Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crash bars and skid plate

I am slowly preparing for a trip to Alaska (Prudhoe Bay, specifically) and part of that preparation is equipping my bike to handle the trip. The V-Strom is a very capable motorcycle and can be accessorized in many different ways - relatively inexpensively - half the cost of equipping a BMW with equal or better reliability. It can be equipped to handle pavement as well as off-road riding. When I head North, my bike will need to handle both.

The underside of the engine of the 650 is relatively unprotected. I extended my front fender ("Fenda Extenda") to reduce road spray and rocks flying up against the engine, but sometimes that's not enough. I decided to add a skid plate to protect the engine even further.

Through a scratch-and-dent sale, Twisted Throttle offered discounted prices on crash bars that were shipped improperly from the factory, some of which had minor blemishes (hence the discount). I jumped at the deal and ordered a pair as well as a matching skid plate, both made by SW-Motech. After the parts arrived I inspected them but couldn't find a single flaw or blemish. I really only wanted the skid plate but it requires the crash bars for installation and extra protection is a good thing.

I laid out all the parts, inspected the instructions, and noticed that although it described all of the parts used during installation, it didn't give any directions describing what order installation was to occur. Because the skid plate attaches to the crash bars, I had to install them first.

Installing the crash bars is a relatively easy process, and the only thing I had to remove were two black plastic fairing pieces from the sides of the engine. A single hex head screw was all it required. The instructions said to only remove and install one side at a time to prevent the engine from shifting. Easy enough. The Suzuki factory uses Loctite on its screws so it took some torque to remove them, but once that was done the crash bars installed fairly easily using the hardware provided.

I noticed a problem with the instructions once I had started the skid plate installation. The bracket that joins the two crash bars in front of the engine can be installed one of two ways; with the mounting nuts facing forward or backward toward the engine. The crash bar instructions show the nuts facing backward toward the engine. Once you install the skid plate, however, the instructions show the nuts facing forward. Because of this I had to remove one crash bar and flip the bracket around once I began installing the skip plate.

The skid plate installation was a little bit more difficult, in part because it's on the underside of the motorcycle, but also because some of the bolts that have to be removed are much more difficult to access. The mounting bracket on the right side of the engine was easy to get to, but the two mounting bolts on the left side - which are used to attach the kickstand - were very difficult to remove. The rear bolt is difficult to get to. Perseverance solves many things, however, and eventually I got the skid plate mounted successfully.

These protective accessories, once added to the bike, increase its weight slightly but offer a great deal of protection when riding off road. I think they add a little bit to the ugly beauty of the bike as well. After riding the bike a bit afterward I can tell it turns into corners a bit quicker than it used to, presumably because of the added weight.

Here's the full view, showing several other farkles as well (see my 'Gear' page for the complete list):

[caption id="attachment_694" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Fully farkled"][/caption]

Monday, December 13, 2010

The gaps between clouds

It rains a lot in Western Oregon. Not in terms of accumulated precipitation -- I think Dallas, Texas actually gets more annual rainfall than Portland -- but in frequency of days where precipitation occurs. Fortunately, if you're flexible, you still find windows of dry opportunities to ride even in the middle of December.

Sunday morning was overcast but dry, with the forecast of rain not coming until early afternoon. I took my V-Strom on a trip to Eagle Creek, Barton, through the Carver Curves, and across the swollen Clackamas River. It looked like swirling milk chocolate. Once I was on the southern bank, I headed southeast on Springwater Road where I joined up with Highway 211 and looped back home through Estacada. It's a fun loop and provides a nice change of pace over my usual routes.

View Larger Map

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chilly ride through the Willamette Valley

It was dry but cold and windy Saturday morning. Riding opportunities are rare this time of year so I bundled up and rode despite the chilly conditions. I headed south on a very familiar route through Estacada, to Mollala, then to Silverton and Sublimity where I turned around and retraced my steps back home. At one point a woman driving a mini-van with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof pulled out in front of me. Fortunately I was able to go around her via the oncoming lane, otherwise I would have been faced with the choice of slamming into the back of her or running off the road.

She got a decent blast of my horn.

My bike performed great as usual and despite having very cold toes and fingers when I returned, I really enjoyed the ride. 140 miles was far too short of a trip but this time of year I take what I can get.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Maintenance riding

Sometimes you ride your bike for the sole purpose of getting it ridden. I doubt that's proper grammar, but at least I didn't end the sentence with a preposition. (Every time you do that a puppy dies.) This time of year, opportunities to go for a 150 mile day ride are few and far between. The bulk of my rides are commutes to work and back.

Sunday I rode into Gresham and back, in the rain, simply to ride the bike. This is to keep things moving and keep the battery charged. I rode to work today as well, being one of the only semi-dry days forecasted for the entire week.

Sometimes you ride simply to get the bike ridden.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It was a dark and foggy night

Morning, actually. It was a dark and foggy morning on my commute to work today. I usually arrive at work before 7am so it's still completely dark when I leave the house. It had rained pretty hard the previous day, and apparently through most of the night as well. The ground and pavement was wet and there was a thick fog hugging the ground.

What was interesting, however, was the sky. Despite the fog, looking up I could see stars. Orion was on his head to the south and I could see Venus descending toward the western horizon. Once I got rolling the ride was fantastic. Despite being dark, there was no rain or road spray and the fog swirled around me in the gleam of my headlights.

It was magical.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall ride to Detroit

I had a fantastic Fall ride to Detroit and back on Sunday. It was chilly when I left the house, but after gassing up in Estacada, it began to warm up enough to be comfortable. The road to Detroit remains open until the first snowfall; from Ripplebrook south they don't plow the road so whatever snow falls, stays. This will probably be my last ride on that route until May or even June next year.

The vine maple are turning colors and their vivid oranges and reds are dramatic underneath the much taller douglas fir. Not all trees are changing yet, so the mountains have a nice mix of greens and yellows. I was briefly followed by another motorcyclist, who gained on me in the straights but lagged way behind in the curves. He never got close enough for me to get a look at what kind of bike he rode. By the time I stopped in Detroit and headed back toward home, there were quite a few more bikes out and about, all heading toward Detroit. I saw several V-Stroms in the mix.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New parts

My 2007 V-Strom has 34,000 miles on it. So far this summer I've had the brakes replaced (for the first time), new tires put on (third set, not including the Trailwings that came with the bike), and just yesterday I had a new chain and sprockets installed (second set). I also had the radiator fluid flushed about a month ago.

So far the bike has proven to be rock-solid and reliable without a single mechanical failure. Everything I've had done has been normal wear-and-tear kind of stuff, other than the front-right bar end and turn signal from when I dropped it in the parking lot at work.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ride report: Steens Mountain, Southeast Oregon

I just got back from a 6-day, 1,600 mile trip through, across, and around southeastern Oregon, with a visit to the highest road in the state at 9,700 feet -- Steens Mountain.

After camping my way all the way across the center of the state and down to the southern border for a couple of days, I met up with Mark and Janice, two new friends from California. I met Mark in a diner in Weaverville, CA back in June. He and I both ride V-Stroms and had stayed in touch all summer, talking about taking a trip together. His wife Janice also rides a V-Strom, so the two of them headed up to Lakeview and met me there on a Monday afternoon.

The next morning we set off to see the pronghorns on top of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (we even saw fighter jets in dog-fighting maneuvers directly overhead), then rode 65 miles at 60+ mph on a washboarded dirt road to Frenchglen where I picked up a nasty hitchhiker in my back tire.

I fixed my own flat, then we headed up to Fish Lake on the western slope of Steens Mountain and stayed the night. The view from the top is incredible and should definitely be on everyone's short-list of must-see places on the west coast.

On Wednesday we rode south through Fields (home of overpriced burgers and rather pathetic soft-serve shakes) and into Denio, Nevada. From there it was one wide open space after another as we boogied across the prairie back into Oregon for another night in Lakeview before heading our separate ways back home. I headed north in another cross-state jaunt, landing at my sister's ranch outside of Goldendale, Washington for a one-night stay before heading back to home turf.

It was a trip of firsts and I can easily say it's one of the most enjoyable journeys I've ever made. The route was light on twisties and heavy on long views, but I'm learning to appreciate and actually enjoy them.

