Friday, July 12, 2013

Road to Boise

There was snow atop the Bighorns yet; seven feet of it by my measure. I plocked steps with my cowboy boots and climbed aboard the drift that towered over Linda and the highway. As I lay back in the slushy mass, Lin took a photo as proof we'd rode into our honeymoon a month too early. It was her first long ride and there were many things to show her. Snow was the least of the magic.

This was our beginning mountain pass and as Linda was a corner virgin, I took the switchbacks to Cody as quickly as I could; the well paved, double lane highway offering a forgiving leisure to a speedy scoot downhill. Her knees found purchase in my pelvis, her hands in the love handles I'd tried for years to eliminate. My new bride thrashed me and pinched me and punched me when she felt the urge, laughing and hollering "DoooON'T" and "STO-PIT" in that whiny baby voice I've come to know and love.

We were both exhausted upon reaching bottom, and my butt was soaked from the melted snow throne I'd posed on a half hour earlier. So to show proper camper clothes drying etiquette I stood at 70MPH and waved my bottom about, hoping to catch a warm breeze that would cure my uncomfortableness.

Linda was not pleased and mock attacked me each time I took to the upright position. She was actually a bit frightened as cross country motorcycling was all new to her and she wanted me to slow down on my antics a bit. But it's not fun to wallow in pasty underwear and denims so I sat, waited for her to become distracted and then stood again; each time evaporating another sodden layer from the damp cloth and each time suffering another curse.

We found ourselves relaxing a few hours later in cheap, plastic chairs in front of a cheap, plastic motel in the cheap, plastic town of Cody Wyoming, gateway to Yellowstone. And there we discussed the day, the snow, the rush of leaning into a heavy curve, the wind nearly pulling your body aloft, and the slow transference of her, at first, incredible fears, into unerring confidence in my abilities.

The next day was no motorcycle adventure but a sense awakening that only the majesty of a National Park like Yellowstone can bring to a mere mortal. But this story doesn't go there, nor to the gaudy motel in Idaho that we spent the next night in.

This is just a short tale about how quickly one can become accustomed to danger, how easily we forget our gooseflesh, pounding hearts and shortness of breath once we've seen what we've believed to be death, and lived to tell.

She had no idea that Ketchum was the new Vail, that Sun Valley was rapidly becoming Hollywood NW with Tom Hanks among others driving once average property values into the stratosphere. She only knew that the town was incredibly cute and the mountains behind it incredibly tall.

I'd begun a white water raft trip from those peaks and wanted to share my fascination with her in first person. So after breakfast in touristville, we slithered up the ridge to the Sawtooth mountains, some of the coolest granite clumps I've ever seen.

We spent most of the day carousing atop the mountains, peering into canyons at the raging rivers that I'd nearly lost my life on more than once.

Know that I am not an adrenaline junky. I fear unfenced heights for one, deep water for another. When riding I tend to the safe side, doing little in the way of tricks or outlandish behavior. I just have a tendency to try new things and some of them try to kill me, that's really all it is.

In any case the sun began to wane so I decided to make Boise before dark. The highway downhill is likely the tightest turning stretch of any mountain range I've driven and while it's fun to twist and turn, it's also both frightening at times and a hell of a lotta work. So we sat at the entrance to a "last stop" filling station waiting for all the truckers to pass by before starting our descent in hopes that I could take this lightly traveled road at my own pace.

The first 15 minutes was grand as I slowed enough at times to see large and small animals lumbering alongside us in the heavy wood. This particular road is unusual in that it is so thickly forested that the trees grow right to the edge of the tar on one side and the sandstone and granite cliff face stands guard on the other, making its reach a bit claustrophobic for those so inclined. You know there are 4-600 foot drops here and there...but damn if you can see them until you're on them.

So I was not too happy as I heard the midrange whine of a semi approaching from my rear. I imagined us to be about halfway to the valley below and thought to find a spot to pull over and let the behemoth pass. It was too far to fight another driver all the way down and as the day was wearing on me I was a little stiff and raggedy in my technique.

I never found that pullout before a reefered 18 wheeler encroached, creeping on me fast enough that it unsettled me for a moment. I kept hoping that the next half mile would bring a straight stretch into view that I could lean into the tiny shoulder and let this guy blow past us, but no such luck as we moved faster and faster down the slope.

I remember my teeth painfully clenching and asking Lyn for a couple sticks of gum, she unwrapping and folding them and then slipping them into my mouth as we bent into another hot corner. I tapped my brakes a couple times and in answer the driver behind me tapped his horn...pretty much a universal for "don't even ask me to slow down."

I swear it was the hardest ride I'd had, or have had since. I never knew I could concentrate like that, I'd never believed in my abilities to the point of road race. He was so close I could nearly smell his exhaust and our speed was topping 70, then 71-72-73. A little stretch of straightaway would appear and I'd add 200 feet to our space, but then another corner would push me to back off, to stay within the yellow line of my lane, to watch ahead for sand or rock or even fallen boulders that might at any time litter the road.

My hands cramped, my thighs were sore from gripping the chassis, I swore my brain was going to explode as it raced to identify each inch of ground as friend or foe, each moment as our next, or our last.

By the end I'd had a Matrix moment, when all becomes clear and the fantasy is your creation and not foisted upon you.

I imagined a Chinese dragon, the reds and oranges of its slender, weaving body lighting up the roadway behind me; its mouth snapping in time with the diesel rhythm as the driver behind me "jake braked" and doubled the volume of his engine, roaring much as any monstrous demon in search of a meal would do. I was strapped to a rocket and deftly leading my pursuer to its death in the valley far below, using only the angle of my body, the gravity of my changing weight to modify my direction and speed.

When we'd finally reached bottom we were doing over 80 and I quickly made that 90 as I sped away from my tail and made a giant leap toward freedom of movement. I spied a roadside rest ahead, a middling river rushing past the picnic tables and fire pits and singular outhouse.

I damn near slammed on the brakes as I downshifted myself to a stop and slowly turned our ride into the welcome respite. Neither of us had said a word since leaving the top of the mount, and nothing was said yet as we dismounted and set helmets and gauntlets on our chosen table, and I shakily lit a cigarette.

"Now that was FUN!" Linda said finally as she dragged her water bottle from her pack. "Let's go up and do that again!" I just laughed and laughed and...

"What's so funny?" she asked raising an eyebrow for effect. "Nothin" I answered and smiled broadly to myself. I'd created a monster alright, and luckily I'd married her first.

I didn't tell her my reality until weeks later, once we'd found our way home again. We had thousands of miles of highway and dozens of mountain passes to go yet and I wanted her believing in the magic of the moment, not wondering how I was holding up under pressure.

It can be amazing to go into a dark tunnel and come out the other side a totally different person; But some experiences are exactly like that, and while our visions were quite different, we both lived an epiphany that afternoon; one that scared the crap outa me and only delighted her. And one neither of us regret. 

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