Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big trip to Glacier National Park

When I was a kid, I met two astronauts. Well, they weren't astronauts exactly. They were older gentlemen that rode big BMWs, and with their high-tech gear and helmets and their space-age looking bikes, to me they might as well have been astronauts. They were hunting buddies of my Dad's, Everett "Ev" Jones and Glen Bisel. One Saturday afternoon they stopped by our house on their big silver bikes after coming home from a quick ride to eastern Oregon, and I thought they were rock stars.

Or astronauts. Or something.

From that point on I became fascinated with the idea of being a two-wheeled astronaut when I grew up. The thought of going on solo adventures like them filled my imagination for years to come. As noted in previous posts, I eventually realized my dream of riding motorcycles when I got my endorsement and first bike, a 250cc 1986 Honda Rebel, in the fall of 2006. Since then I've ridden 12,000 miles on my current bike, a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, over several Western U.S. states, including my home state of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and California.

I've already been on one multi-day trip this season, a quick 5-day jaunt down to the redwoods of northern California in mid-April. That was just a warm-up. Picking the key destination of my 'big trip' this season wasn't too difficult: Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

After seeing pictures and reading about other motorcyclist's journeys there, it has damn near become an obsession of mine. I can hardly wait to get started. I've picked out an 8-day itinerary that will take me through eastern Oregon, across the Snake River into Idaho, up over Lolo Pass into Montana, a loop through Glacier National Park via the famous 'Going to the Sun Road' then back around the south side of the park, back across northern Idaho, across central Washington all the way to the Pacific coast, then back home to Sandy.

The specific route I have planned dodges 4-way freeways and highways ("The Slab") as much as possible, taking secondary two-lane byways more often than not. Key landmarks include Hells Canyon, Lolo Pass, Glacier Park, Grand Coolee Dam, and the Pacific Coast for a rough total of 2,033 miles.

Although I don't like to give specifics of trips ahead of time for security reasons, this trip will occur in the July-August time frame in order to ride under the best chance of fair weather.

There are some things I need to do to prepare my bike for the trip. I'll probably still have enough tread on my Metzler Tourance tires, but need to get a new chain and sprockets. I'm also due to have my throttle bodies synced. Some new farkles for this trip include an NEP CC4 throttle lock to give my right hand a rest and an Oregon Scientific 'action cam' video camera.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ride Report: Day 5, Wet Ride Home

I slept great. The first thing I did after crawling out of bed at 6:00 AM was look out the window to see if the pavement was dry. It was. After showering and getting dressed, it was raining like crazy outside. I threw my jacket on and crossed the parking lot to the motel restaurant for some breakfast.

The grub of choice was a "Pan San" -- buttermilk pancakes with two eggs in between and four strips of bacon on the side. It was really good but made me feel like crawling back into bed from all the carbs. The rain has stopped so I hurried up the packing process and got the bike loaded and ready to ride. I had already filled the gas tank the day before, so I was ready to hit the road.

My departure was at 8:30, just like every other day of this trip. Within two minutes of hitting the road it began to rain again. I had rain at least 90% of the entire trip home.

I chose to take a slightly different route home. Instead of heading east on hwy 38 from Reedsport to Drain, I continued farther north up hwy 101 along the coast to Waldport. There were several really slow cars that I had to pass. Some were going 40 mph in a 55 mph zone. Do they really think they're being safe? My insurance agent once told me that there are twice as many accidents caused by people driving 10 mph under the limit than by people driving 20 mph over the limit. I can see why. They're disruptive.

The rugged coastline near the Sea Lion Caves is a great stretch to ride. The scenery is very noteworthy. It was windy and raining fairly hard, however, so my attention was on the road, not the view. I also had to stop briefly for some road construction.
Once in Waldport I pulled into a cafe to rest and warm up. The 50-something waitress was very nice and chatted with me quite a bit about motorcycles, having ridden a lot herself. My toast and coffee was $2.50 and I gave her a $2.50 tip. Dry and warmed up, I was ready to head east.

The road from Waldport to Corvallis, hwy 34, is a fun ride, a variety of curves and good road conditions with very few cars. I had to stop and wait while a crew trimmed some large maple trees overhanging the road, which was interesting to watch. Fortunately it wasn't raining at the moment so I wasn't sitting there getting soaked during the delay. By the time I got to Corvallis, however, I was fairly cold once again and getting hungry. I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop just in time to beat the Monday mid-day rush.

