may say, Those were the days...,
But in a way,
You know for us these are the days.
Yes, for us these are the days” -Perry Farrell
I missed the first few weeks of Seawolf ski practice. I spent those weeks zooming around the countryside on my motorcycle. Generally speaking, I prefer not to miss opportunities to hang out with the Seawolves. But if I need to skip practice, motorcycle-riding is as good a reason as any.
|In the Black Rock Desert|
About a month ago, I got the chance to go on a little road trip with my young friend Finnigan, who needed to get himself and his freshly broken arm from Seattle to Sun Valley, and was looking for someone to come along for the ride. So we took three days to make a one-day drive, and found a few adventures along the way.
|Finnigan and me. Doing the Cascades.|
On day one of our trip, Finnigan and I stopped to see my old college roommate, Jim, in the eastern Cascades. Jim’s got an old BMW motorcycle in his garage, but it’s in a thousand pieces so it was immediately obvious that we weren’t going to get to go out for a ride together. But he’s also got a couple of horses in his back yard, so maybe getting the motorcycle put back together isn’t that important. Jim’s son, who’s sixteen, just finished hiking the northern portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. All the other members of the family took their turns hiking various portions of the trail with him. Jim’s is a family of outdoor explorers!
|Jim and Finnigan. And the biggest chainsaw I've ever seen.|
Finnigan’s road trip was a great excuse to do some recon for this winter’s MSU Invitational ski races, which will happen in Sun Valley in January. I spent a few days there, scouting around and inhaling smoke from the forest fires that have been turning the western USA into a smoldering heap of ashes.
From there, I jetted south to Las Vegas. For the past thirteen years, I’ve kept a motorcycle in a storage unit in Sin City. It’s a great place from which to start motorcycle trips, with beautiful country and great roads in every direction. It’s been a good run, but the economics of the arrangement gradually changed so that about two years ago I decided to end the bike's tenure there and ride it back to Alaska. I had plane ticket in hand in Spring 2020 when the pandemic suddenly hit, and it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be fetching the motorcycle out of the storage unit any time soon.
|Along one of the California mountain roads that spelled doom for my front tire|
Fast forward to August 2021, Canadia opened its border to Americans, and I figured I’d better get that bike back to Alaska quick, before the Canucks realize how many of us aren’t vaccinated and shut the border down again to keep us out of their beautiful country. I had some time available – about a month – and figured I’d make up for the lack of any motorcycle trips during the pandemic with a roundabout, meandering route back to Alaska. The main goal was to make it back before it started snowing.
|Since the last time I was here, the forest has burnt to a crisp, but this road hasn't gotten any less fun!|
A motorcycle rider on a long trip gets a unique feeling of freedom and the time and space to think about life’s mysteries and problems, without distractions or interruptions. Day after day on the bike, with no telephone, no radio, no podcasts, no visitors, no need to speak to anyone (especially with automated gas pumps) - it’s an increasingly rare opportunity to disconnect, in a world that’s more and more connected all the time. The isolation of the road makes the stops along the way to visit old friends even more special. Astrid said to me today at ski practice, “When you live in a place where it’s dark and rainy a lot, the occasional sunny days are all the more special. If it’s sunny all the time, another sunny day is no big deal.” The same principle applies to motorcycle trips. After a few days out in the weather, hearing only the hum of the bike and the wind in your helmet, an overnight stop at a friend’s house becomes a special treat.
|It only took three days to wear the tread off my front tire in California.|
When I rolled out of Vegas, the bike was coming straight out of the shop, all tuned up and with a relatively new set of tires with plenty of rubber on them. But instead of immediately driving north to Alaska, I wanted to visit my friend Roy, who was moving back to Nicaragua, where he owns a house, from his native Canadia, where he’s been holed up since the pandemic started. Roy planned to be in Joshua Tree three days hence with his girlfriend Annie, which gave me the excuse to do three days’ riding on those twisty southern California mountain roads that I love so much – the best moto roads in the world, in my opinion. For three days, it was nonstop twisties – arcing the bike back and forth through hairpins, occasionally dragging a footpeg on the asphalt (and reminding myself to try not to make sparks due to the extreme fire danger). After three days of nonstop knee-dragging fun, I pulled in at Shangri-La in Joshua Tree and took my first good look at the bike. Apparently, I had left most of my front tire on those twisty mountain roads, because there wasn't hardly any rubber left on my bike. There was still some tread in the middle of the tire, but sides of the tire were toast. There was no way I’d make it back to Alaska on this tire now. But then again, why did I go to California, if not to ride some switchbacks?
