METHINKS THE ROAD EAST will require suffering, and frequent stops at the local salt licks. That or night riding, always a risky enterprise on open range. Here’s a good general rule when you’re up on two wheels in the middle of nowhere: Don’t hit anything in the dark. Or if you do, be lucky enough to leave a few motorcycle parts scattered across the road. Maybe in a day or two somebody will bother to go kicking around in the weeds, where you are thinking Argg…
Riding the backroads of the west at night you feel that, in all the wide world, your lights are the only ones burning. That’s how I know there’s no such thing as abduction by extraterrestrials. You’re easy pickings out there crossing the inky void all by your lone alone. I’ve never been sky-tracked in New Mexico (Roswell) or Nevada (Area 51). Never been beamed up out of the saddle, had half a night go missing. There’s no Bigfoot, either. Sorry.
I was thinking about heading south for California, hang with Johnny Danger on the Eastern Sierra, but Danger tells me it’s not only hot in Bishop (105 at last report) but humid (80 percent). I didn’t know the air ever got that wet in the high desert. On the way, I was hoping to stop in Rainier, OR, to see Keith Hackett, and in Portland to see Steve Billings. That’ll have to be some other time now. I’m headed east in the morning. Anyway, I miss the bride, despite that I saw her two weeks ago. It’s time for our lives to coincide again.
I could hit the opening day of Sturgis 2013 on the way back, if I felt like killing time in the Black Hills for a few days. The thing is, I’m not much into biker rallies. I rode right by Daytona Bike Week once. Took a look, thought to myself, Do I want to sit the bike in traffic or ride it? On life’s final exam, that’s a gimme. I rode to Key West instead.
The lake was kicking up on July 12 when Connie Nelson ferried Pam and me over to the landing on the east side of Lake Cushman.
We were headed to Tacoma for dinner with friends, then Pam was off to SeaTac in the morning for a flight home to Rhode Island. She left the sunny and temperate Pacific Northwest for the insane heat and suffocating humidity of Little Rhody. And now it’s time for me to do the same. We had a great time when she was here. How could I not? She’s smart, kind, unself-centered, true blue and delightfully daffy (to borrow a feminine descriptor coined by my old pal, ace reporter and mystery writer Mark Arsenault).
Upon my return to the bachelordom of the road, I pitched my tent in Gig Harbor to write for a while. Delivered 115 pages of material that King Features artists Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty would need by August 1. But, dig it, first order of business was to badge the iron piggy with Yukon and Alaska cred.
It felt good to put new stickers on her windshield. We hadn’t been anywhere new in years, merely in and out of places already scoped out and camped in and jawed around.
Can’t seem to get to Oklahoma, for some odd reason. We keep riding right by it. Rode by it again this time on the road west. I hope not to go anywhere near it on the road east.
The iron piggy’s been through 48 states now, almost all of them three or four or five times, or more. Coast to coast in Canada as well. Hawaii and Oklahoma remain unexplored. Somehow I’m thinking Hawaii is the one that’s doable.
When I applied the Alaska and Yukon stickers I made a little speech, cited the piggy’s “meritorious service,” blah blah, her taking in her stride the monster frost heaves of the Alaska Highway, its long stretches of cratered and dusty gravel, her motoring by bears and bison… I don’t remember the whole speech, just the high points. Then, for continental style, I gripped her by the passing lamps and kissed her twice, once on each side of the nacelle, like a French Foreign Legion thing. It was some real suave smoochie face, like a Beau Geste would have done.
I got some bad-tasting bug guts in my teeth doing it. Some say when your girl gives you bugs it’s time for an upgrade. That’s okay as a general rule. Piggy’s the exception to it.
When the bride flew home to Rhode Island, I went back out to the lake. Had a good time sawing up trees for firewood, sawing out fir and cedar logs on the bandsaw mill, and, most of all, lending a hand on a construction project that Jan Nelson and Jim Hanna are working on: a three-bay shop building at the Nelson camp. I didn’t think to snap pics. I was too busy having fun swinging a hammer and sinking sinkers.
Here’s one that Jan snapped of the work getting under way. The poles aren’t up yet for Bay #3.
