Saying Goodbye To A Sacred Place
Welcome to my tearful farewell, my wistful goodbye to a house in the middle of a God-kissed corner of the Pacific Northwest bereft of time’s depravities, a place to run where the most important things in life are not things, but people. In this house, this oasis from life’s downward plunging corkscrew and its horrible sucking tempest there lived a gentle, retired Lutheran minister and his wife.
Myron Bentz retired from decades of service in the ministry long ago but his devotion to people and building relationships never ceased. To further his nurturing ministry he and his wife Audrey made a seven bedroom home among the rolling seas of tall brown grass and majestic evergreen forests of south central Washington. Named after a Native American poem, they called it Morning Song Acres.
If the Mild Hogs had a clubhouse, it was Morning Song Acres.
Morning Song Acres’ south facing wall is all glass up to its two story vaulted ceiling, giving visitors a stunning view of distant Mt Hood. One of the world’s most beautiful volcanoes, you can feel Mt. Hood’s pull, its calm voice telling you to unplug, relax, free yourself from life’s tyranny of the urgent and do the most important thing in life, the very thing this house was crafted to do: build relationships.
By divine intervention, Morning Song Acres just happens to be planted directly in the middle of some of the best motorcycle roads no one has ever heard of.
You may leave Morning Song Acres, but a piece of your soul remains behind. Road Dirt senior editor Rob Brooks crossed the country, coming from Georgia to see what all the fuss was about. He gets it now.
The Mild Hogs touring group came to Morning Song Acres years ago with the intent of shredding the living daylights out of the local roads, but kept coming back because of Myron and Audrey. As we retuned from a day’s ride Audrey would have dinner waiting for our grimy crew, but first she would hand out hymnals, sit at the piano in the main living room and ask us to sing from the Lutheran Church hymnal. So out of love for Audrey we sang gladly, though badly, and very out of key. At Morning Song we always sang for our supper.
During dinner Myron would entertain us with stories of the old days, of how he loaded everything they owned into a station wagon in the early 60s and drove to Alaska to plant a church, then brag about how his bratwurst-making skills were the best in human history, which they were. Audrey would serve us dinner then dine with us, and as she listened to our tales from the road laced with our crude sense of humor she simply smiled, giggled non-stop, then smiled some more.
Years passed and as our fondness for the heavenly roads grew, our fondness for Myron and Audrey grew deeper. As they aged into their 80’s we still came to shred tarmac and escape the horrible urban apocalypse, but sometimes we just came to fix the plumbing, prepare for a yard sale, crash the potluck at the quilt show or simply make bratwurst.
Myron Bentz (standing) and a small gathering of the Mild Hogs.
Time plowed relentlessly forward without sympathy or regard and as it did, Myron and Audrey became less able to handle the chores needed to keep up their massive home. This fall we got word that Morning Song had been sold.
We all knew it was coming. It had to eventually. We were hoping it would happen later rather than sooner. Preferably never. Our group of riders reacted the only way we knew how, by scheduling one last visit to Morning Song Acres, a farewell tour of sorts. It needed a goodbye celebration, a proper climax, a grand finale worthy of this special place, its people and the roads. In the end, Morning Song Acres got all it could handle.
It needed a goodbye celebration.
I left for Morning Song Acres with Bill Motsenbocker way too late in the afternoon and we decided to make haste lest Fall’s fading daylight conceal the millions of deer that love to play “seek and destroy” in that area. Mots took the lead because he had the radar detector. The speeds that happened next will forever stay between Mots and I. I will only say that our pace made me question our sanity.
We arrived at Morning Song like the six others from our group who had come from various corners of the state just as the setting sun burned the horizon, painting Morning Song and its grassy fields a burnt orange glow. Mots and I agreed that we had pushed our luck, taken chances and riders who do what we just did have short lives in this sport. They either end up in jail or a morgue. We agreed to take it easy tomorrow.
Sunsets never disappoint at morning Song Acres.
Myron and Audrey joined us for dinner that night and in Morning Song tradition Audrey played the piano as we sang for our supper. This was our last dinner with them, our last group chorus and as we sang loudly and badly, Audrey just giggled. Then, Myron asked us to pray.
