Tired of being cold and shot at, we spend a lazy morning along the Clearwater fishing and relaxing before heading homeward. I spend most of the next day brokedown atop Whitebird grade.
We had little love for the campsite that tried to kill us. Whether the fog and low clouds would bring rain or burn off, we couldn’t tell, but we weren’t sitting around to find out. We didn’t even care to stay for breakfast. We would stop at a nicer spot to catch up on pleasantries.
By the time we were packed for departure, thinning clouds gave reason to hope for sunshine. Jesse led us out of the wet thicket and down the road to a beautiful, isolated area along the river, the North Fork of the Clearwater. We parked our motorcycles and clambered down the roadside bank to an otherwise inaccessible rocky bar where Jeremy and Jesse threw in a line while Joel and I fired up cook stoves balanced atop jumbled stones to prepare breakfast and coffee.
The North Fork of the Clearwater flows through a remote and relatively pristine area with crystal clear waters. It greatly resembles its sister drainage to the south, the Lochsa. Giant blond boulders of granite are highlighted with green mosses. The river cuts a path through vast stands of primordial western red cedar. Its two major tributaries are the upper North Fork of the Clearwater and Kelly Creek, a Blue Ribbon trout stream.
Places like that put me in a mood that makes every leaf, twig and spot of moss seem a wondrous thing. We spent the morning quietly enjoying that setting—water rippled green and orange while flowing gently through sun and shade—and the bond of brothers. Everything was the way it should be.
Rather than tempt fate on the untested routes I’d charted for the return to Moscow, we decided to finish the trip on a positive note and just follow the roads and highways well known to Joel and Jesse.
County Road 250 is a narrow band of asphalt curving along the river through ferns and trees that seem eager to reclaim the artificial space. An exhilarating but comfortable speed let us enjoy beautiful river scenes even as we imagined ourselves speed racers, leaning left, right, right some more, and left.
We knew all along that the distance between gas stations was near the limit of the range for the smaller gas tanks so it wasn’t surprising when Jesse sputtered to the shoulder not long after the highway had turned and climbed from the river. Jeremy generously sacrificed his water filtration tube for a syphon but no matter how I pushed and twisted it into my large tank, I sucked nothing but air.
The KLR had the second-largest tank so I returned the tube to Jeremy. After further syphoning shenanigans that we chalk up to KLR peculiarities (stealing gas from my old XRs was always so simple), we were back on the road again.
A Subway Sandwich shop in Orofino off Highway 12 is part of Jesse’s fishing trip repertoire. It maybe didn’t matter a lot to Joel, who had all those lovingly prepared and packed meals from Jill, but to the rest of us, some prepared food sounded quite alright.
The chicken jalapeno sandwich special and Mountain Dew hit the spot.
“You want to ride it for a while?” I asked Joel, nodding at my motorcycle as we walked out of the restaurant. He seemed to have something on his mind the last day, lagging behind on the highway and passing up easy opportunities for sarcastic remarks. I thought he might enjoy a change of pace.
“No thanks,” he answered.
We decided to take the somewhat longer route through Juliaetta and Kendrick to stop at Bethel Cemetery where our dad is buried. I realized I hadn’t been through those small towns since I was a kid which seemed odd since they were once such a part of my lexicon.
As we rolled through, it was like entering a memory. The towns seemed unchanged. No glass office buildings, rise of cheap apartments or sprawl of subdivisions, just the same main street lined with the same simple shops and houses I’d always seen.
Except for the few birds we scared into flight, the day was golden and still as we wound up the highway from the Potlatch River Canyon onto the Palouse Hills that we’d all called home.
Like any place, genealogy becomes cartography for the generations who’ve made their lives there. Our dad was just a toddler when his own dad, James Abbott, died. His mom remarried and became a Yockey and it is down Yockey Road that we might find the headstones that punctuate the end of their lives.
But we were on motorcycles so of course took a shortcut onto a different, narrow gravel road leading to a windswept hill overlooking the farm where our dad and his brothers grew up, the site of Bethel Cemetery.
We had visited separately over the years but it was the first time we’d stood there as four brothers since carrying our father’s boxed body from hearse to hoist nine years ago, almost to the day.
I didn’t say, “dad would have enjoyed riding with us.” The words that came to mind seemed as trite as they were sad. I’m sure our dad would have been glad that his sons were enjoying rivers and mountains as he had, and doing so together. But that hardly needed to be said.
We stood a moment as shadows grew across empty hills and I remembered an admonition that once seemed ridiculous. “You should be nice to each other,” our dad cautioned his four bickering boys. “Someday you’ll be best friends.”
