September 12, 2019 3pm. Pointing the bikes eastward towards home after a fantastic day riding to the coast. My husband Mike was leading when he made a mistake on a righthand corner, there was a truck coming the other direction, and a few hours later he was gone.
It’s been just over a year since that day. I still miss Mike like mad and some days I cannot believe our life together is over.
I spent the first six months after the accident in shock and simply going through the motions of life. I honestly don’t remember much from that time, which is probably a good thing. I did some traveling, some with family and friends, mostly by myself with the pickup and tent setup. The haze of mourning didn’t quell my wanderlust, I still needed to get out to see and do new things (and force my butt off the sofa).
One day in April 2020, I realized I still wanted to ride. I spent the next few months going through my KTM dual-sport. I wasn’t ready to ride the BMW I was on when Mike died, so the little KTM offered a fun and lightweight alternative. Working on the bike was also a relaxing activity — NOT! It was frustrating and scary and involved every brain cell in my head at all times, it was an awesome distraction. Added plus, the bike actually ran when I was done!
My first tentative two-wheel steps wouldn’t have been possible without thoroughly wonderful friends who not only supported me unconditionally, but also changed tires and replaced old Chevy fuel pumps without complaint. I am honest when I say I’m not a nice enough person to deserve Joe and Donell, but if they’re willing to put up with me, I’m more than happy to hang around with them!
We decided to take a week-long vacation, driving our truck and camper setups and trailering the bikes, this would allow us to have fun and explore even if it turned out I couldn’t ride. I dusted off the old Chevy and Joe helped me load the camper and I was ready…I thought. Or as ready as I’d ever be.
I was still a nervous wreck before our first ride. Putting on my gear was so difficult, the pants and helmet were the same ones I was wearing when the accident happened and this was the first time I’d suited up since then.
My start day began with a bang — or rather the loud wail of my security system telling me that someone had opened the inside door in the shop at 6am. Holy crap. I scrambled around, put on pants, grabbed a Glock, and started walking out when I heard an engine, I ran out front and was so very relieved to see my neighbor Scott in his UTV. He said I’d left the shop open all night and the lights were on and they were worried I’d injured myself or something so he came over to check on me. Oh hell, I’m an idiot. Yes, I’d completed the BMW maintenance, rode the bike back to the garage, parked it, locked the garage, and went in the house to bed…leaving the shop overhead door wiiiiiiide open and all the lights on.
What a stellar blonde moment! Not exactly a good sign that I’m capable of doing all this on my own, is it? Again, thankful to have fantastic friends and neighbors, I considered going back to bed, but I was up and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, perfect blue sky with that softer light we start seeing as we head into fall. Despite the crazy alarm, I was happy and still ready to get on the bike and ride.
This would be my easiest day, I had an option to take a really fun detour over Oxbow dam and a road that is super tight and technical. I do love that stuff, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be mentally sharp enough to do it on my first long day back on Sir Tao. Sir Tao? Yes, my BMW is a G650GS Sertao, so his name is Sir Tao. He is very proper, very German, and will chide me for slacking on maintenance or not paying close enough attention to the road. And, apologies for getting a bit sappy here, he is my Tao since riding brings a harmony to my life that I have yet to find anywhere else.
I breakfasted, fueled up, fed the cats, locked everything up…double checked that I had everything actually shut and locked up…and rolled down the driveway before 10am. Right away this is a different ride than Mike and I would take. When you rode with Mike you got up at the crack of dawn and were on the road the minute the sun even thought about rising.
I do really love the fact that getting up early means you usually have the road to yourself, but the route I was taking and the fact that it was a weekday meant I wouldn’t see much traffic no matter when I started. Plus, this was my ride. Going solo means I get to make all the selfish choices like when to leave, when to stop, and when to stop again five minutes later because oooh, look at that cool old place!
The first hour felt a little strange. I’d look in my rear view mirror and for a second I’d imagine Mike back there on his Versys, but after awhile I started settling in and enjoying the ride. I took it easy, staying below 70mph and not pushing much at all in the turns. It was one of those perfect ride days when the temps are just right with vents open – not to hot and not too cool. The scents of trees and dry grass, the bright flashes of light from water flowing over rocks as it meanders along next to me. Life is good.
