01 September 2008

If I was Calvin and Hobbes was a tall green bike

The expression on the Fly-fisherman’s face was priceless. Descending out of the forest, I noticed him from a distance. I had been navigating the deep woods for about an hour and a half and this gentleman was the first sign of evidence that civilization was near.

As I idled down the game trail that followed the banks of the river, approaching the fisherman, I noticed that his attention was fixed squarely on me and my bike. He stood there knee deep in the river, in the classic pose of a fly-fisherman; wearing waders and a fishing cap with various feathered tackle orbiting around his head, stabbed into the brow of what must’ve been his lucky hat and sporting a pair of wide rimmed polarized glasses, the kind with the blinders on the ear stems to discourage any raw light from distracting his vision.

The closer I approached, the more focused his stare became. I must have been a rather peculiar sight in my own right, heavily dressed in my riding gear. To the average Joe, it probably appeared like I was dressed more for snowmobiling than I was for trail riding in the middle of July.

Idaho is one of the few states left that doesn’t have a helmet law and a large majority of the motorcycling public appears to still ride without them, so the sight of me wearing a helmet is good enough to merit a second glance in this neck of the woods. Add to that my black riding jacket, armored pants, boots and gloves; I can’t imagine what thoughts were running through this fellow’s head. Nevertheless, he was the best source of information that I had to steer me back towards something familiar.

I don’t know if Fly-fisherman spook that easily, so I tried to make my body language appear calm and friendly as I dismounted the bike and took off my helmet and gloves. Unzipping my jacket as I approached him, I attempted a sincere smile and asked if he was having any luck.
“Nah, not anymore, it’s getting too hot; I’m about ready to call it quits.”
When I asked what fish he was after.
“Anything that’ll strike” was his reply.
Then as smoothly as I could possibly ask the question, I inquired “Where am I and where can I find the nearest town?” There was a brief pause before he answered, “Your on the Central Fork of the Snake, Grangeville’s that way about uh, twenty miles or so.” Pointing his right hand due west, down the trail in the same direction that my bike was aiming.
“Stay on that trail and you’ll find your way up to the highway in a few hundred yards.”
I thanked him and then walked back to the bike and pulled out my point and shoot digital camera and took a few shots of the river and my bike trying my best to look the part of Clark Griswold and not like Charles Manson. The fisherman never took his eyes off of me.

I stowed the camera, took a quick swallow of water from one of the bottles in my saddle bag and put my helmet and gloves back on. Starting the bike, I very deliberately let the clutch out nice and slow so as not to disrupt the rocks on the trail and gave the fisherman one last wave. He returned the gesture and for the first time since my arrival, turned his eyes away from me and back to his river.

The highway was exactly where he said it would be and in no time I was heading west on a very twisty stretch of narrow two lane asphalt. The suspension compressing and rebounding in the turns, I smooth clutched the gears as I approached the apex and rolled on the throttle as my big single thumped her way out. This was a complete change from the style of riding that I was practicing not more than 15 minutes ago. The serenity of the shade in the forest canopy and the conservative nature of caressing the bike on the game trail for the past hour or so were now interrupted by maintaining proper lines through tight first and second gear curves and concentrating on staying ahead of the bike to avoid any unpleasant surprises on this unfamiliar stretch of road; A sudden shot of caffeine in an otherwise mellow herbal tea.

The plan was to ride back to civilization, regroup, and then find some equally interesting places to ride. That was the plan until I came to the fork in the road.

Where the road veered to the right was a wide stretch of friendly looking two-lane highway, complete with centerline stripes and comfortable broad painted shoulders on both sides, the sign in the center of the fork with the arrow pointing to the right suggested that this was the way to Grangeville. The road to the left was a menacing and narrow piece of asphalt that shot straight up and disappeared almost immediately around the base of the canyon wall, an ominous yellow sign warned motorists, “10% grade ahead.” The arrow for this road pointed at a 45 degree angle up and to the left and read simply enough, “Mt. Idaho”.

