I often retreat to the desert to rest.
Having left the bustle of the City, this is where I land.
I lay my head for a day or so and then move on.
In the desert, I feel whole.
The dry wind washes the wet city sludge off my shoulders, all life’s little worries, all the drama that overloads your heart and replaces it with breath.
Breath from the sky.
Breath from the dust.
It’s here in this barren land that my soul is tenderly nurtured in the here and the now.
I get rooted and then ride.
Being in the desert is the best medicine, the most amazing healer; it’s here you lay your head, swallow the pill, take the breath, sleep and then ride ahead towards the next leg of the journey. Now, this adventure begins simple: a map, a motorcycle and a pause in the blustery desert area of one of my favourite regions—The Gorge, Oregon.
I rest and then rest some more— now it’s time to go. After careful contemplation of my trusty map, I determine going up and over Mt. Hood along the twisty back roads from the dry river beds of the Columbia River valley, south around vineyards and orchards and up into mountain meadows covered in wild flowers is the most scenic route. I note that Mt. Hood highway weaves high up near the summit and then descends back down the other side into the high desert plateau of mid–Oregon state.
This is a good way to start my summer.
I pull over and photograph a startling red wildflower growing out of a rock wall. It’s brazen like some crazy red-haired girl, but within moments my focus turns to the sky. I lower my camera, something is not right.
I smell smoke.
And smoke is not a good thing, especially in the forest. I look around for a good while, but as quickly as it came, the smell is gone. I shrug my shoulders with the resolution that it’s one of the nearby farmers burning out his field.
But there’s something else.
Yeah, something else is bothering me.
I haven’t seen another vehicle in over an hour.
Now, to be honest it’s Tuesday and maybe nobody wants to drive on back roads on a weekday. I mean, who knows? Maybe this is just a holiday road. A scenic road that nobody knows about except for tourists who want to take the long way around. Regardless, this is my path now and I’m not going to complain about the lack of traffic, nothing can bring my head down from the clouds. With a twist of the wrist, I ascend higher towards the peak of Mt. Hood.
Something ahead intrigues me. I barely make out the crest of the mountain as the land itself is covered with cumulous clouds, maybe a small storm to the south of the ridge. I try to find another spot to pull over, but the road is so narrow, it’s a dangerous deed with all the logging trucks potentially on this road.
A huge military truck roars by.
My body shakes from the sheer velocity of the machine. I look in my mirrors; the truck itself slows down, almost to a stop. Well, no kidding—obviously, I startled the driver. Maybe he won’t drive like a maniac down this narrow road!
I venture forward and within a few minutes find myself in mist that’s not natural.
It’s real smoke. And where there’s smoke there’s fire.
Oh Goddess! Please don’t ride me through a forest fire!
I keep my cool, but things aren’t getting better. With every second I ride, the air is choking me, my oxygen is disappearing and so is the road.
I look back in my mirrors, no military truck. No pavement. Everything is absorbed in grey.
This is not good.
I decide the best thing to do is turn around.
Obviously there is a forest fire over the ridge, I need to do something fast. Besides, I have another issue: not enough gas to get back down the mountain into the Gorge. Oh my!
My pulse pounds in my ear.
The smoke is thick; I slow down to a crawl, if I don’t get off my bike I will asphyxiate.
No doubt about it.
I look ahead – damn, I can barely make out the road.
Behind me is no better, but I feel like I have a greater chance going back down the mountain and running out of gas near a farm than trying to cross a raging forest fire at the summit. My gut screams, “Turn around… turn around now!” Everything is happening too fast.
Now, here’s where it gets surreal—as I start my turn I see a huge black building that seems to be moving and from out of the shadows rush four or five black figures dressed in army fatigues and gas masks. Okay, the gas masks really mess with my head!
I’m dizzy with nausea and feeling more and more bewildered.
One of the men opens his mask and yells, “What the hell are you doing up here, Ma’am? How did you get past the road block?”
Now I’m really feeling sick.
I try to put my kickstand down and barely make it, my head is swimming and I need to vomit. The soldier grabs my shoulder and orders me off my bike. Another guy jogs over to me and shoves a gas mask on my face.
“Come with me, Ma’am. We’ll take care of your bike”.
I’m in shock.
This is happening too fast.
I can barely stand, but attempt to jog over to the black building. It’s not a building I realize, but a convoy of army trucks. I get pushed into the back of one of them with about a dozen other soldiers also wearing gas masks.
This is really not good.
What’s even worse is that these soldiers are all boys. Maybe seventeen, maybe eighteen, but young eyes looking at me incredulously.
Who is this girl on a motorcycle riding into a forest fire?
I put my head between my knees. My pounding heartbeat, the excessively loud diesel engines, the charcoal fire in my throat, the dizziness of the whole damn adventure; eventually I knew it would happen. I open the flap of the truck, rip off my mask and barf poetically onto the smoking asphalt.
I sit back down in the truck and at some point the convoy starts to roll forward. We are leaving the area. Good.
I have no idea where my bike is and I barely care; all I want is the stinging in my eyes to stop and a cold glass of water. The young soldiers look at me with wide–eyed wonder. Most of them smile sheepishly, almost flirting with me despite the fact I’m probably covered in puke. Groan.
The ride down the mountain is painful.
The smell of burning trees and barf fill my nostrils.
Eventually we stop, all the soldiers unveil their youth by taking off their masks, again smiling innocently towards me.
I’m touched by their sincerity.
I remove my mask and cough violently. I look up, teary eyed when a cute red-haired soldier gives me a wet wipe for my face. I thank him with a hand gesture; wonder silently where the hell he found a wet wipe in all this chaos, but instead just smile in relief. The boys jump out from the canopy and I awkwardly follow, looking around casually for my motorcycle. There are two military men getting gas from the back of another truck and another soldier wheels my bike down the ramp of the first convoy.
“Figured you would need some gas to get to where you’re going, Ma’am.”
It’s the same red-haired soldier.
Now I feel shy.
He leans over and hands me my map.
“That was a close one, Ma’am. You almost got lost in that fire.”
I’m still in shock.
“I don’t know how you got past that road block but you’re lucky one of our trucks saw you. We’ve managed to contain most of the fire on that side of the ridge. It’s a bad year for forest fires. You were really lucky, Ma’am. Where you headed now?”
Part of me really wanted to hug this guy, but instead I turned away and looked towards the valley.
“Back down there.”
He looks towards the desert.
“Yes, that’s a good place to rest.”
I start laughing, “Yeah, I know.” MMM
Motorgirl would sincerely like to thank the National Guard who basically saved her bacon! Thank you–I am forever grateful, especially to the sweet redheaded officer.
For more details check out her website: www.motorgirl.com