Going Home - 11/01
Thinking of the snow and ice that still grips much of the country and the many riders pacing nervously around their garages, I'm reminded of one of my more questionable rides.
[b][i]Going Home[/i] - 11/01[/b]
[size=4]M[/size]any riders boast, "It's the ride, not the destination." But, for me, the destination is of great importance - or rather, the certainty of achieving a goal.
You see, I am a procrastinator of heroic proportions. I'll happily dilly-dally, put-off, postpone, contemplate, ponder, think about, and avoid almost anything that becomes difficult or uncertain -- and no, you don't have to point out the misfortune of an artist having this trait.
And so I ride, for a ride must be finished. The concept, "I am here and I must get there", cannot be ignored. No excuse is enough. Add a few rewarding obstacles and a bit of misfortune, and an experience will be forged.
[size=4]I[/size] postponed by one day my trip from Portland back to Reno to pick up my motorcycle. I soon wished I hadn't.
And then, I had intended to leave Reno by noon. I wanted be over icy Donner Pass by early afternoon. It was that which I most feared on this trip. A ride over the 7,200 ft pass on I-80 so late in the season always makes me anxious. And, I was doing it so soon after heavy snows. The road would be streaked with snowmelt. Is it water or is it ice?
I didn't get out of Reno until 3 PM.
Cautiously, I rode over the summit. It was cold but easy; My anxiety ill placed. I relaxed and enjoyed the beauty of the ice-covered mountains. I was riding my BMW K-75s for the first time in weeks and it felt so incredibly right. I had ridden this bike for over three years taking it across the country and into every nook and cranny I had time to explore. To be riding again, the bike humming, the wind a dull roar, slipping around lumbering traffic, dancing down the crumbling old concrete pavement, leaning into the familiar curves....
Almost too soon, it was over. Down into the Valley and the among the traffic I went, the mountains and fear behind me. All that was left was a long, probably tedious ride up I-5 the last 600 miles.
Heading north from the eyesore that is much of Sacramento I made good time. Idle thoughts about crop irrigation, bird migration, and the vast subterranean power that produced the Sutter Buttes wandered in and out of my mind as I sped up the flatness of the Sacramento Valley. I was on my way Home -- my new Home.
After more than three years in Reno, a town that never suited my wife or I, we had finally moved on. No longer would I look out on desert hills, or the rich sunsets above the Sierra. But also, no longer would I look out on casinos or the clutter of cluster homes swallowing the landscape.
My new life waited. All I needed to do was finish this ride. Until the bike was in Portland, I wasn't in Portland.
I settled into the touring groove. Listening to a CD, flicking through radio stations or enjoying the sound of rushing wind, the intruding thrum of everyday life is pushed aside, as you both concentrate on the road and let your mind wander to find new connections. Eyes wide, you take it all in.
As I passed through Redding, I also passed into night. The temperature plummeted. I was cold, but alert. Oddly, traffic thinned so that it was only a dark green Mercedes and me trading the lead up the empty Interstate as it trod over the hills around Lake Shasta.
With the evil red eye of the fuel light glaring at me, I carefully watched my speed. The Mercedes disappeared into the distance. I was all alone. The darkness closed in. No bugs lit up in the headlights, no deer eyes bobbed on the side of the road, no stars, no porch lights, nothing. It was dark.
With a flash of fluttering drab color in the headlight's beam, I struck a large bird. Smashing across the chin of my helmet and my right shoulder it rocked me back. The bike didn't weave and I didn't topple. I doubt the bird faired as well. I was shaken and wanted off the road. A silly part of me was pleased that I had another "war story" to tell. The fuel light continued its stare.
Trying to find fuel, I took a wrong exit with no return access to the highway. A sign for the Interstate pointed into the dark forest. Flustered, I sat at the stop sign and counted to ten. With no choice, I shrugged my shoulders and entered the deeper dark. Crawling down the road, I was all too aware that I was in deer country. "Where the hell am I?" went through my mind a few times.
