Mountains, Motors, and Moonshine
Standing at my workbench beneath the glow of my shop lights I washed the lingering taste of stale taco out of my mouth with another pull of moonshine from the mason jar, a solitary thought ricocheting around my head like the last, lonely ball on a pool table. As I fumbled for the drill the sole thought was this- what I was about to do was wrong, way wrong, so wrong that it could either be the best thing I had ever done, or the worst.
Yet the longer my brain absorbed the alcohol, the more brilliant I became. You know you are spiraling down the deathly abyss of abominable ideas when the more hootch you consume, the more sense something makes. At that moment, belly full of disgusting taco and brain doped up on Southern elixir courtesy of Road Dirt media dude Phil, I could not pull free from the black hole of thought that I needed to do this. I HAD to do this.
Time to drill holes for mounting skis. Seems like a fine idea.
So I did. I pulled the trigger and made four holes in my saddle bag, threaded hose clamps though them, clamped on my touring skis and mounted them on my 1998 Honda VFR 800. Admiring my handiwork I stood back, took another pull from the mason jar, let it linger and celebrated my stroke of brilliance.
Yet given the right conditions, I should be able to ride my motorcycle to a mountain base then climb up and ski down. April is the golden time to pull off this ski and ride biathlon since spring in the Pacific Northwest is a dichotomy of seasons, winter lingering in the Cascade Mountain Range while spring thaws the valleys below. The Cascade Mountains, that craggy spine that splits the state in two, regularly reminds locals that only two seasons exist at their elevation, winter and July. The weather said come, the moonshine said go, the wife said I was finding yet one more way to kill myself.
One more way to kill myself? What could possibly go wrong? Editor Rob’s favorite saying of mine. I think.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl was my original goal, two hours north and at the foot of the eastern slopes of North Cascades National Park. But in the wee hours of the morning before departure a spring storm dumped 8 to 14 inches of snow on the mountains, closing passes and reminding Washingtonians that it is always winter in the Cascades. Highway 20 that leads to Loup Loup might have dodged the storm, but there was no way to tell. Change of plans.
Instead of heading north, I pointed the VFR 800 south to Mission Ridge, closer to home and not as daring as Loup Loup. I was disappointed. I wanted more adventure. I needn’t have worried.
Adventure came and swiftly. As I rode to Mission Ridge, spring snowmelt loosened the hillsides sending rocks tumbling to the road, creating a slalom course with horrible consequences for losing. Wet asphalt and dodging boulders with near freezing temperatures was likely beyond the design parameters of Bridgestone S22 hypersport rubber and a VFR is not an adventure bike yet here it was, saddlebags laden with skis and gear, avoiding rocks as the skis held fast.
Skis on a motorcycle draw attention at a local cafe. You mean a VFR 800 is not an adventure bike? No one told me.
Skis make sails when aimed in the wrong direction and the turned-up tips pointing forward proved that aerodynamic resistance increases with the square of speed. If my right wrist got greedy, the tips pulled the bike to the right. Side winds made handling predictably unpredictable- one moment a wind gust would push the bike left, then a still patch of air permitted the skis to pull the bike right again. There was no respite from the battle. The faster I rode the more the skis took charge.
Water started to give way to snow. Tip toeing through the first few drifts was rewarded by nastier patches farther ahead until even I began to question my decision making process. Stopping to consider my options and sanity I looked back at my VFR, the most versatile motorbike ever created by man.
On that bike I have done track days, 3 week camping trips, triple digit desert speed runs, 14,000 foot mountain climbs, Bonneville desert escapades, over 100k miles of asphalt, more dirt miles than many ADV bikes and the list goes on. Now, the VFR’s cat eyes looked at me quizzically, asking if we were really going to attempt this new escapade.
“Aren’t we both too old for this?” it whispered.
Ice and snow eventually blanketed the bare pavement. Time to retreat.
The VFR and I, we have been though too much together to ruin our relationship with a snowy low side, but I didn’t want to stop. I was not done. World Superbike racer Troy Bayliss’ words echoed through my head: not yet. Not frickin’ yet.
So we reached an agreement. I could be done with the bike but I was not done with the adventure. I had come too far, packed too heavily, planned too much and drilled too many holes to cry uncle. Riding back to a pullout I parked the bike, changed into my ski gear and started walking to the mountain. Shortly into my walk a passerby gave me a ride to the base because evidently few things attract as much curiosity as a somebody laden with ski gear abandoning an adventure sportbike.
At the base the work begins with putting on skins.
At the mountain the real work began. Turning skis into climbing machines means adhering one-directional fabric to the bases. Fibers pointed one way run smoothly when pushed forward, yet resist when asked to go backwards. Imagine petting your chocolate lab; the fur is smooth when stroked one direction but not the opposite way, which must be why skiers call the climbing fabric “skins.”
Time to climb and earn my turns.
“Skinning up” in the snow is done one methodical heel lift at a time, a sweaty trance of heavy breathing while the mountain laughs at your geologic pace. It is equal measure determination and perspiration. As skinners go I am slow, but I had a goal: the Jim Jack deck.
The plaque on the deck honors our fallen comrade.
Jim Jack was a ski patroller at Mission Ridge until he and two others were killed in an avalanche in 2012. A sun deck erected in his honor sits at the base of rocky chutes with expansive views of the surrounding snow bowl to the east. I had to reach the deck because I wanted to be alone.
Views from the Jim Jack deck inspire awe.
After a sweaty climb I had the deck to myself, just my mountain and me. I need this mental reset, this oasis from the parasitic draw of a horrible world because the mountain is our perfect cure. It doesn’t care who you are or who you voted for, it doesn’t know the color of your skin or how much money you make, it pours out magic and mysticism on anyone willing to come, sit and be still. Among the open expanse of rock and snow there is no pandemic nor politics, no prejudice or property, nothing pretentious or perfect. Mountains reduce life to its most basic of elements: snow, sun and sky, wind, white and weather. It is life distilled. Speaking of distilled, where is my moonshine?
Climb done. Time to celebrate.
For months I had been saving the last gasp of this brilliant concoction for a special occasion, one day like this. I dug it out of my pack and drank it to the last while the mountain watched me get high on endorphins, life and liquor. Riding a motorcycle to ski tour is more than the sum of its parts; it is the combination of two tools of freedom, each dripping with potential for adventure as they talk to us, begging us to toss the screen aside, kill the noise and disappear because as we seek to explore the outside, we also journey into ourselves.
Lingering there I basked in my amateur glory, slipping into a moonshine stupor, playing 80s music as a soundtrack for my one-man revelry. I drank, danced, then drank some more as Modern English stopped the world to melt with me. In the vast cold expanse I made peace with my mountain, my motorcycle, this mis-adventure and the awful year past.
“So let’s sink another drink, ’cause it’ll give me time to think. If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance, and I’d be dancing with myself.” sang 80s poet, Billy Idol.
Mounting skis on my motorcycle to skin up a mountain was a both stroke of brilliance and blatant stupidity. But my soul needed to do this. I HAD to do this.
Sometimes you just need to do those things you shouldn’t do.
*Ever done anything irrational but soul-nourishing before? Let us know in the comments below.
Deed done. Time to hitchhike back to the motorcycle. This time, no one picked me up.