by Sam Lepore
Part 1 – Madras, Oregon
Beauty in motion.
While drifting along the freeway, dancing between traffic, and feeling the wash of time passing me by, I looked down at the motorcycle beneath me and thought – this is a beautiful machine. If such is possible, it is happy doing what it does.
Thoughts come slowly on the road, like milestones approaching in the distance. Here are some road thoughts.
Why is a motorcycle beautiful?
The beauty of a motorcycle lies not in its form,
but in its function.
You can not see the feelings it delivers in motion.
You can not touch the emotions it evokes in action.
It is a means to an end. And in the end this is one time
when the end does justify the means.
The ride is the reason.
Hello friends. Yes, I’m at it again. This time the goal is to see much of Beautiful Canada (BC actually means British Columbia, but I doubt they will object), and then on to Hyder, Alaska. All of this trip is a “long distance” event. It starts with a barbeque in Bonney Lake and a lunch in Kirkland, Washington – the annual Spring Fling gathering of the LDRiders. Then a week later is the anniversary of Ron Ayers triumphant completion of the 7/49 record ride in Hyder. He visited all 49 states in 7 days (and 1 minute) on a motorcycle. A bunch of us LDRiders who think “Alaska isn’t that far on a map …” are going there to honor him and help him celebrate.
So here I am, On The Road Again. Hmmm. “O”n “T”he “R”oad “A”gain. OTRA in Spanish means “another” or “again”. It fits.
But being on the road after a bit of an absence shows me how easy it is to get out of practice. I did take one long trip this year already which I haven’t written about. Rebecca and I rode 4,633 miles to Missouri and back in April. But traveling alone is vastly different than traveling with even one other person. The horizon is wider when only one person looks at it. (And I don’t spend half my time ‘riding’ my mirrors.)
One of the first things I notice is how far from home I have to get before I feel I am really on a trip. Back where I grew up 100 miles would take you to another state. Here, it is 150 miles before it seems “beyond a day trip” and 300 miles before I am out of the “been there” feeling. This long distance stuff could become a problem – am I going to run out of new roads?
Next I notice how the rhythm of the road draws my thoughts to the future. These thoughts just skim the surface of consciousness while my autopilot handles traffic awareness. There was an excellent article in Motorcycle Consumer News about the concept of mental “Flow”, also described as riding “in the zone”. It is supposedly a difficult state of transcendence to manufacture, but it happens easily for me on a long trip. See Beauty in Motion, above.
Then, after being lost in the why’s and what’s of reviewing the trip preparations, it suddenly comes through to me that I am really “out there”. The geography has changed. The displaced anomaly of the Sutter Buttes floats past. The ragged teeth of Castle Crags knaw at the sky. The hills are already the golden brown of a California summer, more yellow than brown, and smiling in the sun. Riding to the north in the Sacramento Valley, you can easily see both sides from the coastal range to the Sierra foothills. They are closing in to end in one of only two transverse ranges in the state. It is surprising, for a state so mountainous, 200 miles north of its mouth the Sacramento River is only at 318 feet elevation. Gad, this valley is flat.
Then, climbing past Redding and across Lake Shasta one can not help but think of the great forces moldering down under the crust. Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen are the two southernmost volcanoes in the Cascade subduction range. Shasta is asleep. Lassen is merely napping. Both still hold their blankets of snow wrapped about their shoulders. But other scenes are obvious. North of Shasta is a wide valley with dozens of cinder cones and gas vent hills from long past eruptions. On the otherwise flat plain they look like so many pimples. Geologic acne.
Back to thoughts of the trip. Listening to my body I hear I have not sufficiently hydrated for the heat of the day. I can tell from how and when the little aches come that things are out of balance. A quart of Gatorade and a 10 minute nap in the shade of a grassy park fixes that. The back relaxes. The neck flexes. The knees soften. We are creatures of fluid – it does not do well to forget that.
That reminds me of a sign just across the Oregon border in the Klamath Valley. Farmers there have had their water allotments from the Klamath River cut more than half because of a switch in government environmental policy to protect salmon runs. The Klamath Valley is a desert. Without the river water it is a dry desert. The farmers are “not happy”. One sign put it all in perspective for the locals: No water – No barley – NO BEER!
Finally, if you miss those loooong, flat, straight roads where there is seldom a curve and never a change in scenery … if you (pun) pine for Kansas but with trees – then come to central Oregon. I can’t imagine why the BMW Motorcycle Owners club thinks this is a good location to hold their national rally in July but … oh wait, they are from the mid-west, of course – they think straight-flat is ‘normal’. Sigh. Nice pine trees, but 100 miles of straight road with pine on both sides is not what I call enthralling.
Just keep telling yourself … the Ride is the Reason.
533 miles San Francisco I80 I505 I5 US97 Madras
Part 2 – Kirkland, Washington
100,000 miles into Nirvana
My bike turned 100,000 miles on its odometer as I crested the hill into what was once considered Nirvana on Earth. At least that’s what the people believed who called this place Rajneeshpuram. Before them, and again now, it is simply the abandoned crossroad of Antelope, Oregon. A weathered meeting hall, a long gone mercantile, “city hall” in a refurbished shack … refurbished 50 or 60 years ago, that is, and a modern portable trailer for the Post Office. That and a handful of houses fail to recall – or choose to forget – the glory of Rolls Royces and chanting followers of the Bagwan who visited himself upon this peacefulness. It was quite a story back then. On this late spring morning, as I roll unhurriedly past, one man unloading his pickup smiles and waves the greeting of the open spaces still common in the West, as if to say howdy stranger. I am surprised, and pleased, to see the residents are still friendly.
One hundred thousand miles. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it click over. Concentrating on the curves and camber of the climb up the canyon, when I did my next sweep of the instruments, there was 100,002. Oh well, being lost in the bliss of a good ride is a better reward than the false significance of a counter going to zero. Nirvana is where you find it … This fine metal beast has taken me from Mexico to Canada already and it cares not about numbers.
Speaking of numbers, the temperatures sure are weird. I expected variability on this trip, but I didn’t expect the 102 in Bend yesterday to drop to 50 (for the high!) today only 50 miles away. Hey, come on, it is almost summer. But it seems a lot changes within 50 miles. The long boring straights of south central Oregon are instead deliciously wrinkled writhing roads in north central Oregon. Bakeoven Road from Shaniko to Maupin is a real treat with unobstructed views of the Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Wilson volcanoes (when you can take your eyes off the road). And Shaniko is one of those places you have to go to say you’ve been. I could tell you it is “worth going out of the way” … but it *is* out of the way already. Shaniko is a ghost town with a population of 25. The old hotel was refurbished by a couple who retired from the hectic life, and is now a delightful bed and breakfast. Good food in the small cafe, too.
Another change is the palpable shift from desert to rain forest. Dropping down the grade into the Columbia River Gorge is geography blasting you in the face. Blasting as in blowing wind. It is easy to see why this claims the wind surfing capital of the world. These winds are the equal of the moiria of West Texas. Luckily, though, they stay in the gorge. Unluckily, however, so do the roads. I say to myself “I’ve ridden the Wind River in Wyoming … this could steal the name.” Then I turn right toward Mt. St. Helens – and find myself following the (Washington) Wind River!
If you are ever looking for 75 miles of the sweetest two lane road through high and low forest, follow NF 30, 24, 90, and 25 from Carson to Randle. Gorgeous views of the gorge :):) behind Spirit Lake. On a sunny day this would be incredible. On this day, however, it disappeared into a sudden rain shower. It has been a long time since I did the dance of the roadside rain togs, and with no place to stop under cover by the time I could get my suit out I was already drenched. Yes, sir, nothing like wearing steamy duds under your hermetically sealed suit – which you finally get cinched just right as the shower stops. Such is the joy of motorcycling.
The evening BBQ at the home of Bob and Jean is well attended and even better provisioned. Bob is the only back yard barbeque-er I know who has 3 (or was it 4) grills. The international guest list (Harleys, Japanese, and German bikes) was well sated. Lunch on Saturday met at the now traditional gathering place of Cafe Veloce. (I like a place that puts artichokes, garlic, black olives, feta, *and* anchovies on fine pasta!) Again the guests were international, coming from Glennallen Alaska, to get warm, and Phoeniz Arizona, to get cool.
How odd it is for a group like this to be such close friends when most everyone among us prefers to ride alone.