Myron, though his aging mind had weakened in many regards, never lost his ability to deliver moving prayers. This was his final prayer at Morning Song Acres. We all knew the gravity of the moment. Our boisterous group fell silent.
“Many people have come here to our home bringing their worries and troubles with them,” he started. “Most came as strangers, not knowing each other, our home, or us. But no matter who they were, no matter what worries they brought with them, though they came as strangers they have always left Morning Song as family. Our family. Forever. Amen.”
This was not just a prayer for us, it was Myron’s farewell to Morning Song Acres, their wonderful seven bedroom tool for reaching down to the heart of people and changing them from the inside out. I fought back tears, though not very well.
The next morning as I gazed at Mt. Hood over coffee I listened to its ethereal voice, I gave in to its pleading to slow down, relax, enjoy the scenery. I verbally renewed my agreement with Mots to take it easy. Today, I would throttle back. Then the Ferrari pulled up.
Morning Song Acres’ massive front windows give a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. And Ferraris.
Change of plans.
You see, one of our riders, Milt Herman, told the group that his son-in-law was coming and driving his “car.” Milt is a 79 year old retired optometrist with thick gray hair, a quirky sense of humor, a never ending smile hidden beneath a thick gray mustache and softly speaks intelligent things only you can hear. He is Albert Einstein’s doppelgänger, if Albert Einstein rode a Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird with a chromed frame and wheels. It was his son-in-law Gary Ike who pulled up in the black Ferrari 458 Italia.
Gary owns his own business and plays hard with his cars and motorcycles. Immediately I noticed the edges of the Ferrari’s tires showed evidence of track abuse and the motorcycle leathers he brought along were weathered and properly abraded. For the morning Milt and Gary swapped rides, Milt jumping in the Ferrari with Gary mounting the Blackbird. Evidently ambidextrous speed is a family thing.
I mounted my high mileage 1998 VFR as my cousin Dave “White Girl” Wensveen started his Yamaha FJR and his son Garrick warmed up his Yamaha R1. With the Honda Blackbird idling nearby and Milt blipping the throttle on the Ferrari 458, I mentally apologized to Mots. I was about to violate our earlier agreement.
Appleton Road begins at the Columbia River just outside of Morning Song Acres and serves banked uphill hairpins in dizzying succession. Gary led on the Blackbird followed by Garrick on the R1, White Girl on the FJR, Milt in the Ferrari and me on the VFR. Though I love to abuse Appleton Road I refused to pass the Ferrari so I could watch it from behind and also because, well, I wasn’t sure I could pass it if I wanted to.
Things you notice while racing with a Ferrari 458 Italia: it’s not so much a car as a floating apparition. Low and purposeful, its flowing lines make other cars look like design mistakes. The Ferrari doesn’t so much drive on pavement as it hovers an inch above it, powering through corners with ridiculous drive exit then disappearing into the woods like a phantom.
It’s body never rolls, the suspension never moves, the car never gets upset or out of shape powering forward through the air like a 562 horsepower hallucination while it’s ghostly skirt kicks up mid-corner dust just to prove to you that indeed it is real and not a figment of your imagination. More midnight ghost than car, it defies the laws of physics. There is no way it should be able to do what you just saw it do. Did it just take that corner at that speed? With gravel mid-apex? And a 79 year old Albert Einstein look-alike at the helm? Otherworldly.
Appleton Road ends at Glenwood so we turned south to BZ Corner and yes, that is the town’s actual name. I took the lead because I have burned this road for many years and know exactly where I will be dragging fingers. Somewhere behind me the midnight ghost prowled.
What could possibly go wrong here? Why nothing, nothing at all.
BZ Corner Road is entertaining in that it changes quickly- one section is wide, never-ending fourth gear sweepers through farmland while the next is second gear corners though towering forests. On my favorite long left hand sweeper by the red barn I picked up the pace from quick to questionable. The curve had endless sight lines and perfect grip so I gradually added throttle pressure while taking away lean angle until the aged but sublime V4 hit it’s happy place. I needed to push the pace because somewhere behind me the Ferrari was yawning.