Rather than stick individual photos in this blog post, I'm going to link to my Picasa page and let you peruse the entire bunch from there. http://picasaweb.google.com/ruckerworks/SteensTrip

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back side to Timothy Lake

It was a pretty good Labor Day weekend. The weather wasn't too hot or cold, it was dry, and I had a nice mix of productivity, rest, and recreation. Of course, that means I got a good ride in. This time I headed up the Clackamas River road to Ripplebrook Ranger Station, where several government vehicles were parked at a forest fire staging area (presumably there was a fire nearby but I saw no smoke or flames). Instead of heading south to Detroit as I usually do, I headed east on FS57 past Harriett Lake and up the gravel road to Timothy Lake.

The road up the back side emerges at the lake's outlet, a man-made dike that flooded Timothy Meadows back in the 50's or 60's. The water shoots out in a dramatic spray below the dike and flows west to the Clackamas River.

Once I crossed the dike I rode around the various campgrounds on the southern shore of the lake, then got onto Skyline Road for about a dozen miles before merging onto Highway 26. Once up and over Government Camp I stopped at the Dairy Queen on Rhododendron for lunch (avoid the mushroom swiss burgers; they're nasty). Fed, I left 26 in Zigzag and headed about a mile up Lolo Pass Road where I then cut west again on Barlow Trail Road and followed my favorite "Marmot Run" into the back side of Sandy and home.

My new Bridgestone Battle Wing tires were broken in and performed great, riding nice and smooth and providing plenty of grip. They're supposed to grip really good on wet pavement. It's supposed to rain most of this week so I may commute one or two days to test it out.

Here's the route I took in Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Friday, September 3, 2010

New tires

I just had new tires put on my V-Strom. At 31,700 miles total bike miles and approx. 9,000 miles on this set of Metzeler Tourance's, they needed to be replaced. I had Yamaha Sports Plaza -- in the same location as the former Action Motor Sports dealership -- install a new set of Bridgestone Battle Wings, purchased from JakeWilson.com (great prices and free shipping!) I also had them flush and replace the coolant in my bike.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Testing out gear

Gear update 12-15-2010:

I've replaced my 25 year-old CampinGaz stove with an MSR PocketRocket. It fires up easily, cooks nice and hot, is ultra-compact, and boils water very quickly (which is what I use it for 99% of the time). I got mine for less than $35 from Amazon.com

I've also purchased a new sleeping bag. My old one was a 30-40 degree bag made out of spider silk and smoke, and required the use of a Thermolite liner to keep me alive. I've slept in that system down to 20 degrees and although I made it through the night, it was unpleasant. I've since ordered a Marmot Never Summer 0-degree down bag from Campmor.com. I'll report more when I've actually slept in it

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming (a.k.a. the original post):

I have a trip coming up that will involve several nights camping out rather than staying in motels. The location will be remote, far away from services such as gas, food, and lodging, and will be at high elevation. This past weekend I decided to ride to a spot in the woods on the eastern slope of Mt. Hood and spend the night, testing out my camping gear. The last thing I want to do is find out my gear doesn't work or isn't adequate for the job when I'm relying on it for real.

The whole purpose of the short trip was to spend the night in the woods to test gear, rather than the more usual goal of a bike trip. I planned to eat dinner in camp, stay the night in my tent, eat breakfast, then ride back home.

It had rained at Government Camp within a few hours before I went over the pass, judging by the wet pavement and cool fall-like air. By the time I got to camp, about an hour and a half away from home and on the dry side of the mountain, I could see spots in the dust where it had rained briefly within about a half hour before. There was still an inch thick layer of fine dust on the ground, however, and it got everywhere as I rode over it.

I set up my tent and unpacked my cooking gear, then set out to make dinner. I've been using the same small Campingaz butane camp stove for 25 years and it has always been rock solid. However, partway through cooking dinner the fuel ran out. Prior to leaving I had suspected my fuel canister was getting low and when looking for a supplier I discovered that brand is no longer sold in the United States. So I took my chances and ended up eating most of my dinner cold.

One trick my brother taught me was to take food that doesn't have to be cooked in order to be edible. If you get into a situation (like I did) where you're unable to heat your food, you won't starve. Eating my dinner cold was no big deal. However, yellow jackets soon discovered my presence and began to pester me aggressively. They landed in my food, on me, and began to really threaten my quality of life at that moment. I had to continuously walk around camp while I ate because if I stopped I'd have a half-dozen yellow jackets in my food.

I finally managed to eat my cold dinner and get my mess kit cleaned up. With the summer fire season in full swing building a fire was out of the question. Considering the prospect of a cold breakfast and more hassles from the increasing numbers of aggressive yellow jackets, I decided spending the night at home would be more appealing. Plus I already knew my tent and sleeping bag set up worked fine down to 20 degrees so I had basically tested out everything that needed testing: cooking, food prep, and packing/loading it all on my bike.

I broke camp and rode home.

End note: I've already ordered a replacement for my venerable but now obsolete Campingaz stove: An MSR PocketRocket from Amazon.com, $35 with free shipping. It's the same type of stove but uses a different kind of fuel canister.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Into the mist

Saturday I took a nice ride up Marmot Road to Barlow Trail Road, then turned around and headed back. There were several bicyclists heading west on Marmot. I didn't see numbers on their jerseys so I assume it was a for-fun or training ride, rather than a race.

Sunday, however, was a different story. I went through Bull Run and Aimes then up to Corbett and up to Larch Mountain, and from Sandy all the way to Hurlburt Road I was passing bicyclists in some kind of race (numbers on their jerseys). Some road three abreast taking up the entire lane. I don't understand their mentality when bicyclists do that.

I managed to get past them safely. By the time I got to Corbett the clouds were thickening up and threatening rain. It had rained the night before so several spots of pavement were wet. I then headed east up Larch Mountain Road. As I climbed elevation mist began to form on my windshield and face shield. Once above 2,000 feet it began sprinkling.

The parking lot at the top of Larch Mountain -- at 4,000 feet elevation -- was shrouded in cloud and mist and drizzle. It was the first time I've ridden in precipitation in months and I welcomed it. I turned around without stopping and headed back down the mountain toward home.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Huckleberry Loop

Sunday I rode a loop up and over the Cascades via Forest Service roads, then back on Highway 26. The route began in Sandy under cloudy and misty skies. Although it was warm and somewhat muggy, the air was damp so I had my waterproof pants on. It was warm riding but that's better than getting soaked. I topped off my gas tank in Estacada and already needed to pull out the liner from my Aerostich Darien. Cooler, I headed up the Clackamas River Highway toward Ripplebrook.

See the full route here.

Although I had a few rain drops on my face shield as I passed by Promontory Park on the North Fork Reservoir of the Clackamas River, I could see breaks in the clouds and within a half dozen miles I had sunshine, which stayed with me for the remainder of the trip. Riding conditions were perfect, actually. Temperatures were in the upper 60s to low 70's, the pavement was dry, and there was beautiful sunshine highlighting the rapids of the Clackamas River to my right.

At Ripplebrook I continued south on FS46 toward Detroit. I had to meep-meep my way past several people walking in the middle of the road at Austin Hot Springs, but once I was safely past them, I continued on to the junction with FS42 / Pinhead Creek Road. This is a paved one-lane forest service road that's in remarkable condition, albiet narrow in many spots. The road climbs in elevation nearly 2,000 feet, up into the high Cascades.

It was getting warm so I pulled off onto a gravel fire road and took a break. Water and granola bar inside me, I stripped down to my skivies right along the road side and put on my denim Draggin' Jeans -- much cooler than my insulated waterproof Fieldsheer pants! Re-dressed in cooler attire, I continued on, joining up with Skyline Road.

At nearly 4,000 feet, I saw a sign for Summit Lake, 1 mile, and pulled off for some exploring. 100 yards up the road I saw a pickup pulled over into the brush and a wooly bearded man standing amidst the bushes with a white bucket in his hand -- picking huckleberries. As I slowly rode toward Summit Lake on the narrow gravel road, I looked at the huckleberry bushes to see if they were ripe yet. Although I saw a few red berries, they're not yet ready for picking. Maybe in another week or two I'll get up there and pick a gallon.

I was soon at Summit Lake. A couple of cars were parked in the unimproved campground, some packing up to head home, back to the weekly grind in the city, no doubt. I parked the bike and took some pictures, then headed back up the gravel road to rejoin Skyline Road.

