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Riding with Neil Peart to THE Gorge Washington

Riding with Neil Peart to THE Gorge Washington

By chance, I followed Neil Peart, RUSH’s drummer to their concert at the Gorge Washington.

For July 2 2011, I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the RUSH concert at the Gorge in Washington state.  What was so fortunate was that a fellow fan from Seattle had two extra front row seats to this Time Machine tour closing show.

Two extra front row seats??!!

What??!!  True.

And he was selling them at face value.

What??!!  True.

At first I tried to enlist a friend to go with me but he bailed and I begged to buy just the one ticket.  As accommodating as RUSH fans apparently are, he easily obliged, knowing there would be other fans frothing for that last seat.

The day after I got to meet Alex and Geddy backstage at the June 30 RUSH concert in Vancouver BC (where I had the crappiest seats ever) I drove down to Seattle the night before the show.  My plan was to leave at night and avoid the Canada Day rush at the border. I found his address and house easily; my ticket was right where he said it would be– in his mailbox outside of the front door of his house, whereupon I ‘deposited’ the payment through his door’s mail slot.  Oh, those trustworthy RUSH fans.

I arrived in Seattle by 10:30 pm and after stocking up at Taco Bell, I continued toward the Gorge on my night mission.  I got to Ellensburg and slept in my truck by the local (crappy) skatepark by about 2 am.  The last time I was in Ellensburg was after seeing RUSH at the 2009 Snakes & Arrows tour where we had awesome 8th row seats which, again we got for face value from another kind fan.  The main differences from that time then in Ellensburg were that I wasn’t alone (I was with a dear, dear former spouse), we stayed at a hotel (not in my truck) and that we were returning from the concert.

On Saturday July 2, I was so excited that I woke up at 6 a.m. and skated the crappy park for a bit then drove to a local grocery store by 8:00 am.  I stocked up on a new ice cooler for 10 dollars (regularly $45!), 2 bags and a brick of ice, tons of excellent local produce, and ingredients for a big day’s worth of juicy sandwiches.  I also wisely bought a 48-pack of water for $3.99.  It was already 81 degrees at 10 am in Ellensburg.  Yikes!

I gased up and left by about 10:00 am toward the Gorge, a remaining distance of about 55 miles.  I was constantly early on this mission, which allowed me to take my time and enjoy the sights, the people and drive safely on this extremely busy weekend.  There were so many trucks towing boats, ATVs, other cars, RVs weaving and puttering, crazy trucks with shotguns, and the vehicles of decorated RUSH fans.  In fact, the night before, a giant truck towing a 30 foot boat was weaving for at least 5 miles as I sought to pass him down a hill; it was quite frightening in the pitch black.

I got to the Gorge’s Vantage Bridge crossing at about 11 am and then decided to stop at the Wild Horses Monument. Again, I was pretty charged up, so excited, I decided to hike up the hill to the monument it self.  Once atop that mini-mountain, I had a stunning view of the Gorge river miles to the north and south, and great vantage over the river to the petrified forest. I snapped various photos for 10 minutes, enjoyed the view and decided to hike back down.  It was funny hiking both up and down; there were many other visitors clearly out of shape (blimpies) whom I had to skedaddle around non-stop.

On my descent, I got so frustrated (and yet excited) that I just ran down the steep dirt path until I was sweating at the bottom.  One giant bottle of water and a change of footwear later, I quickly skateboarded over to the edge of the parking lot to take some final pictures of the river.  All of this relaxed travel and taking in the sights was working out with excellent synchronicity so far:  no wait at the border, light traffic at night, easy drive and beat the tourists to the top of the Horses, all this while I was just slightly ahead of the pack.

Another bottle of water, a juicy apple, and I was back on the I-90 for just one more exit about two miles away.  I had hardly hit a steady 60 miles per hour when Exit 143 came upon me: Silica Road—route to the Gorge.  Turning right down the long and straight off ramp, I slowed down toward the 4 way stop where I would turn west.  Just several hundred feet short of the stop sign and with no oncoming traffic ahead, in my rear view mirrors I saw three figures on motorcycles rapidly approaching from behind.

I easily made a safe left turn onto my lane of Silica Road and figuratively scratched my head.  I thought to myself: if those bikes actually turn left to follow me, then that will only mean one thing.  Judging by the size and colors of their bikes and attire, that group of motorcycles could only be Neil Peart, Michael Mosbach and guest, possibly Brutus.  My heart pounded and I sat up extra high in my seat.  I was bristling with a specific energy that I had never experienced before.  Sure enough, they turned left and were soon my tail.  Up close behind me, I then verified their BMW motorcycles and the colors of their jackets. I was shrieking to myself, “Holy sh! No way! Holy sh! It’s them! No way!”.

