Position: 47°45’30.8″N 120°39’19.9″W

In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove;
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of [motorcycles]. – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall


Love. Tennyson wrote, “…a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Had the motorcycle existed in 1835, I’m sure he would have written ‘motorcycle’ instead. But it didn’t and he had to rely on a tired, hackneyed trope. He might have known about velocipedes, I suppose. But rhyming ‘velocipede’ seems about as much fun as rhyming ‘orange’.

Eisspeedway_Journal

What, after all, is spring for? Why, getting out into the fresh air after months of shivering in cold, draughty houses where the shutters bang along to the metre of nor’easters, of course! What better way to ease into summer than on a motorcycle? Besides, riding anything with two wheels in winter is imprudent. Bicycles, if you’ve forgotten, are less stable than four-wheeled vehicles. That’s what makes them fun. In winter, when ice and snow reduce your traction to zero, you can expect to fall over. So, unless you are fortunate enough to own a pair of spiked tyres and live near a frozen lake to race on, you’d best hitch a lift in something with more than two wheels. Like a motorcycle with a sidecar. Now we’re talking!

Siberia

zimnik-siberia

Eleven years ago, I motorcycled across Siberia to the Arctic Circle. In February. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The thermometer only dropped to -25C/F at night. During the day it hovered around 0F. And the snowy scenery, far from bleak or blank, was a mirror to the day’s shifting colours. Warm golds in the morning, cool blues during the day and back to gold in the long, lingering sunsets.

My vehicle? A 1990s-era Ural with a sidecar and. Three wheels are better than two when you’re riding along the zimniks (roads formed by snowploughs on Siberia’s frozen rivers). I only flipped the Ural once – without injury. I also narrowly avoided getting crushed by the Chelyabinsk meteor. Ah, adventuring…

Plain

A year later-ish in June, I took Lily, my Triumph Tiger 800, to Plain, Washington, for the Touratech Rally. This annual event celebrates off-road and adventure riding for three days in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. Camping, workshops, trail rides. It’s a fun weekend. I did a couple of off-road riding clinics before heading into the hills with my mates. I had done a full week’s adventure riding course on my first motorcycle a couple of years before. But Lily weighs almost twice as much as my Yamaha 250 and I figured a little refresher from a qualified instructor would pay for itself in no time.

Single track trail riding is mostly done on smaller bikes, like Yamaha 250s. As you’ll see in the photos, my companions were more sensibly equipped than I. But on the highway the little 250 was dangerously underpowered and I wasn’t about to invest in a trailer. Our first ride started with a mind game. The track started by dipping off the main road, dropping about 10 feet before heading straight up about 40 feet. My first attempt ended about halfway up the hill and with me dumping Lily.

Thrashing

Chagrined but undaunted, I took all the help and advice I could get. The key it turns out it to keep your eyes focused on the target – i.e. the top of the hill, not the middle where I’d looked. Success! With that out of the way, for the next couple of hours I more or less kept up. A lot of dusty thrashing through dirt and trees and undergrowth. Somewhere along the line, someone asked me if I had aired down my tyres. I had not. I’d forgotten that detail. Ten PSI lighter fore and aft made all the difference. It was just enough to smooth out the gravel and make handling much easier.

“Bragging rights” is, I believe, the right to tell the story of doing something dangerously stupid and surviving without people laughing in your face – too much. Single tracking a three-cylinder, 510-pound motorcycle I later learned is a minor case for bragging rights. I’m looking forward to going back to Plain, particularly since our friends Karen and Michael recently bought a fixer-upper there.

Photos

Here are a few photos I recently rediscovered from that weekend:


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