Wednesday, March 1, 2017

~ North by Northwest ~

"The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” - J.R.R. Tolkien  

Inspiration Point ~ Yosemite Valley is majestic.

The last time someone said to me, “I’m going north,” I looked at them a bit funny.  This ride will be north by northwest, so I guess I’m a bit funny too.  

My comfort trips have been out to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.  All of the campsites, gas stations, and those great mom and pop cafes are there before me.  You know pretty much where to go and what to expect.  I love it.  The comfort of knowing what is ahead is good feeling.

A friend recently said to me that you need to take a trip “outside of your comfort zone ~ seek adventure.”   His words caught me by surprise.  Honestly, I do not know exactly where I will go but my internal compass is pointing north. 

The road ahead slows me down considerably.  I’ve been in 5th gear and cruising.  The road has me dropping down to 4th gear, then 3rd, and then 2nd.  Curves.  And then more curves.  It is almost mechanical, with each curve.  3rd gear approaching the curve, then down to 2nd gear, and then back to 3rd.  It is almost like brake, accelerator, then brake.  The curves dictate the gears that I choose.  There are no brakes, just gears.  The pace is slower but I am in control of my motorcycle and I fall into the rhythm of the curves.  Honestly, I love 5th gear but the lower gears have me on full alert, swaying left, then right in harmony with my machine and the road before me.

Mariposa is in my rear view mirror and Yosemite National Park just is ahead.  The traffic is intense, but so is the immense landscape.  I choose to see the landscape.  At every overlook, my camera records Yosemite’s beauty.  El Captain is just there, and over there Half Dome, so inspiring.  I am in awe.

Olmsted Point, Half Dome is in the distance

I will not camp here tonight but the ride through Yosemite is an adventure in itself.  The sign tells me that I’m at 9,000 feet, then another sign reads 10,000 feet.  This is such an amazing park, the views surreal.  A stop at Tuolumne Meadows is refreshing and majestic.  A man getting out of his large camper walks over to me and simply says, “nice bike, must be a great ride.”  I want to say something but I don’t think he would understand.  A simple nod is my reply.

The ride over Tioga Pass is exhilarating.  

Then, I see what appears to be the space shuttle.   I have seen it before so I’m certain of the sight before me.  It is 255 miles above the earth.  I pull off the road, remove my helmet, and listen.  No sound.  The aircraft appears to be gliding down towards the south.  Edwards Air Force Base is just there in the direction of this plane.  On Tioga Pass, I’m way up there, maybe 10,000 feet plus.  In a car, I do not think I would have seen it.  It is an amazing sight and then, just like that, it is gone.  Witnessing history on my bike ride and outside my comfort zone.  It is a good feeling.  The thin air warms my lungs.

I’m in 5th gear now heading for Lee Vining, and then north onto highway 395.  Everything from this point is new.  The adventure really begins now.   

I’ve traveled many miles, tired, and I hope to see a suitable campsite soon.  Highway 395 is a dream come true for a biker.  On the right side is the West Walker River, that flows down Walker Canyon among the tall ponderosa pines. 

Bootleg Campground was perfect
Then up ahead, like a beacon in the night, is a sign for the Bootleg Campground run by the US Forest Service.  The two campground hosts welcome me.  I have never been here before.  They are in their late 80’s and keep this campground clean, and ready to use.  I’ve never seen such a well-organized, clean campground anywhere.  

They greet me warmly and welcome me to this campground, offer suggestions, and offer reading material about the area.  “Where are you coming from they ask.”  “I left Three Rivers, south of Fresno this morning.”  “I’m a bit tired.”  “Well, have a good night sleep,” and they were off tending to campground duties even as dark approached.  My headlamp is pointed at my map.  My finger follows the lines north.  

Hopefully, tomorrow I can reach Lassen Volcanic National Park.  My good friends, Scott and Mel Ruesch live nearby and I hope to see them.  Scott and I worked together at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the day.  He was in charge of the Maintenance and Construction Division, a huge responsibility.  We took many horse trips together into the backcountry of these amazing Sierra parks, and our friendship continues today. 

