Motorcycle travel connects you to the land in a unique and singular way. You sense the size of the world as it rolls beneath your wheels. You feel the massive forces shaping the terrain as you traverse it. You acknowledge the footsteps of native tribes and settlers that came before. And you learn that your presence is but a speck in time and that permanence is a mirage.
The sky is blue, the mood is relaxed, and the mind and body are rested after a day off in Grangeville, ID. I cut across a broad-shouldered valley the color of straw before climbing into the pine-laden foothills. The road descends and follows the Salmon River as it cuts a deep canyon with walls of rock rising on either side.
I steer away from the river and the temperature rises. Steep, rounded hills turn golden brown as the road winds its way to the Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River. Pirsig and his son Chris camped here. I ride on, but not before cooling off in the river.
A fellow rider is plying these same roads in the late afternoon heat. For a short while, we dance with the apexes, two riders connected by an invisible bungee. I stop for a photo and the bungee is broken. The irrigated fields are green with life—the rest is rocky, barren, and dry.
Baker City, OR, reclines in the valley, its broad streets quiet. I shower and walk to dinner. The evening cools.
“I wish I knew what to say to him. Or what to ask. He seems so close at times, and yet the closeness has nothing to do with what is asked or said. Then at other times he seems very far away and sort of watching me from some vantage point I don’t see.”
Motorcycle & Gear
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-ST1400
Jacket & Pants: Klim Induction
Boots: REV’IT! Everest GTX
Comm System: UClear Motion 4
Luggage: Rigg Gear Hurricane Dry Duffle 40L, Hurricane Waterproof Dry Tank Bag, Nelson-Rigg Mini Expandable Sport
Motorcycle Saddlebags, Chrome Niko Camera Backpack
Cameras: Panasonic Lumix G80 and G100, DJI Mini 3 Pro, Insta360
Rain Gear: Klim pants, Showers Pass jacket
Safety Gear: Klim Ai-1 airbag vest, Spot Gen 4
With the Sutherlands heading back to Minneapolis, Pirsig and his son Chris had to face the friction in their relationship. Some of it was typical father-son friction, but some of it wasn’t.
I relish the cool, green morning solitude of Umatilla National Forest. I catch 40 winks in a thin shade created by a restaurant sign (closed for the day) before descending into the John Day River valley. In just a handful of miles, the land is shorn of trees and shade. The Elkhorn Mountains are to my right, the Strawberry Mountains are to my left, and hot air sits in the valley. The heat soaks me and the cross-country bicyclists also traversing this route. A tall milkshake in a busy ice cream shop momentarily takes the edge off.
I’m back on the bike but not for long as the river valley widens and grows. From the Mascall Overlook, you can see through space and time, across the broad, dry valley and—in the layers of rock and sedimentary volcanic ash piled up like a layer cake—into the distant past. Across the valley, the river cuts through eons of rock at Picture Gorge. That is our route out of the valley and toward tomorrow.