Skyline passes by the entrance to Timothy Lake, but rather than detour to the lake I kept heading Northeast to hook up with Highway 26 and the slow-moving traffic of everyone heading back to Portland from recreating east of the Cascades.

After getting home I gave my bike an oil change (31,430 miles on the odometer) because it deserves it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Repairs: Part II

After failing to figure out how to remove the front cowling in order to access my turn signals, I gave up and took it to the dealership's service department and have them do it. Even their head mechanic said it was a royal pain, but they managed to get my front two turn signals replaced. The rear signals are apparently just as much of a hassle, so currently my bike still has the factory indicators on the back.

While at the shop I had them put on new brake pads and replace the bar-end weight that got bent when I dropped my bike in the parking lot at work a few weeks back. Since they were already working on the front right handlebar I had them install a Grip Puppy on that side as well. I had installed a Grip Puppy on the left side a few years back but left off the throttle side.

The dealership I went to is Yamaha Sports Plaza in Fairview. It's the same location as Action Motor Sports, where I bought my bike back in 2007, but has new ownership and they only carry Yamaha. The service department still supports Suzuki bikes, though. I'm concerned for the dealership, however. Business is down for motorcycle dealerships right now, for both sales and service, and I'll be surprised if they survive a year. I asked the owner how much new FJR's were going for and he said, "About $15k retail but we're definitely willing to negotiate." The hungry look in his eye when he said that was unmistakable -- they need business.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Repairs and rides

The front-right turn signal is cracked on my V-Strom and I bought 'drop-in' replacements from Touratech. I also bought new brake pads and bar-end weights. I planned to spend a few hours getting these parts installed and my first task was to get the turn signals replaced.

Getting to the large nuts that hold the front turn signals in place was not an easy chore and after spending over an hour trying to get the front fairing off my bike, I threw up my hands and gave up. There is a bizarre combination of hex-head screws, snaps and hooks that hold it in place and although I got the screws figured out (more or less) I was afraid the snaps were one-time-only fasteners; once you pull them out you have to replace them with new ones. Before taking that plunge I decided to refasten everything I had removed and let the mechanics at my local bike shop tackle the job.

I decided since the bike has to go into the shop I might as well have them swap out the brake pads and bar-end weights as well.

The next day I decided to take a long ride to Detroit. I've written about this route many times before so I won't go into great detail about the route. Most of the road has been repaved and is in great shape. The weather was fantastic for riding, sunny but not hot, and although there were a few slow cars and RVs to contend with, the acceleration of my V-Strom handled the situation marvelously.

I was also very pleased at the improvement the fork brace I installed made on turning and stability in windy conditions. The bike felt tighter and more stable. The difference wasn't dramatic but was definitely noticeable.

I also strapped a special action-cam onto my rear foot peg and videotaped the last leg into Detroit. Once there I took a break, then strapped the camera on the same foot peg facing backwards and filmed the same stretch of road but in reverse. The final footage is interesting and somewhat exciting to watch, since the camera is zooming along about 12" above the ground. However, my pant leg covered up the right side of the lens so I need to do it again with the camera mounted in another location.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fork brace

I installed a fork brace on my V-Strom last night. It's a flat piece of metal with two holes on either side that attaches to the front forks just below the boundary between the inner and outer bars. It provides stability and keeps the forks from flexing in or out during turns or when riding in windy conditions.

Although I didn't notice a difference when riding to work this morning, it's supposed to improve turning and cornering performance and stability. The biggest benefit I hope to gain from it is stability when riding with heavy cross winds. From everything I read the improvement is dramatic.

I purchased my brace from "Richland Rick" (Google it), a guy in Richland, Washington that makes them himself. Cost was $80 plus $7 shipping. I received it the next day after placing my order (via PayPal, ick).

Update 8/2/2010:

After giving my bike a thorough work-out riding 160 miles to Detroit and back via twisty (but well-paved) forest service roads, I can say the fork brace makes the bike seem tighter and more solid in curves. It's not like going from a Harley to a sport bike in improvement, but it is definitely noticeable. What's even more noticeable, however, is the bike has become quite a bit more stable in windy conditions. Although I didn't experience a strong crosswind, I did follow other vehicles and the back blast is far less dramatic and head winds almost feel non-existent. The fork brace is definitely a worthwhile upgrade and should be standard equipment from the factory.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To fish or ride?

I just got back from a fishing trip to Central Oregon. When driving through Redmond I saw BMW after BMW riding around town. Once I was south of town I saw them riding north on Highway 97, obviously part of the annual BMW MOA rally.

Back when I was self employed I went fishing a lot. I didn't have a motorcycle and taking the boat out to catch trout or kokanee was my biggest form of summer-time recreation. Once I started working full-time and got into riding motorcycles, my fishing activities got cut back dramatically.

This year I'm trying to strike a balance between fishing and riding. I've been on one big bike trip down to California and I've already been on one big fishing trip with another coming up. The fishing usually tapers off in the heat of August and low reservoir levels of September so maybe I'll get more time on two wheels during those months.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I dropped my bike

It's supposed to be hot today. I wanted to move my bike into a spot where it gets shady in mid-afternoon so the seat wouldn't be screaming hot when I leave at the end of the day. I hopped on and engaged the clutch, then started scooting it forward with my feet.

The problem is, I forgot to disengage the steering lock and the bike kept curving to the left. When it did that it leaned to the right and I was unable to stop it in time. It fell to the right onto the pavement and dumped me onto the ground as well. I did my best tae kwon do roll and was unharmed save for losing the bark at the end of my right pinky finger (WTF?)

The crunching sound my bike make was mortifying. The blow to my pride was the worst, however. I went inside and asked a buddy to come outside and help me get the bike upright. I put the small of my back to the seat and lifted while he held onto the handlebars and guided it.

Once back up I saw that the right sidecase was scuffed and scratched pretty bad but it didn't look like it was actually punctured. The bar-end on the handlebar was bent at an odd angle, too. Some gas spilled out as well (I filled the tank before arriving at work that morning). Other than that there didn't appear to be any other damage. After disengaging the steering lock and putting it into neutral I started it up.

If the bar end doesn't fall off it should be safe to ride home.

My pride received the most damage of the event.

Updated: Pics added...

[caption id="attachment_574" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Right handlebar bar-end"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_575" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Right hand guard"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_576" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Givi E21 right side case"][/caption]

Ripplebrook, good to see you my old friend!

After a fairly tiring holiday weekend (I end up spending the big holidays at home on domestic to-do projects, it seems) I managed to squeeze in a ride up the Clackamas River Highway to Ripplebrook ranger station and back Monday morning. There were quite a few other bikes heading up the river by the time I turned around and headed back toward home, including several V-Stroms.

It was difficult not to keep going toward Detroit. That's a 160 mile round trip and is one of my favorites. I didn't have enough gas and needed to get back home to get more stuff done around the house, so I u-turned at the Ripplebrook ranger station.

The weather was overcast and cool, perfect for riding. The pavement was in good shape and I only had to pass two slow cagers, a relative luxury.

This week it's supposed to be very hot in town yet despite all my grumbling and grousing about riding in the heat, I intend to commute on my bike as many days as possible. Thursday is supposed to be in the upper 90's so I'll probably take the air-conditioned cage to work that day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Annual Ride to Work Day

Today is the annual Ride to Work Day. The third Monday of every June has been set aside to highlight the value and benefits of riding a motorcycle or scooter to work. The day is also intended to get those driving cars and trucks to become aware of motorcycles, to see them, and to share the road safely and courteously with them.

I rode to work today. I had two different vehicles pull out in front of me, even though both looked directly at me. That's why I ride as if I'm invisible (sometimes I think I really am). I assume motorists don't see me or even recognize my existence or at the very least my right to exist. Ultimately my safety is my own responsibility so I ride accordingly.

If you drive a car, be aware that motorcycles are out there sharing the road. Look for them, and give them the same respect and courtesy on the road that you'd expect others to give to you. Let's all get to our destinations safely.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Intense trip to Northern California

I just returned from a quick trip to the twisty roads of northern California. I rode 1,700 miles in just a little over 5 days. There were numerous weather conditions and road conditions to contend with, and I had several eventful moments along the way. I also met some wonderful people and saw some amazing sights.

Day one I rode down the Willamette Valley and over to Coos Bay on the central Oregon coast. I had fantastic weather and took some roads I'd never been on before, specifically the highway from Monmouth to Philomath. I pulled over on Highway 101 for a photo of the Haceta Head lighthouse, south of Waldport. I stayed at the Best Western in Coos Bay for the first time as well. It was adequate, equivalent to the Red Lion up the road.

