The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Motorbikes

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.

Twisty

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.

 

Storm-Riding

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.

Homecoming:

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.

 

The following is a ride report for August of 2012, from Departure Bay, Nanaimo BC, to Lillooet, BC:

The ferry from Departure Bay in Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland is an exercise in transition. From the quiet, intimate inlets, channels of the Island and rocky coastlines to majestic fjords the change in attitude is also one of scale. Vancouver Island does have its mountain peaks. But these colossal mountains that jut skyward from the water’s edge into the unknown gets the blood pumping, knowing I’m going to be lost somewhere in those crags soon. Every time I pull into Horseshoe Bay, there is a point where I always have the same thought. The bay is tucked into a little cove, you don’t see it until just shortly before arrival. I always think to myself, “what a great place to tuck a little pirate cove!”. And then I laugh a little because I remember I said the same thing last time.

When I pulled off the ferry, I could see a long line of cars stretching eastward. And it reminded me of the last time I was in a city, a few days ago. It was with some relief that I realized that I was taking a left, not a right, and would be going first west, then north.

The ride from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler is on a highway called the “Sea to Sky highway”. It’s name is well-earned. It also has borne other names, including the “Killer highway”. The route runs along steep cliffs overlooking Howe Sound, and only recently has had outside barriers added, along with other improvements. Adding to the drama of the ride are several signs warning motorists not to stop in a certain area, as it is an avalanche area. But the view is unbeatable.

Pemberton, BC is something of a gateway. Most people think of Whistler, but few realize that Pemberton, a few miles beyond, is older, and was the place that the Hudson’s Bay men used as a base for establishing themselves in the area. It’s a small, rustic town and the end of the wider highway.

Shortly beyond Pemberton, after a slow, winding cruise through the mountain valley, and past a good-sized lake, things get serious. The road curls around the northern edge of the lake and immediately jumps into a series of switchbacks. In five minutes I felt like I was on top of the world, in six minutes I realized, as I looked at the road ahead of me, I was nowhere near the top. The rain started in on me, like an old friend verbally abusing me by way of welcoming me after a long absense. We laughed together, the rain and I, and I rode through it, over the peak at Joffre lakes, and out from under it by Duffey lakes.

The area around Duffey lake and I go way back. They are gone now, but there used to be a series of small, almost roadside camp sites. So light was the traffic that you could camp there and see only a few cars in an entire day. I feel fortunate to have been there, and carry that memory with me. The sites are gone now, and the traffic is heavier as many folk have heard about this scenic route. But the highway still feels both grandiose and intimate. Grandiose because of the dramatic, sweeping landscape scarred at the top with jagged peaks, filled in between with enormously expansive mountain slopes, and the sense of the dropping chasm through which the river and highway drop out of this mountain pass to the civilization on the other side. Intimate because the highway is a narrow, winding ribbon that carries me close to the streams, crosses them with wooden decked bridges, and hugs the canyon walls. The river that flows from Duffey Lake does not travel back to the sea from where I came, it flows the circuitous route northward down from the pass towards Frasier River Canyon. And when I say it flows, I mean it rages.

The stream, or so its called, runs for at least five miles out of Duffey lake so fast that it is a continuous rapids without a break. By the time the first slower pool is reached, I can already smell the mist rising up from around the next bend, where it begins another frantic drop. The road follows suit, bouncing and winding, the winter’s weather taking a toll on the asphalt as harshly as the terrain rules the grade. It is for several miles a busy time, avoiding the cracks and other hazards. At one point both wheels left the ground when I rounded a corner and sat up just in time to catch air off of an upheaval in the road surface. It was shortly after this that I saw the sign: “Winding Road”, use caution”. Umm…thanks.

The last stretch of descent let me see my destination, the valley in which the town of Lillooet lay. The two sides of the chasm through which I had to pass came together in a “V” at their bottom, like the front sights on a gun. I thought about that idea of the sight, but really, there was nothing in the sight. I rode on, through it, and after a short bit stopped and turned around. There, I realized, was the answer. The sight wasn’t pointed down, it was pointed up, at the mountain crags above. Shoot for the sky, indeed.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the highway department of British Columbia. after climbing mountain peaks, twisting through switchbacks, gazing over the side at gorges hundreds of feet below, listening to the raging streams along which the highway twisted, through mountain passes…yes, 42.7 miles through all of this, they provided the following words of warning, on a sign on the roadside:

Winding Road. Use Caution.

Thanks, BC highway crew, for that timely Public Service Announcement.

I race

Free as the Summer

IMGP2403

I race

carving an invisible groove through

the spruce-whiskered mountain pass

The canopy arcing overhead

 

I rush

Through the trees, and howling with mirth,

Shadow and light splash around me like surf

My heart has raced to these rhythms since birth

The beat of the wind on the sea –

the spray of light, dappling trees –

and here on this mountain, of forest and turf

I ride down a ribbon of asphalted glee

 

I run

a gauntlet of cliffs, beside me rising

trees

Standing sentry, holding high their glistening swords

jeweled in emerald arches
 outside the rail,

Seeing the trees – watching, listening, standing sentry over the roads below.

