Monday, July 26, 2010

More Than Just Pretty Scenery...

In all of my posts about my ride up to, and home from, Redmond OR and the BMW MOA rally I neglected to mention the wide variety of aromas encountered along the way. That's the truly unique thing about riding a motorcycle...a part of the journey lost in a car, windows up, A/C on. And, I guess, for good or for bad, it's what really adds to the experience of motorcycling.

Riding through north Texas there were, of course, the usual stockyards and the usual "olfactory alert" that one is getting close to one or, at least, down wind of one. They are ubiquitous along 287 in the panhandle of TX and, as expected, were in full "ripe" aromatic form in mid-July as I rode past. However, I did ride past a stockyard in New Mexico that smelled of sweet hay, not of rotted manure, and I saw that all of the cows, heads locked between bars, were feeding on huge mounds of fresh green hay.

In western Idaho, riding across I-84 toward Ontario OR, I couldn't help but notice the incredibly fresh and sweet aroma in the air, one that was so strong that even the cattle truck I passed couldn't overwhelm it. It was delightfully heady. At the hotel, as I was leaving to go to dinner, my friend Mike and his riding partner Rick arrived to check in and they also noticed the smell and asked the desk clerk about it. "Mint or spearmint," she replied. Yes!! That was it! It's apparently farmed in the area.

Earlier that same day, riding up UT 30 along Bear Lake, the smell of a fresh water lake hit me and was hard to ignore. It's the smell of wet vegetation and damp earth...a pleasant odor that reminds me of summer camp and mountains.

When I entered Colorado and rode up through miles and miles of fields toward WA state, I was treated to the heady aroma of alfalfa in full bloom. Such a sweet smell! And the acres and acres of fields were beautiful in the morning sun, the dark lavender flowers creating a purple carpet as far as the eye could see.

On our way up to Crater Lake, the Sugar Pine announced its presence by its very distinctive pine scent, sort of a sweet-and-spicy aroma, like no other pine. They stood sentinel along the sides of the road, straight and tall, their distinctive red bark glowing against the shaded wood stands. It brought back memories of a vacation my then-12 year old son and I took to CA to visit Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. On that trip we also visited a steam logging railroad museum on Yosemite Mountain. The narrow gauge steam train took us through dense stands of Sugar Pine and the lovely fragrance was nearly overwhelming.

As I was riding south on UT 21 coming out of Baker NV, I began to smell a familiar odor, but couldn't identify it. It's a sort of "piney" or "spruce-like" aroma and as I rode along the low desert landscape I just couldn't imagine what it was and where it was coming from, since there was not a soul around, not a single evergreen tree standing, and no farming going on. But further along, I came up on a small bulldozer clearing brush away from the road shoulder on this desert-like stretch of UT. He was clearing a wide swath of sage brush. That was it! It smelled wonderful and stayed with me for a long ways down the road.

Coming out of Page, AZ the views to the south are nearly limitless. This gave me a view of potent thunderstorms far off in the distance. But I knew I was getting closer when I could smell it. That distinctive smell of freshly wetted pavement, of ozone, of wet fields. The closer the storms, the stronger the smell, until I was riding into it. Funny how, once in the rain, the distinctive aroma disappears.

Some man-made aromas can be added to the sensory list, as well. Who can ignore the distinctive odor of charbroiled beef when happening upon a Burger King. Or of fresh baked goods early in the morning, riding past a bakery.

Just a sampling of the olfactory experience of motorcycling.

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