Madras US97 OR293 OR218 Bakeoven US197 WA14 FD30 FD24 FD90 FD25 US12 WA7 WA161 Oroville WA162 WA410 WA167 I405 Kirkland
P.S. As I was preparing to leave, it was amusing to watch a couple men be both enthralled and slightly embarrassed listening to one of our better known female riders describing the ‘market research and product testing’ she suffered through to find a satisfactory urination aid. (If you don’t know … taking alllll that protective clothing off takes time, and time is a premium in a competitive rally.) She gave gripping, dripping detail of why the Freshette ™ is the best solution.
One of the listeners then warned with a nod toward me “ya know this is all gonna be on the Internet …”. 🙂 🙂 🙂
(Reported by your humble scribe as a public service to those women who would rather avoid the research, but do learn from her mistakes and pay attention to which way the wind is blowing.)
Part 3 – Tonasket, Washington
Only a motorcyclist would understand.
When asked at the LDRiders lunch “Where are you going next?”, I answered “Vancouver …” (which is only 130 miles from Kirkland) “… but I’m going to take two days to get there.” So here I am 350 miles east of Seattle, and tomorrow I actually turn toward Vancouver. The motorcyclists would nod in understanding.
Ok, all you non-Washingtonians – the secret they’ve been keeping from us is found out! WA20 is one of the most scenic roads you’ll find anywhere in the West. In several places it reminds me of Colorado, in other places it is Wyoming, and throughout all it is a nearly perfect road surface. I didn’t even know there is a North Cascades National Park, but this goes right through it. And it makes quite clear where the name comes from. The mountains cascade down upon each other with nearly vertical faces right to the edge of the road or a river or a lake. These are as rugged as the spine of the Rockies, but just not at so high a base elevation. Underscoring this with subtle honesty, a sign at the entrance to the small town of Marblemount says “gateway to the American Alps”.
Wanderluck weather is holding. After two days of liquid sunshine while I was mostly stationary, the yellow dry version of sunshine was in the skies as I rolled into the North Cascades Scenic Highway. The clouds seemed to be caressing the ridgetops and the forests answered by giving up wisps of steam to merge in the mist. Where the sun warmed the pavement, trails of vapor danced into the air and jumped aside as I passed. The air felt alive and verdant. It was all quite sensual. Mornings, motorcycles, and mountains are a nice mix.
Did Mormons originally settle Washington? Is there a main temple about 30 miles northwest of dead nowhere in the forest? Why in blazes are the streets in each small town along WA530 numbered 228th SE, 307th SE, 415th SE … ? To what do they give homage? (and Why do these little things bother me?)
This is not high country, but despite the calendar it is still only early spring in the vegetation. The wild flowers are not finished blooming in the deep valleys. Some fruit trees are still dropping blossoms. Winter isn’t severe here, so it must be the lack of sun. But today is a brilliant sunny Sunday, and the little churches shine with overflowing lots of parked cars.
About 20 miles past the sign “last services for 87 miles” I see what I consider a real ‘test of faith’. A man and a woman are riding a tandem bicycle up an incline steep enough for me to consider downshifting to make it easier on the engine. Bicyclists amaze me in places like this. They should either be admired for determination or committed for insanity, but I wonder how good a relationship it takes for that couple to survive the ride. Bad enough to have to fight gravity up the hill, but to be tied that close for that long to every movement each rider must coordinate sounds like more than I could stand. (I downshift, and twist the grip.)
Something else here tests *my* faith – faith in my willingness to believe what I see is not a threat. The Washington DOT has painted the highway guard rails an umber brown. To my long range danger scanning visual sweep, every rail looks like a possible deer in the bush. It is unnerving to have to stop scan and focus on every brown threat, but I just can’t shake the need to be sure.
Needing a rest, I stop for gas in the little town of Twisp and find the punderful Cinnamon Twisp bakery. Their specialty is a cinnamon twist with a lisp – a twisp of an extra loop. And I have to say the three young lovelies who bake the goods are as delicious looking as the pastry. Oh, what buns they have.
Speaking of taste and food … I passed a bumper sticker that had at least a triple entendre. Now I enjoy good wordplay, but is this an assertion of ability, an encouragement for cannibals, or a salacious enticement: Vegetarians Taste Better
Since afternoon showers were forecast in the pass, I timed the morning to get me to the east slope early. Now what to do? Like reading entrails, I spread the map and wait for enlightenment. Oh, look at that. The Grand Coulee Dam is only what … 100 miles away. Sure, why not. A motorcyclist would understand. Once there, a LDRider would say “nice pile of concrete, what’s next?” It earned about 20 minutes of my attention before the call of the road shouted it down.
Unexpected find of the day: the grave of (Nez Perce) Chief Joseph is in Nespelem.
Unexpected incident of the day:
The left turn.
We motorcyclists have to deal with an awareness that most drivers don’t know exist. We have to act as though we are both invisible and unavoidable at the same time. A good rider hopes to identify when a driver sees us but avoids recognizing us.
It was a depression between two hills with about a half mile or more unobstructed view from either hill. At the bottom was a single side road intersecting on my right. The car and I were the only two vehicles on the road. I saw the car begin to slow as it came down its hill. Its slowing made me aware of the side road. Still slowing, the car put on its signal and came to a stop for the turn … but what triggered the warning was my being still about 1,000 feet from the turn. The car had more than enough time to turn but was waiting. He must see me – but will he then decide I am still ‘far enough’ away? (Drivers often have difficulty estimating the speed of a single approaching light.) If I slow, it will encourage him to move. So I prepared for evasive moves.
Sure enough … when I was about 250 feet out (about 3 seconds at 60 mph), he started his turn – then saw me upon him and quickly stopped dead in the middle of my lane. A rider not paying attention often panic breaks, and there would have been no time to stop. Swerving to the right works only if you are dead certain he will not change his mind again and ‘get out of your way’. If you are not dead certain you could certainly be dead.
Having already checked and prepared, I swerved left as though passing a car. The woman in the passenger seat was waving her hands and shouting at him … I couldn’t quite make out her words, but the message was clear.
Kirkland I405 I5 WA530 WA20 WA153 US97 WA173 WA17 WA174 WA155 US97 Tonasket
Part 4 – Vancouver, British Columbia
As I often do when I am in a small town with an unusual name, I asked my waitress at dinner last night what Tonasket represented. She pointed to a mural on a cement wall across the main street and said it was the name of the local Indian chief who lived here a century ago. No one claimed to know what it meant, but at least my question didn’t start an argument like that time in Idaho … Anyway, the mural had the visage of a man surrounded by peaceful features – trees, birds, game, fields – and yet his face was a downturned scowl. Even the waitress said he looked angry, and she claimed it was his relatives who painted the mural. I’m sure there’s more of a story to it. There is always a story in a small town.
Canada, eh! I’ve heard and read lots of stories from bikers who have had difficulty crossing into Canada. Canada is very serious about preventing the entry of certain things, and like it or not the carefully cultivated “image” of the badassbiker has taken a toll … or perhaps imposed one, of extra scrutiny on two wheeled marauders attempting to penetrate the soft underbelly of the Queen’s Provinces. So I prepared for the inquisition – I developed a chant that became a mantra I could expel in one breath: no guns no drugs no alcohol no tobacco no items of commercial value. Why not just go ahead and answer all the pertinent questions at once. (Some at the LDR lunch bet this was a sure way to get searched.)
Just my luck. First thing he says when I shut off the bike, even before I can take my one breath, “Niiiice bike!”. I get the one border guard on the western frontier who rides a Honda ST1100 (his wife rides her own V-Star). They’ve been to San Francisco and Sturgis by bike. We talk about Russell seats, and riding in the wind, and the berry patches on Logan Pass in Utah, and attaching a GPS to a bike … (of course he *does* get his questions interspersed in the conversation :). Our chat goes on so long that 5 or 6 cars are backed up behind me and I’m getting nervous that the people will get upset. Me: “We got quite a line now. Maybe I’d better get on.” He: “Let ’em wait. They’ll think I’m being tough on a biker. (big smile).” Another minute or so and I’m on my way, but not before I notice two inspectors putting on latex gloves as they approach a van with everything disgorged on the pavement in the search area – including the battery. Serious indeed.
