by Jon Diaz
Has it really been a year since I wrote a trip report?We just got back from a week on the road. As most of you know, we had stashed the K75’s in the Seattle area after riding out to the MOA National Rally in Missoula in early July. This trip home had been planned since early spring, and ended up being a nice second honeymoon as well. If you are keeping track, that’s one honeymoon per month so far…..well ahead of the national average I imagine. 🙂
We got to Seattle on Friday, September 18th. After spending a weekend with my parents and prepping the bikes with oil changes, we rolled eastward on Monday morning. I had spent some time the previous week coming up with a couple of route possibilities, one route taking us north via Glacier NP, and the other going south toward NE California and back thru Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and we had planned on watching the Weather Channel and letting it dictate where we would go.
Those plans quickly changed over the weekend. We decided to shoot right between the two routes and travel thru southern Washington, down the gut of Idaho, and homeward thru northern Wyoming and the Black Hills. A somewhat shorter route than either of the other two, but still plenty scenic and enjoyable.
We left early on Monday headed for Mount Rainier. The fog had rolled into Olympia the night before, and the trip out the Yelm Highway was pretty cold. But the skies cleared right before Yelm, and the sun was our friend for the next week. We found FS 52 down to Packwood (its got new pavement!!) and took US12 over the mountains to Yakima. I was amazed at the amount of water rushing down the river…..it looked more like spring runoff than late summer.
After lunching in Sunnyside at the slowest TacoBell on the planet, we took the interstate thru the TriCities to WA124. WA124 was pretty dull, so we grabbed one of the cross routes north to get up to Starbuck, and then headed east to pick up US12 again into the Banana Belt Valley. Stopping at the Alpowa Summit brought back memories of past rides during my college days at WSU, and my thoughts drifted off thinking about my old Honda Nighthawk as we continued on to Clarkston to stop for the night.
Well, we wanted to stay in Lewiston/Clarkston. But we found out right away that the annual Potlatch plant shutdown was underway this particular week, and EVERY room in town had been reserved for the various contractors working on the plant. No biggie, we got back on the road, and continued on US95 toward Grangeville.
It started getting cold in the shadows of the mountains as we passed thru the valleys, so Sue picked a turnoff for a town called Winchester about 35 miles out of L/C. We rode into town fighting a blinding sunset, and stopped at a large B&B/dorm-type place for the night. Apparently, it used to be a B&B, but they quit serving food awhile back, choosing just to offer rooms and an adjacent bar complete with decorative Bultacos. The place seemed nice, so we grabbed a room and headed down the street for dinner.
Our restaurant for the evening was the Hiland Inn, which served a pretty decent patty melt and excellent chocolate milk. We got a piece of cherry pie to go, but it mysteriously disappeared after I made the mistake of falling asleep too early without hiding my half. Dough! 🙂
We departed early with headaches after our room got a little clogged with smoke. Apparently the people next door were smoking unfiltered Camels or something similarly potent, and the smoke seemed to go straight into our room. Oh well. The joy of central Idaho on any particular day is that its got PLENTY of clean air, and after a couple of hours on the road, most of the smoke was out of our lungs.
We stopped for brunch at the Pancake House in McCall, and it was terrific. I liked US95 a lot, and wondered aloud why I’d never been on it before…..the roads thru the river valleys were really great. I can hardly wait to go back.
Our main reason for going down thru Idaho was to run the Stanley loop, and we found a short road from Banks to Lowman to pick up the loop. Our maps also showed that a section of the road was dirt, and while that wasn’t ideal, it sure cut a lot of time and distance off the trip since we wouldn’t have to go all the way to Boise. So we tried it.
Our maps lied. This was the best pavement of the trip. As we approached the section that we thought was dirt, several sportbikes pulled out of a gas station ahead of us and zipped away. It was a fun road……great sweepers, no potholes, and not a cop to be found anywhere. Of course, the sporters would have cleared any out for us anyway.
After reaching Lowman, we pointed north to loop thru the pass to Stanley. I was a little let down after the great pavement we’d just experienced, but the scenery was terrific and traffic very light. We stopped at the gas station in Stanley to fill up and chatted with the sportbikers for a few minutes before pressing on…..the clouds were starting to roll in.
We got about halfway down the valley to Ketchum before the skies opened. It rained all the way thru town, but let up around Hailey with brilliant blue skies. We picked up US20 a little farther south, and took it thru Craters of the Moon and Arco, before stopping at Idaho Falls for the night. [The motel was one I have stayed at a number of times, simply called ‘Motel West’ at the intersection of US20 and I-15. The rooms are big, and they have a hot tub and pool.] After a Mexican dinner, it was off to watch baseball and heavy sleep.
Wednesday started out with mixed feelings, as we had to travel thru the tourist-laden swamp of Jackson and Yellowstone, but did it on some pretty sweet roads. We left IF early, and about 30 miles out got into some intense fog from the Palisades Reservoir. Turning off onto Idaho 31, we quickly got back into the sun up the hill to Victor. Idaho 22 took us toward Jackson, and the road up was as steep and twisty as I ever remembered.
Coming down into the Jackson valley, the temps were in the 40s, but the sun was bright and there was no wind. We gassed up and looked for a breakfast spot….eventually found something on the north side of town, and it wasn’t spectacular. Oh well. After eating, we rode into Yellowstone’s south entrance (another $15 per bike) and poked thru the park at 50mph. A quick stop at the lake overlook led to a short conversation with another K75 owner from England who was touring via bus, but he ran off to see the sights before the bus drove off without him. We took the eastern entrance out of the park toward Cody…..again, another nice road down a river valley. Until we stopped for a lengthy construction pause while a road crew ripped down a side of the mountain.
