Ted Reflects on a Particularly Enjoyable and Humorous Road Trip Back in the Summer.
Of all of the months in the Pacific Northwest, nothing compares to June.
April contains hope, but is still winter above 3000 feet with snowy mountain passes that hinder travel, while May’s bipolar weather swings between sun and storm, never giving a weather window wide enough for a tour. Then June arrives.
June is hope fulfilled, dreams realized, months of winter planning come to fruition. The Mild Hogs touring group in Wenatchee, Washington start preparing for our June tour in the desperate darkness of January, road maps teasing us with wishes of adventure, lifelong memories and epic days.
When June finally arrives, it’s surreal. Months of bottled up hopes are uncorked on the landscape like kids fleeing school on the last day, which is exactly what we do, dashing to our steel steeds like a sprint start at Le Mans, our metal pack mules heavily laden with gear and gas. We thumb their electronic kick to life and run away.
Bill Motsenbocker, or simply “Mots”, joined me at the start of our journey as we headed east to rendezvous with the rest of the group at lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Bill is tall, slender, intelligent and fit with a reassuring salt and pepper mustache and a soft voice. His gentle demeanor disguises his swift approach to life.
“There are two things I can’t stand doing slow,” Mots softly says, “skiing and riding motorcycles.”
Having done both with him, I can attest that he is slow at neither. Mots was my speedy riding partner that day as he ran point, carefully dissecting eastern Washington’s rolling farm country with scenic cuts through green fields, red barns and brown cattle.
When we arrived at Coeur d’Alene that evening everyone from our riding family was already there, having come from the east, the north and the south. The eight of us celebrated with double cigars and triple doses of single malt like temporary kings over this tiny part of our paved kingdom while our horses rested from their long day, their aluminum ticking cool in the lake’s misty night air. Stories got re-told and over-embellished among the smoke with waving hand gestures and deep belly laughs as cigars and scotch evaporated into the night.
Saturday morning revealed blue June skies as we headed south along the winding lake road. These times are our happy place, all eight bikes nose to tail, a serpentine horsepower snake, hugging the edge of the lake, cool air shoved into our helmets, raucous exhausts disturbing the shoreline fishermen. We come from different backgrounds, occupations and places but without even talking about it, we knew what to do: ride swift, ride close, ride together.
By afternoon we arrived at Lolo Pass which is everything good about the Pacific Northwest squeezed into one landscape. Towering mountains with steep, evergreen sides plummet down to clean, cold rivers. And a road runs through it, not carved out of it, not pushed through, it just lays there naturally as if the great Missoula flood left it behind eons ago.
And we destroyed it all with the horrible sound of hollow exhausts at the business end of engines held to 10,000 rpm simply because we like how we sound, particularly Wild Rose Squad member Trevor Alexander.
Trevor is a barely contained mix of gregariousness who studies animal maladies at Washington State University. He’s like your coolest, most intelligent college professor on a perpetual triple shot of caffeine and can spit out multi syllable whale diseases faster than you can say cetacean vibriosis, not someone you would immediately picture as a sport bike pilot.
But he is, and he is good. Tail Gunner for the Wild Rose Squad (the Mild Hog’s sport bike oriented offshoot) and 24 hour mountain bike racer, he was my speed companion on Lolo Pass. Our pair of Honda VFRs filled Lolo’s canyons with noise and speed which,…wait, is that the Idaho State Patrol?
Dang! Idaho’s finest, lying in wait. He was on the right side of the road in the shadow of a tree facing the wrong direction, towards us. As we passed by he lit us up. I swore inside my helmet. Trevor slowed.
Then as quick as he turned them on, the trooper killed the lights. They were just a blip, a warning shot over the bow of our speed inflated egos telling us to slow down, or else.
Trevor had no clue and thinking we were getting stopped, continued to slow, looking for a spot to pull over.
“Go, go!” I yelled in my helmet, waving him forward.
“So it’s come to that,” I heard him think, “the Wild Rose Squad is running from the state patrol now? I know we have a hooligan reputation, but jail time? Really?”
The trooper never pursued and Trevor finally figured it out. Point made. We loped into our destination at the Lochsa Lodge and celebrated with more scotch, another cigar, and an ill-advised skinny dip in the Lochsa River that chilled my wedding vegetables until they went temporarily inverted.
It didn’t matter, it was June, and I had been dreaming of this since January. The gloves were coming off and yes, sometimes the clothes.
Sunday morning we retraced our steps on Lolo Pass to Clarkston, Washington and headed south to our camp along the Snake River. It’s so far south there is no cell service and no internet, just a river, a swim, a beer and friends. We unplugged and unwound.
I could see the relaxation. Carried burdens slid off everyone’s shoulders until people floated lower in the river, slid down farther in their lawn chairs and ate long, slow meals. They were laughing between bites and inhaling deep sighs between sips of beer. Heart rates dropped to near zero during long stares into the river, the hills or simply nowhere at all.
We left our hideaway the next morning and headed south on Oregon Hwy 3 where once again the road obeys the land in the Pacific Northwest way, dropping along with it, hugging the curving canyon walls in sharp curves and first gear hairpins. There is a reason this road is called Rattlesnake Grade, and it’s no place for a senior in their 70s.
Yet that is my father, Don Edwards, riding behind me. He is perpetual youth masked beneath gray hair and a helmet making swift, eerily smooth arcs on Rattlesnake Grade. This president of the Wild Rose Squad is a lover of all things ingeniously mechanical, the godfather of great roads and horrible places to stay. The two wheels of his life spin like a time machine, freezing his enthusiasm for motorcycle travel inside an aging shell. His love for the Northwest, its history and discovery by bike are only equaled by his zest for pastries and free coffee. Over the years we have spent many a dark January evening at his house with maps spread on the table and huddled around his computer, bonding together, planning for June.