Part 2 of most international crossings is money exchange. I don’t like to grow local currency by piecemeal purchases. I prefer to pay one set exchange rate and be done, so I went to the local branch of the national bank. Not having a “relationship” with this bank, I was informed I would have to pay an administrative fee of $10 (Canadian) before I could exchange my dollars. Ok, just add it to the total. “No, sir, it must be paid before.” So how am I supposed to pay $10 Canadian if I don’t have any Canadian? “You’ll have to get it exchanged somewhere else first.” So then I can come back here and pay you to do what I’ve already done? “Yes, sir.” Okey dokey. Instead, I left the local branch of the national bank and went to the only branch of the local bank.
In the lovely valley near the town of Cawston are several wineries. Crowsnest Vineyards was the only one open in the morning, and although I couldn’t taste wine while riding I was curious what kinds of grapes would grow here (I have a fair wine collection). As I expected, most of the varietals are white, but they also do a pinot noir and a “rushed” merlot. The season is too short to build much body in a red grape. Nice visit though. On the way out to the bike I was eagerly accosted by the German owner of the vineyard who wanted to ask about my BMW. I wanted to ask about the wines. It was a hilarious conversation if you stepped back. For every answer I gave about how a GPS worked, he responded with the racking method for each varietal. I explained Anti-Lock Braking, and he divulged root stock pruning. We both went away happy. (Although I can’t believe his claim that a GPS in Germany costs $5,000?)
Oh, yeah, GPS! I am astounded that my lowly GPS III+ has all the small provincial highways in BC! I thought the base map would stop at the border like Garmin’s MapSource and (DeLorme) Street Atlas. Not so! When I randomly decided to get off the TransCanada freeway for a backroad, there it was on the map. Excellent work, Garmin … even if you did have me traveling right down the middle of the Fraser River.
I think BC may have invented tall mountains with clouds. There are so many just lying about around here you’d think this was the warehouse where all the extras are stored. Not having a roof overhead, a motorcyclist can get a sore neck taking in all the sights. BC3 is one of those impossible roads that seems to be going downhill forever, but the mountains never get smaller. The drop from ridge to road doesn’t vary for a long way, and it gives the false impression that the mountains are growing as you pass. Either way, it is a great ride.
Canadians I met in Kirkland warned me about the high price for gasoline. To them I say, Cheap Gas! at least compared to San Francisco. It may change as I get deep into the territories, but for most of the day the price was around 70 cents per litre. Figure roughly 4 to the US gallon, $2.80 C is $1.88 US. The lowest price I could find for no-name gas in SF before I left was $1.95, and the brand names were over $2. This is cheap gas, eh!!
One last observation that has been bothering me. I hope this has a good explanation, since I am not schooled in the ‘necessary’ methods of animal husbandry, but it didn’t look right. I saw a horse standing alone on an unfenced rise just off the road. Its bridle was tied to its right rear hoof by a rope slack enough for it to stand, but too tight for it to take anything more than a half step at a time without pulling its head down. Is this a way to let it loose but keep it from wandering? Somehow, it seems wrong.
Short day. Tomorrow the bike gets a full body massage (scheduled maintenance), then we’re off for bear country.
Tonasket US97 BC3 TransCanada1 BC9 BC7 Vancouver
Part 5 – Williams Lake, British Columbia
Too much time, not enough road!
(Sorry this is late in arriving. My laptop modem decided it didn’t want to talk to the Canadian phone network. I was unable to connect after many attempts.)
There is a standard joke that ends “you can’t get there from here”. Before coming to BC, I never considered it as a benefit in America that you can get to almost anywhere by multiple different routes. At first it seemed perfect that there was one week between the two LDR events – that would give lots of roaming time. Now I find there is time … but there is no where to go that I won’t have to double back on later. There is only one paved road north in BC. Looks like next time I’ll have to get a GS (on-off road) bike and chase bears into the woods.
Actually, it has been a disappointment that I’ve not seen any wildlife at all, no moose, not a deer, not even so much as a smushed squirrel. (In my best Boris Badenough accent: Vhere is muuse?!) Even the “Bald Eagle Capital of the World”, Brackendale, was birdless. It turned out they only spend winter there, but that isn’t clear until you ask around. I happened to overhear a couple, map in hand, asking where to look for roosts. A grandfatherly looking local was having a bit of fun with them, pointing out trees where the birds would build their nests next year (?). They nodded and folded their map. He continued, “Yup, there’s soo many of ’em swooopin aboot, noo one in toown can keep a dog smaller than a full groown husky!” Standing behind the couple, I said with an obvious wink to him “And how many toddlers do you lose from backyard cribs each year?” He slipped right in … “Noo, all the babies hafta wear a bright orange vest with a big X. That keeps the birds offn ’em.”
Whistler was the second disappointment of the day. I had been led to believe Whistler was a quaint western town made over into a ski area – a small scale Aspen. Instead, it is all the worst of Vail – carefully planned sterile condos packed upon each other and nothing inviting you to get out of your car (or off your bike). I rode all around and through the “village” (it isn’t called a town) looking for a place to stop for coffee. Oh sure, plenty of fancy restaurants, but if there is any place casual an cozy, it is well hidden. What first set me off was finding a sign for $6 parking, jeez, this is 100 kilometers from anything that passes for civilization and they’re gouging by the square meter? No Thanks.
There is a ski area above Whistler, and there are plans to build another one north of there. The local Indian tribes have been in the news protesting the taking of their land for development. They announced they plan to randomly block traffic on BC99 (the only road through here) to make their point. I rode past their encampment at the edge of the road. A couple kids waved, I waved back. They had a large sign near their group tent that was painted with the Indian phrase I’ve heard before “When the last tree is cut down, when the last blade of grass …” but that’s all I could see because a huge pile of fresh cut firewood for their nighttime vigil was blocking the rest. Someone unclear on the concept?
From Pemberton to Lilloot (which still is a quaint western town), there is another unbelievably beautiful canyon. Unbelievable because the mountain ridges look like they have been precisely manufactured to always be 1500 meters above the road. Climb 1000 meters up a pass, yup they are still the same height above the road. Dip into the next valley, down down down and look up – exact same distance road to ridge. They are an eyeful, but I’m beginning to wonder if I am riding through some huge model train set. It is too consistent!
When you finally come out of the mountains above Cache Creek, the central BC plateau reminds me very much of the Black Hills of South Dakota. This made a peaceful and pensive close to the day.
Fellow riders – have you ever wondered why it just doesn’t feel right following a vehicle on a scenic road? It doesn’t matter if the driver is smooth or fast, following somehow feels wrong, but even at the same pace – being in front feels right. I thought about that today. I decided the difference is the ‘visual radar’ I have to constantly deploy when someone is in front. Even if they are safely far ahead, every second I have to re-determine range and re-detect velocity discrepancies. It is a protective mechanism that can’t be turned off because most danger comes from the front. But when I’m in front, the ‘radar’ is off and I can absorb scenery (during my normal danger scan). For me, when the threat is behind, it is easier to catalog and control.
Hail hurts at a hundred.
The only time I maintain 100 is when I’m in Canada … 100 kph, that is. 🙂 Late this afternoon, just out of the town of 100 Mile House (a name left over from the pre-metric days), I saw a black-belly cloud squeeze its form between two hills and start roiling on itself. That meant either lightning soon, or very heavy rain. Rather than stop in the open, I decided to head for town … and just over the next rise it opened up. Quarter sized hail, except they weren’t flat. Damn they are hard at speed. Even tucked behind my fairing I was still getting whomped and my hands were stinging. I slowed to about 20 and pulled toward the side to let a pickup pass. He plowed through the collected hail mush and left a track to follow – except he was so intent on watching me in his mirror he almost drove off the road. The storm was over in a minute, but it left a good two inches … sorry, 50 millimeters of slippery mush to ride through – then the sun came out and turned each hailstone into a sparkling diamond.
A good day’s ride consists of varied roads and varied challenges without regard to distance or destination. Today was a good ride on all counts.
Vancouver BC99 BC97 Williams Lake
Part 6 – Smithers, British Columbia
Gas in (Mr.) Burns Lake. Motel in Smithers. DOH! I’ve fallen into a Simpsons episode! Oh, Marrrrrrge!
As I folded the map to pin it on my handlebars this morning, I couldn’t get the words of an old Johnny Horton song out of my head: North to Alaska … go north the rush is on … waaaay up North. (And if you remember, it starts with “Big Sam left Seattle …”.) Ok, now for the test. What was on the flip side of the 45 (record, not Colt 🙂 ?