I managed to get packed up and on the road before the rain started, which kicked in by the time I got to Coquille. It never let up until early afternoon when I got to Happy Camp. I stopped for a late breakfast in Brookings and my gear was completely soaked. The wind was blowing in off the ocean fairly hard and visibility was terrible. I was waved across the border into California and stopped at a gas station on the north side of Crescent City to fuel up. Then I turned northeast on highway 199 and after passing some slow tourists meandering through the redwoods I was able to enjoy that wonderfully twisty road for the second time in two weeks.

The weather dried out slightly in the tiny Oregon community of Takilma so I stopped for a bio break and to let my gloves dry in the brief sunlight. Some rain drops started falling again so I suited back up and headed up into the hills. The rain returned in earnest and the higher I climbed the worse visibility became. At the pass, nearly 5,200 feet, there was quite a bit of snow on the roadside and heavy rain coming down. By the time I got to Happy Camp back in California -- the third border crossing that day -- the sun was out and the temperature had climbed enough to make it sticky-uncomfortable in my gear. I stopped at the grocery store for a quick break, then headed down Highway 96 to my next overnight stop in Yreka.

I stayed at the Best Western instead of the Super 8. It was a nice motel and worth the price. Being a Sunday night nothing was open so I ate at Grandma's House Restaurant on the advice of a local. The bric-a-brac atmosphere was nauseous and the food was one notch above cafeteria-grade.

I began to get congested while in Yreka and was glad to head south the next morning. My route took me on highway 3 through Etna and Callahan before climbing up and over beautiful Scotts Pass with clear blue skies. The day's ride was fantastic and I was able to stop and pose for a self-portrait (camera timers and mini-tripods are great) on a bridge over a rushing mountain river.

My overnight stay was at the Super 8 in Fortuna, a great place with friendly staff. Dinner was at the Eel River Brewery next door, a greek salad and pint of pale ale. While there I caught up on some laundry to reset my clothing situation back to zero. The next morning I had some mist to contend with as I headed back inland on highway 36 through Dinsmore and Hayfork. I had a close call with a Toyota that crossed the center line in a narrow section of road but was able to chirp my bike hard-right and avoid a collision. It would have been a non-injury event even if I had hit them as both our speeds were below 15 mph. While having lunch at The Nugget in Weaverville I met another V-Strom rider, Mark, from Eureka. After a great conversation we hit the road.

I rode highway 299 west until reaching Willow Creek where I headed north on Highway 96. The weather was fantastic for the second day in a row, helping to make up for the deluge I endured on Sunday. I gassed up in Hoopa in anticipation of a long, slow ride up the Salmon River through the mountains. Once I reached Somes Bar I cut east and followed the rugged river valley back into the hills. After about 8 miles of very slow, narrow riding, I stopped for a bio break and noticed my GPS said I'd reach Yreka at 7:50 pm. It was already after 3pm and after taking inventory of my food and water situation, I decided the wise thing to do would be to backtrack to Highway 96 and beat feet to Happy Camp where I could get a snack and bottle of water, then head on to Yreka that way. It was the smart thing to do, and I arrived at my motel just before 6pm. Tired, but safe.

Dinner was at Lalos Mexican Restaurant in Yreka, with beers and conversation at The Rex Club next door to my motel. I had the bartender and several customers convinced I was a retired adult film star (I eventually confessed that I am the computer guy for a fisheries consulting firm, an admittedly less glamorous vocation). Again, being in Yreka got my sinuses in a bunch.

Wednesday morning was beautiful, with blue skies dotted by a few white puffy clouds. I headed north on Interstate 5 back into Oregon where I saw two state troopers nab speeding California drivers right in front of me. In Ashland I left the freeway and headed east on Highway 66, the Green Springs Highway, toward Klamath Falls. I stopped at the memorial park and visited the niche where my Mom's ashes are located, then ate breakfast at the Black Bear diner on South 6th. The breeze was kicking up and my bike got knocked sideways as I rode more times than I could count.

I figured I had enough gas to get me to Lakeview but I wanted to be on the safe side so I stopped at the Chevron in Bly to fuel up. The attendant asked if I had just come through a week before, saying he saw a guy stop with a bike and luggage exactly like mine. I said it must be my 'good twin' ... stroking my beard I reminded him, "The evil twins always have goatees." I'm not sure he got the joke.

In Lakeview I stopped for a snack and chatted with a BMW rider heading south from Burns toward Chico, California. Back on the bike, I headed north on 395, then northwest on 31 toward Summer Lake. The scenery, geology, and weather conspired to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes that happens when you ride through certain areas. The wind was a real wooly-booger, though. When I approached Summer Lake I could see a large dust storm being kicked up by the wind. I was concerned that I'd have to ride through it, but fortunately the road skirted around behind and upwind of it so I could see it safely without having to endure it's brutality. After riding through Oregon's Outback and wrestling with an ever-present wind, I finally met Highway 97 and cut north toward my destination for the night, Bend. I had to stop and switch to wet-weather gear, though, as rain returned briefly to my experience.

My destination was The Riverhouse Resort, the nicest motel of the trip. After unpacking and showering, I went into the Crossings Lounge for a beverage and dinner. I met some nice people and struck up a great conversation with Arne, a district rep for a regional restaurant chain. The sinus issues I experienced in Yreka, exacerbated by climbing and descending numerous mountain ranges over the duration of my trip so far, all conspired to completely destroy my voice. By the time I went to bed that night I couldn't talk at all and my sinuses were packed solid.

It rained that night and when I began packing my bike I noticed the Volkswagen parked next to it spent the night with its passenger window rolled down. Breakfast was at the restaurant across the street, and I could barely speak loud enough to place my order with the waitress. I was soon suited up and heading north. Because I didn't feel good and simply wanted to get home after what had turned out to be a very tiring (yet rewarding and enjoyable) trip, I decided to take 97 and then 26 the fast way home rather than ride over to Detroit and up past Breitenbush and Ripplebrook "the back way."

Thursday, this last day of my trip, was also my 41st birthday. Once I was north of Madras the rain entered the equation once again and I got dumped on the rest of the way home, with the rain especially heavy going over the pass at Government Camp. By the time I rolled into my garage late that morning my gear was soaked and I was exhausted.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Car trip to the redwoods

Visiting the redwoods of northwestern California seems to becoming an annual trip for me. This year I'll do it twice. I just returned from a car trip to visit relatives near Mt. Lassen in northeast California. My wife and I stayed two days there, then drove west to Crescent City on the coast and visited the Prairie Creek Redwoods state park near there.

We saw elk up close, including a young bull in the velvet that passed within 10 feet of our vehicle. We also parked at the base of Cal-Barrel road and walked up to the Remembrance Grove. That truly is a holy place.

We stayed overnight at the Northwoods Inn Best Western in Crescent City. If I had paid $49 for the room I would have thought, "This makes sense." We could hear every sound from adjacent rooms and when the people above us took a shower it was as loud as our own. To further frustrate matters, a half dozen Harley-Davidson riders were staying there as well. That's all well and good, but they decided to fire up their un-muffled bikes early the next morning and rev them so loud car alarms went off in the parking lot.

We left the next morning and headed northeast on highway 199 back toward Oregon. This road follows the rugged Smith River and is a real nail-biter if you're behind the wheel of a large vehicle. I was driving our Ford F-350 crew cab and several sections have tight turns with zero margin. It would be a blast on a motorcycle but in a large vehicle like ours it was a little tense at times. The scenery is absolutely fantastic, however. I have an upcoming bike trip to the same area and have altered my intended route to include that particular road.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Guy's Weekend

I was invited to attend an annual guy's-only weekend at a cabin outside of North Powder, Oregon. I went two years prior with my buddy, Mike. Although he drove there with others in a pickup truck, I rode my V-Strom solo via my own more circuitous route (see end of this post for maps).

For several days leading up to my departure, Oregon had a lot of precipitation and low snow levels. The pass at Government Camp had packed snow on the roadway and temps in the upper 20's and lower 30's Thursday, the day I left. I backtracked into Gresham, then road I-84 east to Cascade Locks where I crossed the Bridge of the Gods to SR14 in Washington. There had been a rock slide at Dog Mountain so I had to wait about 10 minutes for the construction crews to let us pass. I took this photo looking south across the Columbia River toward Oregon.

