The air was hot even as it blew against me and around me as i traveled down marine Drive. On my right was Portland International’s runway 28 and to my left was the Columbia river. Separating me from the runway was 200 foot wide strip of scrub brush and weeds. Separating me from the river was a strip of sand cast into dunes with a large berm right beside the road. My Kawasaki was humming along happily, its exhaust humming a mellow note that seemed to harmonize with the sounds and activity on both sides of me. Everything from small twins and business jets up to jumbo jets thundered and clawed their way into the air at a rate of one every minute or two. On the river, people pilots speed boats towing skiers, tug boats pushed and pulled barges, and sailboats glided along with their bows cutting the surface like a knife.
I was wearing cut off jeans, loafers without socks, and a tee shirt emblazoned with a faux dog food label declaring Nutrition In Every Bite for that Wag Every Nite. Burger Bits. I was wearing my helmet, a bright orange sphere that looked like a pumpkin. I’d glued the tail of a ripped up stuffed leopard I’d found by the side of the road one day.
Traffic was pretty heavy, with drivers using Marine Drive to pass from 82nd Avenue to I-5 where it crossed the Columbia via the Portland/Vancouver drawbridge, or to do the reverse. I tired of the congestion, light as it was and guided my bike up and over the berm and into the sand apron running along the river side. Riding on sand takes a different kind of balance. It’s not difficult, just different. Like driving in a consistent drift in a car, the bike’s tires moved laterally in addition to the forward motion. It was fun.
Using the undulation of the dunes, I hopped from the crest of one dunes to the next, reveling in the feeling of the wind, the warmth of the sun and the smells of the river mixed with jet exhaust. I crested a larger dune and came to rest, putting a foot down next to some little brush trying to eke a living out of the nutritionless sand. After the third searing sting I looked down to see that I’d put my foot so it covered half of the entrance to a yellow jacket nest. The angry insects burst from the hive and formed a cloud all around me. I twisted the throttle wide open and dropped the clutch thinking I had to get away from this spot RIGHT NOW!
The front wheel came off the ground and the back wheel dug into the sand and I began to accelerate. The position of my legs on either side of the motor and gas tank formed a kind of funnel that guided the enraged yellow jackets right into my crotch and abdomen. I could feel each of the stings like white hot embers. The faster I drove, the more the wind of my motion forced the yellow jackets into the cusp of my legs and body. In searing pain, I hit the brakes and dumped the bike on is side and used my momentum to carry my flailing legs to the water’s edge where I took a few steps into the water and dove.
I found my footing and stood up, the water a little more than waist deep and found there were still yellow jackets patrolling for me. I ducked back under the water and swam, frog like, for about 50 feet with the current of the water. That’s all I had breath for, being winded from the events. Looking back upriver I could still see a cluster of the tenacious winged devils, but they seemed no longer interested in me. Instead they were focused on the last place I disappeared. I waded out of the water and took tentative steps toward my dropped bike. The engine was still running and the back wheel was turning and slowly digging a little trench in the sand. I didn’t see any of my tormentors, and so I recovered my bike and powered back over the berm to the side of Marine Drive.
I had about ten or so stings, the most of which were on my inner thighs. Riding the bike inflamed them and the material of my cutoffs irritated the little raised lumps. Beyond caring, I pulled over, got off my bike and pulled my shorts down so I could get access to the stings. A few of them still had stingers embedded in me, the little sacks that were yanked from the yellow jackets pulsing and still pumping venom into the stings. I pulled them out, one by one. None of the passing cars seemed to pay any attention to me at all. Finished pulling stingers, I got back on the bike and rode home where I made a paste of water and baking soda and daubed it on the stings.
I reflected on how such a great day went so quickly into the dumpster as I spent the rest of the afternoon watching cartoons and eating aspirin while holding cold bags of frozen vegetables on the worst of the stings. By supper time they’d stopped hurting, the waves of pain synchronized with my pulse faded to nothingness.
Next day, armed with four cans of Hornet and Yellow Jacket killer I returned to the scene of my attack, looking to kill the members of the underground fortress. Another fine day, I searched up and down the river side. I found the little bush where I’d rested my foot and started the debacle, but I could find no sign at all of my tormentors. I rode up and down the sandy shore for two hours and didn’t see a single yellow jacket. I didn’t even see a moth or other flying insect. Feeling disappointment, I rode back home.