by CB Shaffer.
Ever have one of those days? You know, those days when your job (or jobs for some of us) just takes a toll on you. It might be physical strain or emotional stress. It might even feel like someone has attacked your soul. It’s just one of “those days.” I had one of “those days” recently. There was nothing specific that I could put my finger on – nothing to speak of that was terribly out of the ordinary. It was just one of “those days.” And by the end of it, I was ready for some relief.
You and I know that people find relief from the stressors of life differently. For some, it might involve one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer (thanks George Thorogood). Others might opt for a romp-in-the-hay with their favorite squeeze. There are literally hundreds of options and some are very effective. Based on my experience, there is one surefire way to melt the stress from our lives or revive a fatigued soul – a motorcycle ride! Come on, admit it. Throwing a leg over a motorcycle (any motorcycle) is truly therapeutic – especially when it comes to handling tension and/or weariness. Get on a motorcycle and ride and things just seem better.
On this particular day, I decided to do just that – go for a ride. I could hardly wait. I was counting the minutes until the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of my XR650L was ringing in my ears. I pulled into the driveway and parked the truck – jumped out and ran (seriously) to the house to get my gear and key. I called the wife to give her a heads-up (this is an absolute must if you plan on staying married for very long) and headed to the garage. I open the garage door and roll the “old girl” (not to be confused with the wife) out and proceed with a rapid check of the vitals: oil – check; fuel – check; tire pressure – check; quick overview for anything loose – check. All systems are a go - fuel on; choke on; key on – ignition!
I just happen to live in rural Oklahoma. Actually it’s very rural – the closest small town is 17 miles south as the crow flies. Anything bigger is at least 45 minutes away. I have access to miles and miles of county roads that are a mix of dirt and gravel. There are also several Wildlife Management Areas scattered across the region, which have proven to be great places to explore when on two wheels. One WMA is called Deep Fork and that was my intended destination. Unfortunately, there was one minor glitch in my riding plan – the days are still somewhat short here in Oklahoma at this time of year, which means darkness always sets in quicker than I hope. This day was no different.
It was about 4:30 PM when I left the house. The sun was already starting to dip toward the western horizon, so I knew that the ride would have to be somewhat short if I was expecting to get back home before dark. Truth be told, I really have no desire to be puttering around in the woods or back country after dark anyway. You never know what you're going to run into out there – coyotes, wild boar, an occasional cougar and a ton of other creatures call the surrounding woods home. There’s even been a Bigfoot sighting or two reported since I moved into the area (which verifies that I should keep my shirt on while working in the yard). I have also been warned by long-time local residents that there are some “folks” living in the more remote wooded areas that one should probably avoid if at all possible. Poachers perhaps, who knows? The local sheriff says those “folks” are just meth-heads protecting their labs. Either way, it just makes sense to me to stay out of the woods after dark. I've seen enough scary movies to know what happens in the woods after dark anyway.
I headed north for a while, then turned west, and went a couple miles before turning back north again. Eventually, I turn back west and find the turn off to the wildlife management area – approximately 10 miles out at this point. Once I entered the WMA area it was just a matter of zig-zagging around for a while until finding a trail or cut-off that looked interesting. Now, if you've ever been in or around one of these WMA areas, you probably know that they can be a bit chopped up at times due to the privately owned land that butts up to them. So, as an adventure / dual sport rider, I have to be a little careful so I don't find myself accidently trespassing onto somebody’s land, and perhaps looking down the barrel of a gun.
I've been in this particular WMA before, but I had never gone as far as I did this time. I probably ended up going an additional 5-6 miles as I shifted back and forth between a southerly and westerly direction. The whole time I was heading west it was becoming more difficult to see due to the position of the sun and the glare in my eyes. Now, you may be thinking that I should have seen this as a reminder that it would be getting dark soon and that it might be a good idea to turn around and head back to the house, but I didn’t.When it comes to riding, we (riders in general) will milk it for all it worth. Right? Right!