But as much as June gives, it also takes away. That Sunday we meandered west and south of La Grande, Oregon to visit the crash site where one of our comrades, Terry Grubb, lost his life on a motorcycle many Junes ago. The only lasting evidence a faint scrape in the asphalt and a chunk of bark still missing from his impact with a tree.
So we enjoy every second with our comrades and take nothing for granted, choosing to stay in places so remote, downtrodden and absolutely nasty that we are forced to band together. Eventually we had to invent a name for these overnight disasters: “mantainer.”
The word came from a combination of the words “man” and “container” because these places are little more than four walls with no cell service, definitely no internet, hopefully electricity, sometimes a bed. Desperation forces us together as we share stories and laughs that would never happen if we disappeared into hotel rooms. The mantainer at the end of Sunday was Congo Gulch.
Congo Gulch hides deep in the woods of Oregon with three cabins that are little more than four walls and a kitchen. Years ago the complex used to generate electricity, but now it only generates our curiosity. Cigars and scotch (again) lubricate the flow of stories and laughs of which there are no short supply. Then Mots happened.
Mots, the intelligent, reassuringly mustached and recently retired school superintendent found another way to make June legendary. It started as he was walking along the dirt road to Congo Gulch and came upon a package of baloney that was apparently abandoned, still tightly sealed, lying there in the dirt.
As he brought it to us, Trevor and I (by now full of much scotch and cigar, again) yelled in unison, “God sent us road baloney!” Mots told the story, but I like my version better and since I am the writer and he is not, I have free rein in all storytelling and embellishing. It goes like this…
Mots was led by God to wander in the wilderness, along the dirt road, for forty days and forty nights. Then Mots became hungry. God saw his hunger and had mercy upon him and sent him the holy road baloney. He saw the road baloney, and he saw that it was good. Mots beheld the road baloney and descended from on high to the hungry masses who lie in wait. He entered the Congo Gulch tabernacle, raising up the baloney for all to see.
“God has sent us the holy road baloney. Blessed is he who partakes of thy holy road baloney.”
Mots gave thanks and broke the road baloney, feeding the masses, who were filled. The masses rejoiced and gave thanks, and there were seven basketfuls left over.
But Mots did not partake of thy holy road baloney, because “Are you kidding?” he said, “baloney is gross. I found it in the middle of the road. I’m not eating that crap.”
By the end of the story, Trevor and I were laughing so hard that I accidentally inhaled my cigar and aspirated a bit of scotch, causing me to nearly cough up a lung. No one bothered to come to my rescue.
Then it was bedtime and things well and truly descended into the bizarre.
Trevor, my dad, my cousin Dave Wensveen and I all squeezed into one of the tiny rooms upstairs in the Congo Gulch like a bunch of kids on sleepover. My mattress was on the floor, blocking the door so, given our age and minuscule nighttime bladders, my dad and Dave designated a “pee window.” This was much better than my dad’s original plan which involved a way too small Gatorade bottle with a jagged opening.
The pee window was at the foot of my floor mattress and given its frequent use throughout the night, I woke many times to appalling scenes of horror which I still try to erase from memory, but cannot. Eventually though, it was my turn.
The words “wee hours of the morning” have taken on a whole new meaning for me.
It was then that I realized how integral sound is to the urination process, especially in pitch black darkness. You release, and sound confirms it because there is no other way to tell if anything is happening.
Not, however, when you are peeing out a second story window. There is quite a time delay to the proceedings. There is the release then,…silence. Wait for it,…more silence. Gee, I could’ve sworn I was peeing. Then,… splashdown. Ahhh, that’s better.
Then I stopped urinating and the sound of splashing continued for a few more seconds. That’s seriously odd. By now, I could not stop laughing. I wanted to try again, but I was on empty. Oh, sorry Trevor, did my laughing wake you up? Please don’t look my way.
The words “wee hours of the morning” have taken on a whole new meaning for me.
Monday morning dawned cold with temps in the low 40’s, typical for June in eastern Oregon. We journeyed though rolling plains that separated Oregon towns so small they own little more than their name: Ukiah, Condon, Wasco. Quaint towns that serve only as reference points for somewhere more important you plan to end up. This is also true of one of our favorite places, High Plains.
I’m not sure whether the town of High Plains adopted us or we adopted High Plains, but we cannot escape this magical place or its friendly people. They happen to reside in the center of a motorcycle heaven no one knows about.
But it’s not about the roads. We care more about the residents than our riding itinerary and do what we can while we are there to help out, cleaning out the garage, packing up the flea market or clearing tables after the quilt show. Some have ridden there just to make bratwurst.
Upon hearing of our group’s arrival, one of the locals threw a barn party in our honor. As we approached on the dirt road we could smell the barbecue, which is the way all barn parties should start.
But first, tequila shots. For some unknown reason (because I made her) one of the elderly ladies of High Plains brought out tequila. Then the tequila brought women, literally, out of the barn woodwork, most in their 60s or far beyond. After a few rounds of trying to keep up with them I suddenly regained situational awareness and realized that I was doing shots with old biddies in a barn, instantly creating an over-the-hill tequila club. I began wondering if there was a defibrillator nearby just in case. There was none of course, but I knew the location of a tractor battery and jumper cables. Because you never know….
Ahhh, June. This is what we had waited for since January- invent your own adventure, lifelong memories made from scratch, epic days created from no ingredients other than a motorcycle, asphalt and eight unsuspecting accomplices. Well, maybe a bottle of tequila. Possibly a pee window.
Definitely road baloney.