NOTE: Forgive the poor picture quality on this one! They were all taken with my battered IPhone, and if you read on you'll understand why I didn't linger to get better pics! Davesteroni and Cheese, my significant other and partner in all things moto, is flying to Boise to pick up a gorgeous 950 Adventure for his growing KTM Museum of Awesome. Having recently acquired an ’07 Wee-Strom for long distance touring I told him, by all means, “Go get that shit!”. We decided that he would begin riding home, and I would ride towards him. We would meet in the middle in Yakima, then ride home on Highway 2 together the next day. I dropped off our carnivorous pet horse (a loveable Doberman named Jax) with my mom for day and told her the plan. She was worried, as mothers are wont to be. “Don’t forget to oil your chain! Have you oiled your chain??” The concern arose not only from her motherly urge to avoid her 22 year investment from becoming a smear on the highway. There had been another in a long list of incidents regarding a friend of my father’s that we will refer to here as Disaster Jim. My father and Disaster Jim went on a ride on which DJ ended up stranded when his bone-dry chain finally broke loose and presumably exploded into a million powdery shards. “Maintenance!” said my mother, with that characteristically fiery look that is not to be debated. I arrived back home at my garage and decided that yes, maintenance is an important part of motorcycle ownership, and my baby deserves nothing but the best! I walked out to the garage, flipped on the light and promptly remembered I know absolutely nothing about this bike. Well, the chain is fairly self evident. I gave it a nice coat of chainwax and grabbed a beer. The Wee stared at me; I stared at the Wee. The rubber side was down; this I knew was a good start. The paint looked nice and shiny. Experience has taught me that the shiny ones are faster, so I nodded thoughtfully and kicked at a tire. Another beer later and it struck me what was missing: MOJO! I added this little tidbit, which will most likely only be appreciated by avid Kid Rock fans and my dad. With great satisfaction in a bike well maintained, I went to sleep to dream of the adventure to come. Mojo! Monday morning came warm and sunny, a refreshing change after the last nine months of grey, soggy Hell. I loaded up, hopped on the bike, and proceeded to motor. I’ll tell you right now, there are very few things I’ve experienced in life that beat getting an early morning start on a beautiful day. I have all day to get to Yakima, and am not in any particular hurry. I slab it from Bellingham to Steven’s Pass, to get the dull part out of the way quickly. I quickly get stuck behind a slow moving truck but am in no hurry; one of those rare moods in which it just doesn’t matter and life is all good. I’m chillin’ the most. The road opens up and I ride through sweeper turns so wide you hardly notice them, slowly gaining elevation. Steven’s Pass is a wild place right out of a postcard, or maybe what the world looked like before we logged everything to make those quaint postcards. Huge jagged mountains jut up into the sky, encrusted with pines to the very tip, fading from heavy green to blue in the distance. A few have soggy patches of brilliant snow clinging to the tips, the last fading remnants of the phenomenal ski landscapes that transform the place in winter. Eight kinds of fern clamor and compete for territory with moss, and smother every open space with life. Occasionally the dark greens and blues break open to an unreal electric green field of corn sheltered amidst the peaks, or a wild river crashing over dark stones. It’s superbly beautiful and easy riding. In Skykomish, I stop at a favorite place of mine. I order the sandwich which inspired me to take this route: An amazing Rueben that comes fresh made with local sauerkraut, fresh tomatoes, grilled onion, heaps of steaming hot corned beef and extra dressing on delicious local made rye bread. This amazing pile of sandwich is grilled on a Panini press and served hot with iced tea. I ask the ladies behind the counter to wrap half in paper, but it’s such a juicy delicacy I end up eating most of that half as well. Totally stuffed and at peace with the world, I waddle back to the Wee ready to put in some miles. The place. Highway 2 outside Leavenworth Coming down from Steven’s Pass I begin to enter a new landscape. The evergreen pines and riotous undergrowth that define Western Washington are replaced by sparsely placed pine and dead grass. As I make progress East, the temperature steadily climbs. It’s still early but already in the high 80’s, and I pause to unzip all vents and shed some layers. After a few hours of steady riding, I am supremely thankful for the Camelback that my mother lent me for the trip. It is hot, like riding through a hairdryer’s blast, and the dry air wicks the sweat