Every trip has its tweener. My tweener hit me today. A tweener is the day between starting out in high hopes and getting there full of experiences, when you question yourself or your motives. If it is a challenge trip, you might ask yourself was I crazy to try this? If it is a whimsy trip, you might ask yourself why I am doing this? If it is a trip without a clear destination you might ask yourself how will I know when to turn around? Tweeners are like attending a church service if you don’t really have the faith. Even something as enjoyable as a ride on a sunny day can be interminable on a tweener. Nothing happens of interest. Life just goes on, and nothing seems to change. There is no latitude in the attitude. You just have to press on.
BC97 and BC16 continue forever on the open plateau. There are just enough curves and scenery to make the ride not boring, but not enough to make it interesting. It is just a tweener. I wonder if Ron was thinking any of this when he pushed himself through all of BC in less than one day to finish his ride to Hyder? I’ve now been out for a little over 2200 miles, but it is not the distance that matters. It is more that I wonder how far is too far for too little? Perhaps it is best not to judge results with effort.
100 miles per hour.
There was a recent article in a magazine where the author mentioned how he noticed over the years he has spent more and more time getting to a rally and less and less time at the rally. He now thinks nothing of riding for two days, staying overnight, and leaving in the morning to ride two days home. That got me to thinking about “100 miles per hour”. Rebecca and I rode 4,300 miles round trip to Branson in April to spend (I counted them afterward) 43 hours with the IBMWR group. We rode “100 miles per hour” in result, not in effort. Is this the new “P/E” ratio by which to measure a ride? Works for me. About 2400 miles to Hyder … a little more than 24 hours there. A minimum of 100 mph (results) seems to fit. But what about the record holders, how do they look at it? How far is too far for too little?
* How many tweeners did Phil Marvin have when he rode
117,000 miles in 6 months for the BMW mileage contest?
Six months too long for you? … ok,
* How much did Bill Newton think about where he was going when he rode 1,000
miles a day for 30 consecutive days (30,000 miles)? Just because he felt like it.
A month still too long? … ok,
* Did George Barnes ever doubt himself when he rode 13,000+ miles in 11 days to win the Iron Butt?
Want a specific destination and can only spare a week? … ok,
* What did Ron Ayres think of riding over 8,000 miles in 7 days to visit 49 states?
Can’t spare a week? … ok,
* How did (un-named rider) keep focused while riding 2,250+ miles in under 24 hours?
(Note, this was done on roads in a state where speeds were not limited.)
Ok, ok, let’s just go from here to there in one day …
* Morris Kruemcke rode 1,200+ miles ***non-stop***. What were his thoughts of butt burn?
I don’t know why these people do what they do, but they are human just like us, so they have their tweeners too. The good news and the bad news is everyone has to answer for himself how far is enough. And no matter what *your* answer is, it only has to matter to you.
On the approach to Vanderhoof, BC, there are several signs for local businesses. Someone didn’t pay attention to what was on the next sign when they put theirs up: “A.V. Continuous Gutters” was right beside “Downtown Slaughterhouse”.
Williams Lake BC97 BC16 Smithers
Part 7 – Hyder, Alaska
To the ends of the earth. Well, not exactly, but it is my last state.
Getting there is good. Getting back is better.
At last I got to see some wild life. It started with a gaggle of Canadian honkers rummaging beside the road. Until now the closest I’d seen to a Canadian honker was an angry Vancouver bus driver blowing his horn. Then came a few dear and finally a black bear. When I saw the deer I whistled a dear whistle inside my helmet but it had no effect. When I saw the bear I whistled again, and the bear looked up. That’s about as scientific as the published results for deer whistles. Still no moose, so I didn’t try my moose whistle but then after the story of a rider who hit a moose on his way to witness Ron’s finish three years ago, maybe I don’t need to see one up close after all.
Stopped for gas in Kitwanga, I grabbed a snack of fresh hot Indian fry bread. What is it about fry bread – do the Indians serve it because the tourists expect it or is it really common to all native cultures? Whatever, it was good, fluffy, and full of calories. For the second time in two days I was asked which ferry I had come on. Despite the increasing number of motorcycles on the road, most locals can’t fathom anyone actually riding this far. Trust me … when you see a bike “out there” it is more likely it came all the way than rode a train or a boat.
The other day I mentioned the ‘good news’ of my GPS having Canadian roads. The other news is … well, remember the saying that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades? The base map is ‘close’ for nuclear weapons. Follow highway 97 on the GPS and you’ll go about 20 kilometers down a gravel road rather than through the town of Williams Lake. Follow highway 16 on it and you’ll be on the wrong side of the Skeena River … with no bridge to get there. I usually write to Garmin after a long trip to tell them the minor discrepancies I found in the base map. The title for this report would have to be: Canada moved.
After turning north for the last time at Kitwanga, there is suddenly an alpine feel to the day, even at the lowly altitude of 300 meters. First, it is only 5 degrees C at noon, and the trees are mostly spruce and widely spaced aspen. Even the ground cover has diminished to low growth thin grass. With the increasing mountains and snow covered peaks, I’d swear I was nearing the tree line instead of the ocean. The mountains are quite rugged in the last westerly stretch to Stewart/Hyder. There are several places where blue ice glaciers have strained and slumped on the slopes, showing stratiated fissures. The road passes the active Bear Glacier, which flows down around a curved pass into a lake and calves chunks of brilliant blue ice the size of busses. At the end of the lake is an old, partially submerged house that looked like someone forgot to consider the rise of the melting glacier years ago when it was built. It was weathered, but, strangely, a group of men were working on the outside. Later in Hyder I found that the entire house and supporting structures are a new set being constructed for a Robin Williams movie, called Insomnia, due to start filming next Thursday. (And if you didn’t know, Hyder is where the scenes for Leaving Normal were filmed.)
This section of BC37 is the only place I’ve seen any significant RCMP presence. There were three trolling troopers within a 20 kilometer stretch. I wonder – if two patrol cars approach each other with radar on, does each cancel out the other? Or do both units go wild?
At last! Around the curve, there is the sign: Entering Hyder Alaska. The pavement ends. The entire “town” is one block long. There is a white horse standing in the middle of the road, casually observing, as though I am obviously the unusual traffic. No one is in much of a rush here, and the horse knows it. There are already a few bikes at the Inn. Ron is among them. Chatting with him later, I learn he came by way of the Top of the World highway, the long way around Alaska, through Dawson, ‘down’ to Tok and Fairbanks. He’s been on the road since mid May. Talking about routes, he said in deadpan seriousness, “Next time I’d like to plan a longer route …”
As the sun is just beginning to set at 10 pm, there are about 20 bikes in the lot. The locals have already given a name to the group that shows up every year on the weekend closest to June 14 (even when Ron didn’t come one year!): the Hyder Seekers.
Smithers BC16 BC37 BC37A Hyder
Part 8 – Prince George, British Columbia
Observations from the southernmost settlement you can drive to in the northernmost state …
One of my idiosyncrasies is a strong dislike for taking the same road twice in the same trip. I just don’t like to backtrack. No such luck for me getting out of Hyder … or practically out of British Columbia. So instead of me writing again about the same route, you can just read the segment from a couple days ago – backwards 🙂 In its place I offer some collected comments from Hyder.
Hyder is unusual in several respects. It is the only active US border crossing I’ve seen that does not have a US Customs or Immigration post. When I mentioned that, someone said “What could anyone possibly want to smuggle into here?” Got a point there. Liquor and tobacco are cheaper on the US side (which is why there IS a Canadian post at the border). I suppose if someone wanted to “sneak” into the US this way, more power to them. It’s about 75 miles with nary a road through hard and unforgiving country to the nearest port you can get out of, which doesn’t exactly present an influx problem. Although from what I hear, I understand unintentional immigration can be a problem. There was one fellow, a US citizen, who came to visit a year or two ago, and had a minor legal matter outstanding in Canada. Canadian Immigration would not let him back in – even to pass through – until he settled the fine. He refused and ended up staying in Hyder for a long, long, long time. I never did hear how it was resolved.
One other unusual aspect of the cultural mix is the money. Hyder is perhaps the only US town where Canadian dollars are the only currency used. Everything is quoted and settled in Canadian, including the US Post Office transactions – although, because they are not allowed to transact business in foreign currency, their prices are listed in “US Equivalent” amounts. (Now, if this was run the same way as the bank in Osoyoos – you would have to get US money in Canada to bring in to … never mind.)