Just before crossing over I-5 I gassed up and cleaned the road grime off my wind screen. I continued east to Lebanon, but took the wrong road north. I wanted to get on the highway taking me north to Scio but ended up heading toward Albany. I turned right onto the first reasonable looking road I found, hoping to cut across to the other highway, assuming it paralleled the road I was on. It didn't. After a 10 minute detour I wound up right back in Lebanon again. I found the right road and headed north again.

Once again I found myself behind really slow cagers. I forced myself not to get too hot-headed as I poked along behind them, only passing when it was safe. I was very mindful of cops and never went more than 10 over the limit. The rain was getting heavier and it just wasn't safe to go too fast anyway.

I never stopped again until I got home. There were several especially heavy rain showers near Stayton and Silverton, then again in Estacada.

The trip total was 1,260 miles, putting my bike's odometer at 11,930 in just over a year of ownership. The best part of the trip was the loop from Eureka to Weaverville on hwy 36 and back on hwy 299. The worst part was the cold and wet ride home on the last day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ride report: Day 4, Back Into Oregon

Eureka is apparently well known for both its wind and its fog (obviously not at the same time, of course). Sunday morning was foggy. I got a mocha from the Dutch Bros next door and asked the gal if she knew of a better place to eat breakfast than Stantons. She didn't, so I decided I'd get dressed and ride up the road and see what I could find. Not two blocks north was a McDonalds, so I figured I'd get something quick and eat a big lunch later.

There was a homeless guy sitting in the booth across from me, doing something very unusual. In his left hand was a thick leather work glove, slowly turning pages in a magazine. In his right hand was a pen and a yellow legal pad. He was transcribing every single word in the magazine, ads and all. His penmanship was immaculate and he even followed very crisp margins and spacing. He was being very thorough and didn't seem to care what was in the magazine -- he was transcribing even the fine print at the bottom of advertisements.

Outside was another homeless guy literally wandering around in circles in the parking lot. A gang banger pulled up in a dropped Honda Accord with a tailpipe the size of a coffee can. His hat was on sideways and wore the stereotypical uniform of a guy ready to pop a cap in someone's ass; baggy pants, tan work boots unlaced, white bandana wrapped around his head under his hat, gold medallion necklace. The strange part? When I was done eating and went out to my bike parked next to his car, the bumper sticker on the back-left fender said, "Real Men Love Jesus."

Eureka is a strange town.

Fed with some Vitamin M, I rode north through the fog. It was thicker and thinner in different spots, at one point thick enough to cause rivulets of water to run up my windscreen and off my face shield. The run through the redwoods just south of Crescent City was amazing. There was enough mist to make it interesting but not enough to limit my visibility, and no cars. I enjoyed that stretch very much.

Oregon was a different animal. The fog disappeared and a variably strong headwind rose up. I rolled through Brookings and kept going until I stopped in Gold Beach for a late breakfast at Grant's Restaurant. The three-meat egg scramble and coffee hit the spot. I'll have to remember that place if I go back there again. Their hot chocolate must be especially nice based on how many people I saw ordering it.

Arrival at Coos Bay occurred at 1:15 PM, much too soon to check into my motel room so I took a detour up the Coos and Millicoma rivers to Allegany, where my grandparents lived during my childhood. Allegany StoreI snapped a couple of pictures of the little store and the house my grandfather built, more to show my family than anything, then kept riding upstream.

I work for a fisheries consulting firm and we had a crew counting fish in the area, so I headed up the narrow gravel road along Marlow Creek, hoping to run into them. After a few miles I turned around and headed back into town. By the time I arrived at the motel it was 2:30 and it didn't take them long to get my room ready. I unpacked and took a nap.

Dinner was in the non-smoking sports bar at the Red Lion. This time it was a hazelnut-encrusted salmon fillet on top of a spinach salad and a tall Widmer. The bartender was a nice guy but had a propensity for foul language, which made him popular with the mullet-headed locals sitting at the bar. He was nice enough to me, though, and provided attentive service so I had no complaints.

The forecast for tomorrow? Rain.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ride report: Day 3, The Big Loop

Today was my day to ride a loop into the interior and back to Eureka.

