Monday, September 29, 2008

It was a good thing I wasn't armed

I had a real close call yesterday. So did the other guy because if I had been armed at the time he would have gone home with a pronounced limp and a severe speech impediment.

I was riding along highway 224 from Eagle Creek toward Clackamas, following a green SUV. Traffic was slow primarily because there were so many people out on the road. We entered the small town of Carver, and immediately after taking the slow right hand turn in the middle of town, Mr. SUV turned on his right-turn blinker and pulled over onto the gravel shoulder, completely off the pavement.

It was my reasonable assumption that he had either reached his destination or was merely pulling over to let me by. Keep in mind he had pulled completely off of the road and came to a brief but complete stop. I say brief, because as soon as I began to roll forward to continue down the road, he turned left right in front of me to cross the road.

I did an emergency stop and my front tire touched his left rear tire. Just enough of his fender well touched the top of my front fender to put a one inch scratch on it. I shouted a very loud obscenity while he stuck his head out his open window and shouted "Hey hey hey!" It seemed he didn't want me to hit him.

He pulled into a parking spot at the Carver tavern on the left side of the road, while I made the choice to continue on. What I wanted to do was pull in behind him and start beating him senseless while everyone watched -- it was a busy intersection and I'm sure I would have had a dozen witnesses willing to testify that the SUV made an illegal and stupid move and deserved the ass beating he received.

Mad as hell but making a strong effort to calm down and focus on riding safely, I continued on to my destination.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Zoom Zoom Zumo!

I'm a Jedi navigator for the most part, able to find my way around even without a map or any prior familiarity with the area. But sometimes I get lost. I got lost last year in Missoula trying to find my motel. After an hour of riding around town, I somehow discovered I was on the wrong side of the city entirely. Just a few weeks ago I got lost following Washington state's road signs that led me to a closed road. Their signs misled me.

Anyone that knows me is aware that I'm somewhat fond of gadgets. Maybe not at the chronic "Hi, my name is Steve and I'm a gadgetaholic" stage, but I do like electronic gizmos. The solution to my getting-lost-on-the-bike situation was to install a Garmin Zumo 450 GPS.

The Zumo 450 and 550 models are specifically designed for use on motorcycles. They can be used entirely with the left hand, with buttons that are bigger than most and have plenty of space between them -- handy when you're wearing gloves. They even come with a handlebar mount in the box.

It took me about 30 minutes to install my Zumo, with most of that time snaking the power cord through the fairing, under the tank, and over to the battery underneath the seat. I gave it my first test ride to work and back today and really like it. The screen is very easy to see, the buttons are easy to use, and the directions are easy to follow. It's just easy.

I paid $403 through, with another $13 in shipping. The day it arrived, someone sent me a link to Costco's web site where they listed it for $349.99 with free shipping. Figures.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Four volcanoes in one day

The goal was to enjoy a guy's weekend at a vacation home in Long Beach, Washington. Going from A to B in a straight line is not my style, so I chose a scenic, albeit circuitous route to get there. I decided I would travel around four area volcanoes in a single day.

Departure from my home in Sandy was at 8:30 AM, as usual. My ride up and around Mt. Hood was pleasant, with blue skies and calm wind. By the time I reached Hood River my bike's fuel light was flashing. I had 215 miles on that tank and it only took 4.5 gallons to fill it up. It has a 5.8 gallon total capacity, so the flashing wasn't needed. I took a break in Starbucks with a mocha and slice of lemon pound cake. Paying my $.50 toll, I crossed the bridge to Washington and headed west on SR14 to Carson.

In Carson I headed north on Wind River Road. My destination was Randle, Washington, on highway 12. My route would take me in between Mt. St. Helens to the west and Mt. Adams to the east. The road was in rough shape and I had to really stay on the ball to avoid hitting some nasty potholes and dips. I came to a junction with Trout Lake going to the right and Randle to the left. I turned left, only to discover the road was closed. There were no signs warning me of this. Frustrated, I took a break and consulted my map for options.

The road I was on was so small it wasn't even on my map. I didn't have a GPS on my bike, either, so there was no other option but to backtrack. I eventually made it back to a junction to Cougar, Washington. Cougar was west of my location and I knew I could get to I-5 and continue my journey, so I took that junction. Just a few miles farther was the correct turn off to Randle. I became very frustrated with the terrible maps and lack of valuable information on the road signs and vowed to get a GPS for my bike. I turned north to Randle.

Once at Randle I turned left and headed westbound on highway 12. By this time it was mid-afternoon and I was hungry. I also needed fuel. I gassed up at a Chevron near I-5, then got on the freeway. Just a few miles later I took the first exit to Chehalis and stopped at a Subway for a club sandwich and a bottle of water. By this time it was 3:00 PM and I needed to make some time.

At the next exit I took state highway 6 westward toward the coast. This section of highway was cluttered with very slow drivers but I had ample opportunities to pass. By the time I hit the junction with coastal highway 101 the sky was clouded over but the pavement remained dry.

I pulled into the vacation house a little after 5:00 PM, with my buddy Mike standing in the driveway talking to his wife on his cell phone.

Unfortunately, none of the other guys showed up so it was just Mike and I. We had dinner and drinks and laughed a lot, watching movies as well. Something I ate didn't agree with me, however, and the resultant food poisoning really took a lot out of me.

It misted overnight so our bikes were wet by morning, but the air was warm and the pavement was already drying. I spent most of the morning drinking a lot of water and just laying low. We watched several episodes of "Long Way Round" with Ewan Magregor and Charley Boorman and had a light breakfast.