Right at the borderline, beside the Welcome sign, is a small stone building. The plaque on the side says it is the oldest standing building in Alaska. It was built in the late 1800s as a storehouse by the Army engineer who was assigned to survey this area. He eventually went on to build other things, and Captain Gallard was rewarded with his name on the most difficult section of Gallard Cut of the Panama Canal.
Riders came and left throughout the weekend, but by the time of the celebration dinner Saturday night, there were still about 20 folks (including Ron Ayres’ wife and mother who flew in). Surprise to me, there were three people from San Francisco: myself, LDRider Will, and a young woman who just happened to wander in this weekend on her BMW F650 and had no prior idea anything was going on. Nicole was welcomed and brought into the group. She and I live about 6 blocks apart, and met thousands of miles away.
Actually, something else goes on in Hyder this weekend. Stewart, BC, holds a rodeo that draws a decent crowd, and the cowboys and cowgirls blow off steam in Hyder after the Saturday finals. I was warned that unless I could sleep in a train wreck, the Sealaska Inn was not the place to stay. I did. Anyway, the Sealaska raises some extra money to keep the rodeo spirit alive by holding “De Udder Wet T-Shirt Contest” at midnight. Prizes are given to the contestants by auctioning off positions for 5 judges and 1 hoser. The hoser carries a forest fire backpack spray gun and “lubes the boobs”, as the saying goes.
I was standing at the back of the crowd, watching when the Hoser slot went up for auction. 50 do I hear 70, 75 who’s got 90, 110 gimme 125 … some guy finally bid $150 and it looked like a lock. The fine young lady standing beside me asked “You mean this guy is crazy enough to pay $150 just to spray water on some woman’s breasts?” You could feel the incredulity in her voice. “Yes, it’s amazing what some men will pay for, isn’t it.” She took a sip of her drink then said with a wicked smile, “So, then, who’s really the ‘boob’?” At that, the fellow beside me choked and spit beer over himself.
The contest did go on, and the shirts did come off. The event took place in the backyard patio where a walkway was constructed for the purpose such that “iden-tities” could be protected. (Hey – I only report what I hear.) Baring breasts outside at midnight in Alaska is not something I would recommend. First, there was the minor matter of the temperature being about 40 degree from anything warm, then there were as many mosquitoes watching as patrons. After several, um, rounds of appearances, the judges decided on a tie. I think it is because they had so much beer they were seeing double … of something that already was double. Just goes to show, you may be young only once, but you can be immature forever.
Records are made to be ….
Riders came and went. Some stayed in town for days, some for only an hour. In an earlier segment I mentioned Ron Ayres 7/49 ride which brought us all here. A couple readers not aware of the Long Distance aspect were amazed at his record. Be more amazed. On Friday night, two robust riders from Manitoba rode in to Hyder and got Ron Ayres to sign their witness form. Lee Myrah and Mike Hutsal together had just completed the 48 United States in 5 days 14 hours, then came on to Hyder, finishing in 6 days 17 hours. Not only did they better the record, the did it the long way. They started in Minnesota, made a tortuous circle, and ended in Montana – THEN rode to Alaska. Well done, guys! … They left Hyder 12 hours later.
Brand recognition … the good news and …
As I was packing to leave, a young boy (maybe 5?) in the room next door ran out to the railing and checked the bikes for the umpteenth time. This time he turned and shouted “Dad! There’s still two and they’re both A and Ws!” His father laughed and explained, A&W is his favorite soda. Close enough. But it’s not likely BMW will try a cooperative advertisement.
Riding back into Canada I met a couple riders again and again. They seemed to be stopping at every gas station even though their bikes had extra fuel tanks installed for long rides. Then it came clear. They are checking out the station times for the Iron Butt. It is rumored that Hyder will be a big points bonus this year, and these guys are seriously considering adding a 3,000 mile ride to an already multi-thousand week. Even Ron told me that as he rides around Alaska, he makes an entry in his GPS every time he sees an Iron Butt Motel (picnic table at a rest stop) … just in case. 🙂 You go, guys.
Hyder BC37a BC37 BC16 Prince George
Part 9 – Lake Louise, Alberta
In past travels I have mentioned how there is often an apparent geographical border which corresponds to the delineated border of US states. That is not quite so noticeable in Canada. The Canadian provinces are so massive in size, they span multiple geographies. BC encompasses several of these, from the ocean through the plains to the mountains … did the Canadians just not want as many sub-governments to deal with or did the lower population density determine that they weren’t necessary? Ok, forget that … why is it that the Canadians spell all the -or words with -our (harbour, honour, etc) but when we get to a word spelled that way in ‘American’, they switch? What would be the Caribou Mountains are instead the Cariboo.
Whatever, my wanderluck weather is holding fast. Two days now of intermittent sun while the south and the east before me is being pounded with rain. It’s nice not to be “on the clock” when traveling and so be able to work around the weather. It rained while I vacationed in Vancouver and again while I was hidden in Hyder, but my road days have been good. So far.
Yesterday I described Nicole as a “young” woman. I’m not sure how she would react to that, but it occurs to me that age is relative to one’s own point of view. She is younger than most of the long distance riding crowd. That gave me something to muse about. While there are exceptions, in general it seems the serious riders have some serious age on them. (I, myself, issue from the middle of the previous century, so I am qualified to address this.) Some would say that it is a factor of these riders being in their higher disposable income years and thereby can afford to indulge their interests in good equipment and travel time. But I think it goes deeper. I used to run long distances. There is a parallel in that to mention here. There are not many very good very young marathoners. It takes a lot of time to develop the attitude that can overcome the skill level required to persevere through the challenges of long distance. This is true in riding too. You really have to know your limits and be aware of what does and does not work for you to push through the physical and mental fatigue of a long ride. Bravado and cockiness simply doesn’t last when the only things listening to the decisions in your mind are your tired body and reality. Reality bites.
One surprising item to mention about travel in Canada is the consistency of gas prices. In almost any US city, the price will vary by brand and between the same brand within a few blocks. The price in Canada has been the same (within a penny or two) in all of BC north of the border, except for the high price at the end of the road in Stewart and at one station in the Jasper National Park. I was expecting to get ravaged when I had to refuel in Tete Jeune Cache, with it being the only station in town and none other for 100 kilometers. But quell surprise – it was a few cents lower than everywhere else. The “Race Trac” brand in BC seems to be the equivalent of Arco in California, always slightly less.
While filling up, I saw two hummingbirds flitting around the feeder hung near the pumps. Not knowing these birds well, I was amazed they would be found so far north – they couldn’t possibly make it though a winter here and I haven’t heard about great hummingbird migration flights to Acapulco … Anyway, it is the first hummer I’ve seen with a caramel brown body and a white chest up to its bill. It immediately made me think of “beagle bird” because Blue, our beagle, is similarly tuxedoed.
Much of Canada uses bilingual labeling in English and French. It is not quite as prevalent in BC, but it is immediately obvious crossing the border to Alberta. Big warning sign, which for some reason I could only see the French side and I had to go back and look: Animaux sauvages victimes de la route – 2000 – 118. Translation: Wildlife Mortality (on the road) … so watch out for them savages.
The one road to Jasper passes through a National Park for which entry fee is $5. It was a bright sunny day with a few clouds in the sky while I was digging for money at the entrance gate. The ranger-ette looked up and exclaimed almost with a squeal “It’s snowing! It’s a sun snow shower!”. Such joy. Yes, I’ve been in a few sun showers, but here I was sitting in the sun on June 11 and snow flakes were suddenly smacking me out of a clear sky. Canada, eh?
From Jasper south to Banff is the Icefields Parkway, most aptly named. The road surface itself never gets much above 2,000 meters, but you may as well be on the moon. The wrinkled skin of the continent is young here, and the mountains are curved, carved, and sculpted like young muscles. The faces of many of them are shaved to a horizontal point like great adzes or stone axes ready to slice the sky. Then they are dusted with snow in layers like confectioner’s sugar carelessly thrown on a warm cake. It streaks and melts and collects on ledges. They couldn’t be decorated better if done intentionally. Truly beautiful. But then the name of the Parkway refers to the glaciers that lay all about. It is clear that glaciers long past have carved the mountains as they are. There are no ragged edges, everything is scraped smooth. They melt their runoff into the Athabasca River which looks like it runs so cold that if you were to interrupt its flow it would freeze instantly. The color of the glacial melt is impossible to describe – it is almost unnatural, and it is practically a caricature of itself. It is such a brilliant translucent aqua blue that it looks like liquid ice. If you’ve never seen something like this, go buy a bottle of Glacier Ice Gatorade.