I crossed back over into Oregon at The Dalles and had lunch at Casa El Mirador. Dos enchiladas, pour favor ... muey bueno! I topped off my gas tank and headed south through the heart of Oregon on highway 197. This stretch of road passes through alfalfa and wheat fields covering rolling hills and wide open spaces. It passes by the town of Dufur, which is a common turn-around spot for me on a favorite day loop. Riding through Tygh Valley 197 climbs back up one hill then back down again into the small but busy rafting town of Maupin, which straddles the Deschutes River.

I often stop in Maupin for a quick snack but this time I kept riding. Instead of continuing down 197 I hung a sharp left once across the river and headed up the winding hairpin turns of Bakeoven Road. It takes me to Shaniko, the next town on my journey, with far less traffic and arguably better scenery. The weather was great for riding and I had a pleasant blend of puffy clouds and blue skies to enhance the view across the grasslands. Between Maupin and Shaniko is very little, but the sparse landscape has its own beauty.

In Shaniko I turned south toward the tiny hamlet of Antelope, then east on state route 218 toward Fossil. This is one of my favorite roads in Oregon. There's hardly any car traffic, the road surface is in great shape -- although there can be gravel on curves -- the scenery is fantastic, and it has a nice blend of challenging and rewarding curves. It's also long enough that I feel like I get my money's worth out of the ride. I stopped at the Clarno Unit rest area and trailhead of the John Day Fossil Beds for a quick break, set up my mini-tripod down on the ground, and took this photo using the 10-second timer. Self-portraits are one of the hassles of my solo riding style.

I had enough gas to last the rest of the day's ride, but it's better to be safe than sorry when traveling the sparsely populated roads of eastern Oregon. I stopped at the two-pump gas station in Fossil and fueled up, then continued onward. State route 19 took me into the cowboy town of Spray, which sits above the John Day river. As I passed through I saw several real cowboys filing into a local cafe for lunch, their hats so wide they barely fit through the doorway. The next tiny town I passed through was Kimberly.

I was feeling thirsty and in need of a break so I stopped at a visitor's center at one of the John Day Fossil Beds locations. About two miles later I hit the junction with highway 26 and turned left, eastward through Dayville and into Mt. Vernon. I had originally intended to camp at Clyde Holliday State Park in Mt. Vernon, but after pulling into the park and checking it out, I decided to continue on to John Day and get a motel room at the Best Western.

The next morning, after breakfast at The Outpost restaurant next door, I continued east through Prairie City, then northeast over Dixie Pass before cutting north on state route 7 past Bates and Sumpter. The weather was slightly cooler but still dry. Eventually I made it to Baker City where I stopped for a late 'second breakfast' as a Hobbit might say. The homemade corned beef hash at the Oregon Trail restaurant really hit the spot.

Once fed, I headed north on highway 30 through Haines before turning west toward Anthony Lake. Leaving the farm and ranch land of the valley, the road enters the timbered Elk Horn mountains. My GPS guided me expertly to the gravel side road that took me to the cabin and my destination.

The cabin is without electricity, other than through the use of a small generator, and sits on 80 acres with a decent sized creek. There is a spring so running water is available. This particular weekend is for gentlemen only, and I use that term loosely. Sort of the whole point of the occasion is to get our cussin' and scratchin' and fartin' out of our systems before we inevitably have to return to our wives and girlfriends and jobs and civilization in general. To protect the guilty, I won't go into too much detail about what goes on, but I will touch on a couple of noteworthy highlights.

One of the main attractions was the presence of a rather large John Deere front-loader. Tracy, an older man who retired after spending 30+ years working such large equipment, expertly used it to load rather large stumps and logs onto the campfire.

Another guy, Dave, brought a homemade rock crawler in the back of his work van. Opportunity is where you find it, and once he unloaded the vehicle he used the empty space as a weather-proof location to pitch his tent. I, however, wasn't as fortunate. I pitched my tent the old fashioned way, and was rather proud of how it looked with my bike parked next to it.

The temperature dropped into the upper 20's during the night, no doubt aided by the fact that the cabin sits at around 4,500 feet elevation and rests at the bottom of a valley (heat rises, cold air descends, etc.) I managed to sleep pretty good considering the circumstances. I awoke a little after 5 am and relieved myself, then put some more wood on the fire to get it going again before crawling back into my warm sleeping bag for another two hours of shut-eye. Eventually the whole camp was awake and well fed with a breakfast of venison sausage patties and bacon, scrambled eggs, rosemary spiced potatoes, and coffee. While most of the other guys got fishing gear ready and set off for nearby Pilcher Reservoir in pursuit of some fat rainbows, I broke camp and loaded up my bike, eager to get my gear stowed before threatening clouds dumped rain.

My timing was perfect. After saying goodbye, I mounted up and headed down the quarter-mile dirt road onto the paved highway and down into the valley below. As soon as I emerged from the timber rain drops began falling. I had off-and-on rain for the next 30 miles as I retraced my route back into Baker City. I gassed up then stopped again at the Oregon Trail restaurant for a lunch of chef's salad and coffee.

By 1pm I was heading southwest on state route 7 past Sumpter. At Bates, 7 meets highway 26 where I began climbing toward the top of Dixie Pass. It began to rain -- hard. Then it began to drop snow mixed with the heavy rain. Slush formed on my face shield and I had to wipe it off every 5-10 seconds with the thumb of my gloved left hand. Thankfully the road surface was only wet and not frozen. The air temperature was dropping with every foot I climbed up the mountain pass and I began to worry I'd run into freezing riding before cresting the pass.

Fortunately, however, I reached the 5,200 foot summit and started dropping down the other side before the weather had a chance to get truly dangerous. I think Mother Nature knew I won because the clouds spread out and the precipitation petered out. By the time I reached Prairie City I had mostly blue skies. There was a bit of wind buffeting me from the side but I made it back to John Day safely and without further incident.

After another night's stay at the Best Western -- in the same room I had Thursday night -- I set out toward home Sunday morning. This time I took a slightly different route. Instead of heading west on 26 through Dayville and then north on 19 to Spray, I went north on 395 to Long Creek then west through Monument where I got back on 19 in Kimberly. The rest of the route was the same until I got to Maupin. This time, rather than north to The Dalles and around Mt. Hood via the Columbia River Gorge, I headed west on highway 216 then over the pass at Government Camp. I returned home to Sandy under beautiful blue skies in what turned out to be a fantastic Spring day of riding.
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Wet and dark commute

I woke up around 3:30 am and couldn't fall back asleep so I decided to get up and go to work early. It was still dark when I mounted my V-Strom and pulled out of the garage. Soon I heard the pit-pit-pit sound of rain hitting my face shield.

It was a dark ride into work, and wet. I had fairly heavy rain most of the way in. As I was riding, the thought occurred to me that I was no less comfortable than if it was 43 degrees and dry. The only difference when it rains is visibility gets reduced slightly.

I put lemon Pledge on the outside of my face shield to shed water. Ironically, I can see better when riding in the rain using that method than I can in my car with the wipers going! I also rub shaving cream on the inside of my face shield to prevent fogging. It works like a charm.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I was taking a shower this morning before work when I happened to glance upward. In the corner of the wall and ceiling I saw a very long-legged spider presumably doing some web work. I've been to many campgrounds and have taken showers where spiders were present, but never in a position to drop down on me and do its best Little Miss Muffit impression.

It made me nervous.

I'm not normally afraid of spiders, although I do have a healthy respect for their ability to ruin an otherwise good day. I once walked face-first into an orb weaver's lair while hiking. Having a face full of spider web was creepy enough but I quickly realized I had my mouth open at the time and could feel the little guy dancing around on my tongue. They say animals are more afraid of us than we are of them. I doubt that.

Like I said, I'm not normally afraid of spiders, especially when I can see them coming. But seeing one hovering around above me while I'm naked and wet is another matter. This one was clumsy, too. He kept slipping off his web and falling a few inches before catching himself. I wondered if he was trying to psyche me out, like a mixed-martial artist throwing feint jabs right before launching a round kick to the side of his opponent's head.

