This story is about a Hog (actually, a lot of Hog’s). It happened back in the early 80’s while I was riding my ’82 Gold Wing. I was leading a group of touring riders back home from an extended day-trip to Eastern Washington one spring afternoon.
Those of us who live near Puget Sound like to ride east on cloudy days because about an hour east of Seattle you top out over the Cascade Mountain Range and ride into the clear sunshine that is usually present in the Columbia River Basin. The only problem is that you have to ride up and over a mountain pass to get there, and do the same again when it’s time to come home. The rule about riding in the mountains is that weather can change suddenly & unexpectedly. So, be prepared. But, it’s easy to forget that on a warm spring day.
As we headed west toward home, we were on State Highway #2 out of Wenatchee. It had been sunny and warm, but as we moved west and gained altitude, the temperature went down fast. It got very cold. We pulled into a rest stop and the dozen or so riders in my group put on sweaters and extra scarves. We all had our winter gloves on and my Wing had what some of you may remember are called “Hippo Hands.”
Just past Leavenworth, riding east on a two-lane winding mountain road, we found ourselves being passed, en mass, by a very large biker group, mostly on choppers. On their shirts and vests was the name of their club. I knew they were an outlaw gang from Tacoma and they had a reputation for being mean and dangerous. One by one they blasted past us at high speed. I lost count of the number of bikes somewhere after 50. This was in the days before helmet laws in Washington State and few if any had a helmet. Many did have wool caps but some only had headscarves. As we climbed higher up toward Stevens Pass, the temperature got lower and lower.
Soon, I noticed one of the outlaws had pulled over and was making adjustments on his bike. I thought about stopping to offer help, but I figured his friends would have stopped with him if he needed help. Plus, I had my own riders behind me to take care of and there was no room for all of us to pull over. A couple of minutes later, the outlaw blasted past us at high speed. His Hog didn’t sound good but he was burning up the highway.
A few miles more and there he was again, parked, working on his bike. Again, further up the road he passed us all at high speed. Every mile we rode the temperature went lower and lower. A third time I passed Mr. Bandit on the side of the road. This time when he overtook and passed us, his bike was choking and cutting out. But, he went by “full throttle.”
By now, it was snowing lightly and the temp was well below freezing. Because it was so cold, the snow was very dry and so our bikes maintained a good grip on the asphalt. We continued on over the summit of Stevens Pass at reduced speed. After several more miles, even with extra clothing, we were getting really chilled. The first place to stop for a hot cup of coffee is at the little town of Skykomish. There is a mountain lodge there that serves the skiers and snowmobilers in the winter, tourists in the summer, and locals, hunters and bikers during the months in between.
I was chilled to the bone and knew the rest of my group was too. There was no question in my mind that we needed to stop at Skykomish.
At long least we reached the oasis of caffeine and I turned in. Behold, there in the snow-covered parking lot were ALL the bikes of the outlaw club. I parked my Wing in a clear space somewhat removed from the choppers and got off my bike. I looked back toward the highway and there at a dead stop in the driveway entrance were all the riders of my group, staring at the sea of outlaw choppers. I stared back at them briefly and then waved my arm for them to advance and park their bikes. Timidly, they approached and parked with my bike between them and the others.
“Are you crazy?” someone asked “We can’t go in there! Did you see who they are?” “We have to go inside if you want to warm up.” I replied. “It’s too dangerous to continue with everyone this cold. Hey, as cold as we are, dressed like this.. How cold do you suppose they are? Come on, there won’t be any trouble.” I wasn’t convinced, but I hoped they were. I knew we were a lot safer with the outlaws, than on the highway with hypothermia and the 18-wheelers.
We entered the lodge like a small group of snow covered bunnies into a hall of hungry wolves. There was a silence in the room like a tomb. A few eyes turned toward us, but most were focused on their hot drinks and their coldest body parts. The first person I saw sitting near the entrance, was my “breakdown buddy.” His beard was a coat of dripping ice and the hot coffee steamed up over his nose, which seemed to be frozen and blue. His wool cap was on the table and his eyes looked in my direction, but did not seem to focus. I gave him my most confident Norwegian smile and mumbled, “Some day, huh?” He just took a deep drag on a cigarette, gave me a weak smile and returned to his coffee cup.
Suddenly, we were no longer outlaws and rice burners. We were all just cold bikers trying to get warm enough to continue on our way. No one said much for the next half-hour. When we left, the snow had stopped and the highway was dry. We were refreshed and ready to ride. The mean and nasty bikes in the parking lot seemed rather frail sitting there in the snow and mud. A few miles down the road we rode into the warmer air of the lower altitudes. A different day, a different time, there would have been a different attitude. “Avoid the outlaws” is still probably good advice.