fumed and if you were slow, would kill you.

I reached my first pass, between Simcoe Butte and Lone Pine Butte, and took a moment to look behind me. The climb hadn’t seemed so hard, but looking back south the rugged drop-off is startling, brought into stark contrast by the looming Mt. Hood on the far side, which looked ready to hop a creek to come after me, but which was actually 60 miles behind me on the other side of the river. Lone Pine Butte became the gate that cut me off from the Gorge, dropping down into the valley below and leaving the giant icons out of sight, and out of mind.

For the rest of the day, I climbed, dropped, transited, and just rode. The balance of the bike beneath me was a sensuous dance that drew me into my surroundings so naturally that I forgot the difference between bike, rider, road, and the land around me.   Buttes, Bluffs, valleys and basins, canyons, gorges, Plateaus, heck, I think I even punched through a Draw at one point. I was going upstream, in every sense of the word. Portland sloughed off of me like a too-small skin. I went up the river, from whence came the people, the water, the crops, from where the city gets its comfortable life. I found where the water came from, and could see how and why it came from there. I sensed how the ranchers and farmers found these places so ideal for growing their crops, herds, and orchards, and how everything funneled into a larger and larger system, reaching the denser populations in the lowland cities, where life was easier, and often taken for granted. A farmer wouldn’t last a week in the rat race of the city, but a flatlander would struggle to cope with a world where the corner market, the salon, coffee shop, Home Improvement Center, and amusement parks weren’t all within a few miles, heck, aren’t even in the vocabulary of the locals. “A few miles” up here, at the Root of All Things, doesn’t hold much in the way of convenience.

If understanding is what you seek, if you want to see how the world – both the geographical and our human culture – is put together, spend a day, or two, or three, riding north. Ride out of the Big City – any city – upstream. Ride through wild places, look at what you pass over, and between, and through, and into. Leave the gorge where the rapids are so epic they bear names the French Canadian Voyageurs used. Ride over a bluff so big it merits its own elevation sign at its peak. Slip onto a back highway with the name of a smaller gorge, using the deepening purple shadows of the impending gloom at the end of the short winter daylight as your guide, and follow the freezing and frozen river up the steepening walls of the canyon until they are sheer, and the only way out is up through to the headwaters, where the floor of the canyon rises, and gradually disappears into a draw, and then into bluffs, and finally a vast plateau, where yet another world awaits. Ride the full circuit, understanding that all that goes on down below, all that you’ve left behind, now lies what used to be weeks worth of travel. Feel the distance in the culture when you stop for gas at a lonely outpost, and stand drinking the cup of coffee they offer while you chat with the person at the counter. Enjoy the vile brewing methods, and appreciate that at 27 degrees without wind chill factor, any coffee is good coffee, and anyone who makes this coffee for you is good people. And then ride on, into the dark, until your motorbike is nothing but a wake rippling under the falling blanket of darkness, streaking across the Plateau toward another Adventure.

Fair winds ride

wind ride 3

The wind from the east is but a wind from the west

bested by throttle,  soul dispossessed

spirit set free turns to wind on my chest

race the horizon, freedom undressed.

Pull of the curve, power compressed

gravity’s laws are put to the test

Howl of the wolf taut muscles obsessed

chase down your quarry, victim possessed.

Full moon overhead, heaven’s bequest

Night Ride purifies, moon goddess’s guest

sins of the daytime brought here to confess

Midnight reflections sets the mind at rest.

The wind from the west is but a wind from the east

bested by throttle, Sanity leased

Days in the wind for my soul’s release

The falcon sent hunting, finds spiritual feast.

wind ride (1)

Crossing the state of New York on what had been a hot, sunny afternoon, I noticed the clouds ahead beginning that telltale rise that foretold thunderstorms.  The highway twisted and turned, and it was hard for me to tell where I would wind up, but I hoped I would bypass the clouds – it looked like I might make it just north of the worst thunderhead.  As time and distance progressed, though, it became increasingly clear I was going to intersect with the storm before I got past it.  The sky overhead darkened.  The temperature dropped dramatically.  I knew I needed to pull over and put on different gear, and cover my load on the back.  I didn’t like stopping on the highway in high wind, for fear of swaying semi-trailers, so I looked for an exit in this rural landscape.

Finally, just before the swirling gloom was upon me, a sign appeared, the highway passed over a small bridge, and then a ribbon of pavement split from the highway and curled in a long, graceful 180 degree turn.  I could feel the charge in the air, and smell the dust of another place.