They stand in stillness, while the twisted switchbacks rip through them, and though I cannot hear them, I know they whisper.

These trees, they are still, and to be in their midst is to be still.

I fly

There is a peace amongst them, not just of stillness, but of fulfillment of purpose.

I think of those places.

But still my mind races,

to the beat of the wind.

Or is the wind breathing

to the beat of my mind.

I cannot tell.

 

The trees stand, waiting, watching, listening.

They wait for the lumberjack, for eventually he must come.

They stand sentry, but when he comes,

They will not sound the alarm.

They will not try to flee, nor hurl the lumberjack from whence he came. They wait.

They are still.

For when the lumberjack comes, and they are cut,

their waiting will be over. And they will not have failed,

for their purpose was but to wait. And to be still. And to grow.

When their time is done, they will lay down,

and become part of another purpose.

 

I feel the wind, rushing about me, and it syncopates the thoughts in my head.

They rush, my thoughts, and are never still – they flow and rush, and jumble and carom, and sometimes cavort, up and down the mountainsides, through the woodlands. They move and turmoil, and seek, and quest,

and when they have quested,

when they have answered,

they quest again, for so they must.

It is what my mind does.

It watches. It listens, and paces against the stillness.

For so the stillness must someday come.

And when it comes, I will not raise the alarm.

I will not flee it, nor try to hurl it back from whence it comes.

I will sit amidst the stillness,

I will lie down, and become still. The wind will die down and rest

I will rest. And I will not have failed,

for my purpose was to race, and so – I have raced.

And now my race will be done, and I can find peace, as part of another purpose.

I will race towards stillness, as I must. The trees know this.

The wind knows this.

It knows me, and I know it.

I will become still, when the wind inside me is still

2013 Quebec motorbike trip slideshow

You’ve seen a few writeups from the road, here’s the companion slideshow video.  Enjoy the music.

2013 Summer BC Ride slide show

Riding through BC in the summer is a fine thing.  Here’s a slide show, set to a good song.  Enjoy:

Requiem for a Bat:

IMG_5890
Crazy night-time flying bat

Looked to me ’twas getting fat

Tried to dodge, but went kersplat

Flew akimbo off my hat

Dare I wonder where you’re at?

Hit the road, and there you sat

By the morn you’ll be run flat

Poor flat bat, to hit my hat, and die like that.

Twists my heart all pitter-pat.

Ride report: Horseshoe Bay to Hope, BC

The early summer breeze blew crisp across my face this morning as I stood at the bow of a ferry. Two days had passed camping on the island, and now, with the landing at Horseshoe Bay wheeling into sight, I anticipated a day of riding across the southern-most highway of British Columbia. But to get to that highway, I had to cross through Vancouver, and the wide Frazier valley. The ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay, on the west side of Vancouver, was my starting point.

 

IMGP3332

The deep fjord in which this small harbor hides pushes the earth out from its depths into spectacular mountains.  Snow caps could be seen in the background. The languid leisure of the ferry crossing shook itself into the excitement of navigating the offloading ramps, which swept

neatly onto the highway that hugs the edge of the fjord, curving around the mountain’s foot, and bringing the city into view. There is a sense of being welcomed to the city, and indeed, that is another ride, down from Lillooet, and Pemberton, and Whistler.  I join the parade as it enters the city, blending with the late commuters, and soon a bridge carries me over from the forested hillsides into the vast expanse of industry and humanity.

 

I immediately want out.

 

It’s not that Vancouver is a bad city, but it is – well – a city, and a big one. A constant whirl of lights and sounds, people, and things constantly in motion, threatening to sweep you away if you don’t keep moving. By prior planning, I chose to take the less traveled highway 7, but it requires a few miles of city street driving. The road where it leaves the city is well-worth it. I take the plunge, and begin working on survival.

 

There begins, after quite some time, to be a sense of change in the pace, and the density if traffic and industry. A short break, another town, a few technical curves, and suddenly, I realized I’d drifted out into a wide flat valley, with no city in sight. It didn’t fade, didn’t stretch and thin and gradually disappear. There was just Town, Curves to distract me, and poof! it was gone. And in the sudden drifting spin of my head freshly ejected at the bottom of a rapids, I hear myself saying, “yeah, and a good riddance too!”.

 

The Frazier valley is as much a fjord as the ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay, but without any of the deep water.  The bottom of it is wide and flat, the hills jutting up suddenly, sharply, and majestically into tall mountains that line its edges.  The road swoops and swings along the northern bank of the Frazier River.  As soon as the city is left behind, the dairy farms start, then the sawmills show up, and then, finally, the breeze that had blown crisply at my back on the ferry drifted into an afternoon languor. I settled into a relaxed pace, and picked my way through a half dozen small communities that embraced the spirit of this lazy summer afternoon. Nothing ahead seems important enough to rush to. Not even farm tractors turning onto the road with their loads of manure could disturb my peace.

