NEWS, WEATHER, and SPORTS

May, 2016

BubbaGram#6: Binge Riding

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

On the afternoon of the Portland show we were joined by Tom Marinelli—pictured here in the vivid yellow helmet he insists was an emergency purchase: “The only one that fit.” A few degrees of separation brought Tom and me together on the R30 tour, ten years before, when he joined us on a ride from Ann Arbor, near his home in the Detroit area, through Indiana and Ohio to Cuyahoga Falls. Tom and I were drawn together by a shared dark fate—Tom lost his daughter Jenn in 1997 when she was about the same age as Selena had been, and within a month of my loss. People who have lost children often complain that there’s no name for us—you can be an orphan, a widow, or a widower, but we’re just . . . losers.

Sometimes it can be helpful for us losers to know each other and share what only we are unfortunate enough to understand—what one of the grief books called “The Greatest Loss.” Tom is also a serious and highly competent motorcyclist and a good travel companion, and after he moved to St. Louis we rode together around Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska. These days Tom also lives part-time in Oregon, so on the past couple of tours he joined us there.

That night Tom rode with us on the bus out of Portland, with his BMW GS in the trailer, and Papa John parked us in the quaintly named Cottage Grove, Oregon. We must have liked it there pretty well because, an hour after leaving, we were right back there again. But only to get gas. Our first sortie into the nearby unpaved roads had ended where an active logging site blocked our way, and searching around and ahead of us, I decided it was wisest to head back to where I knew we could get gas. Wise, but . . . frustrating.

Perhaps my major ambition for that day was to get riding photos of Crater Lake. After five or six visits over the years, I had never managed to capture the “sense of place” in a single image—and if I could do that with a motorcycle passing through, that would be the ultimate. (We have ridden through and photographed some impressive walls of snow around there, towering above the plowed road even in early summer. The area gets forty-five feet of snow, so it takes a while to melt—but was all gone by July 22.)

The larger and more spectacular a place is, the harder it is to convey to others—in words or in photographs. I believe the opening image does a pretty good job (thank you, thank you), but some places you just have to see for yourself. A few examples would be Lake Louise, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, and Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, Wizard Island

photo by Tom Marinelli

In the center of this frame, and the background of the previous one, is Wizard Island, actually the cinder cone from the original volcano. The caldera-lake is almost 2,000 feet deep, the deepest in the United States, and lies at an elevation around 6,000 feet. Story-wise, I was particularly taken with the lake’s native midge fly, which lays its eggs on the water’s surface. They sink to the deepest bottom, hatch and feed as larvae in that frigid darkness 2,000 feet down, then change to pupae, which float to the top and emerge as adults. The adults live only a few days, not even getting a meal before they mate and die, and the cycle repeats again. Nature can be so . . . visionary.

Journal notes from that 431-mile day:

Definitely “going big” on these last few rides. “Bingeing,” I guess.

   New disorder: “binge riding.”

   Up at 6:30 again on bus—after show, and 1:00 a.m. bedtime.

   Because . . . won’t be doing this anymore.

   Gone slackjaw again.

[Once again I reach up, push it closed, and say, “Don’t be like that.”]

   After morning’s flailing loop, had to give up Lassen [Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park], but . . .  is what it is.

   Now to reconsider tomorrow . . .

Long Shadows in the Pines

Yes, tomorrow was going to require some reconsidering. We had fetched up in Susanville, California, that night, because the previous day’s online search around Lake Almanor, where I’d hoped to stay, had come up empty. Or full. (Skilled amateur travel agent Brutus, whose talents are frequently requested when I have a “challenging” destination, tells me the trade code for a fully booked hotel is “solid.”) Our Susanville stop would add an extra distance to the show-day’s ride, making it over 300 miles even by the quickest way. 

The previous photo’s two long shadows suggest that Michael and I had paused to confer about the road ahead. In fact I had just waved him alongside to send him ahead to take a photo of me, shooting back toward the rising sun. At this moment Michael had just put away his big camera after snapping a photo of this scene while I had scoffed and jeered at his whimsy—even as I pulled out my own little camera to take this shot. You can see his helmeted profile looking over at me as he acts all shocked and hurt.

“But you just made fun of me!”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Why do you always have to hurt me?”

“That’s what I do.” Then a second later, “You really oughta be used to it by now.”

He spat out, “I’ll never get used to your abuse. And . . . and—you’re not my real dad!”

That one always gets me, and I laughed aloud as Michael rode off with a flounce of his helmet.

