Monday, June 7, 2010


IT IS THE RARE CASE that I take a fellow rider with me while attending the Church of the Open Road. In solitude, I can hear the message, see the visions and worship more freely. On this day, however, I took neighbor Eric. Luckily.

The mission was to go to Grass Valley and retrieve three copies of a children’s book I’d ordered. The precursor-to-summer day called upon me to find a creative way to do that. Lowell Hill Road parallels the Bear River from below Lake Spaulding. I’d never taken it. That was good enough for me.

Exiting the pavement off highway 20 just below I-80, after 45 miles of freeway travel, it was clear that Lowell Hill was not a place frequented. While the surface was gravel for about 300 yards, it soon became a game of “Which Way Do We Go?” as dual tracks split hither and yon.

“We must be in the infamous Fugahwe Region of Nevada County,” Eric commented. I didn’t know he knew the area.

Conifer needles carpeted the dirt-only route. The mid-70s temperature had dried most of last week’s unseasonably late rain/snowfall. If the road rose or fell, there’d be no standing water. When our route bottomed out, in the lowest depressions, creamy brown puddles dared us to enter. I danced from one rut to the next avoiding these little hazards when they came about. But, at one point, it looked as if God had spilled His mocha into both tire tracks for a little section, and the only routes were through a puddle – pick one: left for Democrats, right for Republicans – or tracing the little ridge in between. I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy.

AN INTERESTING THING about the dual sport tires I’d selected for my prized and pristine GSA. Called “Tourances” by Mezeler (a division of Pirelli), they are engineered to handle the pavement quite well – where the bulk of one’s riding occurs – but also do an adequate job in gravel and dirt. They lack a chunky off-road, dirt bike tread. And they do not shed mud like those moto-whatever guys’ tires do. In fact, after a few feet in the soft gooey stuff, they become slicks. No tread. No traction. Just tragedy. I found this out as the front tire slid into the rut on the right while, simultaneously, the rear tire went left.

The BMW GS Adventure is engineered for a lot of things, but traveling sideways ain’t among ‘em. In one of those slow motion moments when you can see what is about to happen, but powerless to stop it, the road dissolved into the consistency of butter and the afternoon’s trip looked to become toast. First to slide into the muck was the right hand cylinder head, which on a Beemer, protrudes to the side of the machine. Next was the optional, Jesse “Odyssey” steel saddlebag. Indestructible, the ad had said. Keeping my foot on the peg, my right leg skittered across the surface of the puddle for the ten to twelve feet it took this whole parade to come to a halt. A light chocolate wave similar to one produced by a slalom water skier washed across the down side of my body. The cylinder head and the bag protected my fragile self from any injury.

Eric was off his KTM is seconds, checking my vitals. I was going to live. We righted the bike and took inventory. It was going to live as well, but the right side Jesse bag had sacrificed its ability to close in an effort to save my drumstick. I tied the “indestructible” closed with a bandana.

Cautiously we proceeded not more than a mile and a half. There, the surface became graded, nice-as-pie gravel. However, in that initial 2,000 yards west of my "ground zero," Eric later reported, the puddles at the side of the road looked as if they were taunting me. He was right. As I tiptoed by, I could feel the mud developing fingers that grabbed at my cuffs, shoelaces and the spokes of the big Beemer’s wheels. Magically, those evil fingers disappeared if I shot a glance at the rearview mirror. This is explained, I concluded, because, like all things evil, muddy puddles do not have a reflection.

TODAY’S MESSAGE FROM THE CHURCH was anything but abstract: When proceeding down a double track and both ruts are filled with slime, pick one. There has to be a bottom or the water wouldn’t be standing there. Go cautiously into it and gently accelerate out of it. This is the one time where being middle of the road is not an option. It is far more convenient to hose down the bike at home than to have to take it in to the neighborhood body shop for a couple of swift licks with a rubber hammer to reform the side case.

Church of the Open Road Press

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