from your body at such a rate that staying hydrated is difficult. I suck down a liter in a couple hours and stop in the town of Waterville to refill and rest. I find a little park with a few shade trees and collapse down on the grass, throwing gear in all directions and startling a man eating a sandwich nearby. He eyes me distrustingly then moves away, which is fine by me. I lay spread eagled on the grass and just soak in the shade and cool breeze, allowing my body temperature to come down from its uncomfortable heights. Here I find the world’s most awkward restroom. No doors....cozy. Breakfast of Champions. Cooled and rejuvenated once more, I head back whence I came to make tracks for Yakima. It’s now very hot, in the high 90’s a not a cloud in the sky. The road to Waterville is an absolute joyride, one of the best I’ve seen. 15 miles of climbing twisties, perfectly smooth hot asphalt that grips the tires like glue, and not a soul on the road. On the way in I am too focused on the awesome riding to pay much attention to scenery. On the way down, I get stuck behind a semi truck hauling an absolutely massive boat down the steep grade. It isn’t 3 miles before his brakes start belching out clouds of smoke, which linger and choke in the windless area. I back off a good distance and begrudgingly putt along. The canyon beside the road is beautiful and harsh. Every now and then a gust of wind blows a blast of unbelievably hot air up from the floor, occasionally bearing a harsh-eyed hawk on its back. They spiral up on the thermals, scouting for unlucky rodents below. This keep me entertained until we reach the main highway and I blast past the still smoking brakes of the now stopped semi. The Wee Strom and I have come to terms and the riding is phenomenal. No traffic, crystal blue skies, gold and red rock landscapes, and no police officers for miles. I have ridden over 200 miles already, and the Corbin seat is a wonder. The longer I sit on it, the more comfortable it gets! The power of the Wee is linear and smooth, with a gentle purr that sounds surprisingly good in the high RPM high gear range. I open it up for a while just to feel the wind and enjoy the sound of the motor blaring. After another hour I go to take a drag off my Camelback and suck air. My lips are paper dry, and I notice I am no longer sweating. I can feel my temperature rising steadily and my face is flushed. It is pushing 100 degrees and is as dry as a tech manual. I become slightly sluggish and notice that the lines I pick are becoming worse and worse, wobbling within my lane. I make a snap decision to stop immediately and cool down before I make a critical mistake. I see a small gravel turn off and pull into it, coasting down the shaded gravel road that follows. The Wee has yet to see gravel and I am cautious but too hot and tired to care. I focus on staying loose and riding smoothly. The linear nature of the Wee’s power makes it far more simple than I am used to, which pleases me greatly. I come to a bridge and pull off to the side, stripping gear almost before I am even off the bike. I’m in luck and there is a beautiful clear creek below with a still pool of water a few feet deep. With great relief I throw off my boots and gear and half walk, half fall into the water. I have rarely felt such a lovely sensation. I float for a while in a dreamy state while my body slowly cools down and stabilizes. It is a perfect experience; I can see sun and speckled blue sky through the leaves overhead, there is no sound but that of the running water, and no traffic at all. I am hidden from the world in a personal paradise. After a while I climb out and get the remains of my Rueben from the side bags and eat it while sitting on the cement foundation of the bridge. I throw little bits of bread into the water where they’re snapped up by fingerling trout, and kick my bare feet to keep the flies away. I stay in this spot for almost an hour, blissfully happy and aware of the fact that there is nothing to hurry for. The rest of the world can go on rushing and worrying like ants in a line; I’m happy here. I finally work up the energy to go, motivated by the promise of new unexplored roads ahead. I soak down my shirt and jacket in the creek, promising to be more mindful of my physical state. Back on the Wee and away we go! ADV Rider approved. Lunch in paradise. After a while I come to my junction with I97/82 South which would take me in a straight shot to Yakima. I am finally on empty, 270 miles in, and the gas gauge blinks at me insistently. I come down from my blissful riding high to realize I am in the middle of nothing, with no idea how far the next gas station will be. My Iphone, which serves as semi-functional GPS, has guided me thus far but service is sketchy at best. I begin riding down 97 with the hope of finding a station before Yakima. I look up from the gauge and suddenly notice