Trip #1 –

“You don’t have to do this,” Hank’s mother said, a fortress of good sense, and aware that I was still in the clutches of a cold. I had reluctantly agreed to go with Hank and his father, Ralph, on my first ever motorcycle ride to Montana. Missoula or Bust!

The night before the trip Hank wedged my head into his old helmet and a too-tight leather jacket Ralph borrowed from one of his pals.

“Looks great on you, kid,” Ralph said, giving me an atta-girl pat on the back. I felt like the Far Side dog in the “Rusty’s in the Club” cartoon.

Day One

Ten minutes into the ride through their neighborhood, we hit the freeway. The pavement, speeding by below, looked like a belt sander. Fear rushed up from my vibrating feet riveted to the hard, slippery pegs; my hands were jammed into Hank’s jacket pockets. I hoped that clutching the cotton lining would keep me from flying over the top of the tiny back brace. When a long-distance hauler passed us, the naked silver ladies relaxing on the mud flaps mocked me.

The good news from the first hours—after leaving the interstate, we traced the gentle curves of a sparkling river up into the lush mountains. The next two hours were a noggin workout due to the 6% upgrades. Hank’s hurried shifts jerked my head forward, banging helmet-to-helmet, and then just as abruptly snapping me backward. After a while I mastered gripping with my legs and cautiously leaning back.

Finally, the power of the forest smell seeped in through the vents in my helmet as I pushed the visor back and took in deep, clean breaths. Reaching the summit, we sailed down the other side into a lovely sun-filled valley.

After more minor summits, and very few breaks, we were on the way to Sun Valley. We followed the Salmon River, experienced a long road construction delay, and in the dark found a primitive campground. Finding a place away from the tent for an urgent middle of the nighter, I looked up to see an awesome galaxy of stars that dwarfed what I could see at home. I crawled back into my sleeping bag and swooped and weaved the rest of the night.

Day Two

The Salmon River trail took us into thick forests and through isolated mountain towns; always climbing as we approached the high pass called Lost Trail. Another construction delay put us behind Ralph’s highly refined schedule. Just as we sailed down the grade, a summer storm closed in around us. What I saw as we made a yawning turn to the north were menacing black clouds approaching us, spread like a vampire’s cape over the entire valley.

Hank had caught my cold yet managed to keep going despite the fact he looked terrible. When Ralph discovered he’d been riding with tissues jammed up his nose, he suggested we end our day thirty miles short of the goal.

Since we couldn’t find a nearby campground, we were forced to spend the night in a rustic lodge and eat in a restaurant. The beer and pizza smothered in Velveeta (highlighted on the menu) never tasted better.

After dinner, Ralph suggested that Hank go up to our room and get some sleep while “we have a sit on the front porch.”

“I know we promised you Missoula or bust,” he said. “Hank’s in no shape to go on and we would be wise to cut our trip short. I do have a secret plan—be dressed and ready to take a quick ride at six.” I smiled at the prospect of the next morning and slept like the road-warrior I’d become.

Day Three

Ralph was giggling when I met him in the lobby. I slipped on my helmet and jacket, looking forward to our secret jaunt on a motorcycle with a real back brace and grips for my hands.

“You’re really a sport, Barbara. Shoulda been born a man,” Ralph said as I settled in behind him. Instead of taking offense, I knew he meant it as a compliment even if it had the odor of the 1950s, and smiled.

We didn’t get as far as the highway before the rain moved in and had to turn back. We found Hank sitting under an enormous moose head in the lobby, reading the Wall Street Journal. Ugh, the real world. The glum trip home—rinse, repeat—rain, wind, and rare glimpses of the scenery. The view out my visor was often like driving without the wipers on. Back at Hank’s parents’ house, his mother was surprised by my answer to her question.

“Hank tells me you really liked it,” she said with both surprise and disbelief in her voice.

“Did he? Really liked it would be a stretch,” I said. “More like survived it. There were moments, many of them, when I understood the point of the motorcycle—the way you feel sailing down a long grade or riding a ridge, even with the birds, and can stretch out your arms like wings. But mostly, I saw it as a way to speed, take risks, and live to tell about them around the campfire. Not my cup of tea as they say. But that’s why there are coffee drinkers like me.”

What I didn’t share with Hank’s mother was how Hank and I really didn’t have that much holding us together any longer and a few months later we split up.

To be continued . . .

Photo Credits: Rusty in the club – joe caione, sunny valley – keghan crossland moose head lodge – stephanie klepacki