After BZ Corner we crossed the state line south to The Dalles, Oregon for afternoon coffee and no matter where we went, we made a scene.
I think this is because sport bikes are a dying species. General public is used to either giant scudding herds of popping cruisers or pairs of adventure bikes with rectangular aluminum panniers and camping gear bungee corded everywhere. When a mix of eight fast bikes pull into a coffee shop with a Ferrari chase vehicle, cell phones emerge from everywhere.
Mots (far right) admires the Ferrari 458 Italia’s low, flowing body.
After coffee, Milt and Gary switched rides again, Milt on his chromed Blackbird and Gary piloting his Ferrari 458 Italia. Gary quickly earned my endorsement because he showed he knew what tunnels are for. Approaching a pair of tunnels on our way to Klickitat, Gary slowed the Ferrari to about 40 mph and grabbed first gear. I was directly behind him and followed suit. We both knew what was coming. Tunnels are acoustical playgrounds.
As soon as we entered the tunnel, we pinned our throttles. My VFR and it’s howling V-4 is gorgeous but nothing like what came out of the tailpipes of the Ferrari. Under wide open throttle the tenor roar of the Ferrari’s 4.5 liter V-8 approached redline. As it echoed off the tunnel’s walls it sounded like Luciano Pavarotti getting stabbed. Even with earplugs it gave me goosebumps.
Turning north, the road hugging the meandering Klickitat River is a gem of northwest stereotypes; fast moving clean water, fresh air, aged pines, towering canyon walls and a road that flows through them all. Gary led with the Ferrari followed by Garrick on the R1 with me behind and for once on this epic goodbye ride for Morning Song’s sake, sanity set in.
I let them go. I ignored my red mist and let them vanish on their asphalt playground while I held back because something special was coming up, something too special to ruin, something I had been working on for years. I timed it perfectly.
As the group pulled into a lookout over the Klickitat Canyon gorge I rode by and went exactly three miles. Then, I turned around and rode back to the lookout. As I approached the rear bumper of the Ferrari my odometer hit 100,000 miles.
The VFR rolled over 100,000 miles as it rolled up to the back bumper of the Ferrari. Note the specked front bumper of the Ferrari. Well maintained and well used, it gets to run free during trackways at Portland International Raceway. And in the canyons, of course.
It was all too perfect- the rolling goodbye salute to Morning Song Acres, the view, the mileage, the bikes, the Ferrari and my friends. We stared out over the canyon and in my head I reminisced about what the VFR and I had done over the years, where we had gone and who we had done it with. There had been good days, bad days and track days, snowstorms and heatwaves, dawn patrols and late night sprints, more gravel miles than I want to admit, some speeds I will never admit to and some maintenance I neglected. Through it all my 1998 VFR800 had always brought me home. After crossing so much country, that it hit 100,000 miles on a tour from Morning Song Acres can only be explained as divine intervention.
The next morning we all went our separate ways one by one, saying goodbye to Morning Song Acres, then each other. My cousin Dave, his son Garrick and I were the last ones out. We closed and locked the door behind us with a sad, final click. How appropriate that the last ones to leave Morning Song Acres were family.
Dave Wensveen (left) and his son Garrick, the last to leave.
On the ride home, I throttled back, rode slow and admired the scenery. I still had another 100,000 miles I wanted to put on the VFR. This bike and I, we are not finished.
Meandering home I had hours to remember the poem that hung on the wall at Morning Song Acres. It was the last thing I saw as I locked the door behind me:
Let your heart
Sing the morning song,
Humming in harmony
With the Meadowlark,
Announcing the beauty of sunrise
Behold the breath of life
All around you:
Creatures of the earth
Awakening to the power of the Creator
Serenity is carried
On the wings of the eagle,
To circle and lift your spirit.
Let your heart
Sing the morning song,
The dew of the dawn
Declares a new day!
By Howard T. Rainer
Taos Pueblo-Creek Indian