Tuesday, October 25, 2016
SMELLIN’ THE BARN
Day Four and Five of the Bend, Oregon
October Fogged-Out Ride
(Next time we’ll do this in September!)
Rider magazine contributor Donya Carlson once offered: “The only thing better than a 500-mile day is two 250-mile days.” To the extent that I’ve matured as a rider, I’ve grown to agree with her. Except when after a week or so on the road, you start to smell the barn. Smelling the barn is what the plough horse or the draft team does at the end of a day’s labor. Release the harness and the animal makes for the stall and the straw and rest waiting therein.
Day four of our visit to Bend and its volcanic environs found us planning an up-n-back route on the vaunted Cascades Lake Highway. If the weather were to be anything like yesterday’s, the ride would be enchanting and the photography – what with razor-sharp peaks reflected in high country lakes – amazing.
But the day dawned with a thick drizzly overcast. Our Internet friends in charge of predicting all things climatic suggested that by 11:00 AM, the low overcast should burn off. We marked time and checked maps and salivated. By the appointed hour, things had not improved, but the angels of our optimism suggested that conditions down the road might be better. So we suited up, saddled up and proved those angels wrong.
Years ago, bad timing found us riding the incomparable Selkirk Loop well after dark. Tough to enjoy those world-class views with only a headlight. Similarly, traveling the Cascade Lakes Highway in the fog is not only futile, but damned cold. We were back home in and hour and ten minutes. Perhaps tomorrow.
“Tomorrow” dawned much like what was now yesterday. And a Pacific storm – a big one – was predicted for the next day. So, at about 10:00 AM, I decided it was time to head for the barn.
With two layers under my new Fox Creek leather jacket and my rain suit easily accessible, I left Bend, heading south on US 97. Perhaps I’ll make it as far south as Klamath Falls, maybe Weed, before my hands cripple up from the chilling windblast.
Interesting note, here: although the fog was drippy enough that I considered stopping and pulling on the rain slicker, at speed, the windshield on the big Triumph T-bird directs the wind past the ends of the handlebars. Nice surprise. Hands functional.
Near Chemult, I stopped for fuel, spending the usual twenty minutes at the pump explaining to a local that, “Yes, Triumph has been reborn and they’ve been making motorcycles now for about twenty years.”
“My daddy used to race a Triumph. I think it was called a Bonneville,” replied the nearly my aged woman.
Continuing south on 97, with K Falls getting closer, I thought about how the lack of sunshine and the thick blanket of gray removed a dimension of pleasure from the ride. Tomorrow was forecast to be worse, I knew. Perhaps I’ll power through to Weed, or maybe Redding.
Six-point-three miles south of Chemult – I checked – the sun began to glare on the pavement and a mile further, the fog was gone. Swatches of pine forest reached across the rich volcanic plain to the east and a rugged rim of peaks edged the western view. Soon, it felt like I’d put on too many layers. A few miles south of Klamath Falls, I stopped for rest and to shed a sweatshirt. And to have another conversation about the T-Bird: “Hey! That’s not a Harley!”
“No it’s not.”
“Shore looks like a Harley.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Butte Valley, between Dorris and Weed is a lovely landscape of ranches and hay fields. The mountains ringing the area make me wish I liked to backpack as I once did. The rail line, which I’d traveled once at night, harkens back to the days when that was the most efficient and engaging mode of transport. Remove the pavement and the semis and the huge, red Massey-Fergusons working the fields and it could be a hundred years ago in this fertile high country of yesterdays.
Driving south, Mount Shasta comes into view welcoming me back to my home state.
Just past the scenic pullout for the Queen of the Cascades, the Siskiyou County veterans have constructed a sculpture garden dedicated to those county residents who served. Masterfully placed metalworks pay homage to the many roles of our military personnel – each of those roles calling upon the heroism many among us would not know we possessed until thrust into a particular – arguably untenable – circumstance. Allow an hour. Bring tissue.
But I didn’t stop. I’d visited once before and the barn was smelling closer. Maybe I’ll get to Redding and find a room. Maybe some place a bit further south.
Travelling I-5 at eighty miles an hour is something built into the DNA of the big Triumph cruiser, I’m discovering. Not severely impacted by crosswinds or passing big rigs, the Thunderbird is stable and true. The seat is supremely comfortable. It’s been five-and-a-half hours and I can’t remember fidgeting until just now.
South of Anderson, I fuel up, choosing a pump furthest from passers-by. I want to see if I can make it to Williams.
It was five-forty when I made it to that little Colusa County berg and interchange. Maybe two hours and change on CA 20 and I’m back at the barn… err… home.
Highway 20 is one I am beginning to know too well what with frequent trips through those mountains to visit an aging parent in Chico. In the past couple of years, I’ve learned of her ins, her outs and her alternatives.
The Hopland Grade between Clear Lake and the Russian River is a bit of a shortcut, mileage wise. CA route 175 twists and corkscrews. There are few wide spots, no designated turnouts and zero passing lanes. It is steep and treacherous under the best of circumstances which would include daylight and dry pavement.
Smelling the barn causes compromise in reasonable thought. An example would be traversing the Hopland Grade on a behemoth of a motorcycle in the dark – think Selkirk Loop – after eight hours in the saddle. Crossing gingerly was my plan, but that plan didn’t fit well with the driver in the aging Civic who, because I was lumbering along, thought flashing his brights in my rear view mirrors might hustle me to wick things up a bit. It didn’t. And it didn’t make the bad ride any more enjoyable. Or safe. I guessed right about a wide shoulder I thought existed just this side of the summit. The decrepit Honda rocketed past as I promised to myself that I was never doing this again.
Rider’s Ms. Carlson is most certainly correct about 250-mile days, but home felt particularly good after having done twice that. A glass of wine and a hunk of cheese were all that I needed before retiring to the stall. I was asleep long before I could reflect too much on the day’s adventure.
Church of the Open Road Press