Monday, December 31, 2007

Not What I Had Planned

William Least Heat-Moon opens Blue Highways with the words, "Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren't turned properly; they come askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote sources." He then, of course, goes on to act one of these night-skewed thoughts and writes a book about the consequences of such an action. And this is the kind of tome that resonates with those of us of a certain restless nature, folks who think that zen might actually have something to do with motorcycle maintenance, that perhaps Thoreau's cabin was a bit too spacious, and that Proud Mary isn't just a good song, it's good career advice. So when late-night thoughts come askew, they tend to stick in my head 'til morning.

"I think I'm going to spend the entire last day of the year riding," I announce to my wife. It should be noted that Mr. Heat-Moon's wife left him sometime prior to chapter one of his blue book. It should also be noted that my wife, Christine, understands that when I say "all day" I mean "24 hours."

Christine never completely vetoes my more hare-brained ideas but then again, she never has to. "There will be drunks on the road," she says, looking concerned, logical and cute all at the same time. Words from a Springsteen song roll through my head, "Jesus sent some good women to save all you clowns."

I cut my plan in half. Christine leaves for work at 5:00 AM, I'll leave for my ride at 5:00 AM. I promise I'll be back home by dark. "Maybe I can do one of those Jill-style, picture-every-hour things for the blog" I think.

The first problem is, it's really freekin' dark at 5:00 AM. I take a picture of my breakfast at 4:20 AM, but pictures of breakfast are pretty dull. The second problem is I'm not much of a photo guy and dark pictures don't tell you much of what it's like to be out and about at 5:00 AM.

Let me tell you what it's like to be out and about at 5:00 AM in my part of the world on the last day of the year.

It's a few degrees above freezing when I leave home. My bike's studded tires buzz on the pavement, crunch on the gravel and shine in the light of my twin Planet Bike LED lights. The lights cast twin moonbeams, brighter than what hits the trail reflected from the half-lit moon hanging a few hundred thousand miles above the trees. My breath fogs out in little puffs.

A few cars roll by on the freeway but I roll on a tiny gravel trail, up to High Point. Slushy puddles shine like flawed mirrors and for an instant I think I see an owl lifting off, white and silent, like a warm ghost. A repeat performance betrays the trick. As my bike rolls up and down the rolling rises of the trail, the lights are bouncing off the low puddles. Those reflected light beams climb the trees. The owls are not what they seem.

I'm headed east, into the mountains. The small towns of Preston and Fall City still mostly slumber and I pass by un-noticed by the humans, noted by the rest. I'm the ghost the dogs bark at, and cat's eyes track me in the night. As I ride up the trail from Fall City to Snoqualmie and North Bend, the bulk of the mountains are beginning to glow with a mix of fading moonlight and gradual dawn, too diffuse to be logically associated with the eventual sunrise. Rabbits race perfectly haphazard, Brownian particles with cotton-ball tails that make me wonder for a moment about the wisdom of this particular bit of evolution.

It's still too dark for a camera but perfectly fine for a set of night-tuned eyes when I see the first of the elk. It's a small herd of large beasts, fat from the summer, wary but not rushed as they cross the path and slip, not entirely silently but with sound much smaller than their size, into the forest off to my left.

It's fully light by the time I reach Rattlesnake Lake, which is low and cold this time of year, but not frozen. I pretend to be a photo-journalist but my camera decides that it is time I put away such notions and decides that it has had enough of being a camera and instead would like to be a rock. Well, maybe not a rock exactly, but something that does not take pictures and is kind of heavy and really not worth lugging around. I got three decent shots before my camera turned to stone.

One of the photos is of the sign telling the story of Rattlesnake Lake, the site of the former town of Moncton. It's a story of plans not quite working out the way folks had intended. It's not a bad thing to be contemplating on the last day of the year.

I stow my expensive rock in my pocket, listen to a Canadian goose call out across the lake and turn my bike back toward the valley. There are more people out now, walking dogs or walking themselves, marveling at a day that has grown clear and almost warm.

It's time for second breakfast when I'm back in North Bend, so I stop at Twedes for eggs and more hashbrowns than I can eat. Somewhere back aways I had a plan for 12 hours of riding or at least a century but numbers don't seem to matter much right now.

I roll back down the trail, turning north up the valley instead of heading south and home. I want to see the town of Carnation, see that it's still there, despite the recent horror. I don't want to go through town, I don't what to gawk, I just want to know, somehow, that life is stronger than death.

I thought maybe it would be the dogs or the kids riding their bikes or the horses grazing in the fields that would do it and they all helped, but it's the light that surprised me. The unseasonable sun shining down on a valley still green. Waving to others on the trail, we smile, we say "Happy New Year". We know the darkest days this year are behind us and today we have things to do.

I ride north to Duvall, cross to the west side of the valley and turn south. At Union Hill, I head west again and climb up and over Redmond Ridge. At the old brick road I ride south and work my way to the shores of Lake Sammamish.

I'm eight miles shy of a century and well shy of 12 hours but I have a beautiful wife waiting at home. I roll into Issaquah, my home, my riding is done for the year.

This is not the ride I had planned. This was just the ride I needed.

I hope your 2008 is filled with the best kind of adventures.
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