I did grab a few snapshots of a project I helped Jim with over at the cove. We boarded-in the underside of his porch rafters. Jim and Jan milled the lumber out of cedar logs. You can’t really see the view off the porch in this shot but…
… here’s a somewhat better angle. With Jim’s spotting scope we could see hikers on that peak about four miles out.
I took a little tour of a neighbor’s property, a complex of five or six yurts set up on a massive lakeside deck that Jim built.
They’ve got a water trampoline. Never heard of such a thing but there it is.
Saw this in the bathhouse yurt. I wanted to draw a dialogue balloon on one of the gals; have her say something pithy about the douche who’s floating around blowing water spouts when there are pageant princesses bouncing off the water trampoline.
Aw, now I’m missing my pageant princess… Better to just stop thinking about her.
Jim Hanna, a good egg. Twenty years ago he was one of the pioneering campers on the west side of Lake Cushman. Back then, if you had a roof over your head it was a tent. Since then he’s built cabins, decks, kitchens, flush-toilet bathrooms and everything else for just about everybody up and down the west side. He’s made it possible for dozens of his friends and neighbors to know how true that sign can be.
Life is better at the lake even despite the risk and occasional misfortune of living in a wilderness area without road access. Here’s Elinor, the dozer that rolled over in the woods two years ago. She would have squashed Jan into a Jan pizza if he had dithered about if & when to jump for his life. He sustained a catastrophic crushing injury to his right leg but came out of it with most of his foot still attached. Surgeons took a chunk of meat out of his thigh and rebuilt his foot with it. He’s been skiing and motorcycling on that foot since then (has even totaled a motorcycle on it, rear-ended by a texting fool), and has climbed ladders and hiked mountains. Jan’s living proof that life is still good even when it jumps up out of nowhere and knocks the daylights out of you.
Jan and Connie saddle up and head back to their camp after breakfast at Jim Hanna’s. Jim puts on a swell blueberry-pancake feed for anybody who cares to show up any day of the week. It’s a crowd on weekends. This isn’t the most artfully composed photo I ever shot (note the distant track loader sticking out of Jimi the dog’s coconut).
The Nelson boys at breakfast in Gig Harbor. That’s Jan on the right, with brother Jorge (pronounced George, or simply Jo, as in Joe). This was a few days before Jorge flew to Burma to start a new job as a secondary principal. He’s taught at and managed international schools all over the world for decades.
Jorge is the guy who trailered us 275 miles to Seattle after I toasted the factory motor on the iron piggy. That was in 2011, when I was blasting west through summer heat to see how the freshly dozer-rolled, busted-up Jan was doing.
Here they are chuckling over a photo Jan took.
Probably a goofy one of me.
We rode to breakfast on our bikes. That’s Jorge saddling up on his 1969 beemer scoot. Which he just sold to our friend Bruce Jarman, in SoCal, rather than storing it while he’s working in Asia for the next few years.
We took the primo motorcycles-only parking spaces by the front door. Or maybe it was the no-parking area, can’t remember.
After Jorge split for Burma, it was back to the lake for a bit. I haven’t slept in the log cabin since the bride left. Here’s Jimi the dog as Jimi the guard dog. A friendly guard if he knows you, but he’s of a territorial breed in the extreme. Jimi the guard dog is surprisingly fierce at the approach of someone he doesn’t know. His bark is big and aggressive. He advances in a manner that says, convincingly, “I am a mighty beast, red in tooth and claw.”
I slept on the dock for the last week. No sweetie to spoon, but I was happy enough to drift off while counting stars and satellites and meteorites. Here’s the sun getting back to work on my final morning at Lake Cushman.
Here’s the view when you turn your back to the jet boat. Man, am I gonna miss waking up to this.
Saw this sign two days ago in a pizza joint in Gig Harbor.
I’ve been privileged to live a little here on the Pacific. Now it’s time to saddle up and do likewise in other places. In the morning we’ll start motoring east. The Atlantic is a continent away but the iron piggy and I can smell it from here. Once we get our brains good and sunbaked, pushing across mountains, deserts and prairies, we’ll imagine we can even see the Atlantic through the shimmer of air over a superheated road. There it is, just up ahead, shining vast and blue and cool. Once more unto the breach, old hog.
Tony DePaul, Gig Harbor, WA, July 26, 2013