 

And so it is with a good long ride, if one thing can’t tempt you out if your comfort zone, something else will. As I eased up this wide valley, skirting along its edge, I become aware of the southern edge of the valley, closing northward. Rounding a corner, I saw directly in my path, still miles away, a peak jutting up from the valley floor from the other edge. It stood up in one continuous, straight slope from the valley floor, covered in evergreens, until its altitude and slope could no longer hold sufficient air and soil, and it left living trees behind. Even further up, the rocky slag was covered with snow, and finally, that snow disappeared into a soft cap of clouds.  This whole scene was still far off, but even with the scale of distance, it commanded my attention, and I had to fight to remain aware of the road.

 

The road wound and twisted, but gradually its intent emerged. This peak constantly crossed my bow, and grew both in size, and my mind’s awareness. In twenty miles it transformed from a distant warning to an impenetrable wall. I could think of nothing else but enormity. But then, abruptly and at the last minute, the road turned north, and the valley’s northward rise shows itself.  This mountain instantly transformed from barrier to gatepost, behind which the other peaks began to impose their presence on either side. Instead of one single iconic peak, I was suddenly in the midst of a herd of mountains, and the movement up the valley began to seem as if they ran with me up this narrowing valley like wild horses. I felt their energy, the thirst to remain wild, and separate from the world of humanity below. I subconsciously rode a little faster, pulled up the subtle grade of the narrowing valley by the instinct to race, for the pure joy of the wind pushed across my face.

 

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Narrow inlets appeared between peaks, gateways to secret spots tucked into the wilderness above. It was always “above”. I hear a phrase from my childhood, man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward”.  I smiled at the irony of my instinct to rush faster tow

ards it. I gripped the throttle tighter, focused for a moment listening to the angry roar of the machine beneath me.

 

 

For a short space the highway flattened out, the road gathering itself for its impending leap upward. The hills to my north fell back, and I raced headlong across an expanse of the open land. A bulge of a hill lies alone in the middle of this flat section of valley, and the road was pushed up against this hill where the river’s tail snakes across the valley floor. I crossed the expanse to the hill, feeling the thundering hooves vibrating the earth. At the bottom of the small hill, I felt myself lifted, and my ride transformed from a wild horse to a Pegasus, freed from the earth, hooves weightlessly pawing the air.  For the space of a few hundred yards this sense of lifting off continued, until the hill’s far side let me back down to the earth. Like a yearling mythical colt who has just experimented with its first flight, the thunderous clamour of the horse’s gallop returned. I felt the weight return to my feet, to my saddle, my body settling back to its familiar position.  I ran earthbound once again with the wild mountains, horses in their own way. But that brief moment forever changed me. This moment is the one that I cling to, the memory that there is something more than mindless racing across the land. There will be a time, and a place, where I will soar again. When you learn to crawl, you move to walking. When you learn to walk, you reach forward to running. When you’ve learned to walk, running is the next step. And now, when I perfect running, I will soar. I can only imagine what comes next, but I can hardly wait to find out.

 

 

 

For the moment, though, I raced onward. The canyon narrowed yet further, and the sides of this valley felt like sweaty equine bodies stampeding forward, urging me to abandon my purposes, to let go and just run. We galloped together, but begin to watch for an escape, a way out of this dead-end run. We jostled, these mountain peaks and I, fighting instinctively for position, but the drive to run still first in our mind. Looking left, looking right, the river flooded out broadly across nearly the whole breadth of the valley. This stampede is all but over, and for the moment, no outlet yet appeared.  Mountains of a different sort appeared. As tall as these other mountains have been, the ones coming into view are taller, towering over everything – everything. These are the Lords of this place, the keepers of the secrets of the wilderness. They are steeper yet than those that I suddenly realize now lie behind me, stubbornly pawing the air but stopped in reverence to this new landscape. T

hese are steeper.  And wilder. And eagles fly in their midst.

 

 

I crossed over the bridge into Hope, my heart still pumping the excitement of the run through my being. I breathed the excitement down, slowly, as I eased reverently up the main street, and into the presence of these giants looming over me, nodding their solemn welcome.

 

I stop for a rest, and to collect my thoughts from this past couple hours, and feel a familiar nudge behind me. Turning back to look down at the valley, the languorous wind nuzzles me like a young colt, freshened and ready for the evening. While I was distracted by the peaks before me, it too joined in the race, kicking up its own heels, running up these slopes with the abandon of wild things. I smiled a sense of kinship, and rested. In a short time I will enter the temple of the Wilderness, and I should be at my best.