Motorcycles at Stonehenge: Ride of the Valkyries

Valkyries, Volcanoes and Valhalla. From the December 2003 issue of _Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine. By Tad Hetu.

Saturday, June 21: The Summer Solstice. The first day of summer and a typical Oregon June day: rainy. Ordinarily the inclement weather would be an excuse to avoid my mounting list of homeowner projects and perhaps just stretch out on the couch to watch sports reruns on ESPN. However, for some reason taking a motorcycle ride on my Honda Valkyrie sounded good today despite the on-and-off-again rain. When my buddy Eric called me that morning with the same idea and wanted to know if I was interested in joining him for a spin, I seized the opportunity. Little did either of us know what a strange trip lay ahead.

Eric rides a Harley-Davidson Road Glide, while my taste runs toward the flat-six-powered Honda Valkyrie. Over the years we've continually traded friendly jabs, Eric making comments about my RV-ish Gold-Wing-inspired cruiser and me pointing out that his Harley-Davidson buddies often appear to be a bunch of rugged individualists all dressed alike. But at the end of the day we both know it's about the sport of motorcycling and friendship, things we have shared for years.

We elected to head east out of Portland and up the Columbia River Gorge into the high desert that lies just over the Cascade Mountains. In the desert we would be offered a higher probability of drier weather, or at least warmer rain. The Columbia River Gorge is a National Scenic Area that offers some of the most spectacular environments in the western United States. With the Columbia River carving a 4000-foot-deep canyon through the Cascade Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean, this area provides great scenery and motorcycle-friendly roads.

We headed out that morning battling through Portland city traffic and crossed the interstate bridge separating Oregon from Washington. An immediate right sent us east up Washington State Highway 14, which parallels the Columbia River. This route quickly transitioned to a broad two-lane road following the river's edge. After about 85 miles our tanks were still had fuel, but our stomachs were growling, so we made a planned stop at the Inn of The White Salmon to grab a bite. This B&B; has been around since 1937, and is known to offer one of the greatest breakfasts in the Northwest. Normally reserved for its overnight guests, meals are available for drop-ins if space allows, but reservations are recommended.

As we pulled up to the Inn, I noticed a black and silver Valkyrie already parked there. It wasn't hard to pick out the Valkyrie rider, sitting alone, with a leather jacket and a helmet on the empty chair next to him. Feeling especially friendly that morning, Eric and I strode over and asked if we could join him. He welcomed us and we sat down as the Inn's host poured us steaming cups of coffee.

Over the years I have encountered many fellow Valkyrie riders around the greater Portland area. Maybe that is why this guy looked vaguely familiar, or had I seen his face somewhere in another context? I just couldn't quite place him. He had the weathered look of someone who had been on the road awhile; maybe 75 years old, maybe older, it was hard to tell. We learned that our new friend went by the name Dick and was originally from Southern California, though he said he had spent a lot of time on the East Coast. As we picked up some wonderful pastries from the buffet table and waited for our breakfast entrees to arrive, Dick shared his story with us.

He told us how he had been doing this ride every year for a long time, that he was headed for a sort of rally, a gathering really, which was not generally known to the public. "Every year on the first day of summer," Dick proceeded to explain, "the sun rises at a point that is farther north than on any other day. In England, the sunrise appears on the horizon in direct alignment with the massive heel stone of Stonehenge, an ancient monument built during the same era as the great pyramids of Egypt. Little is known of the origin and builders of this mystical structure, but rumors and undocumented observations of strange phenomena abound.

"Much is written about England's Stonehenge, but little is spoken of a second Stonehenge. This second Stonehenge is the only other intact, and most importantly, operational Stonehenge remaining in the world other than the English site. It stands in the unpopulated high desert not far from here, and continues to be kept secret to all but a select few who understand and appreciate its significance. That's where I'm headed today."

"What do you do up there?" we inquired.

"Well, I am not supposed to divulge any of this, but I'm old, tired, and if not chosen this year, I won't return. You two look like decent folk, and at least one of you rides a Valkyrie, so I will tell you. This Western- Hemisphere Stonehenge where I'm headed is aligned such that on the prescribed day at precisely noon the sun shines down and is reflected off the walls of the almost mile-deep Gorge, precisely lining up with the Stonehenge heel stone. At this time, with the particular configuration of the sun, unique Gorge geography and alignment with the Stonehenge obelisks, it is rumored that one can observe the Valkyries coming through the Gorge out of the summer sun.