Riding off in a Huff

Tom had been reconsidering his future, too. The previous night he asked me if I thought we would hit Lassen National Park in the morning. I shook my head regretfully, “No, I’m afraid not—we’ll have to make some time.”

Tom said, “Well, if I follow you into San Jose I’ll just have to turn around and ride back through all that. I thought I might run over and have a look at Lassen, then head home from there.”

I nodded with a wry smile and said, “That’s what I would do all right!” But I had to consider the barricade of sheer distance between where we were and where the San Jose arena was. Many miles of congested areas and freeways—no fun. And it makes me nervous when I’m too far away on a show day.

Though I did start us off with a “mystery road” (because it was there) a stretch of dotted line bridging from Lake Almanor down to the Central Valley. The lake is a large manmade reservoir—named for the power-company president’s daughters, Alice, Martha, and Eleanor—on the Feather River. Around the region I saw cryptic signs reading “Stop the Thermal Curtain.” Curious, I looked into it, and realized that although the issue was local it relates to many other water projects in the West, and seems worth citing as an example.

Like other dams on other rivers—the mighty Colorado being most emblematic—the dam that created Lake Almanor changes the downstream seasonal flows, siltiness, and water temperature. Those changes are thought to be harmful to wildlife, especially spawning fish. The Thermal Curtain is a proposed structure that would hang underwater and attempt to cool the water temperature downstream—how much is debated, as well as its effect on the lakewater’s temperature (too warm would cause algae blooms) and its fish. The enormous cost would be borne by the power company’s customers, so there was organized resistance, and the conflict stands as a fine example of endless water issues in the West. A quote often attributed to Mark Twain remains true today: “Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

Sunrise Road to Humbug Summit

photo by Michael Mosbach

We rode around Lake Almanor to a gravel road and turned off into the mountains. This time Mother (navigation computer) had “allowed” that route, but we soon found that the Boys (onboard GPS units Doofus and Dingus) were having their problems. Or really, it was just that Mother had decided on her own interpretation of the route. Many a long-established but remote road exists but is not properly logged in her software, thus she instead chooses the roads really, really less traveled. Or like what happened to us in Montana, sending us deep into hell’s half-acre, then “recalculating,” and directing a U-turn.

The proper unpaved route had the fetching name of Humbug Summit, but I noticed we were often on much smaller, completely unmaintained logging roads. And there was a lot of logging going on around there. Even that early in the morning we had to be watchful for oncoming trucks, gigantic roadhogs heaped with logs of ponderosa pine. Only occasionally did we encounter a few remote campgrounds, or occasional rickety cabins and parked trailers back in the woods.

One time the purple line led us past an imposing barricade—a gate of heavy iron tubes painted yellow. Fatefully, it happened to be open just then, with a corporate pickup parked just on the other side. Probably a logging company surveyor, I realized later. Dingus pointed onward, so onward I led us. However, a considerable time and distance later, we came upon a similar barricade—only this one was closed.

I checked the padlock—it was hefty, and shackled. I scanned the woods to either side, but boulders had been placed at each end of the barricade to prevent an “end run.”

Michael said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

I said, “I’m readin’ your mail.”

Not As Bad As It Looks

We decided to lay the bikes down, remove one of the luggage cases and a mirror, then slide them under the barricade.

We did it, and it was good. A fist-bump celebrated our triumph against The Man.

However, once again, all that rambling around had eaten up a lot of time, and I would have to “reconsider” a little further. There would be no time to stop at the Black Bear Diner in Willows (familiar from track days and races at nearby Thunderhill Raceway), or to take the meandering route along the foothills of the Coast Ranges we had explored once before—a series of unpaved roads through ranchland that had been scenic, deserted, and adventurous. No, we would have to get to Interstate 5 and get moving.

Hence my journal note later that day, on the bus, when I had called ahead to ask Frenchie to make us a couple of omelettes for around 2:00 that afternoon.

8 hours, 300 miles, not even a cup o’ coffee.

Passing on the morning coffee had been deliberate rather than “negligent.” On past tours if I wanted to make an early start I would set up the in-room coffee the night before, then just press the button in the morning. Lately I had even given that up—not worth the trouble, and I found I felt fine without it.

(Roadcraft: It is troublesome enough having to figure out a completely different shower every day, never mind another coffee machine.)

In any case, finally settling at the bus’s table and tucking into Frenchie’s wonderful omelettes was rendered even more superb by our long fast. The day was truly reborn, and being fueled and refreshed, I would summon the energy to face the next part of the day: route planning, soundcheck, dinner with the Guys at Work, warmup, and show number thirty-one.

 Just four more to go, as we traveled into the Southwest and the home stretch—literally home, for me.

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