Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mosaic

Gotta get up, gotta get going. Rise and shine it’s a new day breaking – oh yeah. With an unconscious swagger and smile, I’m walking towards the waiting Vintage. The motor gets purring, and the spokes are shining, reflecting the sun of the morn. The chill is gone as the tires get warm with revolution. My shadow is long and leading me comfortably down a westbound highway out for the day’s adventure. By the time I hit fourth gear, the aroma is sugar maple and the breeze is an old friend.

Straightening out after a series of ambling corners, a bridge greets me – a cantilever. It was well tended to, agreeable and a proud family member of the small town it overlooked. As I crossed it, the river below was still strong from the winter snowmelt. The beams, alternating between light and dark with the sun and shadows, echoed back an alien sound, a mixture of wind, water and motor.   

On the outskirts of most any small town is a Cemetery Road, dirt or gravel, leading up to weathered yet undisturbed plots of land where tombstones were brought in by horse and buggy 90 or 100 years ago. Young trees now grown strong and majestic, names etched in the tilting granite blocks of founding fathers, schoolteachers and shopkeepers, who by fate or by fortune never left the valley where they lay buried.

Entering the town, the flavor is a relaxed one. As I rode down the tree lined Main Street, it lazily meandered along with the course of the river beside it. Houses of brick and clapboard had swing-sets, gardens and pitchforks in the front yard. Businesses were opening up, and townsfolk seemed intent on making this day better than the last.  I gassed up and had a look at the map, more out of pleasure than necessity. There was one road out of town. As I glanced side to side for revenuers, the speed limit signs gradually increased, and I followed suit. In no time I was back out on the highway, settling in and absorbing the moment. The tires hummed along with me as I belted out a road song under the helmet confines. Sour notes were forgiven and blended in with the mood.

By noon the sun was sizzling high and only the occasional car passed. A mailbox on a post or a cattle guard in the dirt was the only evidence of a farmhouse or homestead hidden well off the main road. One stray cloud had outlined its shape on a butte far in the distance. A freight train, a mile long, stretched out beside it. Rolling silently down the tracks, it could just barely be discerned. Sometimes a cluster of trees, oasis like, would warn me of a settlement ahead, and nearing it, the water tower or silo would tell me just which one. 

As I motored on through-out the afternoon, the road changes personality. Sometimes gentle and beautiful, laid back or wistful. Other times busy and full of information, but it was always honest and never greedy. We shared the same space, if only fleetingly, and each understood the other. The end of a days ride was approaching and a small breeze kicked up. A slight change in temperature and the sky turned a cobalt blue. As I pulled in for the night, my head was full of the sights, sounds, and smells of the days ride. I thought of the people met and miles covered, in a similar yet different order and circumstance than yesterday. I was already looking forward to the next morning as a flush of satisfaction washed over me and a wayworn but pleased sense of accomplishment made it all fit into place.  

1000 Miles

It was cooler than yesterday and harmless white puffy clouds salted a blue sky. I was riding in from the north and had what felt like a gentle tail wind. It was unusually quiet in my helmet and the comforting drone of the motor gave confidence to the approach. Like a glider coming in, the last mile of curves were smooth and graceful.   I landed in the middle of Riggins alongside the Salmon River and promptly donated an hour to the Mountain Time Zone.

This was only the second day out of a thousand mile ride. Already, a dozen different worlds had rolled underneath my wheels. I passed in and out of them effortlessly like some seasoned time traveler.  Through urban traffic, rolling hills, mountain passes and amber waves of grain, I was but a transient guest in each situation and soon rambled on to the next.

The river and Hwy 95 part ways at the south side of town, after having followed it since White Bird Pass. I gave a farewell nod to the waterway, its rafters and the vibrant little town and moved on, straddling the curvy spine of the 7 Devils Mountains. I finished up that day 110 miles later entering the Paddock Valley where the Weiser and Snake Rivers meld, then nudge the Oregon border.

During these 1000 miles, on different days on different roads, I saw birch trees going by like a white picket fence. I saw people towing their hobbies smiling and relaxed because they were close to their destinations. I felt the temperatures swing from chilly to hot, and saw crops near harvest. I smelled the diesel and creosote leftovers lingering above tracks still warm and shiny from a recent train. And so I rode, one mile by one, town to town, county to county line, some names known and some, until now, unacquainted.

I was passing Lupines and Prickly Pear Cactus east of Prineville. The blacktop was steaming from a two minute downpour that I had apparently just missed. Their blossoms were still wet and glistened like desert gems. The air was still moist too, and the Vintage motor absorbed it in and purred of pleasure and satisfaction. That rain cloud had wandered off and was far in the distance and inconsequential.

Just before the foothills I stopped for gas, breathed in and assessed the whole situation.  Several days and several hundred miles had not jaded my appreciation for this ride. Last winter I was anticipating these panoramic views and the wind in my face. I was athirst to saddle up, eager to ride, and anxious to call the highway my home. Now, familiar roads like old friends greeted me. The Vintage had quickly forgiven the months of inattention and cooperated with my every request. New sights around every corner were just waiting to be introduced, and I was the only person in the world to meet them at that particular point in time.

