Get Back Up There

Ironically, I can't even remember exactly when it was. It was, I'm sure, after my Virgina Beach-to-Seattle trip, though, and after another epoch in my life. Which means that it was sometime in the end of August or the beginning of September, 1995.

The motorcycle group decided to go to the summit of Mount St. Helens again. The decision was reached sometime during the week, and I agreed to go. It was eerily similar—we'd have to meet at Building 16 on campus around 730am and head out from there.

This time, I was tingling with anticipation. My motorcycle was only two months old and had less than five thousand miles on it. Dumping it in the park would ruin my morale completely about motorcycling, not to mention that I'd dump a beautiful bike that I was really starting to like and had just paid $10,000 for.

There was no questioning my motivation: I wanted to go. But I was very much apprehensive about actually getting up the mountain again. I nearly killed myself last time, but I needed to go this time and make sure the mountain didn't make fun of me everytime I drove by it.

I saddled up in all of my gear. Last time, I didn't have leather pants or real motorcycle boots. I had them now, and wore them. I took the small bag and mounted the solo-cowl to my bike so that I'd have a place to put my ass when I really wicked it up. On the way to campus, I topped off my tank—I needed less than three gallons, but I liked being able to just zoom out of campus and get going.

Hooked Up

There were about six bikes at the turnaround where we meet, and after I hopped off a few more arrived. We chatted a bit and one of the folks explained that we were going to meet some people after riding part of the way towards the mountain. This annoyed me a little—I wished I could be a part of the other group because they got to sleep longer.

We rode south on I-405 and then hooked up to I-5. Then, we bailed out around Puyallup, I guess, or maybe towards Awburn. Anyway, we cut east by south east towards Enumclaw. This was a really cool ride: we were way into the country almost immediately. This little two-lane road we were on had right-angle turns as it weaved through the access rights around the farms and owned properties and plots of land. Sometimes, these were sweeping, graceful turns. Other corners offered crazy right-angle shots.

I found myself just behind one of the guys who rides a Goldwing. This fellow is a nut: he really pushes the bike and it's hard to understand how he gets it to accelerate so fast and how he gest it through hard corners without dragging all of the luggage right off of it.

Anyway, on the way around one of the corners we found that there was a huge brick right in the middle of our lane. What a sight! It was one of those artistic, chopped up bricks that a "real" mason might use to build a nice wall in front of some rich guy's house. We swerved and missed it, but it was quite a feeling, knowing that hitting the thing would make a sick clunking noise before you went head over knees to the pavement.

I was just tagging along. I wasn't really paying much attention because my thoughts were focused on the mountain and what it would feel like to finally get there and try to ride it again. I was thinking about bailing out—I was thinking that I should give up on doing the ride because there's no reason to take chances. I should do it when I can go alone and ride slow and not bother anybody with my whining indecision. And I then tore myself up with thikning that there'd be no better time to get back onto the mountain then with a bunch of people I knew pretty well, who would help me get up enough courage and who certainly knew how hard it was to ride after crashing. And who whould help me if something went sideways again.

Prelude to Madness

We continued going south and ended up getting onto WA-410 to go around the eastern edge of Mount Rainier. The ride was amazing, mostly. It was twisty and easy uphill rides through the woods, but then we'd get stuck at construction sites where the little two-lane road was ripped down to bare dirt and chunky gravel.

We had to get all over the road to find places that were appropriate and safe to ride the bikes, but this foolishness lasted only a mile or two. Some of the cagers acted like real idiots—one twit in particular jammed himself up into our group, which caused all sorts of problems. His dumb car was pitching rocks all over the place and he was weaving around to try to pass more of us. In the meantime, we all had our hands full with the motorcycles in the chunky gravel.

Twice, we had to completely stop and wait as flaggers let traffic coming the other way through before we were allowed to go. At one of those stops, I pulled off my jacket and popped in the liner and got much warmer in the thin mountain air.

Just after that, we were descending the north east face of the mountain. We slipped down the side of the mountain, carving our way through twisty roads and tunnels that some ambitious engineers and brave road workers had set up for us. I started getting scared: the roads here were something like I knew St. Helens would be: we were clinging to the end of the mountain and there sometimes wasn't a guard rail. And you could see the slope down the mountain, where the trees way down there weren't even close to being as high as we were.

This kind of riding just befuddles me. I can't find a frame of rerference when I turn, and I can't keep my balance, it seems. It's hard to understand how being just a bit edgy can make a 500 pound vehicle (with 50 miles-an-hour of inertia) feel like it's going to tip over. But it does.

I pushed to the edge of the road to sharpen my fears, and to let my faster friends pass me safely. I marveled at their ability and fearlessness. They were jumping downhill, passing me like I was standing still. A couple of the less experienced riders were still behind me, and even with my deathgrip on the bars I managed to keep aheaed of them.

