The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Ride Reports

Blown Away

The winds’s sudden force brought my attention back from wherever it had wandered.

I had been in the saddle of a motorcycle all day, so wind shouldn’t have been anything new today. But these highlands were no ordinary place. This road, a thin, neglected ribbon of asphalt stretching out across the mountain plateau stretched east and sometimes south until it had forgotten its purpose. A single, twisted juniper clung to the bare landscape in defiance of this elemental tyranny. Its sculpted oddity testified to the one way to live with the wind – to resist when it can, adapt when it must, and to never let go of its identity. My bike and I, and this solitary missionary of individuality were all that stood about the rocky soil. Every other rock, bush, and blade of grass hugged the ground and cowered.

But not this tree. And not me.

I had only just crested a long and dramatic climb near the southern end of Steens Mountain in Oregon, intent on crossing the desert on my journey eastward. I had the road fever, that inexplicable instinctual urge to just ride – no stopping, no sightseeing, just a compelled rush cross the miles to push on. Nothing could stop me. Until this tree. Suddenly, my instincts needed to feel the wind’s own life-force, not this mechanically-generation turbulence.

The asphalt widened ahead of me to one side, inviting me from the intended flow of travel. As the bike’s engine fell silent, the wind’s vector was no longer dictated by the bike’s travel, and so I turned to face it as it swept in from the north.

I don’t know how long I stood, listening to the song this upland desert was shaped by. With no peaks towering over me, no far horizon visible, no shelter of any kind but the bike beneath me, I felt for a brief moment vulnerable to the demands of this dominant force. I turned to my muse, this tree, and listened intently to the story its shape told. It spoke of desolate winters, of despotic summer persecution. And in its shape – the shape and substance of its identity that remained with it after the wind – it spoke its name.

And so I turned into the wind, seeing for myself the phenomenon that had brought out the tree’s own striking beauty. There was only one question to ask of this force of nature, and so I asked it a single question:

Who am I?

And because I cannot sustain myself through such a quest in the manner of scrubby junipers, I mounted the bike again, and fixed in my mind this question, this time addressing the wind along the narrow path before me.

I doubt I will ever know the answer for myself. It will be an answer spoken from me to the world, the forces shaping me in ways seen by others, but invisible as the wind to myself.

But still, I ride into it, being shaped and sculpted into what must be an odd countenance that requires some consideration to be understood – or misunderstood. This is my nature – to ride into the wind, to be tested and formed by it, and to serve as its ambassador.

Highway 140, east of Adele, OR, is a chapel of a different sort, where I don’t ask God for protection, but rather for cleansing.

I feel like a fresh-scrubbed baby.

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.

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.

Well, I had already injected myself into the situation, so 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. Message from The Lord: “use the Sling!”

My “Angel of the Lord Messenger Voice” isn‘t too bad, if I do say so myself.

And so I fired the bike back up and boogied on outta there, beet-red. But they‘ll never know that.

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 my overhead cover, 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, but it seems like weeks…

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 a meandering river toward the only highway it knows. By the time I reach the long thin ribbon of asphalt ten miles off that drains away to the south, the heat of the day and the engine was already wearing on me.  I twisted the throttle like a drowning man in need of rescue.

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 section 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 serve as 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.  The idea of “quiet” has been far from my mind for hours, but now it knocks, insistently, on my sub conscience

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 my mind finds itself wanting to rest here 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)


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.