I don’t need to look at my alarm clock to know that. The annoying little device on the bed stand can’t bother me with the time for the rest of the week anyways. It’s unplugged from the wall, rendered incapable of disturbing me during my time off; just one of those little things that I like to do when I am on vacation. No wearing of watches, no alarm clocks and no cell phones (whenever possible).
As I was saying though, it’s early. The room is still dark; everything outside my open bedroom window is silent, save for a garbage truck somewhere on the other side of my neighborhood, plucking rows of full cans from the street. Flicka, my German shepherd, is passed out somewhere in the mass of king size pillows next to me, she loves those pillows; I get one pillow, she gets the rest. Generally, if I wake up before the dog then I know it’s early. I’ve got to get up though; there are places that I have to be.
Rolling lethargically out of bed, I am visualizing a restless Charlie out on his front porch with his riding gear already on, protesting my tardiness, and his KLR in the driveway, loaded up and ready to go, both bike and rider anxious for my arrival. That’s probably not the case, but that mental picture helps stir me from my bed.
It’s the third day of my vacation, and the first day of a long awaited ride that Charlie and I have been planning for a while now.
A friend of Charlie has a cabin up in Northwestern Montana, hidden from view, tucked away in the wilderness of the Cabinet Mountains. He offered to let us use it, free of charge; we couldn’t say no to that. The plan is to use the cabin as a base camp to explore the Montana backcountry for the next four days.
There shouldn’t be any tourists in this neck of the woods, no paved streets or store front windows filled with bumper stickers and shot glass souvenirs to bring home as trivial evidence that we had once been there, that’s all reserved for places like Glacier National park a couple of hours to the east of where we would be staying.
Our souvenirs will be different.
There’ll be a few days of living with stiff joints and sore muscles and if we play our cards right, we can bring home with us, memories of our experience; endless stories that can be embellished as time passes, the personal accounts of two friends who spent a few days on an expedition through the high country with their motorcycles.
Then again, as motorcyclists/bikers, aren’t these anecdotes a part of our Raison d'être, regardless of what we ride? Yeah, I’m sure that we will have stories to tell afterwards.
But we have to get there first.
I begin by picking items out of the dresser that I’ll need for the ride up north this morning. Socks and a pair of jeans, a faded and yellowing Nike T-shirt that I can’t bring myself to part with just yet and a light sweater to wear under my riding gear. The German shepherd, still laying in her mass of pillows, is awake and completely engaged in what I am doing; she knows something is up.
Shuffling past the bed towards the living room, my clothes tucked under my arm, I give a few clicks of my tongue and in an instant, the dog is out of bed and following me close at my heals, so close that her cold wet nose is poking into my exposed calves; the two of us stumble to the back door to let her out.
A quick bit of “business” and then Flicka races off to the corner of her yard where she left her toy, her “toy” is a basketball sized piece of hard plastic called a Jolly-ball. She loves that Jolly-ball more than she loves those king-size pillows.
Running at a full sprint towards the ball as if it were prey, she hits it with the intensity of a blitzing Running back, driving it into the fence and chasing it around the yard. She is in full frolic now, growling and barking, pushing the ball across the yard with the tip of her nose, something like a seal might do with a beach ball in a pool. Standing there in my early morning head fog, I am amazed at how a dog can go from R.E.M. sleep to full throttle in an instant; God I envy dogs!
Once outside, the darkness that consumed my bedroom a few moments ago is beginning to dwindle. As morning takes over, ominous purple clouds to the north draw my attention. There is a good chance that Charlie and I will get wet at some point today. I won’t get wet, but perhaps my gear will.
With the exception of the camera, tripod and rider, my KLR is loaded up and ready to go. All that’s required of me is to gear up and hit the road.
Gearing up is a basic ritual that takes less than a minute, after that, the sound of dog food hitting a large plastic dish is all that is required to draw Flicka’s attention from her Jolly-ball in the backyard and back into the house.
I give her a German Shepherd sized hug, put her food dish down in front of her and assure her that Nana will be here this afternoon to entertain her for the next few days. One more quick peck on the dog’s forehead and then I head outside to the bike, grabbing my helmet, the camera and tripod from the dining room table on the way out.
With the few remaining items mounted on the bike, I swing my right leg high over the tail-bag, slide the helmet down over my head, thumb the starter and then pull my dragon skin gauntlets over the cuffs of my riding jacket.
Sitting here, waiting for the engine to warm up, I take a moment to think about the ride today. Where I am now, idling in my driveway and where I will end up by days end.
Charlie and I will be in a very different place from where we began; the dark northern spring wheat blanketing my Palouse country will be replaced with Douglas fir and Tamarack pines and mountains that disappear into the clouds. The air will be heavy with the scent of backcountry pine and the crackle of our campfire will echo beneath the canopy and carry through the forest. Over by the cabin will be our two bikes, resting on their stands, waiting for tomorrow’s ride......... and there will be dirt on their tires.
With the needle on the temperature gauge beginning to rise from its resting pin, I pull in the clutch and toe the transmission into first gear, my KLR is ready to go and so am I.
There is a popular quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu which states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
With my front tire pointed north towards Montana and a smooth release of the clutch, this is where my journey begins.