At this point of the ride, I started thinking it would be nice to find a north/south county road that I could follow back toward the house,but instead of finding that road, I found what looked to be an awesome cut-out that seemed to go on for miles and miles. I don’t know about you, but when I find a trail like this one, I have to venture on and see where the thing is going to lead me. In other words, when a riding opportunity knocks, I’ve got to answer the door. It is like an unwritten law. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” I must go forth and explore!
It’s strange what happens when a rider’s brain shifts to that mode of thinking. Other things, important things, seem to get lost, they just disappear from our radar. Important reality checks are overshadowed by the now present circumstances, and if something does not jar the rider’s thinking, may be lost forever (or at least until reality sets back in). This can be a very dangerous thing, especially when the rider is getting ready to venture into an unknown area, and due to his excitement in finding a new place to ride, he forgets (or ignores the fact) that it is getting darker by the minute, which could prove to be problematic in and of itself.
At this point, I'm on this awesome trail that I have found and it’s looking promising. It could be a place I could come to on a regular basis and explore further. I ride down the trail a little ways and find a gate that has a sign on it that says something about checking the WMA rules before opening it; however, it doesn’t really say anything specific about not going through the gate. Seems to me if they wanted me to stay out it would be on the sign. I ponder for a moment whether to open the gate and go through. Then I see it, another trail that does not involve the gate at all. In fact, the other trail heads in a slightly different direction and there’s nothing to indicate a limitation of access. After following it for a little ways the trail opens up, reminding me of the cleared areas under those huge power lines that crisscross our nation, but without the power lines.
I hit the gas and followed the trail as far as I could. As usual, I get caught up in the ride and really have no idea how far I've traveled. As I get further along it becomes apparent that there is a big wash out a little ways in front of me. I get off the bike and walk around to see if there is a way across or around the washout. Then it happens, I hear banjos playing! Sorry, had to do it.
As most of the riders I know, I have a thing about taking pictures during a ride. They help capture the moment and serve as a reminder of the ride itself and the cool places I've been. After taking several photos (and a whiz for good measure) something started to bother me. Nothing huge, just a feeling that I was missing something. I spent a few more minutes walking around, checking things out and planning how I could go farther up the hill and past the washout on my next ride. Then it clicked. It was at that moment that I realize the sun was going down! I figured it would be wise to get out of the woods before I couldn't see where I was going at all. Knowing my luck, I would probably end up being attacked by zombies or something.
I jumped on the bike, fired it up, hit the gas and started heading back out the way I came in. Makes sense, right? Go out the way you came in and all should be well. Now I'm thinking, "Crap it's getting dark fast!". I've got to admit, it was making me a little nervous. Probably one too many “In the Woods” movies, I suspect. So I'm booking it down the trail and it’s starting to get a little harder to see what’s in front of me. But, as far as I can tell, I’m on course and going the right direction. I go a little farther and make a turn, but then totally freak out because nothing looks familiar. Honestly, true panic came over me. It is a very strange moment when you’re out in the woods and you look around and realize that you might be lost. It was weird! All kinds of things flooded my brain. In a matter of milliseconds all kinds of questions cross my mind. “What do I do now?” What if I try to get out of here and get even more turned around?” “No one knows where I am. How would anyone find me?” Then I thought about my wife’s reaction if I just didn’t show up. Man, would she be torqued off. Okay, probably just upset.
I ended up grabbing myself by the collar and gave myself two quick smacks to the jaw (metaphorically speaking). “Get a grip, man! Get a grip!!” Recognizing that it was going to be completely dark in a matter of moments, I quickly turned the bike around and backtracked for a while. Luckily, I found the trailhead I missed. With a huge sigh of relief, I got back on the trail I came in on and found my way back to the main road. Grateful that I was not spending the evening lost in the woods, I got back to the hacienda as fast as I could. I don't think I have ever ridden that fast on gravel in my life! Just spitballing here, but maybe a GPS should be I my future.