I couldn't stop looking up. My mind was calculating fall trajectories, wondering where he'd land if he fell off his silky perch. Would he hit the soap shelf and bounce onto my arm? If he fell all the way to the bottom of the shower would he scramble over to my foot? It felt ridiculous thinking these things, but I couldn't help myself. Spiders are one thing. Spiders hovering above you while you take a shower is another matter entirely.

That spider no longer exists. Well, he does, but he doesn't quite look the same. Let's just say he's an ex-spider and leave it at that.

What does all this have to do with motorcycling, you ask? Last summer my buddy Mike had a yellow jacket fly into his helmet while his face shield was cracked open. The little bugger stung him several times on the temple before he could safely pull his bike to the curb and remove his helmet. His eye swelled up, making him look like he had gone two rounds with Mike Tyson.

Thinking of what happened to Mike, after I disposed of the squatter arachnid I had the thought, "I'm sure glad spiders don't fly."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mini Marmot, twice!

Sunday was a riding day. The weather was perfect. Warm enough and dry. I took the Marmot route and saw a string of Mini Coopers coming the other way, at least a dozen of them out on a rally of some kind. I was in the zone and my cornering was better than usual. When I got home I had two thoughts: "I should do this again!" followed by "And I should film it!"

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I dug out my Oregon Scientific action camera and strapped it to my passenger foot-rest facing backward, then headed out again. Just before heading down the hill on Ten Eyke Road I started the camera rolling. Again, I was in the zone and added 5 mph to my average cornering speeds.

Marmot Road is somewhat bumpy in spots and after a few miles I began to notice the camera was twisting in its mount. It was mounted just behind my left foot and on straight stretches I was able to reach down and rotate it back to a level shooting angle. Once Marmot Road came to a T at Barlow Trail road, I pulled over to find a way to firm up the mount so it would stay level.

And that's when I noticed the camera wasn't even on! I turned it back on and used a piece of paper towel to wedge the camera in place. After a mile or so I glanced down to the LCD display on top of the camera and noticed it was shut off again. When I got to Lolo Pass road, the turn-around point, I pulled into a driveway and checked out the camera again. It wouldn't turn on at all. Apparently the brand new batteries I put in it were old and wouldn't fire it up at all.

All was not lost. Although I was unable to film the second run, I had some great riding experience and got some fantastic practice on my cornering.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

28,000 miles

I rode to work today, after being out sick. I very rarely get sick, but when I do I try to get the rest I need to heal quickly rather than work through it. That approach accomplishes two things: makes the illness last longer, and gets my co-workers sick as well.

I heal quickly and felt well enough to ride today, the only dry day of the week. My bike is still filthy from the trip I took to Long Beach two weeks ago. I gassed up the bike and noticed that I was getting really close to rolling over 28,000 miles.

I'll hit that milestone about halfway home after work today. The bike has been rock-solid and given me nothing but smiles.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A wet ride to the world's longest beach

The Pacific Northwest offers a lot of outdoor recreational activities, several of which lead to tasty meals. One such endeavor is digging for razor clams at Long Beach, Washington. The coastal peninsula in southwest Washington, immediately north of the mouth of the Columbia River -- the infamous Columbia Bar, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world -- is home to the world's longest beach. 30 miles of uninterrupted sand is also home to a very large number of razor clams.

Myself and three others booked a cabin in Long Beach for the weekend. They drove a truck with our clam digging gear while I rode my bike and met them there. The route I chose took me through the coast range of northwest Oregon. Leaving my home in Sandy I took the freeway into Portland then turned north on highway 30 to the small town of Scappoose before heading inland on back country roads toward Astoria.

It was raining off and on but I didn't care. In fact, I enjoyed it. If you're dressed appropriately riding in the rain is actually somewhat enjoyable. The road from Scappoose runs in a northwest direction and takes me past tiny communities like Birkenfeld, Mist, and Jewell. The latter is home to an elk viewing area, Jewell Meadows. It's not uncommon to see a very large herd of elk lingering in the fields, usually close to some designated pull-out viewing areas. I only saw a half-dozen elk, laying down about 200 yards away. A sign admonishes viewers to behave themselves.

Earlier, biology beckoned and I pulled over at the Scaponia county park. Presumably the name is a contraction of Scappoose and Vernonia, another small town in the area. It was deserted. There was a break in the rainfall so I had a dry chance to get off the bike and stretch a bit. Up to that point I had been riding through urban areas for well over an hour, which is tiring in its own way. The chance to take a break, and dodge the rain, was a welcome one. Within minutes of getting back on the road the rain began again in earnest. Lemon Pledge furniture polish on my helmet's face shield makes the rain bead up and run off while shaving cream wiped on the inside prevents fogging.

The road gets narrow and rough past Jewell. It passes through dwindling settlements and soon I had nothing but clear cuts and dense rain forest to keep me company. I took my time and maintained a slow pace because there was a lot of gravel and wet needles on the roadway.

My stomach was growling by the time I emerged back into civilization so I stopped at a Dairy Queen on the south side of Astoria for lunch. There was a moderate breeze and cloudy skies but the rain had stopped and I even saw some brief glimpses of sunlight outside while I ate my chicken strip basket. Knowing that gas was at least ten cents higher per gallon across the river in Washington, I filled up at the Chevron in Astoria before crossing the high and long bridge over the Columbia River.

Once in Washington I picked up a clam digging tag at Ed's Bait Shop in the port town of Ilwaco, then checked into the Akari Bungalows in Long Beach. Our lodgings were a block off the main drag, right by a main road out onto the beach. A large archway over the road proclaims Long Beach is the "World's Longest Beach". I could see the archway from the back window of our bungalow, in between two hotels. Once unpacked we geared up and headed out onto the beach to dig our limit of clams (15 per person).

Saturday was more of the same, although we had to move to two different spots on the beach to get our limit. Dinner was at the Crab Pot on the south side of town, a rich dish of dungeness crab fettucini with a cup of chowder and a Drifter Pale Ale to wash it down.

Although we had dry and very pleasant weather Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, by the time we went to bed Saturday night it was a blowing rain storm outside. My bike rode out the storm parked just outside our front door and weathered it just fine -- although it was very dirty from the road grime of the ride on Friday. Sunday morning we packed up and headed to the 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview (highly recommended) and fortunately had cloudy but rainless skies as we went our separate ways -- they drove the truck back home via the most efficient route available (highway 30 to Longview, then I-5 home) while I headed back the way I came, the back roads through Jewell and Mist.

My ride home had quite a bit more rain than when I arrived, but I enjoyed it anyway. When I got back to Portland I was feeling somewhat hungry so I pulled over at a Well's Fargo bank branch and parked under the drive-thru overhang to snack on a Snicker's and chug a frappucino (motorcyclist's snack of champions). It got me out of the rain and is a great trick to remember when traveling on weekends. Once finished, I got onto I-405 for the crossing over the Willamette River, then hit I-84 for the ride east toward home.


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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Sidi Canyon sport-touring boots

My Alpinestar Ridge motorcycle boots have been looking long in the tooth. They've served me well for 28,000 miles of smiles but it was time to upgrade to some new riding footwear. After doing a lot of research and reading countless reviews, I decided to get the Sidi Canyon sport-touring boots.

Sidi is an Italian company, and their products aren't necessarily easy to find in local stores. I was nervous about buying a pair of boots site-unseen, without being able to try them on first. If I limited myself to just boots carried in local bike shops my selection would be rather slim. Knowing I could return them, I placed my order with Motorcycle Superstore and paid $300 with free shipping. The boots arrived less than 24 hours later -- I lucked out as the boots shipped within an hour of placing my order and came from a warehouse within my own state (Oregon). Even if I didn't like the boots I'd be writing a kudos review to Motorcycle Superstore.

The combination of suede and smooth leather, especially across the top of the forefoot, makes these boots look somewhat striking. They'd appear to be a pure street boot if not for the ankle adjustment mechanism a la motocross style. The sole is a semi-lug type for better traction on slippery mud-covered foot pegs and while walking around off-bike. There are no zippers so two large hook-and-loop flaps are the only thing holding them on.

My first impression is they feel great. They are relatively easy to get on, compared to most motorcycle boots, and have a good fit without feeling overly soft or too stiff. That's nice because it means no long and painful break-in period.

Note: If you ever have to break in a new pair of leather boots, put them on as tight as you can get them, stand in warm water, then wear them the rest of the day until they dry out.

