Before I throttled out of Bend and out on the Oregon Discovery Rally, there was drama. On Thursday, September 6, I met Billy and Stacie Benedict of Oregon Dual Sport Rentals & Adventures for an introductory ride. After all, if I was going to ride with them for four days and on their bike, it was only fair that they find out what a novice I was.

We first rode out to Fort Rock, an impressive amphitheater of tuff volcanic rock a half hour southeast of La Pine. So remarkable is Fort Rock that it earned the distinction of State Natural Area. Near the entrance of this state natural area is Bob, an easy talker and camp host. Bob, had been a rider himself back in the day and raced motorcycles across the Arizona desert, before it had roads.

“Have you been to Crack in the Ground?” Bob blurted, as much to keep the conversation going as to point out another geological anomaly.

“Yes,” I lied, not wanting to get into a prolonged explanation of what it was, exciting as it sounded, or how to get there from here.

“What about Hole in the Ground? Have you been to that?”

Dammit. Hole in the Ground sounded a helluva lot more interesting than Crack in the Ground. I couldn’t double down in denial. Not to Bob, camp host and former biker. Moreover, I also had the feeling that Bob would keep rambling off simple noun strings—Tree on the Hill, Rock in the Road, Lesion on my Arse and so forth—until he checkmated me. I didn’t want to be the Cynic in the Desert, so I listened to Bob’s two sets of directions to Hole in the Ground, and we set off down dirt roads to see this carnival attraction.

It must have been the many options that Bob plied us with that made our journey a bit longer. For miles it was dirt and sagebrush in the high desert. We turned down one gravel drive that ended at a ranch. It was surprising in its remote placement and its buzzing liveliness. It had a horse corral with a few horses, a house not much bigger than a trailer, and a barn, out of which came distraught wiry men shaking sticks and yelling strenuously into the din of the motorcycle engines. Oops! Apparently we’d stumbled onto something of protected value beyond the trailer and horses.

As the stick-rattling yellers approached, we spun our bikes and rode off, bumping down the gravel road, anxiously checking our rear view mirrors. Soon a Subaru blazed down the road, kicking dust into a hasty cloud around it.

Thrilling as it was, the encounter was essentially uneventful.

Billy was riding cleanup—last of the three. Stacie rode up front. The car gained a nose on Billy and angled him to a stop. Out jumped a small, but muscled troll who resumed the antics he had began at the ranch. I couldn’t tell if he was the serious sort of billygoat, who would later procure guns from his car, so I dismounted and set about a plan of gradual height intimidation as I walked slowly into the conflagration.

I’m 6’1″ by ruler but never felt an inch more than 5’10 around my big brothers. Nevertheless, I’d play Rooster Cogburn to his Tom Chaney. The idea in these matters is to cover the intervening distance slowly enough that his appreciation of our relative size plays out over a time and space and fear. The trick, I take it, is not moving so slow that he has time get to the car and assemble his weapons of mass crop protection.

Billy was busy assuring the animated character that we meant no harm, succeeding with only partial phrases between the other’s outbursts.

The driver’s door of the running car was flung open from the driver’s hasty exit, and there was no one else within. Relief. I strolled up next to the sun-baked commotion that was this spewing source of discontent. I stopped only when I could almost rest my chin on his much lower head in case he just needed a hug.

Ambiguity sometimes helps. I put my arm on his shoulder and left it there to comfort and to threaten.

Only then did I see the problem. His lemur eyes blazoned and spun around their pupils. Any counselor worth his dope would diagnose that something was amiss, if not worse. This also ruined the confrontation as being between two rational beings.

Reason can sometimes be an effective tool, even against a drug-crazed desert rat. Sounds crazy, I know.

In a voice artificially deeper and calmer than the situation inspired, I offered, “I think there must be some understanding,” my hand still on his shoulder, which I calculated, at that point to be a good thing or related to a numbing side effect of whatever complete formulary he had ingested, smoked or shot.

“We made a wrong turn. So what’s the big problem?” I said.

“Well, we’ve just had a lot of problems with theft lately,” he squirmed. “Are you cops?”

Are you cops? Honestly, to what school of thievery do these unindicted scholars belong?

We came to a mutual agreement that we were not, in fact, any form of law enforcement, not even DEA. Though, given the alleged spate of burglaries that had happened at our friend’s ranch, a little parade of law enforcement, I thought, would be met with a friendlier reception. With these little clarifications clarified, the wiry desert weasel softened and apologized.

All better now, we took back to our bikes and rode out to Bob’s Hole in the Ground. This was my first day back on a bike. 

Kevin Max
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