My first view of Lassen Volcanic NP

My morning breakfast is light – coffee, a fruit cup, and oatmeal.  I feel refreshed and the cool air feels good as I past Walker, Coleville, and Topaz Lake.  This is an easy going route as I approach Gardnerville. There are farms along the river and the ranchers have been busy cutting hay and stacking them into neat, big bales.  The smell of the freshly cut hay is heavy.  It is hard to describe the smell on a motorcycle, but it is memorable.  It is a Sunday, so no one appears to be working.  The cows graze in deep, green grass and the miles melt into another time zone.  

Continuing through the canyon, I see many bikers traveling south along Highway 395.  There are many, 15 to 20 riding as a group.  Then there are more.  My left hands lowers.  This is a popular route in both directions.  The road continues into Carson City.  I know that just west over that tall mountain is Lake Tahoe.  The traffic into Reno is intense, as I quickly leave for the open lands near Susanville.

Mel and Scott Ruesch ~ at their log home they built near Lassen NP

The ride into Lassen Volcanic National Park is amazing.  The forest is dense and up ahead is my first view of the mountain that we call Lassen, snow is on its summit.

The scenery is grand, tall green trees and blue lakes abound.  It will be very cold at the higher campgrounds, so the lower Manzanita Campground at 5,900 feet will be home for the night.  The temperature drops down to 38 degrees.  I had planned to camp at the Summit Campground at 7,000 feet, scenic but much colder.  

Coincidently, there are two motorcycle riders setting up camp next to me.  The guy on my right has traveled from Michigan he tells me and has ridden many miles and goes to bed, understandably early.  The other biker has a good fire going and while I did not talk to him, I see that he is carefully looking over his motorcycle in the light of his fire.  In the morning, he leaves early while I’m getting breakfast started.  The other biker is still in his tent with no signs of movement.

The pocket rocket heats the water for my coffee and oatmeal a good hour before sunrise, both tasting good.  The air is crisp and cold.  As always, it takes more time to reload all my gear back on my bike.  I’ve done this a thousand times, and it’s always a challenge to put my gear back in the same places that went in easily in the garage.  I douse my fire with water and leave Lassen Volcanic National Park to continue my adventure north.

Highway 5, Mount Shasta in the distance
My odometer reads 124,996.  I hope to remember the next few miles as this milestone approaches.  At a scenic rest stop along Highway 5, the odometer turns the last four miles.   Mount Shasta stands tall in the distance.  

Another biker pulls up and we immediately make small talk.  “Where are you going,” he asks.  “Mount Rainier National Park.”  “How many miles,” he wants to know.  He is taken back by my reply, “I don’t know.”  “Those are the best rides,” he says strappings on his helmet.  He tells me that he is off for a wedding in Bend, Oregon.  His wife will fly out from Los Angeles and they plan to ride down Highway 101 back to LA.  

Who knows, I might see him again.  Highway 101 has a magical ring to it.  My direction back home is uncertain but he plants a seed in my mindless wanderings.

My stops are brief.  I hope to make Portland, Oregon tonight but that will not happen.  The bright Motel 6 sign in Eugene persuades me to pull over.  Sleep comes easily.  I tell myself that I can make Mount St. Helens with an easy push in the morning.

Thirty-six years ago, we were stationed at Mount Rainier National Park when Mount St. Helens erupted.  Actually, we were just 23 air miles away.  Then, the sight of that explosion was intense.  Today, the regrowth of the forest is equally amazing. 

"I remember when Mount St. Helens erupted 36 years ago" - Robert Griego

At the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, I ask “how many more miles to the Johnston Ridge Observatory?”  “Well, about another 25 miles, but so worthwhile,” the clerk replies.  She continues, “if you have never seen Mount St. Helens up close, it is so worthwhile.”  When I describe to her the eruption we witnessed long ago, she looks me directly in the eyes and simply says, “that was 36 years ago, I see now that you have seen it.”  

Mount St. Helens from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Our son was 6 and our daughter, who was born in Puyallup, Washington, was 2 years old at the time.  I have an iconic picture of them both looking at the massive explosion from Mount Rainier National Park in 1980.  In those days, it was all recorded on slides.