I don’t know what the expression on my face looked like, but I imagine that it was something similar to the contorted evil look that Calvin wore as he snuck up behind Suzy with a slush ball. I was suddenly up to no good and I think that my bike knew it; playing along like a veritable Hobbes, ready to pounce like Tigers often do! Before I knew it I was pushing on the left side of the handlebars and tapping down a gear or two with my left toe to accelerate up the abrupt grade. The suspension compressed a couple of inches as we attacked the base of the mountain and we were off. I won’t bore you with too many of the details of the next twenty miles, all that I can say is that my helmet was filled with superlatives and primal grunts and childlike squealing. I could sense the frustration from my G.P.S. as it tried to keep up with me and the bike, it almost appeared to be begging me to slow down, counting off the altitude in hundreds of feet not in the usual five’s and ten’s that it usually does; I honestly think that it was out of breath by the time that we reached the top of the grade, gasping for air, or 1’s and 0’s in this case (binary humor).

For almost two hours beyond where I met the fisherman, I rode along an endlessly twisting road and during those two hours, I met only one vehicle. The farther I rode, the more cautious I became of my riding; the gift of my solitude could quickly become a bitter curse of a lone rider should I wander off course and into the woods. I didn’t know where this road led; it was a beautiful ride though. An assortment of Conifers and Deciduous trees crowded the side of the narrow road creating a variety of texture and color in the forest; occasionally a marsh would appear, letting my eyes stretch a bit, eager to find some big game out among the tree line. I saw nothing. Not today. Not in this heat.
The time to make a decision was getting close, I knew where I had come from and how to get home by taking that route, but the adventure would be missing if I turned around and followed that course; I had plenty of fuel to press on, but how much further? Another twenty miles down the road and a countless number of turns later, I was given a choice.

I came to a T in the road with an interesting sign. The sign that pointed to the left read, “Riggins 62 miles”, the road was a continuation of the same road that I had been traveling; a beautiful smooth stretch of lonely asphalt. The sign that pointed to the Right read, oddly enough, “Riggins 28 miles”, it was not paved, instead it looked to be a well maintained forest service road. I had more than enough fuel to turn left and stay on the asphalt that would probably ensure that I would arrive there comfortably within an hour or so; then again I was riding my KLR, one of the main reasons for purchasing this bike was to take me down these forest roads and into the unknown. With the sun cresting its highest point in the sky and a long way from home, I had to make a decision........

A while after completing this ride, it occurred to me that I never did find Mt. Idaho. Somewhere in my wandering, I had strayed off course and missed any further road signs leading the way. I googled it this evening to learn more about this place, Mt. Idaho is a place that I will return to as a destination.

Ride Well



Doug C said...

I was so engaged in your tale that I, too, had forgotten about Mt. Idaho. Had my heart beating just a bit faster.

Great post!

Kano said...

Great story! With your kind of rides, it's a good thing you have that huge gas tank! Being free of the limitations of gas tank size has got to be a wonderful thing. My Sportster can go about 140 miles before I seriously need to be looking for a gas station. Just curious, how far can you go on a tank of gas with your KLR?

Chris said...

Great Photos!

Earl Thomas said...

Doug: I'm debating which direction I should travel on my next ride. It'll be either South towards Mt. Idaho or West towards Mt. St. Helens. I feel that I have some unfinished business to the south.

Kano: This afternoon was a pretty good example of my normal routine. I usually switch over to my reserve at 270 to 280 miles and top off within 20 or so. That's during my commute. If I'm not entirely sure where I might end up (Somewhere in the mountains), I always top off right before sneaking away into the great unknown.

I can set my clock to 56 M.P.G. and with a 6.1 gallon tank, I'm good for around 330 miles before I start pushing.

Chris: Thanks, posting various pictures that I take while on the ride has been a large part of the enjoyment of blogging for me.


irondad said...

Even though Yogi Berra was a baseball player, I think he understood motorcycling deep down. For example, this gem:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

Following that advise has led to many unexpected adventures. Some pleasant, and some not. But all rewarding in some way.

I love Calvin and Hobbes, by the way

RazorsEdge2112 said...

I think that we as humans are somewhat like ships. We may do fine on the smooth seas, but deep down we are built for adventure and the unknown. Always pick the mor adventurous route and you will never be disappointed.

-Ride safe!

Earl Thomas said...

Irondad: Everytime I come to a fork in the road, I try to do just that!

Razorsedge: As I get older, I try my best to be a little more conservative in my judgement, but sometimes I just can't help myself. The road less traveled will always tempt me.

Hawktane said...

Must be nice to have such big tank! I am cursed with 120 miles tops on my bike. Love the story! Keep it up E.T.!

Earl Thomas said...

Hawktane: My XS11 has a range of only 120 miles or so. It drives me nuts. I'm just getting settled in when I have to stop to refuel!