And then, the headlight went out. All went dark except for the green glow of the instrument cluster. This ride was not going as planned.
Fortunately, it was only the low beam that was burned out. I don't know if it was a mile or ten miles, but eventually I found access to the Interstate.
Somewhere to the east of the road, Mt.Shasta loomed hidden in the dark. I imagined that I could sense its presence, and my eyes strained to see it. As the road went higher and higher in elevation, the temperature again dropped, and snow appeared on the side of the road. I was no longer comfortable. My electric vest wasn't enough. A quick check of my usually optimistic little zipper thermometer, showed 25 deg F. I wasn't happy. I was the only vehicle on the road.
Bitterly cold and concerned about the consequences of finding a patch of ice on a dark lonely Interstate, I pulled into the old lumber town of Weed, just past Mt.Shasta. Its streets strewn with ice and snow, I picked my way to the Motel 6. I was met by incredulous looks - which I always enjoy.
[size=4]I[/size] awoke to falling snow and strong winds. The news reported that the pass (Siskiyou Summit - 4,310 ft) was closed to all traffic. I was stuck.
Erin, my wife, and I traded many phone calls trying to find me a route out, a route Home. The pass showed no sign of opening. The road south also had chain controls. I was stuck. Whipped by the relentless winds that gusted upward of 80 mph, the snow fell harder and harder. Concerned, I kept the curtain open and watched the bike shift on its sidestand in that wind. There I was, in the dull confines of the motel, a scant 60 miles from the lower elevations on the other side of the pass.
The next morning, the sky was clear and the wind calm. Buried under more than nine inches of snow, the bike was its own pastoral landscape. I waited and waited for the temps to climb and the pass to open. Finally, but with strict chain controls, it opened. It was still far from being a reasonable place to take a motorcycle. I tried calling people in the BMWMOA Anonymous Book (an often excellent resource for riders seeking help far from home). Folks cheerfully told me how nasty the roads were, but none offered to pick me up with their trailer(s).
[size=4]A[/size]round 11:30 AM, I decided to give it a go. I had scouted the road out to the highway by foot and found the plows had worked through the night. While a bit slushy in spots, the road was mostly clear. The parking lot of the hotel was a different story. Thick heavy wet snow was in the way. I made a pathetic attempt to ride the bike out. With the front tire compacting the snow into an insurmountable ramp, the back tire spun uselessly.
Hearing the sound of a shovel on concrete, I found salvation - the hotel's maintenance man. Eager to help, he peppered me with questions about the bike, never openly doubting the sanity of attempting this ride. Grunting and gasping, we pushed the bike up out of the snow and out to the road. I handed him a few meager dollars in thanks.
The pass still had chain controls, but I was sick of waiting. At worst I thought I'd make it to the town of Yreka and have to wait another night. Aside from the litter of broken chains, the Interstate was wet but clear up past Yreka. Traffic hummed along at 70 mph.
And then, it slowed and then stopped. We waited. Some drivers put on chains, some didn't. All who saw me smiled and shook their heads. A few drivers bitched to each other about silliness of such slow traffic on a perfectly clear road. For miles, traffic was backed up with those who'd been trapped by the closed summit trying to make it to their destinations at the same time. From time to time, we'd creep forward only to stop again for another hour.
The road, the trucks, myself, we were all filthy. The stench of exhaust filled the air. The slop of snow mixed with road grime and cinders dripped from every surface and sizzled on exhausts. The air hummed uncomfortably with the rattle of chains and air brakes on the southbound lanes. But, the scenery redeemed the moment. High above the road on the way to the pass, the view was breathtaking. With low clouds peeking out here and there from behind rolling hills, and glinting in the sunlight, it was the land of a fairy tale. The annoyance forgotten, I sucked in the beauty.
After a few hours, we made it to the top. On the north side, blocked by the mountains and cliffs and walls of the road cuts, the sun didn't reach the pavement. Peering ahead around the massive trucks, I winced at the extremeness of the grade. In the shade, the snow and ice didn't end at the edge of the road. It merged smoothly into the surface of the road. Steep and icy, the road ahead looked daunting.
