Thor Drake is the founder & owner of Portland, Oregon’s esteemed SEE SEE Motorcycles and the One Moto trade show.
Widely-respected in the Pacific Northwest motorcycle community, Thor was an obvious choice when it came time to field-testing the 2021 Filson Alcan Moto Collection on the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route. below he shares a perspective from the trip and makes a strong case for venturing beyond your comfort zone.
Riding motorcycles can be extremely dangerous and demanding, both mentally and physically. Sure, it can also be easy and delightful at times, but those moments inevitably fade the further you cross through physical distances and personal limits. Keep going and eventually you’ll become more acquainted with things like pain and fear, and that’s when the journey really starts to get interesting. All good things come with a price; it’s just a question of whether you’re willing to pay it.
Four of us would start an expedition somewhere northeast of Seattle, deep in the heart of the Northern Cascades. We planned for six days of riding south on the remote Washington Backcountry Discovery Route, ending at the mighty Columbia River on the Oregon border. Aaron Piazza, an industrial designer by day, had done the ride earlier that summer, so naturally he became the group leader. Piazza roped in his co-worker and friend Ben Mabry to join us on the ride, as well. Completing the group was Brett Simundson, who had just bought a bike only a week before the trip. He’s a tough fella whose ambition would make up for any lack of experience. As for me, I made the trek north from Portland to join in on what was sure to be an unforgettable adventure.
“Riding through these conditions is not
for the faint of heart, but we came here
for the punishment, because the adventures you always remember are the tough ones.”
The route we chose would skirt us along the east side of the Cascade Divide into one of the last remaining old-growth forests in the United States, with trees over 1,500 years old. The rugged, icy roads kept our minds sharp as we took in the immense majesty of this wild and untamed land. Endless rolling mountains and ancient forests as far as the eye can see. If Bigfoot or Yeti lives, he lives here.
We planned on its being cold, but we had no idea it was going to snow three out of the six days, sometimes up to six inches. That’s where the pain and fear began to set in. Riding and camping for days on end through rocks, mud, ice and snow creates an entirely new set of challenges – frostbite, hypothermia and the constant thought of bear attacks to name a few, but most of all the exponential risk of crashing. An injury would spell disaster out here in the middle of nowhere. Riding through this region in these conditions is not for the faint of heart, but we came here for the punishment, because the adventures you always remember are the tough ones.
The idea was to camp most nights, and with average evening temperatures dropping below 15 degrees, building a fire was mandatory to thaw our frozen appendages. Sometimes the mere thought of that flame at the end of the day was the only thing that got us through. It’s interesting when you set some strong-willed folks to a task, and that task is hard travel: The difficulty becomes the reward. There’s a cowboy trust that emerges, because you’re in the struggle together. You’re putting yourself through something that most humans couldn’t manage, and through that suffering you form a bond that can last a lifetime.
Many people wonder why we put ourselves through such torture—the lack of sleep, freezing all day and night, and the twisted sense of joy we get from the imminent danger that lurks around each corner. I guess I just feel really lucky to have these challenging experiences, because they force you to be extraordinarily present in the moment. Existing now, like a shark in a feeding frenzy. Navigating the turbulence at the mercy of the spinning world around you. Those moments create a mental state where life moves in slow motion, leaving the brain free to dance. Some would call it a high, or an altered reality, but it feels far too natural for that. I think of it more like a state of being.
Sometimes you have to put yourself in harm’s way to get there, but once you get a taste, all you want is more. I’ll always remember this trip with my newfound friends, and I can’t wait for our next opportunity to suffer through more challenges together.
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