Thursday, July 04, 2013

the good, the bad, the weird

Last weekend was the annual SFRC Goldrush ride, in which 30-40-odd (very odd) souls ride the best roads in the state to cause drunken mischief in a demi-ghost town called Sumpter in eastern Oregon.

The roads really are the main draw, but once you get to town, things get weird. We set up camp this year in someone's field more or less behind the Elkhorn Saloon, which is in (well, is) the center of town. (No restrooms at the campsite, but there was an antique Tri-Met bus parked there for some reason, with a tarp over it and the windows taped over (not creepy at all) so I just peed behind that.) Typically, you roll into town hot and dirty anywhere between 5 and 7pm on Saturday night, and Alpha Mike hands you his flask to sip, and then you set up your tent and go to the Elkhorn for a cool beverage. Alpha Mike is always the first person I see on arrival, for some reason. Wouldn't have it any other way. 

The Elkhorn is an old-fashioned saloon in that it demands to be courted. Having your way with it is not easy. The Elkhorn will not simply serve you. Time moves at its own pace inside, and it may feel like days before you get that beer you ordered. (Did you order it, actually? Can you even remember? When was that?) There are 42 kinds of burgers on the menu, each more elusive than the last. There's even a Ghost Burger. (Invisible.) 

The Elkhorn is mad with power. Dinner ends at 6.45pm. What are you going to do about it? Nothing. Drink your beer. Shut your mouth. You're in Sumpter. Three people in a row just bought a round for the house.

Eventually you stagger up the hill to where the current SFRC president (shown above in magical power hat) has a cabin. This is the site of the Isle of Stan, in which the younger, harder-headed fellows take spins around a makeshift dirt track in total darkness on a minibike. It's pretty fun (to watch). On my way up there from the bar, Alpha Mike gave me his knife - or more precisely (I later learned), a knife he'd stolen earlier in the evening from some toothless local in order to cut the sleeves off his t-shirt - for protection (as I am a lady and all). I still have the knife and will treasure it always. 

I'd just arrived and been handed a beer when my buddy Hole had a sudden vision from a TV commercial, one of the ones where they smash a stack of styrofoam coolers via bodyslam, or something (?). Unable to communicate this vision in words, he picked me up and threw me at the coolers (we're pretty close to the same size). Light wrestling ensued. We were all holding giant glass bottles of beer this whole time, which in hindsight seems like a terrible idea, but I'm proud to say I did not spill any beer during the whole 20 minutes or so that I was being used as a tool to smash a pair of coolers into bits. (Eventually the heroic John Graeter swooped in and rescued my beer so I could use both hands, which was very helpful.) 

The minibike racing continued throughout. Around midnight it stopped running and there was a break for emergency carb repair, then more racing. At some point there were four people on the bike (briefly). Then it was back to the Elkhorn for a while, our path down the hill lit by styrofoam debris glowing in the moonlight. 

Next day, we had breakfast at the community center, thanks to the Sumpter Breakfast Club's charity community fundraising breakfast. (Really.) Civic duty done, we hauled ourselves to the lake for a swim (well, some of us went on a day ride, but it was about a hundred degrees that day, so I opted for swimming). 

That evening's activity: the Western Olympics. Sumpter was a frontier town, and settling here required many and varied skills. The boys (Zach and Patrick and Peter) had devised a way of reenacting those olden days, but with more tequila and a minibike. 

This was a competitive, timed event, with several stations. First you play cowboy: the time starts and you quickly don an Eastwood-style poncho and sombrero, head to the "bar," slug back some tequila, mount your steed (the minibike, with a stuffed-toy horse strapped to its back in a very undignified manner), and race a lap around the parking lot of the Depot Inn. Ten-second penalty for losing your hat; a man's hat is like his woman. 

Back at the bar, you tie up your steed (or just drop it - easier than finding the kickstand through your poncho) and race across town to the barbershop. Here you shave your customer, which is a balloon, with shaving cream and a straight razor. Ten-second penalty for killing the customer. (I slit mine's throat like Sweeney Todd. I had spent longer than strictly necessary at the tequila bar - ten seconds extra wouldn't hurt.) Racing back across town, you change allegiances, ditching your hat and poncho for a feathered headdress, and take a shot at the target with a bow and arrow. ("Kill whitey," the crowd chanted. Whitey was a stuffed shirt with a cantaloupe for a head.) And done. 

We are seldom bored. 

Other shenanigans followed; one guy got trapped inside the haunted Sumpter Dredge and had to swim to safety through probably radioactive slime or at least industrial ooze; he returned to the bar in his undies, perfectly happy. I got the hiccups and was cured by being held upside-down for like the eighth time that night. Everyone tried on a Joe Dirt mullet wig, even the bartenders. Every mosquito in the valley got hammered on our toxic blood. They must look forward to this all year, like Mardi Gras. 

Next morning I somehow woke up early and mostly free of hangover - my theory is that the Jager canceled out the tequila. Or the mosquitoes drank it all, I guess. Anyhow, the ride out of town is glorious: you go over the mountains on a narrow, winding road that cuts through "the burn," scene of a massive forest fire several years ago. At the summit is where, evidence suggests, every depressed chipmunk in America comes to end it all. Just dozens of the poor little things, flinging themselves at your tires in utter despair. It's sad but you can't focus on it. The scenery's gorgeous and the road takes a fair amount of concentration to ride. 

The rest of the route home was deathly hot but fantastic; I had two ice cream bars and a milkshake, plus one quick swim and a number of buckets of cold water dumped on my head (by request). Back in town, it was Club 21 for burgers and debriefing, then home to unload and take a shower I really, really needed. Good times, can't wait to do it again!

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