There is road construction, so I am cautious heading towards the mountain.  Just this morning, the fog was dense.  Now, about noon, the sky is blue and Mount St. Helens is there directly in front of me.  I pull over and marvel.  I have to remind myself that I am in the state of Washington after leaving California and crossing Oregon what now seems like ages ago.  It is odd but I do not feel tired, kind of like a kid waiting to open presents late on Christmas eve.

The parking lot is full and that’s when I see the motorcycle parked with considerable dirt, some serious miles I tell myself.  There is room for both of us, so I edge backward.  The Visitor Center is full of “then and now” history, and the view of Mount St. Helens is just absolutely amazing.

Robert Griego riding towards Mount St. Helens

Jason and Robert  ~ Mount St. Helens
Jason continues on his adventure

It is not hard to spot the other biker as he walks down the trail.  

“Is that your motorcycle down below,” I ask.  He nods.  “I pulled up right next to you, hope that’s OK.”  “Of course” and we begin sharing our stories.  Seems like he is from Virginia, traveling through Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Canada, Alaska, and now Mount St. Helens.  Impressive!  

The chemistry between people is often ignited by a single moment.  This encounter is no different.  He was easily half my age, yet, I loved his young adventurist spirit.  “Can I take a few pictures of you,” I ask.  “Of course.”  And so I record another meaningful encounter along the trail.  

He tells me about his ambitious plans to see San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, and as many natural areas across Utah and Colorado, before returning back to Virginia. 

Now that’s what I call an ad ven ture.  

He continues south while I head for Mount Rainier National Park.  

I hope to hear more about his adventures as we exchange phone numbers at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  A chance, but meaningful, encounter.  “My name is Jason,” he says as we shake hands.  “I’m Bob.”  Our handshake is solid and just in very few minutes, I like this guy.  “I’m a bit disappointed,” he tells me, looking off towards Mount St. Helens.  “I had hoped to climb the mountain but all tickets for today were taken.”   Now, that’s an adventurist spirit.  The view from the top must be amazing.  I'm sure that he will climb Mount St. Helens another day.

A bit lost, but my direction is clear

I’m a bit lost as I leave Highway 5 for Mount Rainier National Park.  The country roads are draped in heavy morning fog and the fast moving logging trucks have me on high alert.  It has been thirty-six years since I’ve been on these roads and I can’t remember a thing.  The cold morning fog slows me down considerably.  As I approach Elbe, the road sign ahead is comforting – Mount Rainier National Park is just ahead!  It is a bit emotional for me as I stand in front of this sign as I fondly reminisce.

Near Paradise, Mount Rainier NP

In 1980, we lived at Tahoma Woods where I worked at Mount Rainier National Park for 2 1/2 years.  I remember it rained a lot, but when the mountain was out, it was pure magic.  The Nisqually Entrance welcomes me just as the fog lifts. The canyon follows the Nisqually River, past Longmire, and high to the alpine slopes of Paradise.  There is a new visitor center at Paradise and people of all ages are leisurely exploring the mountain.  

One can almost hear John Muir speak his words carved on the granite steps before me:
"…the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” 
It’s been about 1,500 miles since leaving Three Rivers, and I must stop, really stop, stop to appreciate what is before me, and after all, it has been 36 years.  

A moment of silence, thanks, and appreciation.  The mountain is out in its beauty, all in perfect harmony.  

The magic is still here.

Robert Griego - Paradise, Mount Rainer National Park

Tomorrow, I will decide my route back home.  I’ll think more about that biker’s comment along Highway 5, “after the wedding, my wife and I will travel south on Highway 101 back to LA.”  But right now, the mountain is everything.  

John Muir whispers in my ear, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

“Seek adventure,” his words continue to roll around in my head.  Perhaps, Highway 101 south from Washington, Oregon, and back to California will be a good choice.  Time will tell.

Inspiration Point, Yosemite NP

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP

Lassen Volcanic NP

Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP

Bob, heading towards Mount St. Helens
Bob riding his Yamaha Road Star, leaving Mount St. Helens

Janson, leaves Mount St. Helens ~ his adventure continues

Nisqually Entrance, arriving at Mount Rainier NP

Longmire, Mount Rainier NP

Paradise, Mount Rainier NP

Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier NP

Stevens Canyon Entrance, leaving Mount Rainier NP

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