Lake Louise is one of those places where once only the rich came to play. Over time, it has been opened to “the masses”, but it is still not for the faint of wallet. Indicative of this is the great lodge at the edge of the lake. I rode up to take in the scenery and saw a Warden Service sign at the end of the long driveway to the lodge. That’s a fancy way of saying “guard” in green attire reminiscent of an English forest landsman. If you do not have a reservation, you are welcome to park in the public lot, sneer, over there (which leaves unsaid you may not cruise to the lodge).
Though lodges abound, there is limited but nonetheless expensive motel accommodation in Lake Louise, and there is also a hostel in the village. I have never stayed at a hostel before although I am familiar with the concept. Four people share a dorm room with bunks and a toilet, but showers and a common social room is separate. You are expected to provide your own sleeping bag, but sheets can be rented ($1). The bunk price was less than a third of the lowest motel, so why not give it a try. Fine, I checked in and was told I was the last in this 4 bunk room so take whatever bed was open. No one was there, dropped my stuff and went to eat (and write), went back to bed and the other three roommates were still out. Now I’ve not led a terribly sheltered life, but I always thought hostels were segregated with men and women on different floors. I’m laying in bed reading when two of the three other roomies come in. They are 20-something women from Belgium on their first trip overseas. They regale me with their impressions of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary … as they casually and carefreely strip to their panties and slip into their bags.
Discretion kept me from saying they would have taken first place (tie) in Hyder.
Prince George BC/AB16 AB93 Lake Louise
Part 10 – Pincher Creek, Alberta
In New Hampshire they used to say if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. The weather finally decided to crowd the clouds, and the beauties of yesterday were shrouded in drizzly mist. It is still a scenic ride, but the awesome factor is greatly diminished. If you have a choice in passing through here, wait for a clear day.
Twenty-nine kilometers north of Banff, I randomly chose to avoid the clouds ahead, skip Calgary and zip back over the continental divide to Radium Hot Springs. Later, listening to the weather channel, I found this was a most propitious randomization … Banff enjoyed 10 centimeters of fresh snow during the day!
While crossing the divide and coming down the pass, it suddenly occurred to me what was missing in this ride since entering the high country. Although the Canadian Rockies are stunning in their form and density, they are more distant from the road than in the US. The roads in Canada almost completely follow a river through the center of its valley. The roads are “less involved” in the geometry of the geography – even in the passes. Maybe it is because a lot of the roads in the US mountains coursed from mining town to mining town and weren’t laid out along trapper trade routes. This came clear when the closest thing to what I would call a canyon yet in Canada (ok, I’m spoiled by California) presented itself in the last few kilometers above Radium … and then it was signed for only 50 kph. On the positive side, riding through these great open valleys with 360 degree swivel-neck vistas is like sitting in an IMAX movie, but one you can control with your right wrist. Motorcycling is the real time version of the environmental participation movie.
Often when following a road through less settled country you will see “the old road” paralleling it or sweeping away to curve over a hill that the new road blasted through. I like watching these old roads and seeing them adjust to the land rather than having the land adjusted for them. No, I’m not lost in the fantasy of travel in ‘the good old days’ … but I do wonder what adventure it must have been to rumble over a one lane roughly paved track taking considerably more time to travel less distance than we are used to now. Think ahead to what it might be like in oh, say 100 years when someone finally invents an anti-gravity propulsion. Personal vehicles won’t need to touch the ground and can avoid all that friction and bumps … so the “road” surface won’t be as important. How fast will they go? Will they follow specific tracks or use the same roads as today? Will today’s roads become “the old road” that someone wonders about then? (No, I’m not advocating flying cars like were touted in Popular Mechanics in the 1950s. I’ve seen today’s average driver have enough trouble with directional stability without also having to worry about the vehicle dropping from the sky while reaching to change the virtual reality holodisk …).
What stories lie untold down “the old road”? Sometimes it is fun to take the time to ride the cracked pavement with the grass growing where no centerline ever existed. (Be careful about those old bridges, though.) It was one such diversion excursion near Skookumchuck, BC, that led me around a corner to find a mama black bear and her cub foraging at the edge of the road. As I motored by, the cub sat up on his hind and watched with interest. I’ve seen that same look on kids faces many times.
Making a lie of what I said yesterday regarding geographical boundaries, this time as soon as I crossed the Alberta border the land changed to flat endless plain of the great prairie. And the wet clouds caught me again. Think I’ll settle in early and make it a short day.
Randumb observation from the Department of Redundant Repetition Department:
In the town of Municipality of Crowsnest Pass (its full and proper name) there is a tourist information sign for local attractions. One such is the “Bellevue Underground Mine”. Pause … pause … thunk. Are there any that aren’t?
Lake Louise AB/BC93 BC95 BC/AB3 AB6 Pincher Creek
Part 11 – Missoula, Montana
I don’t know how I built up such an account in the Bank of Good Weather Karma, but it continues to pay off handsomely. Having read a report that Beartooth Pass opened last week, I toyed with the idea of swinging wide to take it in. At the last minute this morning I decided it would take me too far east and headed for East Glacier instead. That corner of Wyoming received one to two feet of snow today.
Yesterday’s wet afternoon amounted to only light showers for an hour and the forecast for the rest of this trip looks like my record will hold – no “serious rain” in the last 70,000 miles of wandering. But it is still much colder than I expected. Montana was 28 degrees below the seasonal norm, and despite Mark Twain’s joke about a San Francisco summer I am wearing more layers and using more heat in June in Montana than I do in winter in SF. Whuda thunkit?
My random road choice took me along the east face of Waterton and Glacier Parks to the Chief Mountain customs gate, one of those places where you wonder why there’s even a road. The guard came out yawning and I recanted the spiel I had planned to use entering Canada (no guns, no ….). I added citizenship, place of residence, length of time in Canada, and rough amount of cash on hand, then said “Well did I answer ’em all?” At first he looked like he didn’t know what to do next, then he caught up and asked where I spent last night. I answered but queried why that mattered. He just wanted to see if it fit my story. So, I can just imagine if an Iron Butt rider answers “… on a picnic table”.
Ok. I’m across the border and my first thought is Does it look American? Nothing specific, but the road immediately begins following the contours of the land rather than lining the creek. I missed that. It is good to ‘attack’ curves again. One thing is very different. Even here on a tiny two lane backroad, the speed limit is higher than any I saw posted on a Canadian freeway – 70 mph (which would be 112 kph). The reduced speeds through US towns are about what the highway was in the mountains in Canada.
The very first ‘town’ in Montana is Babb, part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. In my experience, res towns have very limited services because the local population is often widely dispersed. Was I surprised to see the first open business in Babb … an espresso shack with a drive through window.
This is a country of contrasts. The east face of Glacier Park is precipice after precipice, really the continuation of the mountains down from Jasper. They probably should belong to Canada. Then immediately to the east is buffalo country. The great rolling plains disappear into the distance where the original ‘thunder in the valley’ came from hooves, not exhaust pipes. There are still a few buffalo, but they are tourist curiosities in pens instead of teeming controllers of the plains. Then to the south are the beginnings of the great rivers. Travel down each canyon and you can see the waters grow to where they deserve the name River with a capital R. The Columbia, the Snake, and even the Missouri begin not far from here. Lewis and Clark followed these same routes in their journeys and they would probably still recognized the streams today. They might not recognize where they camped on July 4, 1806, though, because it is now the parking lot of a restaurant built on a bridge over the creek in downtown Missoula.
Clouds lay like rolled pillows on the slipcovers of steep mountain slopes. Pressure changes caused by weather systems keep the clouds in layers which follow the cleft of a valley as they drift below the ridgetops. They remind me much of the fingers of fog captured in inversion layers in San Francisco Bay, except that they are formed like crisp white buttondown collars on the forest green shirt of the hillside.