As Jeremy and I hosed the bikes down back at our mom’s place in Moscow, I made a fateful choice to double-check the shaft drive I’d greased before the trip. Everything looked good so I bolted it back up.
We returned Toni’s KLR with our sincere gratitude. I don’t think we could have all ridden together without his generosity.
Although evening was upon us by then, Jeremy was eager to be home. We said our “good-byes” and he set off in his Jetta for his house on Camano Island, north of Seattle.
I too was eager to be home, see my family and have a little down time before resuming work. I wasn’t ready to ride another six hours that same day but I set an alarm to rise early the next morning.
After a welcome night outside the confines of a mummy bag, I woke to pull on liners against the cold half-light of morning, stocked up on snacks for the road, hugged my mother, and pointed south.
I made good time.
The coffee always hits about the top of Whitebird grade. I turned into the summit pull-out while looking for the best of the sparse trees to step behind. Then my heart sank. What happened?! There was oil sprayed all over the back half of the motorcycle.
As dismal as that was, after a second to think, I realized I was also lucky. I’d been aggressive through miles of curves on a tire soaked all around with oil. It could have been worse.
With no cell service and no one else there, I knew I’d be walking. First I had to figure out what sort of help to seek. The amount of oil led me to expect catastrophe. Perhaps I’d cracked the case on a rock in the mountains.
I removed the rear wheel to look for the problem. It didn’t take long. When I’d unhooked the speed sensor to expose the shaft drive in my mom’s driveway, a penny-sized o-ring had dropped unnoticed to the ground, allowing gear oil to seep out onto the spinning wheel the last two hours.
It was still a big hassle but the fix would be straightforward. Nothing was broken. And of all the places to be stranded, in the mountains with sun on my face wasn’t a bad option. I felt relieved
A sign along the highway, that I hadn’t really noticed before, said Whitebird Summit Lodge¹ was 1.2 miles up the hill above the turn-out. I was skeptical since I’d never heard anyone mention the place but it was miles closer than anything else.
The young ladies in the pickup seemed wary of the sweaty astronaut. Climbing the hill to the lodge in my tall boots and silver riding gear warmed me up plenty. The place was vacant when I arrived but a truck pulled in before I could despair.
“Can I help you?” the driver asked. I got the impression she was the daughter of the lodge owners. I explained my predicament and she led me to a phone in the house.
While an audience of dead animals watched from the walls, I first tried to call one of my brothers in Moscow. Ring, ring. No answer from Joel. Ring, ring. No answer from Jesse. I waited a few minutes and tried again. Same result. Then I figured I could call my mom to relay the message to them. She didn’t answer either.
I was a little nervous about the bike and several belongings spread out for the taking back along the highway. I needed to get back there.
It wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that I put my fate in my wife’s hands. I called her at work, explained the situation and specific needs, and gave her my brothers’ and mom’s phone numbers. I would be incommunicado, relying on her to make it come together.
After returning down the hill and carefully wiping all the oil from the wheel and motorcycle, I started working on a self-rescue. I used a knife to cut a couple o-rings from rubber sheeting under the seat. They seemed a little flimsy.
I knew I could do better when I found a piece of radiator hose off in the dirt. It took a long time to whittle out and test a couple o-rings but I finally got a tight fit. It was plan B if help didn’t arrive.
I had a nice little camp setup when a police car pulled in. “Just seein’ how you’re doin’,” he explained.
“Just fine,” I answered. “Somebody should be coming along. Besides, I have all my camping gear and plenty of food. I could survive here for days.” He laughed. I didn’t mention all the whiskey.
I learned later that my mom, hearing of my situation, called the Grangeville police department and asked them to check on me. Jeez, mom.
“Funny place to be detailing your bike,” a man remarked from an RV pulling slowly toward my spot. Turns out he’d been thinking about getting the same motorcycle. I enjoyed talking with him a while.
I visited for some time with another fellow in an RV making the fiddling competition circuit. Yeah, I didn’t know there was one either. I began to wish for peace and quiet as more people started coming through. Everyone felt obligated to stop and make a remark.
Finally, some five hours after I pulled off there, my mom showed up. Hooray mom! She had stopped in Lewiston at a motorcycle shop or two to ensure she had everything I might need. She handed over a bag of micro-fiber rags, exactly the right oil and several o-ring choices.
I expected one of my brothers to make the drive but you can always count on moms to mother. I was very appreciative. With the right parts, it took only about twenty minutes to button things up and get back on the road.
The Brother Ride 2010 looked like it might end on a sour note, at least for me, but in a strange way my time atop Whitebird ended up being a highlight—a little added adventure, a lesson learned, and the help of family, my wife and mother. And a reminder that these rides are always about taking what comes … and choosing to enjoy it.