Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When the Pavement Ends

We stood in the shade of a Cottonwood tree at the point where the road we had taken off the main highway ended, at least the pavement part of it. We were en route to Arnold, California, having enjoyed a late morning coffee break at a small town with the auspicious name of West Point (adjacent to a town inauspiciously named town, "Bummerville"). For sleek and powerful machines like the touring motorcycles we were riding, anything less than smooth asphalt is usually avoided at all costs. But here we were. The way forward was not paved, but consisted of an uncertain distance of loose gravel. After our multiple experiences with backtracking due to snow, we were not predisposed to giving up without at least trying.
The name of the way ahead was Summit Level Road, apparently a distance of some 8 miles away from our proposed lunch stop at Arnold. The time was just after noon, and the searing sun is at its highest in a cloudless sky. No one suggested that we give up so we pressed our bikes forward onto the unfamiliar surface. Traction was difficult at times due to the lack of any appropriate tread on the smooth road tires. Turning proved challenging as every attempt to steer in any direction but straight ahead was greeted with an immediate loss of balance that threatened verticality. Stopping was unthinkable, except very, very slowly, which is not usually the way one stops a motorcycle. The road seems to be more like a farmer’s tractor path over fields and through the woods, with very steep grades and unbanked, hairpin corners, in most places just wide enough to accommodate a single vehicle.
Progress was slow at a pace of no more than about 5 mph (8 km/h). Gravel turned intermittently into rutted red clay, then back again to a variety of loose surface material. If careening around sharp highway corners on a motorcycle demands focused attention, riding on this terrain proved doubly stressful and demanding. Approximately an hour went by when I encountered a grader scraping the red clay road surface, apparently to remove the murderous ruts and even out the cursed gravel. The operator noticed me with some amazement and motioned me by his wide blade, having left me only a few feet of road to do so. I was tempted to stop and motion him to make his way by me, but thought better of it given the vast difference in the size of our respective "machines". Instead, I stopped adjacent to him and asked about the condition of the road ahead. His response was not encouraging. "It will be difficult for that bike of yours. It gets worse up ahead. It will take you quite a while". My reaction was to get directions to the closest pavement, to which he responded by reeling off a string of street names (which I later determined may have been accurate but were rarely displayed in any easily visible way).

Of course, we did make it to Arnold. It took 2 hours in 100 degree Fahrenheit (36 C) heat. "Lunch" was replaced with a milkshake as we discussed revision of the day's expectations. The 8-mile journey overshadowed the exhilarating morning spent experiencing the curves of Highway 88 and we were all exhausted from the "off road" ordeal. We traveled another 30 miles to Sonora, California, anxious to call it a day after covering less than 200 miles.
In some ways, being diagnosed with Parkinson's diseases is like reaching the end of the pavement. The smooth surface on which my life had traveled had some curves and unexpected occurrences, but it was nothing like I was to face on the rougher road ahead. At times I felt ill-prepared, afraid and doubtful about my ability to make the necessary transition. Since then I have learned, and continue to learn, that when you reach the end of the pavement in life there is plenty of adventure left on the road ahead. But it will take faith, hope and determination. There will be times when one is tempted to turn back, mourning the loss of ability to travel on even surfaces at high speeds without a seeming care in the world. But if one is to reach any desired destination, one must go forward on the road we encounter. And in the end, when I look back on this journey, both today's motorcycle trip and in life, I will remember and recite for others the stories of what lay beyond the end of the pavement.


  1. Praying for you, Bob. Thanks for the evidence of your faith. Blessings.

  2. We continue to "ride" with you Bob. Our love and prayers are with you. G & L

  3. Wish I was there! Hopefully you are riding in the company of at least one Harley! LOL Reading your blog, it inspires one on how to ride some of these rough roads. Some people see roads pitted with stumbling blocks and for others, they see the roads filled with stepping stones. Next year I'll be there! Cheers Bob!