Monday, February 28, 2011


[SUMMER 2008] I AM RETURNING to the Hells Canyon Overlook. Only a week since my last visit, I am obligated to share the vista with a riding buddy. We bring along our wives, riding “two-up.” I prefer riding solo because I can set my own schedule, respond to my own needs, engage with whoever else happens to motor up on two wheels, and not worry about the precious cargo seated behind me. That said, sometimes the goal of sharing is overwhelming. Hell’s Canyon, spectacular and forbidding, presents that circumstance. So off we paired.

We chronicle at the overlook by arranging four full face helmets atop a sign proclaiming the location and snap what is to be the first of the “four helmet series.”

THE WIVES WALK to the overlook and peer into a canyon so deep that the bottom can barely be seen. I follow and point to the location on the other side where about 160 years back, Jacob and Esther had their verbal altercation. A passer-by is fascinated by this tidbit of "history."

Back toward the parking lot, a motorcycle or two rumbles up. I turn and Randy is immediately engaged with the rider of a black and white Bonneville T-100. A classic British bike updated to current state of the art mechanical standards. A gentleman on a Harley accompanies the man on the Bonnie.

The conversation begins: “How’s the handling?
“Can you ride for a long time?
“What about your local dealer?”

At some point, the women, having viewed the canyon from all angles, return to our bikes and begin to suit up, perhaps 100 feet from the Bonnie and the Hog.

The conversation continues: “Tire mileage?
“How do you pack for a few nights out?
“Know any other good rides in this area?
“Oh really? So where’re you from?”

Just then, a familiar ka-thunk ka-thunk sound is noticeable. Rumbling into the parking area is a Kawasaki KLR 650. This one is lashed tight with sleeping gear, camping paraphernalia, and Cortex luggage and bags. My second bike is a KLR. It is a do just about anything motorcycle that can travel at freeway speeds or tackle the roughest of unimproved roads. Mine retailed for the equivalent of approximately two-and-a-half weeks salary. New. About the only thing I wouldn’t do on one of these little chargers is what this rider was doing: A Englishman on a bike with California plates coming south from Canada. Destination Guatemala.

“How long you been out?”

“Four years.” He grins. “Off and on.”

“You change out the doohickey on this?” I ask. The doohickey is the slang name for the idle tensioner pulley which is notorious for catastrophic failure on the KLR. They should be replaced as soon as the bike is purchased. I hadn’t done so yet.

“Oh? You have one of these?”

“Yep. At home.”

The Englishman laughed. “Well this is my second KLR. I got 90,000 out of the first one.”

The fellow on the Bonnie, the Harley guy, and we two Beemerphiles were more than suitably impressed.

The Englishman said that he hoped to ride into South America some, but that he gets to Guatemala and finds things fine there, so he goes no further south. “…maybe this year however…”

AFTER A SPELL of talking reciprocally about BMWs, Triumphs, Harleys and now, Kawasakis, clearly, the girls are ready to saddle up. They’ve put on their gear.

But part of what we do when we’re worshipping at the Church of the Open Road is to greet other parishioners – no matter when they arrive at fellowship hour.

In the distance a throaty note become evident. It is nearing. I shoot a glance at my buddy’s passenger and pull out my pocket pad to write the line that would prove to be the conclusion of this journal entry: The passenger, if she’s your wife, doesn’t really give a damn about the bikes other people are using to get to this place.

The newcomer is on a Moto Guzzi, an Italian masterpiece sporting a classic line and a dashing, bright red stripe. The Harley and Bonnie guys, the Brit, my buddy and I greet the newcomer and admire his European iron.

Ten minutes or more pass.

Finally we move toward our bikes and our passengers. I laugh and begin to read from my note aloud: “The passenger, if she’s your wife…”

But I am interrupted: “I hope the next bike is a real piece of crap so we can get the hell out of here.”

It wasn’t. It was a classic BMW, from Medford. A 70s era model, ridden by a fellow with an interesting story to tell…

© 2008
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Great memory of recent summer trip/

  2. Also explains why our wives would rather not ride with us when we go somewhere...

  3. A comment from PB, one of the principals in this story: If I could figure out how to post comments at the church, I would. This will have to do. I love you and your writing! Your writing makes me laugh out loud, cry and reminisce. Not all at once...usually.

  4. Hello there! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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