The day started in the usual way. It was 40 degrees and sunny outside. Despite the near race riot that almost occurred outside my room at 2:30 AM, I managed to fall right back asleep after things calmed down. After getting up, I walked over to the Dutch Bros coffee stand next door and got a mocha, then got dressed. Breakfast was at a restaurant a few blocks away called Stantons. Nasty place. The service was disinterested and the food was barely adequate. Fortunately it didn't make me sick, so I guess it was okay.

Because I was looping back to Eureka, I was able to ride without sidecases and greatly reduced weight. All I took was my cameras, warm weather gloves and pants, and enough room to stow my cold-weather gear if I had to cool off.

The route I took was 101 south, then highway 36 east, a rough highway 3 north to Weaverville, then highway 299 back to 101 in Arcata. The total loop would be about 230 miles. The previous year I headed east on 299 into Redding instead of looping back, so the second half of this trip would be on unfamiliar roads.

The sun was shining and traffic was very light. The few cars I came upon would often pull over and let me pass. They would usually give a friendly wave as I zoomed past, too. 36 follows the Van Duzen river for the first several miles. Once I hit the small town of Carlotta, the road climbs. At this point I was really hitting my rhythm and was taking curves with greater relaxation and control. Part way up the hill I noticed two BMW dual-sports in my mirror. I kicked it up a notch and really got sideways, leaving them far behind within only a mile or two. Hairpin downhill

Between Bridgeville and Dinsmore the road gets very narrow and the turns get very tight, most requiring a maximum of 20 mph to navigate them safely. I pulled off onto a wide patch on the outside of one of many hairpin turns and snapped dual photos. Hairpin uphill

The foliage dries out, turning into small pines and scrub oak. I got stuck behind a slow driver but was nearing the small town of Hayfork and my intended lunch destination, so I just sat back and cruised along. Hayfork, a small town, was bustling with activity. It seemed everyone was walking around involved in some activity. I rode through three times looking for Tommy Knows Pizza before I found it. It was a hole-in-the-wall and scary looking so I decided to ride to Weaverville for lunch and gas instead.

Weaverville is a great little town. It reminded me somewhat of Sedona, Arizona without the red rocks. I ate at an old fashioned drive-in, a nutritious lunch of a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a Pepsi. The temperature gauge on the side of the building said it was 72 degrees. After a decent rest, I gassed up ($3.95 a gallon) and headed back toward home, this time on highway 299.

299 follows the Trinity River and has some very rugged scenery. I was focused on the road, however. The turns are sweeping and fast and other than a few rough spots, the road was in great shape. I was mindful of cops, heeding the warning I received from a local rider the year before, and only saw one or two heading the other way. My speed never ventured more than 10 mph above the posted limit, except when passing, so I was fairly safe from getting ticketed.

By this point in the day my riding was really in a groove. The bike became an extension of myself. I was no longer aware of the mechanics of how to ride and was now experiencing the full potential of what a great motorcycle can achieve. In my mind I referred to it as "getting sideways" as that's the position I was in more often than not. I really gave the sides of my tires a workout. It has taken me 11,000 miles to reach this point, but at last I think I've finally gotten it down. The rest is fine tuning that ability, honing it.

It was the most fun I've had in years. The best way I can describe that ride is like a downhill skiing slalom that lasts 6 hours straight. It's intense and very exciting.

When I got back to Eureka I was tired but very, very happy. I took a nap, then showered and walked back down to Lost Coast Brewery for some beer and salad.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ride report: Day 2, The Big Trees

When I left Coos Bay it was clear, sunny, and pleasant. Not too warm out, not too cold, either. I had little traffic heading south on 101. I gassed up in Bandon and continued on, seeing more motorcycles this time, all cruisers. Even the scary bearded hard-core Harley guy waved back. I stopped waving at cows, though, because they never waved back. Jerks.

My lunch destination was a cafe in Brookings. When I got there the sign on the bank said it was 62 degrees already, at 10:45 in the morning. The Pacific was almost dead calm, too. The cafe had changed names but I went in anyway. I was the only customer and got great service, with some good conversation with the owner to go with my grilled turkey sandwich and outstanding homemade clam chowder.

It didn't take long to cross the border into California. Just after crossing the Klamath River, I pulled off onto the "Coast Road", the detour a local V-Strom rider showed me the previous year. Part of the road is gravel and I hit a wicked pothole but apparently my bike suffered no damage from it. Just after the gravel road turns back into pavement again, I was amidst the Tall Trees.

