June 22, 2013
When Clancy and Allen finally rolled into Portland at 11.30 at night after days on roads which were no better than mule tracks, their misery was compounded by the sight of the crowds going home from the last night of the annual Rose Festival, which they had been looking forward to all the way from San Francisco.
As we checked out of our hotel in Medford next morning, a man called Dave Bosworth, who was 75 but looked about 50, came over to ask where we were from.
“That’s a great adventure you guys are having,” he said. “In 1959 a buddy and I drove a VW Bug all the way down to Panama. We floated it across rivers and tossed a coin to see who’d drive it over the rickety bridges, and then after all that got to Panama to find we couldn’t get through the Darien Gap to Colombia.
“Tell me about it,” I laughed. “I had the same problem coming the other way.”
Outside, I found Dr G arriving back from a meeting at the nearby offices of Motorcycle USA with one of the magazine’s writers, Bart Madson, who was riding with us for the morning.
“Geoff!” said Bart. “Haven’t seen you since the GS launch in South Africa,” said Bart.
As we were riding away, the conversation with Dave reminded me that I hadn’t seen a single VW the day before, since the vehicles had changed from the Beetle convertibles, classic Porsches and hot rods of California to monstrous pick-ups with sweet, romantic names like Dodge Ram and Ford Asskicker, which trundled past with a subterranean growl from V8 engines doing about a mile to the gallon.
The houses had changed too, from beach villas and cool duplex condos to log cabins peeking out from the woods, some of them looking as if they had been put up yesterday and others looking as if they had been falling down since Clancy was here.
Even the air had changed: rather than the salt smack of the ocean, here it was sharp and sweet with the tang of resin from countless lumber yards.
As for Cow Creek Canyon, which Clancy had described as an endless frozen pig pen, it was now a perfect motorcycling road, twisting and turning under the dappled trees, over the railroad tracks and past a river sparkling in the sun.
Gary raced ahead as usual, and Dr G showed he still had it to go in spite of his claim to be an old fart who was now the slowest biker on the planet – a title I’ve proudly held for years – but all of us gloried in every curve, then said farewell to Bart and rode on through a state which is still the sylvan idyll it was in Clancy’s day.
On wooded hills and dales here and there, little communities of pastel wooden houses gathered, close enough for company but far enough apart for breathing space, with more often than not, a handsome horse grazing in a meadow behind each home.
In Roseburg, where Clancy had had his gloves stolen, we locked ours in the panniers just in case, but the locals couldn’t have been more friendly.
“Don’t cost a dime to be pleasant to folks,” said the man who filled our tanks at the gas station before, like Clancy, we decamped to the nearest inn, the appropriately Irish McMenamin’s housed in the 1907 railway station with a faded sign of the same vintage on the wall warning cyclists not to practise their dark arts on the platform.