We crawled nervously down the slope. Gravity was more than enough. Clutch in, off the brakes, and the bike rolled forward picking up speed. The truck drivers worked hard to keep their rigs reigned in. Again we stopped. In the shadows at the high altitudes, I was beginning to shiver. I wanted down off this road. Finally, traffic again began to move.
The bike began to bog. The long idling had drained the battery. The engine was faltering. It stalled. But traffic was moving again. While rolling, I made a few quick stabs at the starter button and received only a feeble whine from the starter motor. "Great." With no way off the road, I had one obvious solution. Letting her pick up speed, getting close to the car ahead, I slipped the bike into second gear and popped the clutch. The bike sputtered back to life. All I had to do was get down off the mountain and do it without letting the bike stall again.
I threaded my way from one lane to the next trying to find the clearest safest route. More and more, one lane was completely closed. Clumsily trucks would try to merge into the clear lane, their tires skidding on the slick pavement of the lane they were leaving. Down the road we went, no snow-free shoulder to retreat to and hide, no off ramp to scurry down and seek refuge.
For the first mile or so, there was always a clear path around the thick hunks and slabs of ice that were embedded into the road. Occasionally I'd err and the front tire would lurch and slide.
And then it happened. There was no clear path. What I thought was the edge of a large poorly executed paving was the three-plus inch high edge of the packed ice sheet that covered the road. The road that curved to the right too sharply. I slowed as best I could and gritted my teeth.
The front tire hit that edge and slid and slid. The rear hit and slid. Wobbling and sliding I awkwardly crossed the ice field. A huge orange Allied moving truck barreled by to my right, another hard on my rear. The ticking rumble of their chains on the ice filled my ears. The one behind sounded its horn. I was, to put it best, terrified. Finally I found a clear patch.
"I am a fool."
How many times have I been through a bit of folly on the bike? How many times have I continued on when I should have stopped? This time I'd been too brazen. Clearly I could see the depth of my stupidity, my arrogance. I quaked as I imagined my wife.
The sound from the trucks was deafening. Ahead, one weaved. Another to my right roared. The one behind charged. I gritted my teeth and tried to stay focused on the task at hand. "Fool or not, I need finish this."
But again, there was no escaping the ice. And again, I finally found clear pavement. Over and over, it repeated. Each time I wondered how many lives this cat had left. Each time I wondered if the bike would follow the curve, or if one of the trucks would break loose. All I wanted was to go Home, to be off that hellish road.
Not soon enough, the way was clear of the ice clumps, and traffic picked up its pace. But the road wasn't clear. A thin milky sheet of ice covered the entire road. With a minivan pushing from the back, I tried to move to the right lane. The rear of the bike slid out, came back in, only to slide again. I struggled to gain control of the bike.
Finally it was over. Muscles knotted, teeth aching, I was riding on gravel strewn wet pavement heading into Ashland.
It had taken most of the day to go sixty miles. All I had left was another three hundred miles to go.
[size=4]A[/size] few days ago, I put Oregon plates on the bike. I am Home. Fully Home. Officially.
Home. Time to reflect.
I will not do that again. No matter how much work is piling up at home, no matter how much money is being "wasted" on a hotel room - I won't ride such a foolish ride.
Looking back, now more than 2 years later, I still can't believe I chose to head over that pass. But chances are that I'll do something equally stupid (I do need something to write about).
It might have been a silly decision, but it made a good read!
I don't know Knary.I had the impression you were too old and wise for that kind of b**ls to the wall sort of behaviour.
Course,that WAS 2 years ago.
Older and wiser now huh?/
Great read,kept me in suspense.:thumb
Knowing those roads and how quickly they close, I am
amazed. Great ride tale.
how's this for a slow reply?
Thanks for the positive comments. One of the reasons I like writing these things is that I like reading them years later.