We chatted baseball and toll roads with a couple from Toronto for a few minutes, and then saddled up after the front-end loader cleared the road. The rest of the trip into Cody was alternatively broken pavement and hardpack dirt, and we amused ourselves by watching hubcaps fly off the truck and trailer in front of us. We waved as we passed, and stopped for gas in Cody.
56mpg! Both bikes went 175 miles on 3-ish gallons of gas. Not bad for a couple of bikes only running on three cylinders. Decided that it was too early to stop for the day, and pointed the bikes at Sheridan. Took a great route over the top of the Bighorns and spent at least 20 miles going down into the valley with nothing but perfectly radiused corners and clean pavement. Score another for Wyoming highway engineers.
We arrived in Sheridan, and didn’t find a room at the Super8. This turned out to be a good thing, as we passed thru town and found a GREAT hotel called the Mill Inn on the east side. It was a multi-story (I hesitate to call it a skyscraper) building adjacent to an old grain mill. The room was nice and reasonable, and we walked a mile down the road for a Mexican place I noticed when we had been looking for a hotel. The food was also terrific, for a chain restaurant……and we spoke Spanish to the waitstaff because English didn’t seem to work. 🙂
Thursday morning was again bright and sunny, and we decided to hit the interstate to get to the Black Hills more quickly. Sue pulled off the highway almost right away saying her bike was shimmying, but a quick tug here and there showed nothing wrong. She found the vibration went away over 65mph or so, so needless to say, my arms got a little stretched out from speeding along to keep up. We got off the interstate at Moorcroft, and stopped in Newcastle for lunch. Sue had actually eaten at this restaurant before, during one of her trips to Sturgis, and it was great…..the little old ladies really doted on us and the chocolate milk was thick.
Leaving Newcastle, we zoomed into the western section of the Black Hills, and found some unbelievably tight turns right out of Jewel Cave NP. Following the road into Custer, we went north on 89 to the northwest entrance to Needles Highway. Needles is a narrow little scenic drive of about 15 miles or so. It passes thru some spectacular rock tunnels (only one vehicle at a time could pass), and breathtaking overlooks. We stopped at one overlook and chatted with a guy from Boston on an R1100 Roadster…..he was on a three-week trip. Nice work if you can get it.
I started noticing a noise as we poked thru the Highway. The bike would lightly chirp as I changed gears…..sounded like a bad throwout bearing or something. I modified my shifting style a bit, which seemed to help, but of course I spent the rest of the day wondering how well the vultures would feast after my ancient bike left me at the side of the road. Oh boy.
After exiting Needles, we skirted Rapid City with the intent of stair-stepping south and east toward Winner. However, the route appeared to be very desolate, and since it was late in the day, we chose to ride to Wall instead to stay for the night. And of course to see the famous drugstore, which I had only visited briefly in 1990.
We got a motel after getting to Wall, and walked into town. The ‘drugstore’ was a full block long, and had everything from clothes to knick-knacks to a restaurant inside. I bought a couple of pairs of 501’s, and we walked about their newest addition….the Backyard. The drugstore owners had converted their back alley into a separate area with some small mechanized scenes from the old days, a large dinosaur here and there, and of course, their now famous ‘watering hole.’ Wall Drug had first made its name giving away ice water to weary travelers crossing the state, and they’ve kept the tradition alive to this day. We eventually left the store after inspecting almost each and every room….I rarely do that sort of thing on the road, and it was fun. The rest of the night was spent lounging about watching fall premieres on tv. 🙂
Today is Friday, and we’re in the homestretch. We left Wall and went south to the Badlands, which is an NP of scenic dirt formations. I don’t know how else to describe it, but its great. The road thru the park is also pretty fun, and on this particular morning, it had just sprinkled, and the sun was poking thru the clouds. The park looked better than I remember….and I also recall that it rained the last time I was there too.
We left the park at the south entrance, and headed east on SD44. What little civilization there was quickly disappeared in the mirrors, and there was nothing for miles during the 140-mile jaunt to Winner. We stopped for lunch at a Subway, and continued on thru the heat. After 30 minutes or so, Sue pulled over at a gas station, and immediately collapsed on the ground for a nap, but since this stop precisely occured when a bus full of noisy school kids arrived, sleep wasn’t happening. We downed a Mtn. Dew and continued on….she rode my bike to get a little breeze going thru her jacket, and that seemed to work until we had to make a gas stop at Niobrara. I had gone to this town during the Minnesota 1000 in June, and liked it enough to pass back thru again…..Nebraska is pretty scenic along the Missouri River. The gas station had foot-long FreezePops, which I had never seen before. 🙂
We finished the day after joining US20 west of Sioux City. The bike was still making noise, but it now sounded like grinding, possibly in the transmission or the output shaft bearing. We stopped for gas, and I fiddled with it a bit, trying to duplicate the noise with the engine off, but the transmission, driveshaft, and final drive were silent. $%^&#^&**$ dammit! I resolved to run it to destruction.
We stopped at a Holiday Inn in Fort Dodge for the night. After a dip in the pool, the hot tub, and the pool again, life didn’t look quite so desperate. 🙂 We were about 330 miles from home at this point, and the bike seems like its going to make it wherever we’re going. So we ordered some pizza and watched Homicide.
Saturday dawned with a 300mph wind out of the south. The local weather guy said the wind would change to the northwest sometime during the day, but it never did. We cruised home, constantly leaning over, and finished the day with a 40-mile jaunt on the interstate…..meaning that out of 2600 miles or so, we only rode on the interstate for 250-300 miles. The K75 turned 155,000 miles just outside of Dubuque, solidifying its position as the most legendary motorcycle ever made. 🙂