I chuckled aloud with merciful success: “I couldn’t have timed it better…no way! Woohoo! Unreal! It’s Neil!!!  This is awesome!”

I rolled my window down, cranked the currently playing Caravan to 11, and kept a speed just a bit over the limit.  It was so perfect: I had escaped the urban lives, scooted in advance to the Gorge, and now I was leading Neil Peart to the Gorge. Unreal! No other traffic around except the white VW beetle we soon approached; that beetle travelled its own speed.  Meanwhile, Neil began to prepare for a pass, after deking left a couple times to view his horizon ahead of me on the road.  This was my cue to back off a bit—to give them a smooth and lengthy passing distance.

Once he recognized my speed reduction and slight veer to the shoulder, he found his moment.  He torqued his BMW bike and careened to the open oncoming lane and let his caravan follow; in rehearsed unison they safely and relaxingly passed me, only speeding as necessary to make the clean pass.  As Neil led the pass and traversed my truck and I, with Caravan cranked at 11, I removed my sunglasses, prepped my camera and gave him a huge thumbs up, amazed smile and attributed a head-bob to signal my enthrallment.  He did see this, as soon as he was out of my blind spot we were each making eye contact; Neil for his safety and assured ‘pass’, me for the sheer thrill and proof.  He passed, gazing briefly, and gave a slight nod as he kept accelerating straight ahead.

One after the other, Michael and guest also made safe passes behind their leader, and soon after they were onto the beetle’s tail. I would not let a beetle putter its way between me and my favorite drummer-lyricist.  Without appearing to tail them, I caught up to them all juuust enough to be in passing distance of the bug, but not so close to appear as a ‘chase’.  In under one minute of driving/riding together, we were all ready to get past the VW.  The trio of Westside Beemer Boyz dashed past the VW and the bug also sped up.  I accelerated enough to keep in pace and at the next straightaway I jammed out the pass myself.

It was not too surprising the next distance I had to shorten between us; they had really taken off through the next span.  I gunned it intermittently to stealthily regain my fourth position.  Just as I maintained proximity, and before a next right hand turn on the road, they suddenly slowed RIGHT down.  Aha!  There was a speed trap!  But coincidentally, the trap’s trooper was already busy with a different speeder, pulled over and ticketing.  This situation, like clockwork, really put the four of us back in our tandem caravan. What a fluke!

For the rest of the drive, I snapped a few photos, and kept the RUSH blaring.  The WBB (Westside Beemer Boyz) maintained a cautious speed; and yet we were also getting close the amphitheater.  Suddenly after another right bend on Silica Road, we arrived at Gate C.  The WBB slowed right down, and paused at that gate.  I knew that it was the wrong gate, particularly for the artists, so I slowed down to a crawl and passed them on their left.  I drove at a safe speed and direction to pass another wave, smile and thumbs up to Neil, who led that quick pullover contemplating Doofus and Dingus’ GPS instruction.  Pretending to see a mailbox, or with a need to also contemplate that gate, I too, pulled over on the right, fifty feet ahead of them.  I saw that Michael was approached by a gatekeeper and he waved them to the next gate, Gate B.  Safely driving through the new commotion and activity of the venue’s surroundings, they resumed their trek.

Through my left rearview mirror, I saw the gatekeeper wave them forward and I lurched slowly ahead into gear, and soon stopped at the shoulder of Gate B, the artists’ entrance.  It was then that Neil passed me again, this time with his visor drawn up and sunglasses on.  He passed me at a crawl to a stop, and again, I gave a thumbs up, a huge grin and my aura of enthusiasm.  I assume he accepted this, as he looked to his right, and nearly through me for several seconds before offering a decent nod, while he waited for this third gatekeeper.  The trio reconvened, then were let into this entrance, roaming off down the last road toward the backstage areas.

Satisfied, encouraged and thankful to our Clockwork Angels, my latest and only solo journey from Vancouver, British Columbia to the tour’s closing gig at the Gorge, Washington was complete; an unforeseen blessing to share my physical space with that of one of the world’s greatest drummers and lyricists; having only forty hours prior, shaken hands, photographed and personally expressed my glee to Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson; from seats in the bleachers to the front row; to a photograph of my faithful 1984 front row RUSH banner appearing on RUSH’s own website; to a safe yet exhilarating concert vantage beneath Alex’s stage entrance to The Spirit of Radio and pedal board, to the final notes of Working Man whereupon Geddy thanked the fans for “a f***ing AWESOME tour”.  Yes it was. 

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