My face shield was virtually opaque with mud long before we turned onto Liberty Road and headed into the lush forest lands near our home. Waiting for ‘good riding weather’ here in the northwestern USA is a lot like dating a beautiful woman who’s sick all the time, she’s pretty to look at but you’re never going to get that kiss you’re dreaming about. Unless, of course, you don’t mind coming down with a cold…
And so it is with me and my two teen-aged sons. Sometimes we just have to get out there on two wheels in the muck and mess and have some adventure.
I’m pretty sure it all started this time with a glance from a bored teen-ager sitting next to the woodstove cruising craigslist for affordable project bikes. He fired off one of those looks like, “this blows”. It’s understandable… We live at the edge of the Luckaimute river bottom where the terrain begins to climb up out of the Willamette Valley and into the densely forested Coast Range mountains of Oregon. Our close proximity to the Pacific Ocean combined with the mountainous terrain makes the perfect meteorological recipe for months of messy drizzle and oppressive, overcast sky.
The hills and mountains all around us are laced with countless miles of gravel roads for transporting trees out of the rich forestlands. Right out our front door is one such road. A lethal combination of cabin fever and wanderlust make it pretty hard to resist the call of the backroads, even on the most dismal of days.
Today, we couldn’t resist. Layered up with coveralls, coats and gloves to combat the overcast and cold (38F/3C) we head to the tarp-garage to prepare our steeds.
The three of us run a mish-mash of bikes. Elijah strides the backroads upon Ollie, his Lutwaffe-looking Baja from the 70’s. It’s a camouflaged hardtail with a springer style front-end and a 160CC pressure-washer engine hooked to a Torque-a-verter. The thing is gnarly. It’ll do 40-45mph and gets comments and thumbs-up everywhere we go.
For Keenen it’s a 1971 Suzuki TS185 that he picked up for $200. We rebuilt the top end and rewired it last summer and he’s loved it ever since. Georgia, as he calls it, is a great first bike. She’s got power enough to get a guy in trouble, tough enough to handle single track and old enough to be cool.
I ride Piglet, my fenderless 1974 CB125 bratter I’ve been working on over the last year or so. Its skinny street tires aren’t exactly suited to gravel road adventuring. Some have bandied about the word “dangerous”. When I hear that kind of talk I always want to say, “Look, Glenn Curtiss set a land-speed record on a v-8 driven bicycle with crappy tires and no brakes in 1903. I’m pretty sure 30MPH on a gravel backroad is gonna be okay.”. That’s a conversation for another time though.
After topping off the tanks and oil reservoirs we kick (or pull-start) our bikes to life, point west and twist it out.
The ubiquitous logging roads around here are covered in 3/4- (spoken out , like “three-quarter-minus”) basalt gravel mined from the hills around home. In the summer the roads are pounded by 40,000 pound log trucks, pulverizing the gravel into a fine powder that makes it into every nook and cranny of our lives. It’s like 300 grit sandpaper suspended in the air.
In winter though, the fine powder that permeates the air all summer is reduced to a yogurt-like slurry that slings up from your tires and coats everything with a thick layer of abrasive slop.
Riding fenderless in one of the wettest regions of the USA is likely not regarded as a smart decision. I’m okay with that. Judge me if you will. The issues arising from going commando in the fender department are issues I’m willing to love for the time being. I’ve got plans for fenders, I really do. But, being prone to fits of perfectionism I haven’t actually made the fenders yet. When I do, they’ll be just what I want. Until then, I’m not going to moan about it.
I tell the fender(less) story because it’s really a testimony. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind would hop on a fenderless, skinny-tired bratter and head out on twisty roads covered in black-brown yogurt? A few guys with cabin fever and a heart for adventure, that’s who.
We decide to ride Liberty Road in to the edge of town and back. The round trip is probably not more than 18 miles, just enough time on the bike to cure cabin fever but not so long that you’ve blown your whole day slosshing around in slurry and drizzle.
About 4 miles into our trip near the point where Liberty peaks in elevation, the occasional cold drizzle combines with the low clouds and wraps us in what amounts to a cold, wet blanket. It’s the kind of feeling you dream about on a summer night as your foot searches for that last little cold spot in your sweltering hot bed.
We press on through the dense overcast and muck for a few more miles until we reach the end of Liberty road where it joins Kings Valley Highway and start our journey back home. Half way back we stop to take a few snapshots and hopefully regain some feeling in our fingertips.
We stop pretty often on our trips to laugh about the absurdity of what we’re doing and regain a firm grasp on our disillusionment before heading on again. Riding the backroads is a pretty fun thing to do together and a dad couldn’t ask for better company to ride with. My guys know I’m a little uneasy on these roads and they’re patient with me. When the roads aren’t slick from mud it’s because they’ve been freshly resurfaced by the county’s big John Deere road grader making it like riding on ball bearings.
It’s cold, wet and pretty miserable as we start up again. My hand is quickly locked in a frozen grip around the throttle and my face shield is covered in mud save for the spot I swiped clean with my brake hand. Regardless, we’re on a ride – together. We’re letting nature throw us some of its worst and we’re digging it. Life and fun isn’t about the absence of discomfort or difficulty. Good times and difficulty aren’t mutually exclusive. No, we’re having fun because there’s fun to be squeezed out of every moment in life.
On the road I take an opportunity to roll off the throttle a bit and watch my two young men ride up ahead of me. I watch them out in front of me, discovering the world from a pair of funky old motorcycles. They’re confident young men but not dangerous. They’re content with what we have now but it’s not long and they’ll be riding their own trails, making their own way. I like that idea actually. I look forward to the day when they call me up from some remote spot in Cambodia or text me from the Texas panhandle to tell me of their adventures. Maybe they never get on a bike again later in life. I’m fine with that too. This is more about learning to live than learning to ride.
About 4 miles from home I can barely feel my toes and fingers. I reach down and put a gloved hand on the jug of my trusty Piglet until the warmth of the engine begins to make its way to my bones. Within seconds I start to get that searing pain that accompanies the return of circulation.
A few minutes later we swing in to our driveway and head for the tarp-garage. After we’ve parked our bikes and turned off the gas petcocks we head up to the house where the smoke is lazily drifting from the chimney. Stripping layers off as we get to the porch, recanting freshly minted stories of this corner or that slippery spot, I can’t help but think, “Youth is such a great protector from the elements.”.
Within moments we’re back in our little living room, thawing out with the help of the wood stove that Jalet’s been tending while we were away. We’re sitting the way we did before heading out on our ride, only now we’ve got something to smile about.
Big thanks to Iron & Air for encouraging all of us to get out there and ride.