When the Sun Came Back

Turning the ignition key for the first time since the sun came back felt warm and pleasant. A faint and wispy trail of a cobweb trapezed from the left grip down to the floorboard. That’s where my gloves and my boots were soon to be re-claiming their proper space. Before pressing the starter button, I looked in the mirrors and reflected on the long and drizzly winter now gone. The Vintage motor cranked once, and then roared to life as if the last several months didn’t count. As if there were no lonely, dank nights alone in the garage, and as if when we put up for the last time, just before the rains, we would be out again the very next sunrise. Of course we weren’t  and with each passing week, as the clouds got thicker, memories of summer rides and those sunny morning starts began to diminish into a distant horizon.

I twisted the throttle and let gently out the clutch. We started to move and it felt different than during that patch of winter when locomotion could be sluggish and limited. Now, it was fluent and flowing where balance became a dance and the warm wind a partner.

Passing by a deciduous forest full of bloom, I remembered stopping there on a winter’s day. Maybe it was the shortest day, huddled against a different wind, then cold, whistling through its stark and skeletal outlines. Meanwhile, when no one was watching, the trees sprouted small buds and were now robust and dense.

We picked up some speed and leaned into a corner. A little steeper lean than necessary, but I wanted the new tires to know just what we were getting into during the upcoming summer days. They gripped the blacktop with enthusiasm and confirmed to me they were ready. As I shifted into fourth gear, the winter months were fading fast in my mirrors, and in my mind.

It didn’t take but another mile or two, and it was as if we were never apart. My feet were expertly massaged by the comforting vibration of the road and my hands were soothed by the feel of the motor through the frame. It was an overall pleasing effect, highlighted by the unique characteristic of moving air not confined by a window. The sway and the camber of the road unfolded and unveiled sights, smells and sounds only experienced from the saddle. Coming up and out of a corner, a great meadow was revealed and the aroma of fresh field dirt and wild grasses filled the air. The wind fluttered and whispered sweet nothings in my ear.

It was hard not to be lulled into the serenity of this ride. My mind was respectful of it, yet receptive to its seductive power. The rhythm of the road was starting to intertwine with the tempo of my breathing. In and out, a regular cycle, and small beads of sweat appeared on my brow. The cadence of the motor chugged out an ode to this highway. The road then turned into another one and different clouds appeared above and the meadow became a mountain. Somehow, that first ride, the day when the sun came back with recollections and cobwebs, got dissolved by the months and the miles. I was riding on another day and down a different path. The new tires fully broken in now and comfortable like an old pair of jeans. The dust on the paint and the crinkles around my eyes attested to the experience. It was hotter now, but soon the leaves would change and a crisp bite would be in the morning air. I was the seasoned rider giving advice on this road or that, and telling tales of sweeping corners and clear mountain passes, and when long ago how warm and pleasant it was, when the sun came back.

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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…

Have a Nice Day

“Have a nice day” the cop said disingenuously and almost with a sneer.

I could see myself in his glasses as I looked at him, and took my copy of the ticket.. I could also see  my mouth start to open , but then close. This was a minor issue that I didn’t need to get worked up over. The ride I’d had today far out-shadowed any small minded attitude that wouldn’t be swayed.

Just that very morning I’d left traffic congestion, stop lights and hundreds of miles way behind me. The more time and miles in the saddle, the more relaxed I get. We were one, the Vintage and me, over the pass and into drier climes of the east-side  Riding along I chuckled to myself as I thought aloud, “even if I were a kidnap victim, bound, gagged and tied up in the trunk of a Town Car,  I would still know that change in the very air when the evergreens turn to sagebrush.”  Naturally, my senses were much less constrained than that, and crossing over back and forth several times this summer, the second summer with the Vintage, I could feel it starting to get broken in and freer too. We were having a nice day.

A small cloud of dust followed then settled behind my rear tire as I pulled into an oasis of a town in Central East Oregon. Except for the old gas pumps out front, the GasStationPostOfficeFeedstoreSaloon and local card players hangout hall, could have been straight out of a western movie. I might have just interrupted a royal flush, but more likely gave the proprietor a chance to get up and stretch. The woman, wearing cowboy boots, a snap-shirt and blue jeans with a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate saying something about rodeo championships, nodded, said “howdy”, and handed me the pump.

We talked about the roads, we talked about the weather. We talked about the freedom of the saddle and the river near by. When my tank was full, I’d made a friend. It seems so easy and natural on the road.  As my left boot kicked it into first, she said,  “have a nice day” with enthusiasm and with smiling eyes…

Cruising along late one afternoon on a roundabout way to the John Day rally, the bike suddenly died. Coasting to a stop, I assessed my predicament. Just ahead, at the top of a hill, was a sweeper I had just been mentally calculating.  To the rear –well, it’s mighty beautiful country out here when you’re on top of the world and riding the wind, but indeed a daunting view when suddenly and unexpectedly becalmed. I think the last sign of civilization was about 20 miles back. Telephone poles got smaller and smaller in my mirror and disappeared into the horizon. A Jack rabbit loped by, seemingly unconcerned.

Just as I tried, eliminated and had failed with all the usual things, a county sheriff pulled up. “Sure ‘nuff,  I’m dead in the water here and certainly do appreciate you calling a tow truck for me.” 30 minutes later John, owner/operator of “Budget Towing” pulls up. I’m tired, hot and mad that this is probably the end of the road for me this leg of the journey, but then I put things in perspective, and realized the last time I needed a Tow truck I’d been in a wreck. We found the first, then the second, and finally the third and last motel in town with a vacancy. I got a square deal from John. We shook hands. “Have a nice day” he said with unusual compassion.

5:59PM  checked into the motel and just as a fluke, decided to call Moto International. On the 2nd ring Micha answered. I was a little taken aback expecting to leave some pitiful message and try again in the morning after sleeping on the situation.

“Listen” he says, “I think I know what happened.” He went on to explain the, by now, infamous fuel line off-the-pump-inside-the tank syndrome, and what I needed to do to fix it. I was getting a more sinking feeling by the sentence, but he ended it with “I know you can do this”

So I did it. By dark the tank was off and the secret panel opened up and the errant hose was revealed by flashlight. That was all I could do until morning when NAPA opened up and I could get a couple of “real” hose clamps.

It had been a long day, almost ending with a bad day, but thanks to Micha answering that phone 1 minute before closing…something I probably wouldn’t have done…well….I  had a nice day.

I buttoned everything up the next morning and the Vintage fired up on the first crank as if to say,  “I’m rarin’ to go – lets ride!”

And ride we did. Another 1,900 miles over the next 5 days on that leg, and some 1,800 more four weeks later. All the miles I covered this summer were a pure joy.. Literally covering the 4 corners of both Washington and Oregon and many points in between. More passes than I can remember. Snoqualamie, Tombstone, El Dorado, and Santiam to name  a few. The John Day Rally, Brandes campout, and Humbug were scattered in between visits to Grand Tour checkpoints. Beautiful days on the road. A full moon in a day time sky, hawks were abundant and the air was sweet. I tasted the farmland going by…alfalfa fields, sweet onions, peppermint and potatoes. Freshly tilled soil sometimes gave way to harsher caked desert earth in the blink of eye or a county line passed. Road kill out here, while not pleasant, seemed appropriate. The miles and the white lines went flying by, as did the summer.

Now, it’s time to move on again. I’ve stayed long enough, I’ve many miles to cover before sundown.

Have a nice day.