I don’t know what it is about a biker that causes folks to want to tell us their life story. Does the black leather make us look like a priest to confess to maybe? Who knows? But it’s a phenomenon that plays out time and time again. One time in Franklinton, LA a few years back I had an elderly woman proceed to tell me all about how she left her husband, who was apparently a merchant seaman in New Orleans back in the 1950s, while I was pumping gas and her son-in-law waited impatiently for the 20 minutes it took her to tell me the tale. I really don’t mind though. I get to meet some amazing people and hear great stories this way. I consider myself very fortunate.
So on Monday my friend Richie and I decided to take a “screw it lets ride” day, ditch our chores and work and just take off. Richie used to have a bike but sold it so he rode my little bike Bandit while I took Angus. He showed up at my house around noon and we headed into East King County for lunch. And although I was craving my usual biker burger and fries, I ate healthy and had a nice salad and soup at the Fall City Road House, where we caught up on things and Richie said, “I gotta get a bike again.” It was a glorious day and neither of us were in any hurry to get home and even though it was creeping closer to the never-ending rush hour in Seattle, we decided to putt around the far Eastern foothills until after traffic cleared early in the evening. I asked him if he’d ever been to Selleck or the Green River Gorge and he said no so off we headed out of Fall City, up towards Snoqualmie then down Highway 18 into Hobart and Ravensdale.
Selleck is at the end of a dead-end road, and considered by many to be a ghost town although a number of people live there still. It used to be a company town for a huge Pacific States Lumber sawmill that dominated the town around the turn of the century. Many of the bungalows are still standing and occupied and it still looks like a “company town.” The mill shut down in 1939 and gradually was reclaimed by the elements -- except for the houses, of which about 20 of them remain and are occupied, and the old school house which has been turned into a home for the the man who owns the company that owns the majority of the land in town. As we were coming into the outskirts of the town we rode past an older guy who had just gotten off of a motorcycle in front of a house. He waved at us as we went past as bikers do, and I didn’t think anything else of it. We rode into Selleck, around the loop of houses and when we stopped at a crossroads in front of the old school to take a couple of pictures I turn around and there is the guy we passed riding on a Honda Dual Sport (a cross between a sport bike, a dirt bike, and a normal motorcycle) and he was so quiet I didn’t even notice he’d followed us into town from where we waved at him.
Now it’s not like bikers riding through here are a rare thing – it’s only a few miles from the biggest biker watering hole in the County, the City Hall Saloon in Cumberland. Bikers ride through here all the time. But you would have thought we were the first in ages as he excitedly starts talking bikes, how much he likes ours, and on and on, and how nice the weather is and where are we going, and then asks us if we “wanna see something cool?” Now when we were kids this is the kind of things our Mother’s always warned us about right? The little caution light goes off in your head. He says it’s the old burn tower for the old sawmill. And me being one who rarely passes up the chance to poke around abandoned industrial things couldn’t pass this up so I said “sure”. He says “its just down the road, follow me” and off he goes.
We turn off the main paved road down a gravel road – which is fine on his dual sport but no fun on our big Harley’s, and we creep down past some old trailers and junk. In the back of my head I’m kinda hearing the theme from “Deliverance” while Richie, who’s black as pitch, says he’s looking out for the KKK burning crosses. We pull off and the guy hops off his bike, almost tipping it over as his feet barely reach the ground, and like a Hobbit, scampers down a trail and beckons us to follow.
We follow and about fifty yards down the trail all of a sudden rising out of the forest is a giant cement cylinder about 10 stories high. He goes in a kind of doorway and says, “Come in”, and he sits down on the ground. Now I have to say this structure is really cool and I'm very intrigued, and I also think the guy is more or less harmless so I'm not worried. I mean he has no teeth, he’s shorter than me, and has had a few drinks and must be in his late 60s, and there's two of us. If he turns into Freddie Krueger we can take him. Ritchie whispers to me "this is why black people are never in horror movies."
I decide we should introduce ourselves so I tell him my name and so does Richie, and he says his name is Dale and he’s 67 years old. “I knew you fellas were all right when you rode past,” he says. How he knows this I don't know, but I don't question it. I wander around the inside of this enormous silo and take some pictures all the time he’s chattering on about his life. He was a logger, and “the best mechanic around – I can fix any motor” he says. His sister and her husband, he said, own the property. “They’re religious and they don’t like me drinking,” he mutters while he pulls a beer out of his vest pocket and pops it open. “One time I came in here and had a few and fell asleep, I thought the leaves were my blanket. I woke up to my sister taking pictures of me.”
He’s sitting cross-legged on the ground looking up at the hole in the wall where they used to toss in the scraps and sawdust to be burned and points at some blackberry bushes and says “I seen bears and elk and all kinds of stuff out here.” I asked about the mill and what’s left but he doesn’t know much more than what he’s already told us, and then goes back to reminiscing about his “first wife” (no mention of how many subsequent ones there were), whom he married when she was 15 and he was 17. “Her aunt lied about her age, but they still wouldn’t marry us in Reno so we had to go to Carson City. She was a Chippewa Indian, I kept her barefoot and pregnant for most of our marriage.” This would have been I’m guessing about 1953. I asked him where he was from and he said Lebanon, Oregon, “but we moved a lot.” “You know how some people fight dogs or chickens?” he asks. “My dad used to make us kids fight and have people bet on it, so I ran off when I was young.”