There was little time to get off the highway, pull my rain gear out if its bag and onto me, and cover up the luggage.  I stopped at a wide spot on the circular off ramp, and worked quickly.  The sudden silence of the bike made it clear this was more than just a little rain – trees were bowing and swaying as the storm-front raked across them a thousand yards away.  Somewhere between the lightening strikes, the roar of wind and hail, and my rain-suit blowing across the road, I decided to pull under the freeway bridge half-covered, and finish the job there.  I scooted the 500 yards to the bridge, eased the bike to the side of the shelter of the concrete.  I took a deep breath, relaxed, and began again with a more methodical process.  

As I stood in the comparative calm, watching the storm out there raging, three things happened in quick succession: The first was the sudden, urgent passing of the fire chief, soon followed by a police pickup.  The blue lights had scarcely disappeared around a bend than the full weight of the storm front hit with a roar , bending trees, flattening grass, and dropping slushy hail and rain.

Then the siren started its mournful wail.  I thought at first it was the volunteer fire department call, but it went on for nearly five minutes.  I don’t know, maybe they just do things differently here, but in the excitement of the moment, and seeing the severity of the wind, I thought the worst.

But the storm blew in, the storm blew out, and I was left with the mystery as to what the alarm was all about.  I was thinking about hiking my leg over the saddle again, a large man with no teeth but a genuine concern pulled up across the road in rusty 70’s pickup

 to ask if I was ok.  the roar of overhead traffic drowned his words, but I could tell from his manner and the couple words I caught what his meaning was, I waved and shouted across the way that yep, I was ok.  He asked me which way I was headed, and I threw my arm out towards the west.

He took a long, deliberate drag on the cigarette, contemplating the weather that way, while I shouted that I was just waiting for this front to blow through, which it had.  More intimate conversation seemed forthcoming, so I crossed the road.

He nodded in the indicated direction, blew a cloud of smoke, and said there was more of that coming.  I couldn’t see from where I was, but I was determined to get back on the road, so I told him I’d handle it.

He flicked the cigarette’s ash-booger onto the pavement, raised his eyebrow into a knowing look, and said, “just don’t try to take highway 66” he warned, giving me that knowing nod that men use to say, “YOU know what I mean.  I know what I mean.  We needn’t name this horror any further.”

I raised both my eyebrows and nodded with that look men use to tell another man, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I’m going to acknowledge anything less than the common understanding we’ve just spoken of here”.

Two hours later, having passed into another state without getting wet, I still searched my mind for the knowledge his look told me I must have, somewhere in my subconscious.  And I realized two things:

I will forever be haunted by the unspoken horror of highway 66.

I have no idea where highway 66 is in New York.


The Sweeper

The Sweeper

We sat at a diner, musing over coffee in our  leathers discussing route options for the next two days.  It was my trip, but I was still undecided about the choice of two possible routes for the first couple days.

My dad made his position clear.“Well…whichever one you take, when you look back I’ll be there.”

As with most thoughts worth having, this one rattled around in my head for a while over the next set of miles.  My dad and I have been riding together – in one capacity or another – for a long, long time.  I wasn’t exactly one to tuck in behind and just hang on for the ride.  I’ve always been the one to see a road, and think to myself, “huh…I wonder what’s down there?”

And more often than I can remember, I found out.

There’s something you should know about motorbike riders.  On group rides, there are two particularly important people. The Road Captain, and the Sweeper.  To be honest, most of my riding has been done on my own, without either one.  But when I do ride with a group, I’m usually the Road Captain, mostly by virtue of being the only one that’s been where we’re going.  There’s a lot more that goes into being a good Road Captain – a good sense of judgment, the ability to say “no” to one’s own curiosity in deference to the group’s intent to get where they’re going safely.  I’ve been a lot of places, I know a lot about the landmarks, the best diners, the best coffee, the best beers.  The interesting characters and history and scenic views – I make a decent tour guide.  And I can do pace calculations in my head pretty well.  On the other hand, those behind me learn pretty quickly that those scenic stops can come up all the sudden, and I’m not so good at accounting for the group behind me.  I’m good at making seasoned riders out of the folks behind me.

The Sweeper’s job is to be behind.  If someone breaks down, or needs to stop – whatever – the Sweeper stays back, and does what’s necessary to keep the group together.  That’s not to say he takes care of all the problems.  He’s back there to keep contact between the straggler and the group, and if there’s something he can do, fine.  But mostly, the Sweeper is just there.

My most consistent Sweeper has been my dad.

My first multi-speed bike, 1969, Loma Linda. Dad's already riding sweeper.When I was 2, and the front yard was still That Big Place I Haven’t Fully Explored Yet, every time I looked back, he was there.

When I was 8, and the gate was opened to me for the first time to take to the streets, I flew dow the asphalt.  And when I looked back, he was there.

When I was 16, and after years of being on the back held the throttle of my own motorbike on the street for the first time, I looked back, and he was there.  He wasn’t telling me what to do, or which way to go, or how fast not to go.  He had been there himself, and had some rough idea of how fast and far I could go.  He wasn’t there to instruct me.  He was just…there.