I flipped up my helmet, put it in second, and slowly cruised amidst the giants. The smell was incredible, and my neck was beginning to ache from looking up so much. Even though I had been on that same road a year earlier, I was amazed at how massive those trees really are. It's difficult to describe and photos don't do it justice. It's like the difference between telling someone an AC/DC concert is loud and actually being in the audience.

Cal Barrel road came up and I turned left only to discover that the road had been gated. There was a small hiking path that curved around the left side of the gate so I took a chance and creeped my bike around it. Fortunately I made it without damaging my side cases or falling over. I rode the quarter mile up to the Remembrance Grove and parked my bike amidst the giants.

Within a minute or two of dismounting and getting my helmet and jacket off I heard voices. Coming down the road were two guys, hiking back down the hill. They glanced at me but didn't seem to care if I was there or not. Apparently their conversation was more engrossing than an imposing "Spaceman Spiff" figure on a street bike up a closed dirt road in the middle of the redwood forest.

I took a few pictures and laid down Strom amidst redwoodson the bench there for a few minutes, just soaking it all in. It really feels like some sort of cathedral of nature. I was also amazed at how straight the trees are. I saw a few with burls on this trip and was blown away at how big they were. Those things could be the size of a VW Bug!

Eventually it was time to leave. I crept my way back around the gate and continued down the road until I met back up with hwy 101 south. Soon after I saw a herd of elk on the side of the road. Elk in CaliforniaI stopped to take a quick picture. Most were scraggly yet tall cows, with maybe two bulls mixed in. Their antlers were new, maybe a foot long, and covered in velvet.

Just south of Crescent City is a fast stretch of 35-45 mph curves through some really big trees. I pulled over and strapped a special video camera onto the top of my right side case and hit the record button. I zoomed through the turns fairly quickly, capturing the entire sequence in video. The video is here on YouTube. Once out of the trees I got stuck behind a string of very slow cars, led by a CHP patrol car. I pulled over and stopped recording, putting my camera away. I never recorded any more footage the rest of the trip, mostly because I didn't have anywhere to put it.

I pulled into Eureka at 2:30 PM and lower 70 degree temps. This time I stayed at the Super 8 rather than the very scary Motel 6 on the other end of town. The rooms were cheap, and worth it. A scary looking blonde lady kept smoking cigarettes on the balcony above my room them tossing them down onto the pavement next to my bike, without even snuffing them out first!

Dinner was a 7-block walk down to the Lost Coast Brewery. It's a rowdy place and I like their beer. The sandwich I had was heavy on the bread and light on the fillings. I bought a hat for my wife and I as souvenirs.

At 2:30 AM that night I awoke to what sounded like a race riot about to begin outside my door. Apparently a small group of black guys were picking a fight with a small group of white guys. Looking out the little security hole in my door I could see them clustered around my bike. They really wanted to fight but apparently none had the stomach to actually go through with it. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth they eventually cooled off and went into their separate rooms -- on either side of me! From what I could hear they knew each other. Bizarre.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ride report: Boogie to the Redwoods, Day 1

Watching the weather forecast is something I do a lot of in the spring. We've had such crazy winter-like weather here in Oregon the past few months that chances to ride have been few and far between. When I saw the 7-day forecast showing several nice days in a row, I sprung into action by making some reservations, booking a few days off of work, and planned an impromptu trip down to the redwoods of northern California.

(The reason for this particular destination is that it doesn't involve crossing any mountain passes where snow is likely to linger well into May this year.)

It was raining lightly when I left the house at my usual 8:30 AM departure time. I gassed up in Eagle Creek and headed through Estacada and Molalla before turning south. It rained off and on all the way to Marcola, just outside of Springfield, my first stop of the day. I visited with my in-laws and ate lunch, gassed up again and got onto I-5 southbound. The rain had stopped and it was now mostly sunny, so the riding experience was much nicer.

Leaving I-5, I took highway 38 westbound through Drain and Elkton. Just outside of Reedsport, along the Umpqua River, is a series of large fields where elk usually congregate. They were there but weren't in a place where I could pull over safely so I had to ride past, pictureless. So far I had only seen two other motorcyclists, and they were heading northbound on I-5 around Cottage Grove.

I got to Coos Bay around 4:20 PM and checked into the Red Lion. My room was nice and a fairly good value for the price. It wasn't cheap, but when it comes to motels, you really do get what you pay for. Dinner was a shrimp salad in the non-smoking sports bar. I slept well that night, knowing the weather would be even nicer the next day.