Waiting for the Spring

I won’t write another sad shadowed story about how I’ve missed riding along with the breeze. I’ve already said how much of a joy it has been. I’ve already expressed how nice it is to see the highway through windblown and happy eyes. I’ve already confessed I have wanderlust and a need to lick my lips and taste the sea and mountain air. I’ve already mentioned the mystery to me of never tiring of the next sweeping corner bordered by rivers and railroad tracks. I’ve already thought about all the miles gone by and how long ago and far away they now seem. No, I won’t pine the void, the emptiness and vacancy. It only crosses my mind just before sleep and right after waking and sometimes when the sky is gray.

Memories that go unnourished get hungry for reminders. Thoughts of yesterday’s roads begin to fade, merge and are embellished. It seems it was a southbound highway where I saw that breathtaking expanse, or possibly it was another road I chose that day where the sky and the distance were indistinguishable. And on that same afternoon, above me, a cast of hawks played in the updraft flap-less and flirting.

It could have been a Tuesday leaving a small town catching site of a freshly tilled parcel of land. A tractor idled peacefully at the far end of perfect geometric rows. Its dust cloud had dissipated into the air and the only sound was my motor and the wind. As I rode by, I smiled because I knew I would remember this scene and others just as rustic and picturesque.

It really doesn’t matter what road or which day. As sure as the winter will blend into spring, fresh memories of new rides will soon mix together. I know all those upcoming site and sounds are all lined up, ready to burst upon the scene. Like the birds in the trees, they’re poised and waiting in the wings like me, just waiting for the spring.


Ridin’ the Storm Out

Ahead of me, to the south, the sky was black and punctuated with bolts of lightning. To my sides, distant dark gray clouds were rolling and tumbling forward into the blackness. And glimpsing back, over my left shoulder towards Burns, the sky was brilliant blue like a finely polished agate. 20 minutes and 20 miles ago it was 90 degrees and the wind was just picking up. Now, it dropped to 60 and I was riding into what felt like, the eye of the storm.

I set out on this last ride of the season a few days earlier, when Seattle was foggy and there was drizzle in the air. I made quick work of Snoqualmie Pass and was soon breathing the dry and warmer air on the other side, although it still didn’t feel like I’d quite broken free until getting off the interstate at Vantage. There, I crossed the bridge where the Columbia River runs north to south, and then followed it for 30 miles or so where we parted ways. It, lazily making an eastbound turn and I continuing south.

Crossing the Columbia again the next day I was well into North East Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains are dominant here as they watch over unassuming and serpentine roads that weave in and out of their shadows. My timing was perfect. I learned later I was an hour behind every rain shower. The only evidence was a residual puddle in a low spot, and dampened cobwebs in a tree that caught the sunlight just right as to glisten and surrender their camouflage.

It was never hot during this September ride like I knew it could be here. The sky teased and toyed with me and constantly changed from ominous to promising. The next couple of days I rode my way south by southwest, always missing the recent rains. Riding down OR 395 towards John Day, the highway alternated between forest and high desert and the roadside flora seemed confused whether to be pine trees or sage brush. At some elevations, right at that sweet spot, they were intermingled. Above, the hawks soared and the clouds turned less menacing. They were willowy and white now and revealed just a little blue sky. With the Strawberry Mountains as a backdrop, it looked like a picture from a glossy magazine.

I came into Burns from the north, and again missed their showers by an hour. I exited to the south and the desert outside of town hadn’t quite absorbed the downpour. It was odd to see muddy puddles alongside the road where I’ve only ever seen hard, dry and cracked earth in this area. The air was filled with that sweet aroma that only a summer shower in the desert can bring. A dozen miles later it was starting to get darker and clouds were filling in where just a short time ago, I had unlimited visibility. It seemed my run of luck was about to shift. Just as the temperature hit that 60 degree mark, the first drops began to fall and the normal highway wind turned unmistakably to gusts and began to buck me. The rain got heavier and the bolts of lightning were closer and lit up the sky as if Thor himself were at the helm, hammer in hand. I could feel the sharp drops through my Kevlar and my helmet became a kettle drum. Great thunderous booms exploded around me. It was exhilarating, it was breathtaking, it was intoxicating. I knew I should stop but I couldn’t, I was hooked on the fury like a joy junkie. I knew it would all be over in short order though, I could see that brilliant blue sky again straight ahead. Like coming out of a tunnel, I emerged from the storm into the light. The temperature rose, the sweet aroma returned and only those unnatural mud puddles remained.

I was dry and bug free but thirsty as I pulled into a little café for some cool water just a mile later. The owners and a couple of customers were out on the wooden porch under the overhang and had watched it all. Everyone noted how fast these can come and go, I nodded in agreement thinking of my fortunate timing these last few days on the road. A short time later with the blue sky reflecting in the puddles, I rode away. Of course I couldn’t know that my timing would be just as good over the next few days as I made my way home.

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.


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.


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…