The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Ride Reports

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.

Small-town skirmish

Yesterday, I stopped in a very small town in NE Oregon for breakfast. When I came out, just before firing up the bike I heard some shouting around the corner.

At first I thought someone was calling, but then I heard the second voice, clearly crazy and angry, and realized an altercation was developing just out of sight. Since I already had my helmet on my head, I thought maybe I’d best bring the bike to the scene just in case. I started the bike, and pulled that direction.

Rounding the corner, I saw a group of children and two adults on one side of the street and a huge guy shouting and gesticulating aggressively from the other. Several things happened all at once. I parked my bike in the middle of the street between the man and the crowd. It got worse when I realized that the crazy guy was holding a sword. My first thought was, “oh great, crazed lunatic bent on mayhem” and I started to dismount, preparing to engage with a nasty situation.

But before I could dismount, it dawned on me that the guy was also holding a shield, and the adults on the other side were dressed in robes.

Yep. Vacation Bible school, re-enacting the story of David and Goliath to the kiddies.

I had to say something.

So I called out loudly, “Angel of the Lord Messenger service! Is there a “David, son of Jesse” here?”

“David? Son of Jesse? Anyone?” Looking at the kids parked under the shade of a tree, “Is your name David?”

Three of the kids pointed at one of the robed figures.

“Ah, David, good. Thus sayeth The Lord: “use the Sling.””

And I fired the bike back up and boogied on outta there, beet-red.

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)

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.

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.

 

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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.

 

Getting Lost

I don’t always get to ride just to ride, without some end destination in mind. Today’s ride was about riding until I decided to turn around. I didn’t find that destination for about 30 miles. Along the way, I lost a lot. First I lost speed, because of the 25mph corners. Then I lost my knowledge of where the road I was on was going, when I turned onto a road I’d never been on, and didn’t really know where it went. Then I lost the oncoming lane – the road turned into one of those one-lane roads where people just figure out how to get past each other in the unlikely event that they meet someone. finally, the paint on the roads disappeared – just a flat piece of asphalt, no markings, no signs, nothing. And right about then I began to realize that losing stuff can be the greatest feeling in the world. And I began to give up things voluntarily. The sound of my exhaust is a low, loud rumble that is somewhat unique – a little different than the usual Harley sound. It’s tempting to hold back a little bit, but when you let go of that internal resistance to the sound, it fills you up, holds you up, and your whole being is powered by that vibration. I gave up my interest in going fast, 40mph was as fast as I felt like I needed to go. Last, but not least, I gave up my expectation of getting somewhere. each moment, each corner, every straight stretch, tree, river, hill – each one became just a moment unto itself. Its funny how when you get to where you need to be, you realize you didn’t need to go anywhere particular to get there.

 

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