In her RedRoom Blog posting on September 15, 2008http://www.redroom.com/blog/susan-browne/missive-crescent-city#comment-10908Susan Browne wrote “Elk Crossing sign! Are they kidding? But I slowed down. And then I saw an elk. What a grand creature, pacing elegantly across the lawn of someone's house!I'm fourth generation Californian, but I fell in love all over again, even deeper and harder, on this drive.”
Ah, yes...falling in love with California all over again. It happens to me ALL the time – most especially when I’m out on the road on my Harley.
The first time I noticed the Elk Crossing sign near Crescent City I got all excited in anticipation of the possibility. I was on the way home from a month long, 15,000+ mile, solo motorcycle tour of 13 Western States. Rather than blast straight home to California on I-5 from my son's house in Washington , I called all my clients from a payphone in Portland and told them I was "running late" (didn't tell them it was on purpose, of course) and turned West to find my way to the Coast Road home. That's the way I originally rode out of the Bay Area on my first solo journey on that Harley and I thought it was fitting that I should return from this trip via the same route. Close The Circle. Besides, the North Coast is oh, so seductive. Riding the Coast Highway has a feel that I imagine is akin to riding through a time long long before before.
And, the reason I got all excited about the Elk Crossing sign that day was that I had just barely two weeks before been in Yellowstone where I’d been an accidental participant in a Buffalo Crossing. I was out cruising the park one day, soaking up the sun, sights, sounds and sheer grandeaur of it all. As I neared a bridge crossing over the Yellowstone, I saw some black dots moving on the grass below , and I stopped in the road to look to see if they were Buffalo. I was in luck! They were - a large herd coming up the hill from the river toward the road. WOW! Buffalo Crossing! How neat is THAT? I thought. I let the herd of impatient SUV’s behind me go ahead so I could ride at my own preferred pace (too slow) and look at the Buffalo as I pootled along behind. As the last two or three of the cars reached the other side of the bridge, so did some of the Buffalo and traffic stopped - dead. And there I was stuck in the middle of the bridge. THAT was when I realized that not only were The Great Beasts coming up on the side of the bridge in front of the cars but they were passing the cars and coming straight toward me. And there I was unprotected at the very rear. Cut out of the herd. Vulnerable. But, I wasn’t really worried. My superior civilized city slicker mind decided, for some reason, that there was Nothing to worry about. Buffalo do not cross bridges.
The cars ahead managed to inch forward and clear the herd, but my Harley decided, at just that last possible moment when I could have made my escape, to run out of gas and stop – dead. By the time I'd figured out what the problem was and switched to my reserve tank, I was facing an advancing wall of massive heads with big horns, beady little eyes and almost-overpowering smell. Crossing the bridge! And, as I finally managed to fire up the engine again (VROOM! LOUD!) one of the smaller members in the vanguard – I believe it may have been an adolescent bull – decided to take exception to the noise ( I blame it on the Thunder Headers...), stepped forward, stamped his front feet, lowered his head, shook it violently, and snort/bellowed at me. OH SHIT! I’m gonna get trampled to death by Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Well, actually, that’s kinda cool. I can see the headlines now. “BUFFALO’S REVENGE: GRANNY ON HARLEY KILLED BY RAGING BULL ON YELLOWSTONE BRIDGE!” (and, oh, my, what a legacy that would be to leave my grandchildren, hey? My grandma was trampled to death by buffalo in Yellowstone while riding her Harley... )
As cool as that headline (and legacy) might have been, however, some vestigial instinct for survival kicked in and, without thinking, I cut the engine. That’s when I started to realize that American Bison are not the most intelligent species in the American West. As soon as the Harley went silent, the brave young bull (job well done, you'll have many strong calves when you take over the herd) stopped threatening, ceased to be a distinct individual, and blended back into the herd. WHEW! Alrighty then, dodged THAT bullet.
And, THAT’S when I started to realize that American Bikers may also not be the most intelligent species in the West. Because, while ALL of my attention was focused on The Beasts Ahead, I failed to notice The Beasts Behind... the rest of the herd (or, even worse, ANOTHER herd?) had been coming up the hill behind me. And had also begun to cross the bridge (but Buffalo don’t…DOH!). And now I was completely surrounded. And as the two groups met in the middle they also stopped – dead. And just stared at each other. Then began snorting and shuffling and trying to sort themselves out.
Dood, you were SUPPOSED to follow us up on the OTHER side.
Hey, I was just followin' HER...
Aw, shucks, Vern, what are we s'posed to do now?
Turn around, go back the other way. No, YOU turn around and go back, we got here first.
Whatchu doin’ on OUR side of the bridge, Esse?
And, THAT was when I suddenly heard the fight scene music from West Side Story playing in my head.
Tadadada DUM, TadadadadaDAda…Boy, boy, crazy boy, keep cooly cool boy…Gotta rocket in yer pocket, keep cooly cool boy…
If this were NOT a true story, here would be where I would insert the tale of how I valiantly fought my way out of the melee…Southside Gang vs. Northside Gang, fighting for control of the bridge... dodging switchblades and swinging tails, BUT, alas, the fact is, they all just stood there in a steaming matted stink, blowing out really really BAD breath, occasionally shifting a skinny rump from one foot to the other, or stepping tentatively forward, or just leaning on each other – for comfort? For a moment I had a vision of myself as part of the herd, and leaned (for comfort?) toward – then on - the cow immediately to my right. How ya doin, Old Girl? Wolves treatin' ya OK this year? She didn't answer. I guess she didn’t even notice that I was there, much less did I register as possible predator on a Harley babbling nonsense in her ear – I must have been just another cow in the herd to her, because she seemed to lean companionably back. PHUEEEEEEEEUW! DANG! What a nasty stink!!!
And, THAT'S when it occurred to me that, rather than be trampled or gored to death, I was in danger of being leaned, or stinked, to death. Oh, Shit Shit Shit, I’ve got to get the feck OUT of here! So, I fired the Harley back up as quietly as possible SHHHHH, SHHHHH, SHHHH...don't make so danged much noise.... and proceeded to walk it through and around and past, muttering Excuse me… pardon me…coming through…on your left…watch it! right behind ya ...until I was out of the crowd of Buffalo…and into the crowd of applauding tourists who had been watching the whole scene from the other side. It was all I could do to remember to put down the kick stand when I parked the bike. And, no, I didn’t climb off the Harley all too cool badAss biker momma ( I ain’t afraid of no…). Nope. I FELL off, with a thud. onto my back, and just lay there staring at the way too blue to be real sky and the circle of faces peering curiously down at me, wondering if anybody was going to notice the wet patch on the crotch of my jeans, but not really caring.
Whoa, there, now THAT was something to see, by golly
Yessirree Bob, yer braver than me, little girl.
Are you OK?
How do you feel?
What are them Buffalo like up close?
Glad you enjoyed the show.
Not brave – peeing my pants TERRIFIED!
Yeah, I’m OK, maybe…just gimme a minute to think about it…
Small, very very small.
Big, very Very BIG.
Um, did anybody think to take a picture? …No? Oh, well , that's ok [in my head: stupid city slickers...and why didn't I think to take a picture? Nobody's gonna believe...]
I’ve been stone cold in love with wildlife crossings ever since…
And, no, I didn't see any Elk that one day near Crescent City...but I will...
Ride EZ, take the long way home and enjoy the wild life...
©2008 Gayle Hansen