By 1:00 PM I had decided to make my way home, taking a more direct route instead of the scenic route I had originally intended. I crossed back over the Columbia River into Astoria where I stopped for a quick lunch and fuel-up. The traffic was thick as I made my way back home on highway 30, to cross back over to Longview, Washington where I caught I-5 southbound. The high speed limit from Longview to Oregon allowed me to make good time. I eventually got home at 4:50 PM. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and regaining my strength.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bike camping trip: Bonney Crossing

In the style of adventure riders, I went on my first bike camping trip this Labor Day weekend. It was just a single overnight trip to a dry campground on the east side of Mt. Hood, but it was my first off the bike. I've gone backpacking countless times in my life, carrying everything I needed on my back. The only difference here is I carried it on my bike instead.

I chose the campground for three reasons. I know where it is and how to get to it, it has a year-round creek running through it, and it was unlikely to be crowded on the holiday weekend. On this particular trip, I intended to videotape the experience, using both my Canon GL2 camera and an Oregon Scientific chip-based 'action cam'. It worked great and I captured several segments of the trip, but I left the fastening strap for the action cam wrapped around it and ended up covering its internal microphone. I had great footage but no sound on all but one of my segments.

So the video effort will have to wait until another time.

It would be just a single night and I was taking minimal food so no cooking equipment was necessary. I was able to get everything into my bike's Givi V46 top case and E21 side cases plus a small waterproof duffel strapped to the seat. If I had taken my E41 side cases I wouldn't have needed the duffel.

My gear included a Eureka Backcountry single person tent. It's 3' wide, 8' long, and 3' tall at the peak. It sets up easily, has reasonable coverage for straight-down precipitation with its rain fly, and I can sit up in it when inside. I also took an insulated air mattress from Big Agness. It's 27" wide and 72" long and when inflated keeps me a cosey and comfortable insulated 3" above the ground. I found it to be very comfortable, and it makes Thermarest pads feel like you're sleeping on a Kleenex. My Mountain Gear polarguard 3D sleeping bag is so small and light it compresses into a package the size of a volleyball, but by the middle of the night the outside temp dropped low enough that I found the sleeping bag's insulative powers were inadequate. I estimate the temp dropped to the mid 30's.

I refer to the campground as Bonney Crossing, although there's indication on the maps and area signs that the actual Bonney Crossing campground is farther down the road. Regardless, this spot has actual picnic tables and at one point had a pit toilet, so it probably has a name of some kind. It is located off of Threemile Road, due north of Rock Creek Reservoir, on the eastern foothills of Mt. Hood. The road there is paved except for the last mile, which is rough and rocky dirt road. My V-Strom handled it fine. I know of a guy that traveled the road on his cruiser, but I'm not sure how he did it. A passenger car would have a difficult time of it, especially if there was rain.

I made it to camp around 5:00 PM, just an hour and a half ride from my home in Sandy. There was one other campsite occupied about 100 yards away, a young couple with four young and rambunctious boys. Although we never introduced ourselves, they seemed like nice people. I was worried the campground would be full of rowdy rednecks wanting to party all night. If that had been the case I would have turned around and found another location.

It didn't take me long to get my tent set up, my pad inflated (manually; I still need to find a nozzle that lets me use the 12v air compressor I store in my tank bag), and my sleeping bag rolled out. Soon I was dining on cold orange chinese chicken, rice, and wontons. Without having to cook, the dinner selection was pretty good. I washed it down with some 7-Up and The Macallan. My entertainment until sunset was a book written in the late 70's by a wildlife biologist helping to find locations for parks in Alaska.

The trip over had been uneventful other than some strong winds. The wind continued to blow until well after sunset. The temperature began to drop with the sun, and by 8:30 PM I was in my sleeping bag waiting for sleep to arrive. I never sleep very good the first night in the woods, so my expectations for deep slumber were low.

At about 2:00 AM I got up to relieve myself. The wind was absent and the stars were out in massive numbers, visible upward between the pines and oak. It was noticeably colder, however, and despite wearing insulated underwear, wool socks, and a sweater, I never quite warmed up inside my inadequate sleeping bag.

The rising sun was just beginning to hit my tent broadside when I arose at 6:45 AM. I bundled up and emerged, doing some mild calisthenics to get my blood flowing and my body temperature up. I chugged an orange juice and began breaking camp. The family camped nearby was beginning to stir just as I started my bike and headed out.

I backtracked east to the tiny community of Wamic in search of breakfast. My initial idea was to grab a snack and a coffee at the small general store and ride straight home, but the store was closed. I settled for the somewhat skanky Pub and Grub restaurant. It was 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning and I was the only customer there. That should tell you something. My meal of eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast (plus coffee, oh yeah, coffee) wasn't half bad, however, nor was the service. It was good to warm up both on the outside and on the inside. Other customers began to arrive by the time I was donning my helmet to head west toward home.

Heading back the way I came on FS48, I could see a bank of clouds hovering over the Cascades. It wasn't long before the sun disappeared and I was under cloud cover. The air was chilly and the breeze was up, misty rain began to fall by the time I reached highway 35. When I crested the pass at Government Camp, it was 33 degrees and raining heavily. My hands were cold and I had a shiver despite being bundled up in my riding gear. I pressed on.

The clouds never went away but the rain let up as I descended the foothills and got back to Sandy. I passed numerous cops that were patrolling the stretch of highway 26 between Mt. Hood and Sandy quite heavily as they had been for the past several weeks. When I got home, I had been gone a mere 18 hours, but had learned a few things for the next time I intend to camp off of my bike. I'll take more sleeping bag than I think I need. When I go on longer trips I can camp every other night and stay in motels in between to save money. I don't need to take any cooking tools if I don't want to, and I shouldn't expect to get much sleep when in the woods.