A Wild, Memorable Trip Along the Pacific Coast
Such is the passage of time, the dreadful metronome plowing forward keeping its pace, measuring out our remaining days toward our end. Time is uniform for every soul; a day, is a day, is a ticking away day. God tracks our days, life’s invisible odometer set from the beginning to expire at a mileage unknown to us. Who is able to stop the meter of time? There is no ceasing it, no killing the march, no rolling back of life’s odometer avoiding our conclusion.
But there is a way to pause it, to ever so briefly suspend the turning of life’s odometer. God cannot be tricked, but there is a part of time He does not count against us. It came to me in a river.
Northwest temperatures exceeding 110 degrees turned us into self-imposed prisoners under air conditioned house arrest. So we ran from the heat like someone left the prison door unguarded, packing our bikes with camping gear and fleeing west towards Pacific Blue and her bliss of craggy shoreline, misty mornings and cool temperatures.
We arrived in Tillamook, Dave “White Girl” Wensveen and I with our matched set of blood red Honda VFR 800s strapped with camping gear, to our overnight stay in a covered wagon, appropriate accommodations for Oregon explorers like us. Although the mode of travel might be different, our spirit was the same, even if the covered wagon had Wi-Fi.
Different vehicles, same spirit.
Our first night was homework, watching “The Doctor, The Tornado And The Kentucky Kid”, a primer for our destination to cover the MotoAmerica races at Laguna Seca. Snuggle up to the Pacific coastline the whole way down, that was our plan, a dream away from the permeating heat of our hometowns.
Next morning over coffee at Coos Bay, Oregon, we decided to take an unplanned detour to an obscure road called Seven Devil’s Road. My advice? Never make an unplanned detour to any road with the word ‘Devil’ in the name.
It was an odd road, perfect blacktop laid over a land stripped bare by clearcutting. What used to be forest was now a sea of stumps passing to the horizon as if Paul Bunyan swung a giant sickle three feet off the ground leveling everything at once. In the ditch to the side was a freshly wrecked truck.
The twisted mass of sheet metal and glass was upside down in the deep roadside ditch, wheels up like a dying cockroach, roof caved in, glass busted out and one occupant still inside. Over our helmet communicators I told Dave we were stopping. He knew it was first responder time, but he had done this with me before. Bikes parked I walked to the wreckage through thick blackberry bushes.
Blackberry bushes have their roots in the pits of hell. Thorns are nature’s barbed wire as they permeate every twisted, gnarled vine weaving a web of bloody consequences. I walked on top of them in full gear for protection, laid my jacket on the bushes for a makeshift examination table and encouraged the passenger to get out of the car. She did not want to get out. Really?
After much coaxing she crawled out of the crushed cab of the truck, stood up and instantly dropped unconscious. Once passed out on my jacket she regained awareness as “White Girl” and I lifted her to the road and an ambulance arrived soon thereafter. I consulted with the medics and they took her away.
Day two into our odyssey and the bizarre was just beginning.
Brixy Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by Getty Images/Aurora Creative
Riding next to the ocean for days on end would seem like being forced to eat your favorite food for every meal, every day: it sounds like a good idea but eventually you just get sick it. While that may be true of food, it is not true of the ocean.
Hugging the Pacific Coast on a motorcycle day after day is like falling in love with a rock and roll song: there is the initial attraction, the hook, the hypnotic chorus you can’t get out of your head so you listen again, and again, and again, digging deeper, noticing more, unlocking another layer of meaning until the song reaches down, way down to your core, talking to the very depths of who you are. The Pacific Ocean is that: nature at her best, on repeat, all day, every day, getting better each time you listen to her blue music, a song written just for you.
Each morning Dave “White Girl” Wensveen and I sang the song of the Pacific Blue, peeling ourselves out of warm sleeping bags into misty morning chill, stowing our camping gear, lighting the heated grips and turning on the heated jackets which was ironic considering that back home torrid heat was melting asphalt into black goo.
Early morning mist teases the next unseen stretch of coastline.
As the sun spun up the morning mist burned off, revealing a blue expanse with foaming waves exchanging blows with rocky shoreline. And we rode past it all because if we stopped to take pictures of every panoramic view we would spend our whole lives there. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad way to live.
We would ride until early evening, pitch our tents, celebrate the day then crawl back into our sleeping bags and fall asleep to the song of the waves, nature’s white noise, her best rock and roll song, sang to us the same way all night, every night.