some very odd clouds up ahead. They are grey and sickly yellow, like some kind of thunderhead but the shape is all wrong. I stare at them confused and begin to remember all the reports of fires recently. It has been a hard, hot, dry year everywhere but Bellingham and it’s a possibility I didn’t consider. I ride ahead and they loom bigger and darker, and become not storm clouds but billows of thick smoke. I pull over to the side of the road where a couple with horse trailers and chatting worriedly. I ask them where the nearest gas station is, but they are distracted and growing more worried. The fire is burning just over a hill about a mile ahead, although the wind is running parallel to our position and keeps the bulk of the smoke away. They are evacuating their horses and livestock as fast as possible. I leave them be and try to decide what to do: Ride through the clouds ahead in hopes of gas, or head back from where I came and shoot for Cle Elum. Either one risks running out of gas in a desolate place. Suddenly two fire trucks come screaming and whooping down the road and stop next to us. One of the men gets out and tells me “You need to leave. You can’t be here.” I ask him where my best bet for gas would be, as being stranded in the middle of a burning landscape is not a particularly appealing idea. Now, I have the utmost respect for firemen. My life was saved by a team of volunteer firefighters and I will never, ever forget that experience or the deep, unpayable debt of gratitude I owe. They are the bravest, craziest, most self-sacrificing people I have had the honor to know. This particular firefighter though was either sadistic, stupid, or just plain insane and had lost all touch on the limits of reality. You can tell the scale of it by those wind turbines. “Yer best bet is Yakima.” He drawled, and blinked lazily in the direction of the blaze. “That way.” I stared at him blankly for a moment, then at the flames which were now occasionally shooting spouts of fire above the hill line. “THAT way?” I asked shakily. “Is that….safe?” He shrugged and said the road was open, then gave me a look that said he had more important matters to handle than dealing with some brainless rider who ran out of gas. I agreed that it was my own pickle to be in and left him to attend to evacuating the homeowners and their animals. I got back on the Wee and slowly rode forward, my adrenaline rising as I got closer to cresting the hill. Cars were parked haphazardly alongside the road, their drivers just standing alongside gaping or snapping pictures that would never do the scene justice. The haze had become thick, and heavy gusts of wind knocked my tall, topheavy bike from straight to a 45 degree angle over and over, swirling in all directions and swatting it around like a cat with a feather. I took a deep breath and crested the hill. The scene on the lower side momentarily knocked me for a loop; I had to stop and stare. Occasionally in life you will find something reminds you exactly what you really are; just another scared animal clamoring for life, fighting to survive. We are not in control, despite the confident, thick illusions we spin. The land that faced me was black and charred. I have seen the sooty remnants and flagpole like trunks of pine that are left behind by forest fires, but here was one right before my eyes, alive and devouring everything in its path. It was as if Hell’s own army had broken loose and made themselves at home. I was on the hill above the outermost ring of the fire looking down. A fast Eastward wind was pushing the fire towards the highway at an incredible rate, and smoke belched up in massive spirals. The grass fire burned low and close to the ground, devouring cattle fields and fences without discrimination, and it had just begun tearing into a stand of pines about ¼ mile from the road. I looked down and thought “I’m riding into THAT??” and something very strange happened. I grinned a huge, mildly psychotic grin and hopped on the bike like an excited schoolgirl. I was most definitely riding into that. For some of us there is a place in our hearts so deeply neglected in today’s deep society that it slumbers. But it is not gone; it is that primal part of us that would stand in the face of the elements laughing with arms spread, roaring right back at the unconquearable forces with the pleasure of pure survival. I slightly quickened my pace towards the flames and the smoke grew thicker, the blasts and tornados of wind grew more heavy handed and I had to focus on holding the bike within the lane. I was the only one headed towards the center of the burn, trucks loaded with frightened horses came blasting out of the smoke as fast as they could, the drivers white knuckled and wide eyed. I got closer and closer, until the only one left beside the road was a single man leaned against his car just shaking his head at the blaze