I wore them on the ride home from work. The foot pegs on my V-Strom have a rubber surface and I noticed the Sidi Canyon's caught on the rubber a bit more than the smoother-soled bottoms of my Alpinestar Ridge boots. They are also slightly thicker in the forefoot so I have to angle my left foot forward a bit more to get under the shift lever. Every boot will feel different in this regard once you're on the bike, so by the time I get 100 miles in I'll be used to them and won't even notice the change.

Another thing I noticed is they are quieter when walking on hardwood floors. Presumably the sole is made of a slightly softer material than my Alpinestars. The more aggressive sole and softer compound will undoubtedly give me better traction on slick or wet road surfaces when I have to put my foot down at a stop sign.

My definition of value is getting more than you pay for. Although these boots are not necessarily cheap, I've learned over time that it's never a good time to buy cheap footwear; you'll regret it every time and with every step. So far I would say these boots are at least equal to what I paid, and based on the reviews I've read and how they feel on the bike, they'll probably exceed my expectations with every mile.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the mountain's shadow

I've lived in the Sandy area my whole life and for the first time this morning saw a sunrise behind Mt. Hood unlike any I've ever seen before. In theory it should be a frequent occurrence. High clouds gave the sunrise a palette to paint upon, pink and orange. Beautiful but far from unusual. What made this sunrise special was the shadow the mountain itself cast upon the clouds above.

A dark black cone of shadow was cast from the sun rising behind the mountain. It seemed to be standing on its point on the very tip of the mountain and angled up and away onto the clouds above. It would make sense that this would occur often. All that's required is the sun rising, the mountain standing there, and clouds for the shadow to fall upon. But for some reason I've never seen this event until today.

As I was pulling out of my driveway and making my way through my neighborhood to the main street on my way into work, I saw the pink clouds of a beautiful sunrise in my mirror. When I turned right and began riding north I looked over my right shoulder and caught a glimpse of the mountain shadow on the clouds. As soon as I got to highway 26 I headed east -- instead of west, toward work -- and got onto Bluff Road heading north. There were a half dozen cars at the Jonsrud Viewpoint checking out the same scene I sought. I pulled over, blinkers going so a distracted cager wouldn't rear-end me, and gazed at the sunrise behind Mt. Hood, and that unusual cone of shadow on the clouds.

It was sublime.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Around the Willamette Valley

I've lived in Oregon my entire life but never truly appreciated the beauty of the Willamette Valley. What you see heading down I-5 is barely the tip of the iceberg. I took a day off of work and clocked nearly 200 miles hitting the back roads of the western Oregon countryside and was amazed at what I saw.

I live in Sandy, on the foothills of Mt. Hood. When I left the house just before 8 am it was under cloudy skies. I headed south through Estacada and continued on Highway 211 toward Molalla. A few light sprinkles dotted my face shield, but the road was slowly drying out as the clouds struggled to break up. When I got to Molalla I headed south on 213 toward Silverton. This route is familiar and I've ridden it dozes of times (it's open all year).

Once I got to the quaint town of Silverton I told my GPS to take me to Pratum, a community I had never heard of until hitting the maps the prior evening. Normally I would continue south toward Stayton but this time my route took me more to the west, about halfway between 213 and I-5. The area is predominantly rural, with small farms of all types everywhere. There was fog in patches and the low clouds overhead were breaking up, giving me striking glimpses of the sun rising behind massive oaks and other deciduous trees. The feeling reminded me of the English countryside.

I made it to Pratum, and it was barely big enough to qualify map-hood. I'd call it a community rather than a town. I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Mcleay, southward. Similar to Pratum, it was small and quaint and more a community than a town. The small two lane roads passed through green farm fields and clumps of oak trees, still devoid of leaves during this late winter ride.

At Mcleay I repeated the process. Pull over and tell my GPS to take me to my next waypoint. This time I was headed for Turner, which was a small town just east of the busy interstate. So far I had visited three new towns and would bag several more before the day was through. Turner marked the southernmost town on the day's tour and once there I turned west. I crossed under I-5 to the community of Sunnyside, one of two such named communities in Oregon (the other near Clackamas to the north). There was quite a bit of fog so riding at a slower pace was appropriate. So far I hadn't seen a single other motorcycle and had been thankfully free of Anti-Destination League members as well.

I was now west of I-5 and in new territory. My next destination was Independence, Oregon but I didn't have a safe place to pull over and program my GPS, so I trusted my instincts and headed due west on Hylo road (aptly named). I came to a T intersection at Liberty road and was unsure which way to go, so I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Independence (I already had it, being on two wheels).

My Zumo took me north through the community of Rosedale (like the song) and into the city limits of the state capital, Salem, before pointing me west again on the twisty, narrow gravel Vitae Springs Road between very expensive houses tucked privately into copses of trees. The gravel was no problem for my dual-sport V-Strom but I was a little concerned about my GPS' route choice. It wasn't 30 seconds before I dropped down onto River Road and continued west. I crossed over the Willamette River for the first time that day and entered the town of Independence, Oregon.

Independence was founded in the mid-1800's. It still kept its old time charm, with 2- and 3-story brick buildings on a classic American main street. The trees lining the streets were full of white early Spring blooms. I half expected Steven Spielberg to be standing on a street corner shouting directions to his film crew. It was such a dose of Americana that it almost looked artificial. I pulled into the parking lot of a mortuary of all places and told my GPS to take me to Monmouth, home of Western Oregon University. When I was a senior in high school I wanted to study economics at what was then called Western Oregon State College, but I studied computer science at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls instead, at my father's urging.

Telling my GPS to take me to Monmouth wasn't worth the effort because I was already on Monmouth St. and the town itself was only 2 minutes due west.

My fuel gauge showed 135 miles and although I can go over 200 miles on a tank of gas, I took the opportunity to pull into a Chevron and fill up. There are gas stations in many of the smaller towns, but the quality of their fuel is suspect and my butt needed a break anyway. After fueling up, I headed into Monmouth proper before ending my westward travel by turning north on Highway 99W.

Highway 99 are twin roads. Both run north and south, like all odd-numbered highways, but 99W is on the west side of I-5 and 99E is on the east side. I have traveled most of 99E but had never spent much time on its western twin until today. Once again I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to my next destination, this time a town to the northwest called Dallas.

Dallas is another small town, about the same size as Sandy, my home town. It seemed I was on the truck route as I never saw the downtown proper. Repeating the process of pulling over and programming my next destination, I was soon heading north on Perrydale road.

On my ride so far I had noticed a growing trend. Farms on the valley floor with modest homes surrounded by modest or less-than-modest fences, big fancy houses on the numerous hill tops surrounded by expensive white fences and accessed by gated paved driveways lined with trees. I wondered what the hilltop dwellers did for a living. The amount of land and the size of these homes undoubtedly pushed their purchase price well into the millions of dollars. I didn't see just one or two of these estates, either. I saw dozens. Basically every small hill had a large fancy house on top. It made me wonder how California's famous Napa Valley compared in topography and economic demographics. Regardless, the verdant valley views (sorry, I couldn't resist) were incredible.

Perrydale Road met Highway 22, the route many people take to the Oregon Coast to dodge the traffic and speeding-ticket nightmare of Newberg and Dundee a little to the north. I got on 22 westbound for about a quarter mile before heading north again on Perrydale. With the many small two lane country roads and lack of proper signage, I was thankful I had a GPS to guide me along. After a few turns and road changes I made it to Amity. I did a slow ride through the tiny town and scoped out the eatery options. I saw Ashes Cafe on the main drag and saw that it was both open and seemingly popular. Never eat at a restaurant that has no customers; it's a bad sign. I saw a few scary-looking houses, too, but nothing worthy of a horror movie. I turned around and headed back, parking in front of Ashes Cafe.

The inside was rather run down and the waitress, Leona, looked like she needs to cut back on the meth a little. The food was tolerable. The coffee tasted burnt and the bacon was a confusion of nearly raw on one half and so overcooked on the other it crumbled when eaten. Two older gentlemen sat at the counter in front of me, one wearing a jacket plastered with military patches and slogans reminding us to remember those who have fallen in prior conflicts. Leona provided good service but her demeanor chilled whenever she came to my table. I never figured out why. Perhaps she only liked Harley-Davidson riders, guessing by the H-D poster on the wall above the kitchen food service window.