So we kept hugging the shoreline southbound until Dave mused through our communicators that the place reminded him of the Isle Of Man. Squinting, I could see what he meant. Waves crashed against shear cliffs to our right spraying their salty foam into fine mist. Cliffs lined the shore flattening out to green pastureland dotted with rocky crags where green grass thrust up through them, splitting the giant rocks into multiple smaller rocks giving the land a sense of age, like it took eons for that tender grass to split those mighty stones. I was one herd of sheep, one warm beer, one Manx Gaelic accent away from being convinced I was on the grand old Isle Of Man.
The song of the Pacific Ocean speaks to all.
And the road. Oh God that glorious road, weaving left and right like a drunken Irish sailor around those rocky mounds then without warning, darting inland down to a hairpin that switched back on itself and led us right back up to the ocean. Speed limits were unknown and unnecessary, the road’s twists and scenery kept us at bay. Speeding here, like on the Isle Of Man, would have been disastrous.
And stupid. Why would you rush this? Why speed through paradise? Do you gorge down your favorite food? Do you fast forward through your favorite song? Do you take a fleeting glance at a snowy mountain top?
No. You savor it. You relish it like it’s your last meal, last song or the last thing you will ever see or ever do, you drink it up, lap it up and belt it out with every fiber in your being like it’s the last, best thing you will ever enjoy.
For someone I know, it nearly was. And we were going to see him.
It was spring of 2020 when Hutch called to inform me that his son, my close friend Currie had been in a motorcycle crash. Typically, Hutch’s conversations and mine are half motorcycles, one quarter laughter and one quarter sailor expletives belted out machine gun style like Yosemite Sam hit in the wedding vegetables with a bowling ball. That day, his tone was somber.
A deer had jumped in front of his son, and while Currie avoided the deer he couldn’t avoid the chain link fence with the top wire. Currie walked away with severe left forearm and hand damage, narrowly missing the top wire with his neck which would have resulted in me crying and drinking tequila at his funeral. He was thankful to be alive. Riding was a distant, hazy dream.
Dave and I were asking Currie to do exactly that, to get back on the bike and ride hard. Currie and I hadn’t ridden together since the Colorado 500 where for a week he was my late tequila night best friend and 5:30 am wretched alarm clock. For Currie, riding with us would either be therapy or misery. I should never have worried.
Currie lives in the wooded hills north of Santa Cruz so we followed him as we weaved our way to Alice’s Restaurant. Who knew these hills were paved gold? Dizzying successions of gently climbing sweepers meandered between the trees while Currie set a brisk pace, impressive for a man with a half functional clutch wrist and fresh memories of impact. Dave and I were humbled by his resiliency and speed but most of all, his love for the ride. Currie is a fast friend.
Redwood trees dwarf your existence. You are but a brief passage in their endless years.
Work, that ugly four letter word, beckoned Currie the next day so Dave and I continued south to cover the MotoAmerica races at Laguna Seca. Race reports are available elsewhere on this site so I will add this: in my brief years covering races, I have never, ever seen or felt anything quite like King Of The Baggers.
As 600+ lb. Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle baggers dragged parts over the Corkscrew then hurtled full thrust towards the Rainey Curves, the foot bridge bounced under our feet while open exhausts from American V-twins pushing Formula 1 piston speeds demolished our senses, recalibrating what we thought of as a “Loud American Motorcycle”.
Tyler O’Hara turned a 1:32.327 during Qualifying 2 at Laguna Seca which would have put him seventh on the starting grid for the Twins Cup race. A Twins Cup bike is nearly 235 pounds lighter.
As we finished our photography session (and a video chat with the bossman) at the Corkscrew’s apex while the sun set over the Pacific, a bagger pilot flew over the curve, dropped his clutch and wheelied his beast over the top of the hill, pavement dropping away from his skyward front wheel like a Pacific Ocean cliff, raucous exhaust punching us in the chest like cannon shots. Although we could not see it, for sure there was a wide-ass hooligan smile inside that helmet. Burned in my head like a still frame, it is an image as American as a beer bottle to the forehead during a bar fight, a giant thrusting middle finger to traditional road racing, and a moment in time I will remember forever.
If only I could forget Saturday night. Dave, ever the social butterfly, pulled us to a campground party where my nighttime self did things the daytime me would like to forget, tequila my liquid excuse for unleashing the childish thoughts that still bounce around inside my helmet. Those who were there understand why I will never look at celery salt the same again.
Tuesday was it’s own self-imposed hell but of the non-alcoholic variety. Aufderheide happened, an obscure Oregon road hard to find on GPS and harder to find on a map, and I wish we had never found it.
