The best memories can be made in the worst places

Angry skies followed us north out of Wenatchee, Washington that September day. Dark and menacing they were, rumbling all the while, waiting for the perfect moment to drench us in their fury. When the skies cracked open they poured out their wrath in an intolerable rain that drenched the forested land, hammering away at us and our bikes, a misery from which there was no refuge. We had to keep going. Stopping just prolonged the agony.

So our group, the Mild Hogs, rode through it all, visibility and morale dropping like the falling rain as water steadily seeped though the weak points of our rain gear, oozing everywhere underneath until the rain gear mattered not one bit, we were as wet on the inside as the outside. Peering at each other though foggy faceshields we had the same drenched realization. No one had to say a word, we were all thinking the same thing: there was no way we were making it to Canada.

Spend the night in a covered wagon? Yes please.

I had never heard of Lake Bonaparte before then, but that is where we ended up, a pristine lake in northeastern Washington just south of the Canadian border. Accommodations by the lake were not just spartan they were ramshackle, our cabins literally just four walls, a slant roof, two bunk beds, a wood stove in the corner and a door by which to enter. However, given the day, I thanked God for the roof, but mostly the wood stove.

Terry Hammond’s attempt at building a fire were disgustingly inept so I stepped in with my pyromaniac ego full aglow. In 10 minutes I had created an inferno in the belly of the iron stove so hot that the sides glowed red, a luminous comfort to my chilled bones and wet gear. I laid my wet socks on top of the stove and they sizzled like raw bacon as steam poured out, turning the soft fabric a crispy brown. My drenched spirit found a sick joy in watching my socks cook, a cathartic sacrifice to the god of fate that forced us to this lake in the middle of northwest nowhere.

We all laid more wet riding gear nearby until so much steam rose from wet equipment that the humidity in the cabin rose alarmingly. Within 30 minutes the cabin had reached ridiculous temperatures and, combined with the damp air of the drying gear, made me realize I had accidentally created the world’s most unbearable sauna.

The four of us, Terry Hammond, my father Don Edwards, his brother Gary and I had gone from bitter cold rain to intolerable sweat lodge, a cruel irony. And just as there was no escape from the rain, there was now no escape from the heat. None of us wanted to open the door to the driving rain outside and I could not, would not, despite the desperate pleas of the other three, leave the fire alone.

So we tried to cope. Those of us sleeping on the top bunks cried uncle first, rolling out of our bunks seeking the cooler air on the floor. Bottom bunk dwellers followed suit until all four of us were flopped down on the floor of this disgusting shack like newly caught fish tossing about in the bottom of a smelly boat. Boiling heat and stifling humidity even forced us out of our sleeping bags, so we peeled them off like snakes shedding unwanted skin.

A different kind of horse outside the teepee, but the same spirit. “Red Squadron” at another “mantainer”.

There we lay, four grown men stripped down to their skivvies, lying on top of their sleeping bags, crammed together on the floor of a cabin so rank that the rats had abandoned it long ago, enduring our humid hell because the only other option was to go back outside, and none of us were doing that. We were miserable.

And having the time of our lives.

We made fun of it all, Terry’s inept fire skills, my ego fueled flames, my fully burnt and crispy socks, the stifling heat, the choking humidity and oh-my-god Terry’s horribly old school tighty whities underwear, a mental image I try to, but will never forget. Uncle Gary made the jokes first, my dad laughed and poked fun at his brother, then Terry cracked a joke that was not funny at all which made us laugh even more at the awkward attempt. I teased Terry about his disgusting underwear, he made fun of my pyromaniac tendencies and burned socks, Gary cursed the ruined day, my dad cursed at Gary, and on it went into the night.

We laughed at the absurdity of it all, the rain, this sweat lodge, the group suffering and the absurd glory of type II fun. Far past exhaustion and well into delirium we laughed well into the night like kids at 6th grade camp whom the counselor had decided to let stay up past curfew. My side ached. Sweat poured.

Wise old sage that he is, my father Don chimed in, deciding that we needed a name for our hellish accommodations and other places such as this, dwellings so off the beaten path, so horrible, so disgusting and abominable that we would never take our wives or anyone else we truly loved to stay there. He artfully combined the words “man” and “container” and coined the term, “mantainer”.

Since that rainy night many years ago we have stayed in more mantainers than I can count: cabins, barns, farmhouses, covered wagons, teepees and abandoned hydroelectric power stations. Their names are as odd as their accommodations: Prairie Rose, Flying L, Snake River Rendezvous, Hell’s Gate and Congo Gulch. However, over the years and miles and bizarre sleepless nights our riding group knows one thing to be true.

Congo Gulch used to be housing for the workers for the nearby hydroelectric power plant. Now it is abandoned. Spend the night there and you will see why. Pee window is in the upper right corner, which is another story altogether.

We hate hotels.

Hotels and their separate rooms also separate us, driving a wedge of space between our riding group, the Mild Hogs. We want to be together and mantainers force us together by taking away electricity, distractions and any hope at comfort. We unplug from society and plug in to each other, stories get told, cigars get lit, scotch disappears and we laugh deep into the night. So we shun anything with separate rooms, opting instead to be in one space and under one roof, and the more dilapidated that roof, the better.

Eventually we fell asleep that night at Lake Bonaparte, sides aching the next morning from hours of the previous night’s laughter. The rain had ceased, giving way to clear skies and brighter temperaments, our clothes had (mostly) dried and my socks were stiff like blackened crispy bacon with burns from the stove, but I wore them anyways. Gathering gear and riding away that morning some swore it was the worst night ever.

I disagree.


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1 Comment

  1. Dave Kelley

    Great retell of a story I have heard many times. Thanks


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