The idiot in the beat up, nifty-fifty-vintage, Ford pickup was passing me over the double yellow line and honking his horn as if I was just not racing along fast enough for his impatience and his, much-more-important-than-mine destination. I raged with contemp.
Things were already a little on the tense side for me. Although the day was chamber-of-commerce beautiful, and although I was riding my Harley which is one of the most favorite things on my good-stuff-to-do list, there was the inescapable cloud of my pain-wracked mother who was dying of cancer. I was on a mission to deliver critical prescription medications to her; riding north, just out of Hopland. It was an unusually crowded, bumper-to-bumper day on a two-lane road this Independence Day weekend. The guy had to be nuts.
It turns out it wasn’t a guy and she wasn’t nuts. She was trying to do me a favor. By hand gestures and hollering she was trying to tell me that one of my saddlebags was open; the lid flapping in the wind. I waved a guilty “thank you” and pulled onto the shoulder.
The saddlebag was empty. The precious OxyContin prescription it had contained was gone. I had picked up Mom’s medications at a pharmacy in Novato where it was cheaper than what she would have paid in Willits. Now, somewhere along the 75 miles of road behind me, there was a white bag containing $100 plus of dangerous drugs. But if you considered the street value of the black-market, heroin-alternative, the price had to be higher. I didn’t know how much higher but it was a lot.
Twenty-five years earlier I had been a CHP-trained motor officer working for a small, beach-town, police department in Southern California. I had been riding motorcycles for forty years so I was about as comfortable on one as the average Joe is reclined in his favorite chair wearing his bedroom slippers. Couple that familiarity with the CHP training and cop mentality and you might understand my instant, no-hesitation reaction.
I turned on the flashers (they were only amber, not red, but they were better than nothing) and began to ride south right on the double yellow line between the opposing lanes of traffic. Traffic southbound was at a near standstill due to the holiday congestion but northbound traffic wasn’t suffering any such impediment; meaning that my daring lane position, sandwiched between near-stationary cars on the one-side and others moving at 60 MPH or more on the other, was a touch on the dangerous side and probably bordering on lunacy.
I was completely accustomed to splitting traffic; overtaking cars between two lanes moving in the same direction but this was a horse of a totally different hue. That sense of inanity-level danger never occurred to me in any conscious sense until after I calmed down; after all was done. I do remember thinking that if I got stopped by a cop for reckless driving, and explained the circumstances, he would surely understand. I figured he would, perhaps, even escort me along my search.
All I was thinking, as I scanned the roadbed left and right, was how I might not be able to get a replacement of the lost meds for my poor, suffering mother who was dying of cancer. What would we do for her to cope with the extreme pain? How would I explain the loss to the pharmacist or the law? Would I be believed when I told my story of how I had lost the pills? What if the junk got into the hands of some kids?
Riding along and scanning the shoulders for a telltale white bag, I was white-zone tense and on full alert. Ride safely. Keep looking. Consider all the possibilities. Make sure you are seen by that oncoming car. Don’t go so fast that you miss it.
I finally got to the four-lane and was able to breathe a bit easier but the wider road increased the degree of difficulty in the task as it also expanded the area to be scanned. What if someone had seen the bag fly out of the saddlebag and had picked it up? Maybe someone would beat me to it. What were the odds of my even spotting the bag; assuming someone hadn’t already snagged it?
Later, I would check and be completely astounded to find that the distance was only about 6 miles from where I discovered the drugs to be missing and Squaw Rock where I found them. It had seemed like 15. Suddenly, there it was as I rode around a sweeping bend in Highway 101. A pristine white bag was setting innocently in the divider space between the pair of double yellow lines.
A rush of joy and gratitude surged through my body, overtaking my veins like cool water down the throat on a thirsty, hot day of bucking hay bales. I executed a tight “U”-turn and pulled right alongside the treasure, stopping northbound on the center divide. Reaching down I retrieved the bag and checked the contents. All present and accounted for. Notch one more miracle in my blessed-life stick.
Squaw Rock, which the Russian River long ago surrendered to flowing around, rises straight up on the west side of the river and presents a distinct, rusty-red color on its tall, vertical, east face. Legend has it, the rock gets its name from old Indian lore. A Sanel Indian maiden, Sotuka, was jilted by her faithless lover, Chief Cachow, when he married another. All three were killed when Sotuka, holding a great stone, jumped from the precipice atop the rock and onto the sleeping pair below. The sanguinary moss on the rock face is the legendary result of their shed blood.
I shut off the engine and just sat there. What an extraordinary location to have discovered (or to have lost in the first place) my treasure. It came to me, in that moment, that I had been praying as I frenetically rode and searched for the lost drugs. Thank You Heavenly Father! Thank You Lord! You not only walk our paths with us but you ride them too. Thank You.
No more saddlebag-carry for this bag of meds. I tucked them inside my leather jacket, turned off the flashers and slowly putted on north to Willits with precious cargo intact and my breathing and pulse returning to a normal level … or, at least as normal as it gets when I am on a ride on my Harley on such a beautiful day in this beautiful land God created for us to enjoy.