I pause in John Day for lunch at our favorite spot, The Outpost. I have one of their big salads and enjoy relaxing in their comfortable booths. I’m feeling good although I’ve got tension between my shoulder blades which results in some hand numbness. This is something I began experiencing shortly after Mike died, I’d be sitting at the computer and realize my shoulders were up around my ears and it felt like I had an icepick in my back. I know that if I can focus on relaxing the pain and numbness will eventually subside, but it’s definitely a sign that I’m not completely anxiety-free.
Getting back on the bike I continue down the road, feeling more in tune and confident as the miles click by.
Anytime I come this way by myself in the car, I always stop in Whitney to say hi to the old buildings and listen to the absolute silence of the place. Mike never thought it was that exciting, so this is my first chance for a Whitney stop on two wheels.
Hwy 7 takes me past Sumpter and all the gold dredge tailings, then next to Phillips Lake which is nearly dry this time of year, past the inexplicably named Social Security Point, and follows the the Powder River until Baker City where I re-enter the world of well-behaved and boring pavement on I-84 for 50 miles, after which I exit and pick up 95 and I’m traveling a quiet road between rolling farm fields full of dry corn stalks.
Day 2 – Cambridge Idaho to Lolo Montana – 280 miles
I’d set my alarm for 8, but wake up at 7:30 and decide extra ride time is better than an extra half hour of sleep.
It takes me a ridiculously long hour and a half to get ready and get everything back on the bike. I check so many things twice, three times, still worried I’ve forgotten something because it would have been on Mike’s to-do list. Yes, I oiled the chain, yes I checked tires, yes I removed the brake lock … It feels weird and a little scary. If I forget something it’s all on me. I finally quit waffling and saddle up.
I like to travel a bit before I stop for breakfast, usually about an hour down the road, but I was really hungry and in need of a caffeine fix so I started looking for options early on.
Pulling into New Meadows I saw the nicely restored Pacific and Idaho Northern Railroad Depot and decided to stop and check it out.
Walking around the structure, I could smell bacon cooking and suddenly I was more interested in food than in history. Just a few blocks down the road was the cozy Granite Mountain Cafe and a seat right at the big front windows.
The coffee was hot and the breakfast was excellent, they have french toast made with inch-thick slabs of challah bread, it’s amazing (and I’m really glad the waitress talked me into just the single slice, it was huge!)
I wake up bright and early and HUNGRY! Skipping dinner last night has me craving breakfast the minute I roll out of bed so I quickly get ready to go. Much better timing this morning, only an hour from alarm shutoff to on the bike…then off the bike because I forgot to oil the chain. Then some worried staring because my back tire tread is getting uncomfortably close to baldness. Yikes. Rookie move, looked at it before I left and saw it had what I though would be at least 2000 miles left, but the chip seal here is made from much sharper aggregate than they use back home. I know this, I’ve known this for years, I forgot.
I figure I’ll ride and check all the bike shops along the way and hope someone has something that will fit. I’m in the heart of moto country, the odds should be good…should be. Also, it’s not totally gone, I’ve got at least 500 miles left before it gets really sketchy. It’ll be fine…
… at least that’s my mantra du jour!
So, I roll out of the parking lot at 8:30 and scan for a breakfast stop but don’t see (or smell) anything tempting (another really awesome thing about riding — the smells! Well, okay, not the dead skunk smells, but the bacon, the warm wild berries, the pine), I stop and pull up Yelp since I know there are not that many towns along this route, they recommend Montana Cafe in Darby, about an hour down the road.
Rolling into Darby (population 792) I spot the cafe, a tiny place with parking for about 5 vehicles, which works because with current Covid restrictions they have exactly 5 tables inside!
It smells wonderful, and when my plate arrives, it tastes even better! I usually don’t agree with Yelp recommendations, but this time they hit it out of the park.
