Several years ago I bought a Kawasaki KLR 650 dual-purpose street-legal dirt bike. Elegant in its unbreakable simplicity, it is known as the best Swiss Army Knife in all of motorcycledom.
Coveting mine, Mark bought a used project KLR and stored it in my shop. Terry bought one. Chris bought a new one but decided that the dirt was not for him so he sold it to Mark, who now had two.
Mike moved to Coos Bay, Oregon. I called him. “Mike, with all those logging roads and two tracks, you live in the perfect place to own a KLR,” I said. “Yeah, you’re right, but I’ve got no money,” he replied. After a couple of years of haggling Mark and Mike got together on a price and the used project bike finally had a new owner.
That is when I said the dumbest thing that has ever come out of my mouth. “I’ll put it together, make it fly, ride it to Coos Bay and take the train back. You guys can pick up my expenses.” Knowing the price of gas and what it would cost to ship, they jumped on the deal.
The last three weeks of October were spent fixing, cleaning and adjusting; the KLR was running and pronounced road-ready. November saw gale-force winter storms blow in from the Gulf of Alaska swamping the entire West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle with horizontal rain. It was the worst rain in a dozen years and lasted three weeks. Then the wind came. For a week the lower half of California was afflicted with 80–90 mph gusts from the nastiest windstorms in 100 years. Trees and power poles were down everywhere and parts of L.A. County lost power for two weeks.
I kept checking the meteorology reports for a lull. Finally on December 4, a five-day weather window was predicted. I made the phone calls. “Mark, I am going tomorrow.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“Mike, I am going tomorrow.”
“Is that a good idea?”
Heading north on Interstate 5, I left my shop in Los Angeles on the KLR street-legal dirt bike with no fairing and no weather protection. There wasn’t a breath of wind… perfect weather for a 1,000-mile ride in the middle of winter. Thirty-five miles later I stopped, put on everything I owned and plugged in my electric liner and gloves. For the next 450 miles, getting blown from one lane to another, the trucks and I fought the strongest wind in the history of wind. Thank God I had owned a VW van years ago. I had lots of experience on how to handle being blown off the road.
As the sun set, I was now talking to myself. “I can do another 30 miles and get on the other side of Sacramento.” A wind gust picked up the bike and moved it two lanes to the left. “Fuck it, there’s a Best Western.”
Lodi broke a record that night. It was the coldest night ever on that date—24 degrees. The next morning, when it warmed up to 31, I headed north.
In Redding, the wind had been replaced with cold, however the temperature had risen to 40 degrees and there was a little sun. The hardboiled egg and banana I ate for breakfast had evaporated. “I’ll stop in Redding and get a late lunch and replace the mirror that fell off. No, better not. I’d better keep cooking and try and get over the Siskiyous before dark.” That was a good decision. The Siskiyou Mountains loomed ahead. I knew it would be cold. I hoped for no snow.
On the shadow side of the mountain, all the way up, over the top and down the other side, snow patches were frightening but more terrifying was the wet highway and the temperature in the 20s. I could smell black ice.
Slowly the trucks and I crept down the mountain. At the bottom, down in a hole, Ashland was completely ice-covered. “It’s kind of pretty. The trees and houses are frosted over like fancy lacey lingerie. What did I just say? Concentrate, dummy! It isn’t pretty; it’s frozen and you’re in trouble. Pay attention to the road.”
In Medford I stopped for a drizzle of gas and to get warmed up. “You got a newspaper?” The gas station guy, surprised to see a dirt bike roll in, pointed to the rack. Walking over I bought a newspaper, tucking it inside my coat. My arms and chest needed some insulation to keep the cold on one side and me alive on the other. My electrics were working, but by now I was a block of ice and even on high they were just barely breaking even.
Medford was a bad decision. I should have gotten a motel but being within 150ish miles, I got back on Interstate 5 with the trucks. There was 68 miles to the Roseburg Highway, 89 miles west to Coos Bay.
The Roseburg Highway was a two-lane zigzag that followed a river and cut through a thick forest of 90-foot trees that blocked out the stars and absorbed any molecule of moonlight. It must be a real treat for a motorcyclist in the daylight, but at night it was one long black tunnel with fog at the end. “This is some spooky shit,” I said as I rode into the fog. That was when Bigfoot chased the deer across the road and I started dodging them and road kill. That was also when the high beam burned out and I was left with the “four fireflies in a bottle” that the KLR called the low beam.
Being a smart guy, I pulled over and let some slower cars go past. Tucking in behind them I went to school on their lights. “No, no, Mr. Car, that’s OK, I don’t want to pass. I am just fine right here behind you,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t talk out loud anymore; the visor would fog up.
Finally, in Coos Bay, I found Mike’s mobile home. I peered in and scratched at the door. “What! What the hell are you doing here? No one rides in weather like this. Are you nuts?” Mike was surprised to see me.
“I told you I was coming.”
“But 1,000 miles, in these conditions; I thought you had better sense. Geez, come in by the fire.”