When at the age of 17 I told him my plans for my future, he wasn’t at the Door of Opportunity ushering me in.  He wasn’t pushing me into one Hall of Study or another.  He was just there.

When at the age of 19 I held the arm of my true love, and told him I planned to commit the rest of my life to her, he was there in the front row of the church.  Right behind me

When at the age of 21 my hand held the pen that would sign my name to an enlistment in the Navy, I looked to him.  He neither pushed nor pulled – he was just there

And here on this day halfway through my 52nd year I started east on another cross-country ride.  I asked him to ride a was with me.  And when I didn’t know which way I wanted to go, he only had one promise: whichever way I went, I could look back, and he’d be there.  Sometimes he’d help.  Sometimes he’d just talk while I figured out that what I had wasn’t a panic moment.  Sometimes he’d just watch – because, dang it, I was just that entertaining

And that’s the way it is with fathers.  They live their life.  They learn what they can, and if they do it well, they come prepared to have confidence in their children.  Or at least to act like it.  I don’t know if I’ve been so good at it with my own kids as he was, but then, I was kind of a different kid.  He seemed to understand that giving advice, trying to assist, involving himself until it became HIS life – wouldn’t really work.  Sometimes I wished, perhaps, that he’d have helped me a little more actively than he did.  But I can’t say I ever really felt left to my own fortune.  Always the Sweeper – he was there, but not to make me feel like a helpless tourist.  His presence gave me the hope that staying on the road was worth it, to at least someone.

These days, I’ve become the Sweeper.  I’m not quite as adept as he to be the one that has done enough on my own, and ready to be the one behind.  But I’ve learned enough of fatherhood to know that we each have to ride our own ride.  The single hardest thing about fatherhood, for me, is not getting on their bike and riding it up the road a spell for them.  It leaves them no more able to ride than before, and me 10 miles down the road from my own ride.  Their ride is their’s, alone.

And frankly, the most satisfying place in the world is behind your child, watching them succeed.



A narrow lane ends at the edge of the bay. Metal Signs suggest distant destinations to the left and right down a county road that parallels the sea. There are no near destinations.

Other signs suggest a storm. The wind smells of it. The grey sky portends it. The water dropping intermittently on my face whispers a challenge.

Perhaps it was the brashness of the gust of wind off the water, the challenge of the dark clouds spitting water, or maybe just my own mood, I don’t know, but the gradual twist of the throttle I had intended to calmly introduce my bike and myself to the morning’s ride through the storm became something sharper, more insistent. The sudden roar of the bike called to me in a way more than just the sound, more than just the physical surge of a powerful machine – something more than both simply added together. It was a wild call, and the thing inside me that answered was equally wild. It was the call of a wolf with quarry in its nose. It was a call to its pack, to the hunt. Something in my gut I answered.

With The surge of speed beneath me, I felt my gut tighten with millennia-old instinct, reaching out, pulling together my arms, my legs – all of me responded and pulled together on and around the bike into one centered, balanced unit. The wolf-pack gave one voice to the chase. The quarry, this strip of blacktop ahead, began to run.

To my right, the bay bounded along blocking the highway’s escape, nipping at its side with whitecappped teeth. The road raced forward into the hill that loomed ahead.   Cape Lookout’s land mass spilling out into the sea ahead of me and to the right. Winter wind buffeted, threatening rain pelted, futile against the oiled leather of my riding gear.  This was not their first storm.

The forest rose ahead, and the road dove into its cover, twisting, crashing, bucking over road-heaves where the rocks had held beneath, dropping where the winter rains had softened and eroded beneath and cracked the pavement, dropping it into sink-holes. Patiently the pack stuck to the track, into the gloom of the deep old-growth rain forest.

Last month’s storms had knocked down trees across the road. Logging debris – mud, bark, crushed needles and chainsaw oil – tried to hide the trail. I gingerly picked my way through the slick, and picked up the scent again where logs were stacked high in a newly cut clearing on the side of the road. Flushed from it’s hiding, the roars burst over the summit of the Cape.

We caught up the fresh scent again at the bottom of the lee side of the cape. The road panicked, And broke out in a straight run through the dunes.

The bike belled out its guttural howl and surged forward again. What the pack lacks in speed for the chase it makes up for in dogged persistence. The road ran across farmland, dotted with yellow spring daffodils, through bogs and mud flats, over bridges, through town where the dead moved about in shiny cars sullied by rain spray, insulated against weather and life, and finally joined the highway.

The buffeting wind only strengthened my determinationIMG_5870
The sting of rain pelting my face tightened my balance, perfected loping instinctive cadence.

The hills faded in my mind. The trees disappeared.

There was only this road, and my quarry.
It’s trail
It’s scent

And my hunger.