I’m now wishing like hell that I had a tape recorder going – this guy is like a character out of a novel. Heck I bet I could write a novel around him! I can't make this stuff up! "One time me and an Apache friend of mine were in an Indian Bar in Lucerne Valley..." "Hey I was just in Lucerne Valley" I say, "It's just outside of Victorville in the Mojave desert." "You been there?" he exclaims with a big toothless grin. "Yep -- nothin' there, but yep I rode through it a couple of times this past winter." "Well I'll be damned no one knows where Lucerne Valley is -- is that Indian bar still there?" "There's no bar there at all that I could find" I told him. "Well me and my buddy were in that bar when he said something that pissed someone off and the next thing you know we were surrounded by a bunch of Indains just like in a movie and we had to run out..." "Damn it!" I think to myself, I didn’t even have my notebook with me, and I didn’t think to turn on the record feature of my I-phone so I just prayed I’d remember half of these stories. We decide to head back to the bikes, and as we get close to the clearing where we parked he notices his sister has returned home. “Oh crap, I better finish this beer,” he says and then proceeds to guzzle an entire tall-boy can, and then pee it out against a nearby tree.
We walk to the bikes and he says, “come meet my sister!” “Gloria” he yells, “come meet some bikers”. She comes off the porch of the modest home and says hi. I tell her what a cool ruin the silo is and she invites us in to see some old pictures. I can’t pass this up either, so we go into the kitchen and then into the dining room. I assume she’s going to grab a stack of pictures or an album, but to my surprise the two of them proceed to roll up the table cloth on the dining room table and there, under the glass on the table, are a whole bunch of historic photos of the property and the mill and the town. Well it’s a unique place to store them.
It’s hard to believe looking at the photos and comparing them to the setting today how much is gone and how much the forest has reclaimed the land around it. You can clearly see the silo burner we had been exploring, and the houses from the company town. There is really no sign of the mill buildings at all that we had seen although there are some they said.
She looks at Richie and says, “My brother is named Rich”, and “did you know that Moses had three sons and one was dark like you, so we are all related.” “I guess so,” says Richie, and we all head to the door and out to the bikes. Dale says “I’ll ride a ways with you guys if you don’t mind”, and Gloria says, “be careful”. Dale says “she used to beat me up when I was a kid.” “Yep, put him in a headlock along with his other brother, and I’ll do it again” she cautioned. I’m a bit annoyed because I wanted to grab my notebook as soon as we got out of sight and start writing down notes from the past hour or so, but now I can’t.
I told Dale where we were headed and he somehow gets up on his high bike and we wave to Gloria and gingerly ease down the gravel driveway to the main road. We wind and wander for about 20 miles, and drop down across the Green River Gorge before ending up at the Farmers Co-op in Black Diamond where I pull in. All the time Dale is following along behind Richie like a lost puppy dog, with Richie riding right behind me.
We pull into the parking lot and he can barely make a U-turn to park and nearly falls over since his bike is so high (and so is he I think) and hits his horn as he struggles with the bike. He manages to park and get off, and I say “we are gonna turn back to the city now, after I go take a leak”, hoping he’ll get the hint that he needs to head home, “but before we go I wanna take a picture with ‘ya and get your email if you have one.” I run in to pee leaving him with Rich and when I get back he’s busily explaining to Rich that he’s got very “beautiful coloring. like an aborigine”. I try not to laugh while Rich looks at me with a WTF look on his face. “The Europeans ruined things here and made everyone white – I’m part Indian you know...”
I say, OK, lets take a pic, and I hand Rich my cell phone. He puts his arm around me and says, “My you are a big guy aren’t you?” After the "aborigine" comment and the "big guy" statement the theme from "Deliverence" has segued into the theme from "Brokeback Mountain" in my head. He smiles, Rich takes the pic and I hand him a pen and he writes down his email for me. Turns out his last name is one I’m familiar with – an old colleague of mine who was also from this part of the county. I ask if they are related and he says, “I don’t know but if he’s that Senator fella I hear we are.”
Dale gets back his bike and we wave him off. Rich breaks out laughing and says “what the hell was all that?” “I don’t know?" I say, "but I gotta write this stuff down” and grab my pen and notebook and together Rich and I recall as many details as we can, between bent over fits of laughter about the last hour or so before we head back to the city now that rush hour is over.
Sometimes it’s a matter of timing I suppose. Out on the road, one runs into people that for some reason you may never run into elsewhere, and the bike seems to draw them out like flies to honey. If I were a better writer I’m sure I could take characters like Dale and write a novel around them, but I doubt the fiction would be any more entertaining than the truth it seems. Meanwhile I’m thinking I need to leave a digital recorder in the bike – especially if I head out towards Selleck again. You never know when you will run into a Hobbit on a dual sport bike.