By the last day out and the odometer nearing the 1000 mile mark, the line between anticipation and realization had long since blurred. There was no need to try and separate them anyway. Lonesome roads, endless skies, the smell of the forest and the sound of the breeze were all things that combined to make up this road trip. The stuff of dreams, envisioned way back when the sky was gray and drizzly, and this journey was just a gleam in my eye.

Road Stories

I enjoy traveling the roads less taken. Often they go through towns that time forgets or at least slows down for. Dogs that don’t need a leash or a fence, porch sitters calmly looking up and giving a nod to the stranger passing through. Small towns where the Post Office is often the general store and the café doubles as the gas station or grain supply. Where at the edge of town, right before the speed limit sign, is a Cemetery Road.

Far from the interstates, these towns and roads are a real highlight for me. Roads that have a personality. That personality changes almost within every mile. Going through coastal fog, searing desert heat, summit passes of the Cascades, or the Coast Range, and on a first day out, I remember coming down out of the Blue Mountains late one afternoon, my shadow getting longer as it led me into Baker City and to the El Dorado Motel for the night.

East of Baker City, Hwy 86 is a favorite of mine. It goes along the Powder River at first, and then it climbs a bit. Sweepers turning into twistys and then coming into Richland you get an eagles eye view of the south edge of the Wallowa Mountains. 10 or 11 miles into the small town of Halfway and there’s a different feel in the air. The Snake River gives off a powerful energy even though tamed at this location. It’s Hells Canyon and Joseph to the north or cross the Oxbow Dam and ride down to the Brownlee Dam and cross into Idaho and meet with Hwy 95, a north-south route that has it all, from the glorious White Bird Pass to the road following closely enclosed canyon walls.

Hwy 395 from Riley down to Lakeview is another favorite road. It’s 110 miles of solitude and beauty. One day, I could see a thunder storm 50 miles away to the west working its way north. The line was cut so definitively I knew I was not in harms way. It was like watching a giant and evolving painting taking form on a canvas far in the distance. There is a tiny pit stop, Wagontire, the only settlement on the road. It fools people sometimes with their gas pumps out front of the café, but they stopped selling gas several years ago. As I passed, spectators had gathered near the pumps and were admiring the faraway artwork as well.

Dozens of miles later through the desert heat and sagebrush you catch glimpses of white. At first you’re not sure what is going on, but then, before you know it, weaving along the shoreline of Alkali Lake a dry desert lake bed, it is white as far as the eye can see. Soon, a brilliant blue takes over as you come closer and hug the road along Abert Lake. Both of these oddities posing as an ocean and a snowfield seem surreal and out of place in the middle of the desert, but somehow, all is right. The wind is warm, the sky is open. The Guzzi purrs with acknowledgement.

Most nights I get a motel. It’s nice to start fresh in the morning, but I’m always prepared to camp. Late one afternoon after getting a checkpoint in northern California, I was heading for the border. It had already been a 500 mile day and a bed didn’t seem in the cards tonight. I recalled a campground somewhere on this road from a previous trip, but couldn’t quite place it. I kept going as it got darker and darker, alert for the turnoff I knew was there. A couple of times I thought I saw reflective eyes shining back at me and I knew I should slow it down in this forested area. One bright light kept appearing and disappearing between the trees yet getting closer each time. I couldn’t figure it out, but soon the roar of a southbound train made it evident.

I found the turn off to the camp ground and it appeared empty. A longer day in the saddle than normal, I just tossed out the sleeping bag next to the bike and crawled in. Nudging up closer to the warm headers, tick….tick….tick I quickly drifted off to the rhythm of the cooling pipes.

Other nights under the stars were to happen that summer. Other roads were explored and had something meaningful to say. Now, approaching winter, there are still residual effects of the open road and endless skies. These are hard to fade and won’t go away easily. The previous years memories are always nice to build on for the upcoming adventures, surprises, and maybe even another story.

Borderlines

It was 20 or 30 miles before I really got situated. I caught the Bremerton ferry out of Seattle and before the one hour ride was up, I was pacing, both mentally and physically, anxious to get under way. Rolling off the boat ramp and giving a nod to a row of bikers waiting to load, I was finally in charge of this ride.

Hwy 3 across the Kitsap peninsula and down through Shelton, things were loosening up and I finally found myself in road trip mode. The Jim Brandes Memorial Campout was my destination for the day. This route was about 250 miles…my first real distance ride of the year, the sky was clear and the wind was warm.

101 out of Cosmopolis and on down to the Astoria bridge. Always impressive and always in a slightly different mood, this 4 mile span is a friend of mine. Looking east up the river and west out to sea I try and imagine the journey these waters have seen since their Canadian headwaters. Almost like a road trip of its own, passing cities,canyons, and deserts. Right now though, I’m pointed south, having crested the bridge,I crossed the Oregon borderline…

I don’t need to remind these readers of the sweeping beauty of this part of the coast. Leaning through the bends and curves from Cannon Beach through the tunnel and hugging the cliff at the very edge of the world then floating back downward to sea level coming into Twin Rocks.