with a wondering smile. I slowed and made eye contact and he held my gaze as if to say “Well? What’s it going to be?” I looked at the blaze dead ahead, then back at him, threw up a solid “rock on!” sign and pinned the throttle down. I didn’t need to see his grin of approval or hear the war-whoop he let loose to know that he felt that pull of adventure as well. He understood. As I picked up throttle, I was trying to blast directly through the center of the flames and out the other side as quickly as possible with the least amount of smoke in my lungs and eyes. I crouched low beneath the windshield, my heart shooting off more rounds per minute than a tommy gun in a bank heist. The black clouds were totally encasing me now, I was in the center and the heat was insanely intense. Blasts of wind nearly knocked me flat and felt like being slapped with a heat gun. The flames were well through the pines to my right and were greedily burning the grass only 100 yards from the road. I heard loud, distant thunderlike sounds that my frantic brain couldn’t make sense of at the time. It wasn’t until I was pelted by a hot chunk of organic material that I understood: Some of the pines had exploded from the intense heat, sending ping-pong ball sized chunks of flaming would raining down through the air, blasted almost totally sideways by the wind. First one, then another, then many more began pelting me HARD. One stuck on my sleeve for just a second, but it was long enough to start melting the material. At this point my brain decided that enough was enough, and we need to turn the hell around, because being stranded blind in the middle of a fire whose limits I could not see with an empty tank was not a nice way to go. I shrunk my head down to protect my neck the hot ash pelting from the sky, took one last look with my heart thundering in my ears, and flipped the fastest U-Turn I ever have. I rocketed past the man I had seen on the side of the road, pulling a trail of hot ash like a comet, crouched down low behind the windscreen. I saw him from the corner of my eye and he was laughing amidst the end of the world. Shaken from the intensity of the experience, I kept it pinned all the way to Cle Elum and the nearest gas, thinking that if I did hit the bottom of the tank at least I was going to put some miles between myself and that Hellish landscape. I pulled into the first 76 station in town with 286 miles on the dial and let loose a huge sigh of relief. I smiled at a man on a BMW loaded down with bags and painted with bugs, but he did not smile back. It wasn’t till I took a deep breath and started looking my bike over that I noticed something and started to laugh. Hundreds of fat crickets attempting to escape the flames had been jumping and flying around and a good percentage of them had met my windscreen and radiator. They were jammed in every crack, even one getting stuck in the tiny gap where my GIVI hard bags close. I somewhat squeamishly scrubbed off as many as I could, then sat down to call home and check in. After checking in with Davesteroni, I learned that the only route between us was now closed by the flames. To get to Yakima would take another 6 hours of riding that I simply didn’t have in me. He decided stay the night and head straight home via Portland to avoid the entire eastern side, while I would try and make it home that night. I had a nice long rest, refilled my camelback with ice cold water, and got back on the bike. I had ridden 320 miles since 9am and had another 180 to go. View of the smoke from Cle Elum, which is 25 miles away. The ride back was mostly major highways and thus uneventful. I sat back and got used to using the throttle lock on the Wee to rest my wrists. Surprisingly, this was the only part of me that showed any discomfort! This is a shocking revelation coming off a bike that feels like a steel paint shaker after an hour of riding. The light slowly faded and I rode into Seattle as the sun sank behind the water. I was deeply, profoundly aware of the fragility of life and how incredibly thankful I am to be a part of it. Although exhausted, I was very happy. I rode through the tunnels to get through Seattle and giggled at how surreal the experience was, insanely loud and somewhat like being in a Tron video game. I hummed the theme in my head and focused on being very visible to the cagers pressed around me on all sides. The air was cool here on the West side and I reveled in the light shivers that refreshed me and kept me awake. I arrived home in Bellingham at about 10:30 PM and pulled into the driveway with shaky legs. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I put the bike on the stand and walked inside. Davesteroni called to say he had arrived safely and was loving the KTM. I pulled the bike inside, dropped my gear on the floor, made a cup of tea and collapsed, incredibly happy, exhausted and content.