|The hammock lounge at Shangri-La|
Shangri-La in Joshua Tree is my friend Sanjay’s house. But Sanjay is a music man and he was away for the month, recording a new album somewhere in the midwest, where he was apparently working with Prince’s special one-of-a-kind equipment. With Sanjay away, our mutual friend Miguel was staying at Shangri-La. Miguel, like Roy, and like my motorcycle, was another person marooned by the Coronavirus. Miguel is Mexican, and a chef, and a theatre set designer, and had been working in the London theatre scene when he got an opportunity in the movie industry in Hollywood. His wife, who is from Singapore, works in film production and was on her way from London to Hollywood when the pandemic hit, and suddenly everything in show business shut down. Miguel ended up in Texas while his wife flew to Singapore, and they haven’t seen each other since! Now they’re both producing Sanjay’s new music video, and Miguel and his wife are planning to be reunited this month – after eighteen months living on opposite sides of the earth.
In the past, around this time of year, I’ve been in the habit of going out and visiting my friends in the Nevada desert, but Burning Man’s been cancelled the past two years for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, some of us thought it would be fun to go out on the playa anyway. My friend Slackjaw had let me know that if I showed up on the playa on my motorcycle, he’d have enough food and water to keep me alive for a few days. So I decided to take him up on his offer. As it turned out, there were a lot more people out there than I expected. While my 24 hours at Rogue Burning Man were a lot of fun, it also felt like a potential superspreader event to me. The whole purpose of this trip was to get my motorcycle across Canadia and back to Alaska. And they wouldn’t let me into Canadia without a negative Covid test. So I left the playa as quickly as I arrived (at about 70mph across the dry lake bed) and headed north into the thick smoke of the burning Sierras and Cascades.
|Crossing the Black Rock Desert|
By and by, I rolled into Winthrop, Washington to visit former Seawolves Marine and Erik Bjornsen, who now run the local ski shop, Winthrop Mountain Sports. They had a few days off when I arrived, which meant a “training block” for the three of us, including interval workouts and twice-a-day workouts. Marine and Erik needed to get in shape for a trail running race over the weekend and I needed to get in shape for UAA practice. The three of us have been on so many fun adventures together over the years, mostly on UAA Ski Team trips; staying with them, going out for runs and mountain bike rides felt so natural and comfortable, like being at home. I enjoyed our visit so much I didn't want to leave.
|Erik and Marine. On the Methow River.|
But I still needed to get back to Alaska with the motorcycle before the first snowstorm hit the Yukon or central Alaska. So I headed north, with one more stop to see my friends Lucy and Alain, at their home in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Lucy and I first met in the late 1980’s at some races in Finland and Sweden. Over the following years, our paths crossed at ski races from time to time, and I'd always been drawn to the north, though I hadn't moved to Alaska yet. These days, I don’t pass through Whitehorse without stopping to visit Lucy and Alain. And I’m always treated like I’ve stumbled in from being lost the wilderness, the warmth of their greeting is such. We were talking about their children leaving home unexpectedly for opportunities that had arisen suddenly in sports, and about my good fortune, being allowed to hang out with the Seawolves year after year, and about the lasting friendships we’d all made through sports.
|Northern British Columbia|
My month on the road was special for the isolation and “quiet time” that it afforded – time to slow down and unplug. But it was also special for the visits along the way with friends. The time spent visiting with Jim, Finnigan, Roy, Miguel, Slackjaw, Marine, Erik, Lucy and Alain turned out to be even more special than the riding itself (and the riding was really special). As Lucy said during our visit when we were talking about the Seawolves letting me come to their ski practices, “I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember everything about all those friendships made through skiing like it was yesterday. Those times are so special, and those friendships last a lifetime.”
|No matter how awesome the vacation, I always enjoy the feeling I get coming back to Alaska.|