Pulling onto Whalen Island and seeing many of the Guzzi contingent already set up was a welcoming sight, as was the reception by the hard working Gerri and Gary Jenkins.

Old friendships renewed and new ones made. What a great way to start the riding season! Plenty of tire kickin’ and Guzzi talkin’ ensued into the next day,but when the morning came, I saddled up and I was on my way. There were still a few days and a thousand miles to this outing yet to come.

30 degree swings in temperatures and 180 degree differences in landscape. Feeling relief at the cooling ocean air going down Hwy 199 past the California borderline where the pine trees turned to redwoods. Back up and east around Crater lake there were still snowfields alongside the highway, responsible I think  for the alternating pockets of warm and cool as I climbed in elevation.

By the time I met back up with the Astoria Bridge, its mood had turned dark and all I could see of the other side was big black low clouds full of rain. Cinching up my rain gear and taking a deep breath, I headed north for several hours of a wet ride home after crossing the Washington borderline…

Many Rivers to Cross

It was high noon when I reached the north side of the Astoria Bridge. The old girl was getting a make-over and smelled of paint and turpentine. A flock of supervisory seagulls drifted above. I crossed the Columbia and spiraled down to street level Astoria then pointed my front  tire towards Tillamook.

It was still a week before the national rally in John Day, but I had a full agenda ahead of me prior to, then following that event involving Grand Tour checkpoints and other towns riding a large, crooked, counter clockwise circle covering Oregon’s four corners. Astoria was corner 1 and there were barely any bugs on my windshield or whisker shadow on my face.

This was the 4th summer with the Vintage and the ride kept getting better and better. Leaning into and powering out of the coastal corners, it was clear what this machine was made for. Sometimes entering a small patch of fog that hadn’t yet or wouldn’t ever burn off, I’d feel a power surge when the motor smiled and breathed in that slightly moist air.  The ocean on my right stretched out as far as the eye could reach. Beyond that were sea-faring tales that I couldn’t imagine. Ahead of me, the road was unwinding like a story told in real time.

The next few days, my wheels kept on turning. Past the Holsteins and Jerseys of Tillamook, the tourists of Lincoln City, and the dunes near Reedsport. There, I turned and rode east over the coast range on OR38. A beautiful and meandering road following the Umpqua River past one blink burgs with names like Murphys Camp and Green Acres. Ordinary people calmly and smoothly going about their business  – like the water flow next to them.

Nearing the I-5 corridor it was getting quite congested, and hot too. The Vintage was running like a champ, but I could tell it wanted some more elbow room. I quickly checked off a Grand Tour site in Sutherlin then looked for a back road outta town. Barely showing on a map was Flournoy Valley Road turning into Reston Road, then meeting up nicely with OR42 at another one of those tiny settlements –Tenmile. We headed west again back over the coast range ending up at Bandon Beach just in time for the sunset.

A cup of hot coffee the next morning was enough to get me warmed up and down the road to Brookings for breakfast –Corner 2. It wasn’t long before I was across the border and catching whiffs more and more frequently of the Eucalyptus groves of Del Norte County.

I passed through some redwoods and swung back up into Oregon on 199 along the Smith River. Rafters, fly fisherman, and bathers all enjoying the summer sun, as was I, weaving and watching it go by from above.

Summer in southern Oregon can get real hot real fast, but I avoided it  by climbing quickly from the Rogue River valley where the temps cooled just as fast, and nearing Crater Lake, snow was still alongside the road. Continuing east then north on OR97 I saw an unassuming line on the map referred to as the Silver Lake Hwy cutting across to OR31 not far from Summer Lake – another checkpoint.  A very peaceful, seemingly deserted road, it’s elevated above marshland filled with cattails, lillypads, grasses and some ponderosa pine trees. Cranes, eagles and pelicans were above. This part of the state is always full of surprises.

OR140 out of Lakeview the road climbed again, almost imperceptibly except for passing a ski area at Buzzards Gap about 6100 feet. The Vintage never questioned and was with me however and wherever I wanted to go. I Dipped down into Humbolt county Nevada before going north again on OR201 to Fields – Corner number 3. OK, not technically a corner, McDermitt would have been truer..but I had a rally to get to!

From there it was north to the rally to enjoy the two days of festivities. Sunday morning I packed up again, turned north and crossing the John Day River, I was on my way. By early afternoon I was watching the Wallowa mountains diminishing in my mirror as I rode north on OR 3 out of Enterprise, heading toward corner 4 and beyond.

There’s a bridge over the Grand Ronde River, just north of the border where OR 3 turns to WA129. A pull- off and a small café sits lazily on its bank. It’s at the bottom of a 15 mile set of sweepers and hairpins. North or south, up or down, it’s an exhilarating road and there is always a set or two of bikers there with grins and stories.

Later, I’m following the Clearwater River right into Clarkston when it disappears into the Snake without fanfare. Just as the next day, only hours from home now, the Snake itself merges with the Columbia and loses its maiden name forever…