After breakfast I gear up and head the few blocks to Jesse’s house where he takes the lead up Moscow Mountain Road. We think we might follow the ridge but a locked gate limits our options.
Recent rain has made a deceiver of the dirt road down the other side. It looks firm but tires break into a greasy, uncontrolled slide with each small change in speed or direction. I go slower and slower.
“Man, I almost lost it back there,” Jesse laughs when I catch up to him.
“I know, me too,” I commiserate. “I was fully expecting to go down.”
As we join the highway at Potlatch, I look over to see the school¹ Laura attended in first grade. The old building and playground equipment appear unchanged from the day I spent there with Laura’s class. It even looks like the same merry-go-round the kids asked me to push them on until one threw up and a teacher asked me to stop. It seems so long ago and so recent at the same time.
The sky is getting darker as we pass the Bennett sawmill.² I think my cousin Jeff Abbott still works there as an engineer. He’s a couple years older than me and used to ride me around fallow Palouse Hills before I had my own motorcycle (about ten-years-old, I guess).
One day Jeff showed up at our place with a new, baby blue IT 175.³ My dad, who rode a lot when he was younger, asked to take it for a spin, twisted the throttle, wheelied and promptly fell over. Jeff could not have been happy about the scratch left in his tank but just said, “that’s okay.”
I realize that, to my knowledge, my dad never asked to borrow another bike after that. I went through a few motorcycles in junior high and high school but he rode none of them.
Rain seeping through my pants and jacket, cold on skin, brings me back to the present. I should have put my liners in rather than leaving them packed in the bag behind me. Figures. The highway ahead fades to wet oblivion in shrouded hills. I’d like to stop and properly suit up but Jesse leads on. I figure he’s aiming to pull off at a bar, a café, something.
Instead, he continues on even as the rain increases from steady to pelting, even as I think he must be mad. He turns from the highway and leads us into the Laird Park campground where we dash under the best approximation of shelter, a stand of trees.
Now what? We strip off wet gear and work to make a fire of damp wood and pine needles. Rain makes embers smoke and hiss as we search continuously for usable fuel. It isn’t much but we’re glad for a warm place to stand, chat and snack.
After about an hour, the sky begins to clear. Our jackets are still wet so we leave them to continue drying while we walk in search of the nearby park area along the Palouse River.
Instead we find some fun. We can’t remember playing on one of these before. We giggle like children as we swoop and swing around the tall iron pole, grasping the long chains. It’s more fun than it should be.
“It’d be great to get a bunch of people going on this,” I suggest.
“Yeah,” Jesse answers with a laugh.
We find our way to the river, confirm it’s still there, and steel ourselves for the soggy trails in our near future. I did some research on the Palouse OHV System¹ and am anxious to see how my carefully selected route works out.
Traction up the climbing dirt path, leaving the gravel road behind, is surprisingly good for the soaking we just had. I was worried it would be nasty but I think this will be a nice time.
Dappled shadows, cedars and soil create a tapestry of sights and smells that bring me home. I really enjoy going through woods like this.
“Isn’t that where you got a bee in your helmet?” Jesse asks, referring to the last of the trail we’ve just ascended. Recognition hits. We’re going exactly the way we rode last time here! Here I was thinking I’d concocted a unique route, leading us on some new adventure.
As in life, we have a funny way of repeating ourselves even when trying to do something new, trying to make a fresh start. Is it genetic destiny? Cosmic fate? Or aerial photos not clear enough to show me I’d been this way?
Jesse hears my dismay. “That’s alright,” he reassures. “It’s a cool trail.”
Water had nowhere to run from flatter sections near the hilltop. Momentum is the only thing getting me past some of the mud challenges. If I stop on even a slight incline, it’s tough to get going again. Riding is less pleasant here.
We stop in the clearing atop Sand Mountain, same as we did last time here. “There’s some pretty steep stuff ahead,” Jesse says thoughtfully. “Sure you want to keep going?”
I think he’s wondering if I’ll be alright maneuvering the monster motorcycle on worsening trails. I don’t know. I don’t like to think that far ahead. “Yeah!” I answer.
We encounter the first patch of snow about midway along the ridge between Sand and Micah mountains. It’s around a bend, up a hill, of course. We stop to check it out. Jesse wanders down a little alternate trail to the right. We decide that’s a worse option.
So it’s forward—Jesse goes first. He doesn’t get through the first time but with a push from the back, he breaks past and builds enough momentum to struggle through the next patch of snow on his own.
He fights his way to the top of the muddy hill then beeps his horn for the all-clear. I feel exhilarated. I’m fairly sure I can’t make it through this but trying sure sounds fun.
The big knobs churn through the snow with surprising effectiveness. I saw Jesse get stopped on a stair step root in the middle of the next patch so I build up momentum for a different line—and break through again. This is going great!
But I’m only halfway up and slowing fast. I’m doing my best to modulate throttle, keep traction on the muddy hill, but I’m quickly coming to a stop. I can’t let that happen so I hop off while keeping my hand on the gas, the bike rolling, and push.
It helps some but my boots have no traction either. The bike leans away from me a little as it spins to a stop. Not a big deal except my feet just slide as I pull it my way. Down it goes.
Jesse hurries to my side and together we strain to right the thing. “Man, this is heavy!” he exclaims. We start it back up and both push alongside, with tire spinning, to reach the top. This is hard work!
The ridge continues to challenge. We detour through the woods, over small deadfall, to get around a tree across the path. Then we push our bikes through a five point turn to get around another large tree across the path.
Finally we are close to the top of Micah Mountain. After that the trail should clear up as we descend to lower elevations. But what’s this? A final climb, steep, nasty and deep with snow. Darn. I can see the attempt would be pointless. I motion Jesse back.
We are going to be in trouble with the ladies. There’s no chance we’ll be to the family barbecue on time. But rain and snow—we can’t control that. We ride quick as we can back down the trail, back down the gravel road, back down the highway until we pull up an hour late in front of Joel and Jill’s house.
My mom comes from the back yard to greet us. “Jason, what happened?” she asks, concerned.
I am a little confused. “What?”
“Jesse said you wrecked.”
“Oh jeez.” Apparently Jesse called and mentioned the bike tipping over. I’m sure he was just ambiguous enough to create concern. “I wasn’t even on it. It just tipped over,” I insist.
We recount a bit of our ride around the fire. “It sucks to stand behind that thing,” says Jesse of my motorcycle. “It throws crap everywhere.”
I enjoy food, fire and family but I’m tired from the day and retire early. I’m almost asleep when an unfamiliar number rings on my phone at 10:30 (11:30 Boise time). I debate answering.
“Hello?” It’s Laura. She’s borrowed a phone since hers has died. She wants to know when I’ll be over with her stuff. She made a last minute decision to stay at WSU tonight.
“Laura, I’m in bed,” I say, thinking it’s an answer.
“Well, can you bring some things over on the motorcycle?”
“Um, no.” I love my daughter but getting out of bed, gearing up, riding to the next town and figuring out where on campus she is really doesn’t seem necessary when my mom will be there for work first thing in the morning, in seven hours. So I tell her, “send grandma a text so she knows how to find you and she’ll drop your stuff off in the morning.”
As she’s hanging up the phone I hear her answer someone nearby: “No, my dad is lame.”