Then there are the RVs. Like mosquitoes, they nest near the town then swarm the roads in the morning seeking the ‘blood’ of scenic vistas. You can almost see the magnetism of NATIONAL PARK suck them off the feeder roads toward that congested road ‘you must travel’ according to their triptic. For this reason, I skipped Glacier and instead rode US2 down and around. Dunno what formula AAA uses to mark a road scenic, but in my opinion this definitely should be. The run down the Flathead River is smooth, and fast, and fun. Whereas the next road I took because it was marked scenic should not be – MT83 is pleasant enough but most of it goes through tall pine forest and you can’t see anything. Oh, well, part of the fun of an unplanned route is learning where it goes and what it brings.
A prisoner of my own device. Sometimes when I have no destination, I am driven to get there without stopping. The feeling kinda gets under your skin at times. Ride. Don’t stop to read the sign, ride to see what’s next. There is always a place to rest ‘down the road’, but sometimes it is more peaceful on the bike, in motion, alive and involved. Ride.
I rode past a place deep in the Montana woods where my refined sense of analyzing cafes told me it would be a great place to stop. But I was in the flow of this ride this day and I didn’t want to break it. Besides, I can’t drink alcohol when I ride, and I don’t eat lunch, and I don’t need to chat about the weather … so the Rocky Mountain Road House will have to wait for a next time.
Great roads converge on Missoula from all directions. As tempting as the Lolo Trail is, just over the hill, tomorrow I’ll chew off the last of the renowned scenic byways I’ve not yet tasted, Route 200 to Sandpoint. But before closing, I offer the seemingly requisite weird sign of the day: Paws Up Angus Ranch
Pincher Creek AB6 MT17 US89 MT49 US2 MT206 MT35 MT83 MT200 Missoula
Part 12 – Waitsburg, Washington
Moose drool for breakfast.
While cruising Missoula for breakfast, I found a coffee shop in the corner of a sporting goods store. It used to be unusual for businesses of different purpose to mix, but now it seems normal. I never did tell you about the “Oil, Lube, and Latte” found in Needles … but that’s another story. Anyway, this “world grounds” corner had a sign in the window that caught my eye: Today’s special flavor – Kaffe Montana Moose Drool. How can anyone pass that up?
Moose drool is a very strong blend of beans which they were happy to describe, but it was hot and brown and good in the chill morning air. It went well with the blackberry cream cheese croissant hiding in the corner of the display case. Isn’t ‘roughing it’ in Montana wonderful?
Ok, remember I’ve been “out there” – way out there for a few days now. I haven’t even seen a marked parking space for a week let alone thought of a parking meter. So when I angled up to the curb and went into the coffee shop, I never noticed the signs. Half an hour or so later I came out and saw this bright yellow tag stuck in the seat of the bike. Oh phuf. A parking notice. Ok … flip it over, let’s see the damage:
YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN! for overparking
Missoula Downtown Welcomes It’s Out-Of-Town Visitors
Courtesy Parking For 2 Hours
(signed by an officer, with my plate number and the time)
Someone hold me – I think I’m gonna faint! This is just too damn reasonable.
A couple of readers have asked me what kind of radar detection I use in my travels. Only the back of my eyeballs. I don’t use a detector because I don’t speed, even when I go over the posted limit. When I think the signs are set too low and the road warrants it, I will maintain 5-10 over, and I’ve never been stopped. Ever wonder why police (in most areas) give that leeway? I can answer for California and I suspect it is similar elsewhere. California law requires a speed survey to be taken for a road (other than freeways) every 5 years (with certain exceptions). The speed limit is then set at 85% of the average from the survey. So for the sake of argument say the average is 60. The limit should be 51 but will likely be rounded to 50. If I stay 5-10 over, I will still be under the “excessive speed”, which would be more than the average.
Just don’t pass a cop while using this formula … I did that once and the look on his face was remarkable. Of course it did help that he was going what he thought was exactly the speed limit according to his uncalibrated speedometer and I pointed to my GPS showing precisely 55 mph.
Traveling through lower Canada I saw several places where there were signs “Animal Reflectors”, but I never understood what they meant. A few miles out of Missoula on MT200 a sign said Deer Reflector Test Section. There I saw the same reflectors I saw in Canada … red rectangular plastic prisms similar to truck edge markers, mounted on stalks every 50 feet or so along both sides of the road. How are these supposed to work? Do they shine a particular color that deer notice, or are they to acclimatize our eyes to a color that will contrast with reflected deer eyes, or are they to provide an ‘interference pattern’ so when something steps between the poles it breaks the continuity we come to expect from regularly spaced reflections … ? I don’t know, but Canada seems to have taken it seriously. I’ll have to look into this.
Is gravel road rage more “dirty”?
MT200 does indeed turn out to be a fine road. Following the Clark Fork along its valley beside the Cabinet Mountains, it parallels the ragged Montana-Idaho border. Not a ‘great’ motorcycle road, but a good one … except for the 5 miles of serious dirt and gravel due to construction on the south end.
Through the gravel section I stayed back about 1/4 mile behind the motor home ahead of me to let the dust drift away. A FedEx delivery van was following me. Speeds varied from a crawl through the rough spots to 35 mph (the posted limit) on packed dirt. When we were about 1/2 mile from rejoining the pavement, the van suddenly accelerated and passed me. It stayed in the left track for the entire 1/2 mile, even after passing the RV. I didn’t mind being passed, but when he pulled across the center debris, he kicked up a lot of loose gravel and I had to brake as hard as I could to avoid flying rocks big enough to do serious pain. Not a way to win friends … but I let it go. Really, I did.
About 20 miles later, I came into a small town, slowed for the speed limit changes, and was accelerating past the town limit when the same van came zooming out a dirt side road and spit dirt and gravel all over the road in front of me.
Another 10 miles down the road the van was parked in front of a store. I pulled up behind, but well away. The driver was just coming out from making a delivery.
Me, with a disarming smile: “Hi there, how you doing today?”
Him: “Purty good.”
“Hey, got something I’d like you to consider …” I picked up a handful of dirt and small rocks and sprayed the side of his van. They made a lot of noise but no damage. Then my voice was not as pleasant “… think about how much gravel you kick up the next time you pass someone in a construction zone.”
He raised his fists and came at me. “You son of a …”
I did not move. I stared at him. Hard.
He paused. I stared. Hard.
“Lucky for you I’m on a tight schedule” he said as he walked back to his van. Then he offered some comments on my mother’s character as he (of course) spun out of the lot. Obviously he did not know the woman … she was much tougher than he claimed.
No weird signs today … unless you count the Welcome To Idaho border. That sign has mountains drawn above the letters, trees to the side, and a paved road with a yellow stripe taking up most of the center. You’d think most of Idaho was paved from this representation and the irony is Idaho probably has less pavement per square whatever than any other state. Look at a map. There just aren’t that many roads through the center of the wilderness. Seemed a strange ‘welcome’. Then there was the license plate of the Sandpoint Police Department cruiser: SPD 3 right above ‘Famous Potatoes’. (pronounce it)
Route 200 ends at Lake Pend Oreille, in my opinion as picturesque as the inlets of Alaska. The mountains around the lake form a natural bowl which is just lovely. A historical marker explains that an ice dam formed here during the last ice age and caused a lake 1,000 feet deep to back up 200 miles to Missoula. When it broke, the valley was scoured in the rush. Such was/is often the case in Alaska, too.
US95 south from Sandpoint is too much like a freeway, so I randomly peeled off to follow some small roads. The map gave me the opportunity to ride through the town of Opportunity, so there I went. And it led me to where the Ugly Stick is buried in Washington. East Spokane Valley is an abomination of unconstrained urban sprawl. After so much beauty, this ugly is appalling. The kindest thing I can say is the road out is worth taking. WA27 is a pleasure that flits and wags through farm country down the state border. This is a great road when you’re not in a hurry (because it doesn’t really go anywhere except through tiny towns) and a good road when you are in a hurry (no traffic, excellent surface, clean sight lines). ‘Scenic’ is in the eye of the traveler.
One town I didn’t take the time to visit (10 miles off my path) will leave me wondering … is there a Starbucks in Starbuck, Washington. I doubt it.
Finally, I pulled up to a small motel and saw a motorcycle near the office. It belongs to the motel owner. It can best be described as a BMHD. It started life as a BMW R75, but his friends only ride and work on Harleys. Over time they added various Harley parts: windshield, headlights, floor boards, seat, saddlebags, even a Harley muffler. (His words:) Because all these things didn’t really fit, his friends welded them on. Now when he goes on a ride, his is the only bike that doesn’t drop parts.