We got to the junction of WA-410 and WA-123, so we cut down WA-123 towards Packwood. We got into town there, and stopped to get something to eat.

Hard Time

Everybody was hanging around on the side of the road just outside of Packwood, and when I pulled off to join the group some folks started taking off immediately. Someone yelled at me that we'd be stopping at a restruant by name, so we all filed back out onto the tiny highway.

At this restraunt, we had all poured into the parking lot, and I parked along the side of the building. A few people parked around me, and everyone else parked in front of the building.

We had ordered and some of the folks in the group had gotten their food already when this woman came up. In this raspy, wavering, bitchy old woman voice, she yelled, "Well, you know, I don't like you guys and I'm going to call the police to have you all taken to jail!"

Some of us in the group didn't like this, since we were, of course, hot off a run down the side of the mountain where we might have been as legal about passing folks as we should have been. And where we certainly made the needles on the meters get hot and sweaty.

I was wondering how much trouble I'd be in when someone asked her what the problem was. She pointed out that everyone had parked in a Handicapped slot, and that she was going to have the police come and write us all tickets. What a bitch: couldn't she stop by and say that we did that and ask us to move before raising holy hell?

Anyway, most people filed out and moved their bikes and let their food get cold before they came back in. As we ate, I told the people I was sitting with that I'd probably bail out—that I didn't really want to go into the mountain where I had crashed last year.

They all said they certainly understood, and didn't want to push me into something I didn't want to do. But they all talked about how they had crashes. Ironically, two of the guys at the table had dumped it at the volcano themselves, too. I bucked up a little, but as we rode down towards Randle I started thinking I had no business doing this.

Just a Ride In The Park

At Randle, I gassed up with everyone else and made the announcement that I didn't want to go. Everyone jumped on me; a couple guys really strongly encouraged me to go and said they'd hang back to make me feel better. I told them that was the real problem: that I didn't want to keep

Jeff, one of the guys who's easily the smoothest of the riders who regularly plays motorcycles with us, told me he really wanted to see me get my ass up the hill again and promised to help.

I decided to give it a run. If it really got to me, I could always turn around and coast back home. If I ran away, I could always come back and fight some other day. But my fortitude was quickly muted by the road into the park.

Nothing, I don't think, I've ever faced has been as scary as the things that have come from within my own bad self. Certainly, things that I've imagined have always been worse than they were. But sometimes my reaction to what happens or my thoughs about what could happen are easily the scariest, most frightening images I've needed to face.

On the way into the park, the memories I had lost to my concussion were rushing back to me. The human mind is just so fascinating. It seems trivial to sing along with a tune you haven't heard in four years, but writing down the words on a piece of paper without hearing the music seems downright impossible. Sequential memorization is somehow at the very core of our own conciousness. Never laugh at someone who says "I only know it from the beginning".

And on this road, the words to the song were coming back to me. I dimly remembered the tight turns, and the bland beige brushy plants that line the road on the way into the park. And the sign, and the first big left-hand turn and the little uphill part, too.

These came to me like sick flashbacks. I couldn't figure out what to make of my feelings, and that added to my fear. My friends, confident in their own abilities, zoomed around me on the way into the park.

I was sure I could make it if I stayed calm. At the first stop, Jeff dismounted and told me that I'd feel lots better if I kept more weight off my big ass and on the balls of my feet—that loading the bike at a low point on the pegs was better than keeping the bike with a high, unadjustable center of gravity by rigidly parking my butt on the saddle. While I certainly appreciated Jeff's advice, I wasn't sure this was a good place or time to practice something new. On one hand, it might give me a new feeling and something to think about while I was trying not to fear the road and my machine. On the other hand, I'm not sure I could possibly get through the ride while trying a new technique.

We kept going into the park. My fear was just beginning to wane: I was just starting to think that I might make the summit easily, and maybe even ride a little faster on the way back out. But the memories shocked me again when we came to that one identifiable point where the volcanic ash had once erased all life from the park. The trees went away and the barren, fallen, bleached wood lined the road. And the deep chasm around the edges of the highway scared me even more, since they made such a stark contrast with the rest of the scenery.

We stopped at the first outlook and I snapped a couple of pictures. It was really, really creepy; I could vaguely remember being there, but remembered absolutely no detais of my previous visit.

After everybody caught up, we split to get to the summit. Some of the guys walked all the way up the steps to the outlook, but I waited in the parking lot. I was pretty nervous. We broke up and went back down the hill and met at the gas station. Even though I was one of the first to leave the summit, I was the last to get to the gas station just outside the park.

Everyone on the ride was very supportive and patient, and that was really nice. I really felt much better for going up the hill and coming down safely, and that was very rewarding. I decided that I was glad that I started riding again, and looked forward to gaining the rest of my confidence while I had fun in the saddle.

Back to Mike's road trip page. Up to Mike's home page. Send Feedback.

Last modified on 5 July, 1997.