After lining up the new tire with Carl’s yesterday, they asked if there was any way I could get the bike in by 11am. Looking at the mileage and the weather reports had me a bit worried (128 miles, morning temps below freezing), Idaho 21 is a wonderful swoop through a couple of minor mountain passes with dense woods, opening up to big grassy valleys and the occasional picturesque ranch. It’s pretty, but not something you can really make time on. I asked if I could get it in by noon, would that work? Yes! Oh good, that means I only have to get up at 7 to be on the road by 8:30, hopefully late enough to avoid that deadly deer time as the sun is rising.
That darned alarm went off before the sun was up, fortunately my little no-tel-mo-tel room had that full kitchen so I boiled some water and downed a cup of tea and ate a breakfast bar. I knew I needed to get going quickly and I’m decidedly not a morning person so I’d taken time the night before to get all my gear staged for a quick exit in the morning.
Walking out the door I’m greeted by an arctic blast and everything is sparkling with a fuzzy white stuff. Well, it’s not snow, but it’s some pretty heavy frost, the thermometer on the side of the building reads 26. I try to ignore it.
I can’t ignore the fact that I need to scrape all the frost off Sir Tao’s seat, but figure I’ll get him started so he can warm up a bit. I push the go button and the engine is decidedly sluggish turning over. Uh oh. I unplug everything electrical and try again. It’s a slow grind, and not a sexy one. I do NOT have time for this! One final try and the engine catches and quickly settles to its normal thump. Whew!
This morning we got up way too early, at least I considered it too early. Mike seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to be packed and eating breakfast by 6:30am when the place we’re visiting doesn’t open until 10. Needless to say, we had a bit of time to explore the area.
We drove around Puyallup a bit, finding their State fairgrounds, which was quite impressive compared to the rapidly shrinking and lamer Oregon version. Most impressive to me is their assortment of fixed rides, including this beautiful little wooden coaster which was originally built in 1935. I think we need to come back and visit during the fair.
Vintage woodie coaster that’s only open twice a year? Challenge Accepted!
Mike, of course, searched for Antique stores. He found a few (boo).
Rats. He found one.
Fortunately they were closed (yay!). Finally, it was 9:30 and time to head up to Marymount.
In Tacoma there are two museums with connections to the LeMay family and their cars. Mr. Lemay amassed such a quantity of classic cars that no single location could readily house them all. The vanguard of the collection is shown across the street from the Tacoma Dome at America’s Car Museum, which we love, but a greater portion of the collection (about 500 cars) are crammed together in three very large buildings at the old Marymount Military Academy.
Every year it seems this holiday comes sooner than the last. Why does time fly faster the older we get? Good grief, nephew Kevin is away at college this year (OSU) with Jake right on his heels as a senior and Sam close behind. College? How can it be, only a few years ago we were buying Rescue Heroes and Captain Underpants for their Christmas gifts, and now it’s Xbox gift cards and iPhone accessories.
The last time we visited Las Vegas we gambled on some property, buying a piece of dirt sight-unseen in a Podunk little subdivision in Arizona.
See, we like to spend money on dirt. I’ll bet you’re sensing a theme here.
Okay, it’s not THAT bad, we’d driven through Mohave County quite a few times over the years. We liked the feel of the place; mostly retirees, some “interesting” desert rats, and a few younger families. An added plus was the proximity to the Colorado River, so this dusty little spot in the desert felt significantly less dusty than many other desert locales. We felt it would be a good place to snowbird.
Today’s journey consists of 934 miles of mostly 2-lane roads in the middle of nowhere, but that’s okay, we sort of like “middle of nowhere”.
As I mentioned in the previous post, we woke early, then got going pretty much on time. Mike wanted to be on the road by 5am, and we rolled out of the garage at 5:30.
We usually enjoy long rides like this. Mike drives the whole way because if I drive he gets motion sick (does this say something about my driving skills? Probably), so it’s my job to stay awake and keep the music flowing.
Speaking of presents, did I mention today is my birthday? No, because no one else mentioned it today either. Yep, Mike forgot my birthday. Not as in “completely spaced the fact that my wife has a birthday in January”, more of an “I even bought you a card and everything but because everything was so crazy I forgot today was it” kind of thing. Continue reading →