Missoula MT/ID200 US95 ID53/WA290 WA27 Dry Creek Rd. US195 WA26 WA127 US12 Waitsburg
Part 13 – Lakeview, Oregon
Life on the road on a motorcycle means spending a lot of time alone, but that doesn’t mean it is lonely. Some people use CB radios, others listen to music. I use none of these preferring to concentrate on the rapid flow of reality on the other side of my faceshield. Being alone inside my helmet for hours on end (and losing as many of the arguments I have with myself as I win …) means I am often willing to carry discussions that would otherwise be unexplored. For example, at the bakery in Waitsburg this morning, I commented to the proprietress it was unusual for a bakery to open every day except Saturday. Most owner-operated businesses close on Monday, or for some reason bakers seem to take Wednesday off. She said she tried that, but got hell from her morning regulars. Saturday is the day they run their errands, and it is the only day she can ‘get away with’. Then came the unexplored part … she wondered why it mattered to them because most of the regulars are retired and don’t *have* to use Saturday. This follows with something I noticed in chats with other travelers – people who have only ever had their life controlled by someone else don’t know what to do with free time. Vacations are supposed to teach us that, but vacations are often more controlled than ‘life’.
It gets pretty crowded inside my helmet some days.
US395 is a fun and fast road. Well, it is fast if you ignore the absurd 55 speed limit in Oregon. Big O out-Neanderthalled even Pennsylvania on refusing to get real after we ended the ‘oil embargo’ of almost 30 years ago. Wake up, Oreganoes … no one out there is doing 55. Anyway, Route 395 enjoys some of the most varied terrain you’ll find in one state. The land changes frequently from fertile fields, to tree studded foothills, to tight rapid brook canyons, to pine forest passes. Further south it mixes in sagebrush scrub desert, alkali dry lakes, and even a section of free wind sand dunes. All of these environments have something to offer in sight and smell, and just when you get it dialed in … it changes again. A really nice ride.
Really nice, except for the section between Battle Mountain and Ukiah. What would be a righteous canyon is made a terror track by a fresh layer of oil on the pavement. WHY would the highway maintenance department spray oil on 10 miles of already solid, unbroken pavement? There was not a layer of chip seal added (or going to be added). There was not a dusty condition to dampen. I can’t figure it out … is the oil supposed to seep into the surface and ‘toughen’ it with the coming summer heat? I’ll tell you what’s toughened – my butt muscles did a lot of seat grabbing on the corners. We gotta get some of these dumptruck jockeys to ride a motorcycle so they can see what peril they produce!
I rode half way to the equator. Watching my GPS, I saw the 45th latitude parallel approaching, and it surprised me to see a sign beside the road way out here in eastern nowheroregon: half way between the equator and the north pole.
While I was musing on that, I came around a fast corner in a canyon and in my periphery saw a cow floating about two feet off the ground. Whoa, bessy. Let’s go back and see that again. It was a cow, or at least it used to be. An entire cow hide from head to tail, including the legs, was hung on a fence gate crossbar, presumably drying. Even sitting still, my eyes couldn’t quite grok that image. (Mental wisecrack: where’s the beef? 🙂
After seeing precious few other motorcycles on the road this last week (other than the LDR group), today I saw literally dozens of BMWs. Then it occurred to me this is the weekend of the Chief Joseph rally and by chance I would be going right past the site. Four bikes fell in behind me as I approached John Day, where the rally is this year. I tried to wave them off, but they kept following … I was a mile out the other side of town before the last one got the message that I wasn’t headed to the rally. Of all the rallies I’ve attended, the Chief Joseph is the only one I can not recommend. Each of my visits was less than pleasant: poor locations, poor organization, and rude rally staff. Save your replies – if this is the best event you’ve ever attended, good for you. In my opinion, there are better events and this one isn’t worth the effort.
Been wondering if or when this would happen. Finally was refused gas service in Burns. Oregon has this ‘protect the public from themselves’ law which requires the complex detailed technical process of pumping gas be performed only by highly trained personnel. Seriously, if you don’t know, it is against the law to pump your own gas in Oregon. For cars it doesn’t matter much, but people who don’t know motorcycles have trouble getting the gas in the tank … and not many bikers like seeing a nozzle dragged across the paint. So what (almost) always happens is the attendant turns on the pump and hands you the nozzle. You fill and give the hose back to him/her. This gets around you ever touching the pump – quasi legal. This one station in Burns had a sign “$500 fine if you pump”. I waited for the nozzle, and big beefo attendant swung it around nearly splashing gas on my leg. No, he had to do it all. Uh, I don’t think so. Two blocks away a nice lady spread a cloth towel across my tank then handed me the hose.
Closest thing to weird sign of the day – a diner on the south edge of Burns has a large display: “Worst Food In Oregon! Come give it a try.” Reverse psychology or desperate act? I don’t know, but I could have fun continuing the advertising … ‘Guaranteed to displease – if you like it you still have to eat it.’ Just what kind of person would this attract? (Me, next time, maybe. 🙂
Back to US395. Maybe I am getting tired after successive days on the road, now heading home the distances sometimes seem to stretch out. I swear this part of Oregon seems bigger than the last time I came through here. Stopped for a break at a rest area in the alkali flat near Albert Lake, what do I find but proof! The geography exhibit tells this section of Oregon is a series of grabbens, a valley formed by one side rising and the other tilting down. As they tilt, they expand. Oregon is growing to the west at the rate of 1 cm per year. Let’s see, it’s been about 10 years since my last traversal – hey! that’s four inches! No wonder it feels bigger!
Finally, I don’t often mention the names of places I eat, but tonight’s dinner was the best chile colorado I’ve had in a long long time. If you like real Mexican, not TexMex, stop at El Aguila Real in Lakeview. Believe me, they live up to their name, it’s The Real Eagle.
Waitsburg US12 WA125/OR11 US30 OR37 US395 Lakeview
Part 14 – Epilog
California. The best roads, the best weather, the worst prices. Why would gasoline which cost $1.89 in rural southeast Oregon cost $2.15 only 20 miles south? Because it is California. It is different even though you can’t see a difference. You can feel a difference … in your mind, and in your wallet.
That, in general is the story of California, but in my opinion, it is worth it.
Another (OTRA, if you remember from the first segment) trip is done. Another page is filled and folded in the book of memories. New treasures found and forgettable flubs can be fed into the sausage grinder that manufacturers the future’s meaty links of remembrance, some tastier than others. Much thought baggage will just get stored in the basement of the subconscious to pop up in some future mental yard sale, prompted by unexpected stimuli … like the unmistakable smell of “fresh laundry” in the air this morning caused by semi-alkali water vaporizing in the morning sun after being sprayed from massive rolling robot crop irrigators. Mix that with the sweet wafting of sage and you have an aroma the detergent companies would love to sell you. It’s called America (… fragrance may vary in your neighborhood).
I won’t try to sell anyone else on California … it’s already too crowded, but I like it. I liked riding through the first town at the north end of Route 49, right about where the Gold Country begins. Loyalton was having a classic car show in the main street of the town. Fifty or so Monuments to Mo’town were lined up with hoods open, chrome blinding anyone who dared stand in their reflection. There were 50’s and 60’s Thunderbirds, StingRays, and a Cadillac that would need Coast Guard approval to make a u-turn. The nice thing about this big show in a small town was it was a show – not a production. Everyone was free to wander about and look, leisurely. The way a weekend morning should be.
The further south Route 49 travels, the tighter it becomes, and seemingly so do its drivers. By the time I turned off toward I-80, you could feel the rush in the air. The slow enjoyment of 200 miles that took well over 4 hours from Oregon would condense into a frenetic flight of less than 3 hours for the remaining 200+ miles. And so, with so many salmon in tin cans around me, the rush to the coast was joined. It really felt good to sweat in the Central Valley, but then as I gassed up for the last 40 miles I put on a jacket in the 90+ degree heat, because the temperature would start dropping nearly one degree per mile as I aimed for the Fog.
San Francisco waited, shimmering (or shivering) in the chill of its natural air conditioning. Back in the perennial traffic jam called the Bay Bridge, now I just looked like a dirty bike instead of a traveler with a windscreen bug collection ‘from here to Alaska’.
Lakeview US395 CA70 CA49 CA89 I-80