"The Valkyries are warrior-maidens who include Reginleif, Svava and Brunhild who serve Odin the chief of the Scandinavian kings. The name Valkyrie means "choosers of slain warriors" in the old Norse language, and their role is to patrol the battlefield and select the bravest of the brave. The Valkyries decide who will be taken to reside in Valhalla. Once in Valhalla, warriors spend their days in valiant combat and nights feasting until Ragnarok, the new era of peace and love.

"On this, the seventh day of the week most near the longest day of the year, the Valkyries come to the Western-Hemisphere Stonehenge to select warriors who have fought the good fight, and escort them to Valhalla. The worthy are chosen from among those who have seen fit to honor the legends by their selection of the chrome and steel six-cylinder Valkyrie namesake."

We found all this a bit hard to believe and didn't want to be rude, but told Dick we were out for a fun ride, not to escape reality through fairy tales. "To each his own," Dick replied. "But if you're looking for a nice ride, why don't you join me and see for yourself. Your buddy on the Harley should hang back once there, but you and your Valkyrie can be front and center."

After settling our tab for breakfast, we mounted our bikes and proceeded to head up the Gorge with Dick. The ride became increasingly more arid as we continued east, gained altitude and entered the high desert on the eastern side of the Cascade Range. The road snakes through the Gorge formed by the Columbia River, cutting a path into the mountains. As we traveled, we passed several motorcycles parked along the road overlooking the Gorge. This was normally not an odd sight, except the riders were nowhere to be seen and all the bikes were Valkyries. This only piqued my curiosity, and I began to feel a growing sense of anticipation for whatever we would find ahead.

Dick led us up the Gorge and over a narrow, twisty mountain road through Klickitat County. The path was daunting. No guardrails, and hairpin turns that if overshot would quickly topple you thousands of feet below. After running this gauntlet, we finally broke through to the top onto a desert plateau with panoramic views of several mountains. Not your ordinary geological bumps that often pass for mountains in much of the country, but mountains of volcanic origin rising 8000 to 14,000 feet from their near sea-level surroundings. At least one of them, Mount St. Helens, is now 1300 feet shorter after blowing its top during a violent eruption in 1980. Considering that we started the day at an elevation only 200 feet above sea level in Portland, the view and climb were spectacular.

After about an hour riding through the desert, we came to Stonehenge. Nestled high above the Columbia River Gorge on a desert plateau within view of four temporarily dormant volcanoes sat the huge stone obelisks. All the stones were perfectly placed; nothing was falling down or in ruins, as I was accustomed to seeing from pictures of the English Stonehenge. But the truly bizarre element was that nothing and no one was there except Valkyries. Not Valkyrie warrior maidens, of course, but the "made in Ohio by Union workers" variety of Valkyrie. And not just a few, but what seemed to number into the hundreds_--_and they kept arriving. Valkyries and their riders were everywhere.

We wandered around and chatted with the group. For an instant all noticed a strange glowing light that seemed to emanate from the center of the monument. I thought it might be the reflection from the long-awaited and rarely seen summer sun in Oregon, but others seemed to think it was something else.

The time of the sun reaching its precise point came and went. As quickly as the assembly of riders came to be, they began to disperse. Before we left we glanced around for Dick, but he was nowhere to be seen. Had he been pulling our leg all along, or was there really something to his story? Maybe he snuck by us while we were gazing in another direction...or maybe he did leave with the Valkyrie maidens.

As for me, am I really sure any of this happened that afternoon? It's hard to tell. If the photos we brought back hadn't documented the event, I probably wouldn't believe it either. I do know that the only way to be really sure about all this is to head up to Stonehenge next year on the seventh day of the week nearest the Summer Solstice (that's Saturday, June 19, 2004) to see if any of this is repeated. I am not at liberty to divulge the location of Stonehenge with traditional directions because we were sworn to secrecy, but if you put the coordinates 45 degrees 41.672 minutes north latitude by 120 degrees 48.365 minutes west longitude into your GPS and plot a course, you can come and see for yourself if the Valkyries arrive again in '04.

I know I will be there.

Additional Information on the Web

History of the Valkyries:

Columbia River Gorge:
www.explorethegorge.com

Inn Of The White Salmon:
www.innofthewhitesalmon.com

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Photography by Kirk Baumann, Bruce Hansen and Tad Hetu
Rainy day on the Columbia River.
Click the photo for a wide view of the Gorge.
Bite me?
The "second Stonehenge."
Will he be chosen by the Valkyries?
Nice ride or fairy tale?
Valkyries were everywhere.
Valkyries of every color...
The moment of revelation...
What became of Dick?