It was my idea to use it to head north and as anyone who rides with me knows, all of my ideas are great ideas. Aufderheide is a frost heaved, potholed, tree tunneled, ridiculous joke of a road, a place our pair of sport bikes had no business being. We lacked the suspension travel to soak up the bumps, the space to avoid the heaves and vision to see the pot holes as the tree tunnel blocked the scorching daytime heat but also the daylight we needed to see the hazards. And I ignored the road closed sign.
“Not Maintained For Public Use”. I ignored that sign too.
An hour and nearly 25 miles in we passed the “Road Closed 18 Miles Ahead” sign which I ignored of course because that’s what I do. Later, we hit the barricade. By the time I realized we were screwed we were committed, too far into Aufderheide to turn back. Starting at the barricade Dave spit out four letter sentence enhancers through our helmet communicators that sounded like Lou Piniella arguing with an umpire. If first base were nearby, Dave would have thrown it into the outfield. He was spouting off. I was speechless.
After talking to the locals there were two options: turn around and backtrack on Aufderheide, adding another 175 miles and four hours to our ride in the diminishing daylight and sweltering heat, or take our chances on a dirt road around a lake that would bypass the road closure and dump us back onto Aufderheide. Supposedly. So we were told. By a shirtless man.
We decided on the dirt route. How hard could it be?
Packed dirt made up the first hundred yards, not easy but doable on a VFR800 burdened with camping gear like a pack mule. Then the gravel started, then deep gravel, then potholes, dust, a minor creek crossing, ruts, more gravel, deeper ruts and more sentence enhancers shouted by Dave through our helmet communicators as the late day heat mixed with my stress causing sweat to bead on my forehead, drip off the tip of my nose and puddle at the bottom of my helmet.
Damned be the first one of us to speak the obvious: if we put a wheel wrong, made one tiny mistake, had one minor lapse of judgement, hit one rock the wrong way or failed to recover one grave slide we would be either be practicing our 500 pound deadlifts in full gear or spending the night, maybe multiple nights out in the middle of,…well,…where the f*#@ing hell are we? Dave was doing a stellar job of expanding my sailor mouth vocabulary. Hutch would have been proud.
Yes, that is an ADV bike. At the moment.
Mile after mile it went on, and on, and on, chewing our nerves and eroding our reflexes as we fought against gravity to keep our VFR800s from their inevitable dirt nap. But we had no other option, the best way out was through, to keep moving forward, keep pushing yard by hard fought yard, keep our focus and balance because every pot hole avoided, every deep gravel weave recovered, every dirt rut evaded was a victory, a shocking triumph of piloting a heavily loaded sport bike far beyond its design parameters. Now, in front of both of my readers, I hereby do declare the VFR800, once and for all, as the most versatile ADV bike in the world.
Neither of us knows how long it took but at the end, as we came to the pavement bridge bringing us back to Aufderheide, Dave killed his engine, got off the bike, bent over and kissed the pavement. As I took the picture a rainbow appeared that was only visible on my lens. How it appeared I don’t know. There was not a cloud in the sky. An expert photographer could probably explain how the rainbow appeared in the picture but please don’t tell me because I don’t want to know. I like my explanation better, and it came to me in a stream.
Here it is…
Sweet Relief. A stream bath, and saddlebags turned into an impromptu beer cooler, often inspire divine revelations. Later there was some night swimming. No pictures of that.
At camp that night we bathed in a stream just below a miniature waterfall, the frigid water squeezing the air out of our lungs like a punch to the ribcage, waking us up, invigorating our worn senses and restoring our thinking. With that icy blow the explanation for the rainbow hit me. It was not what I expected. The rainbow was a sign from God.
God does not count against a person’s allotted time the days he/she spends on a motorcycle. Pausing life’s turning odometer of days He gifts us the time spent riding for free, halting the hour’s advance while we bond with friends, explore our world, make adventures from nothing and take other adventures thrust in our path. Two weeks are a year, a lifetime, an eternity stretching out before us like the Pacific Ocean’s infinite shoreline, two weeks merely a drop in the bottomless sea of time. Hours spent on a motorcycle God does not count against us, halting the moment as our wheels spin for though our days may be finite, infinite are the possibilities of how we spend them.
The rainbow was His blessing, His reminder that the worst times, over time, become the best times, that the horrible days are the ones we reminisce about the most afterwards, that without bitter struggle there can be no sweet victory, without strife there is no adventure, and there is a God above that does not subtract from our allotment the days spent doing it all.
Time standing still.