I paid the $7.50 ticket with a $10 bill, put my jacket on and headed out into the sunshine. My next destination was Dayton, a town I had visited on a similar day ride in February the year prior. From that point on I would be traveling familiar roads. By the time I reached Dayton, however, my clutch hand was beginning to hurt. The feeling was similar to how people describe carpal tunnel syndrome. It doesn't hurt to hold the clutch in, but the motion of squeezing the lever brought an increasing level of pain.

My intended route home would take me south to Hubbard, back to the east side of I-5, then up a confusing jumble of back roads through Canby and Redlands to home. I knew that the increasing level of pain in my clutch hand wouldn't survive that kind of route so got onto 18 eastbound and followed the traffic through Dundee, Newberg, Sherwood, and Tualatin. I hit I-205 northbound to the Clackamas exit, and came home via Highway 212 through Damascus and Boring.

By the time I got home my left wrist was in a lot of pain with every shift but I still had a smile on my face. As Neil Peart says (I quote him a lot), "When I'm riding I'm glad to be alive. When I stop riding I'm glad to be alive." Despite the seemingly long route, I was home by 1 pm. I rode approximately 180 miles. I began to wonder why I'm able to clock a dozen 250+ mile days back to back on my long summer trips without wrist pain, yet a sub-200 mile day ride makes me cut my trip short. A similar thing happened a year prior when I had to ride through the heart of Salem. It's not the miles, it's how many times I have to shift that gets me. It's the repetition. I'm going to do some research to see if there are some exercises I can do to strengthen and condition my clutch hand. Perhaps those spring-grip exercisers that have been around for decades will help.

Either way, I was thankful for the trip. I saw some fantastic scenery and obtained a new appreciation for the beauty of the Willamette Valley. I also visited several small towns in my home state for the first time. Overall it was a wonderful ride.


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Monday, March 1, 2010

Marmot revisited

It was a beautiful pre-Spring day on Saturday, and after running errands and mowing the lawn, I decided to take a short ride. For the first time since late last summer, I wore my riding denim pants instead of my armored textile pant. The weather was great, with temps around 60 degrees and mostly sunny skies.

I gassed up at the Chevron in Sandy, then headed down Ten Eyke Road, crossed the Sandy River at Revenue Bridge, then headed east on Marmot Road. I followed it all the way to Barlow Trail Road, then continued east until I got to Lolo Pass Road where I turned around and headed back the same way.

It's a short run but it's fairly technical, with several challenging hairpin turns and other odd-radius turns. There are some blind curves and a blind hill as well, and the ride is great practice. There are several stretches that are shaded and never see the sunlight, so traction can be an issue. Other sections get a lot of needles and leaves from overhanging trees and picking a line out of the slippery stuff requires focus.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quick words of wisdom

When reading an article on Neil Peart's personal web site, about a bike trip to Yellowstone, he mentioned a journal entry he made sitting in a restaurant in Utah, after a 790-mile day. "Every detail I think of putting down seems inconsequential, yet it is the sum of those details that made the day." When I get done with a trip and start thinking about posting my ride report, that's very much how I feel as well. I did a lot of things, saw a lot of things, and experienced a lot of things, but sometimes it feels as if I'm conveying meaningless details when I write about them.

As anyone that rides a lot can tell you, any one experience or site or sensation by itself may not seem like a big deal, but it's the totality of it all that motivates us to keep doing it.

Some things cannot be conveyed by the written word or in photographs. They simply have to be experienced in person.

Monday, February 22, 2010

24 Hours to Southern Washington

This time of year the weather dictates my riding schedule more than anything. Because the weekend looked dry and free of frozen precipitation, it seemed like a great opportunity to get on the bike and make a quick trip to my sister's house in southern Washington. I had been needing to visit her for some time as I've been building a web site to highlight her artwork (www.TamlenCreations.com) and we needed to go over some project related items, so it made sense to combine the work with pleasure and make a bike trip out of it.

I invited my friend Mike to go along. He and I have known each other since the 3rd grade and share a love of motorcycles, getting our endorsements within a few months of each other three years ago. The idea was to leave from our jobs mid-day on Friday and meet up somewhere, then ride together the rest of the way. We coordinated our departure times at 1pm and planned to meet at the Steigerwald Lake wildlife refuge parking lot in Washougal, Washington.

[caption id="attachment_496" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Steigerwald Lake wildlife refuge"]Steigerwald Lake wildlife refuge[/caption]

Unfortunately Mike got stuck in stop-and-go traffic on I-5 heading out of Portland and arrived a little more than an hour late. Stop-and-go on a motorcycle is not fun and I felt bad for him, but he had his usual "Whatever, man. Let's ride!" attitude so that's what we did.

The route was SR14 eastbound, and as usual we got stuck behind a series of slow cars and a semi. We pulled over at the Cape Horn viewpoint

[caption id="attachment_497" align="alignleft" width="320" caption="Viewpoint at Cape Horn, SR14, Washington"]Viewpoint at Cape Horn, SR14, Washington[/caption]

and took some photos, then continued on to the Chevron in North Bonneville for a snack break. Mike ate carrots, I ate a Snickers and Frappucino. I keep telling Mike that calories don't count when you're on two wheels but I don't think he believes me.

There was a 20 mph headwind but we could tell that it was gradually easing up as we continued eastward. We stopped again at a rest area just west of Lyle for a bio break and Mike took the opportunity to snap a few photos

[caption id="attachment_498" align="alignright" width="340" caption="Rest area, Mike's bike"]Rest area, Mike's bike[/caption]

of his bike with the setting sun over the Columbia River in the background. I saw a guy walking up the trail below the viewpoint carrying a tri-pod and camera bags. Obviously he recognized the photo opportunity as well.

Mike commented that his hands were starting to get fairly cold with his warmer-weather riding gloves so I offered him my cold-weather gauntlets. He passed, and we continued down SR14 to the junction with Highway 142 northbound at Lyle.

Turning left we headed up 142 which followed the beautiful Klickitat River. Many sections of the road were in the shade and some spots were wet but the temperature was above freezing so we had no worries about sliding. Being mid-February the oak trees in the river valley were still devoid of leaves. Although we were out of the east wind, the air became noticeably cooler as we rode north through the river valley. Even though I was dressed for the cold weather, I could tell it was probably getting colder than Mike's gloves could handle so I pulled off the road and dug out my cold-weather gauntlets. When Mike rolled up behind me I extended them to him and with a big grin he gladly accepted them. With warmer hands, we rode onward.

By the time we reached the top of the river valley to continue east toward Goldendale, the sun was getting close to the horizon. Our intention was to gas up in Goldendale before heading out into the hinterlands where my sister and her husband live, 30 minutes east of town. By the time we rolled into the Chevron Mike's low fuel light was flashing. We filled our tanks and headed east on the Bickleton Highway.

The temperature was getting noticeably colder by the mile. The last two miles of the trip were on gravel and dirt road, wet and slightly muddy in many places. I stood up on my pegs but the forward pegs on Mikes Suzuki M50 didn't allow that so he took the bumps sitting down. By the time we pulled into the driveway of my sister's house the sun was below the horizon and only twilight illuminated our arrival. The temperature was 35 degrees and dropping quickly.

Part of this trip involved an equipment experiment. My sleeping bag, although very lightweight and compact, wasn't overly warm so I purchased an ultra-thin but high-tech liner from REI to add some insulation without bulk to my sleeping system. My sister and her husband have a wood stove and their house is usually hovering around 80 degrees inside, much too warm for my tastes, so Mike took the guest bedroom while I pitched my one-man tent on the back deck and chose to test out my new sleeping arrangement. We stayed up until close to 11pm talking, before our mutual yawns told us it was time to call it a night. I went outside and crawled into my sleeping bag.

The temperature outside dropped to 20 degrees, but that didn't keep the coyotes from howling. I was surprised to find out the sleeping bag liner I bought -- seemingly made from spider silk and smoke -- did a wonderful job keeping me warm. Because the air was so cold, however, any piece of flesh exposed became painfully cold. Even though I wore a fleece hat and had the sleeping bag cinched up around my head, I still had spots that couldn't be completely covered. The rest of my body was perfectly comfortable, however. At around 1:30 am I had to go to the bathroom and decided that I had proven my sleeping bag liner worked as advertised and decided to spend the rest of the night on the couch inside.

The next morning there was a gray layer of frost on our bikes. We drank tea and coffee and ate hot breakfast sandwiches, then Tami and I worked on her web site for a while. Not wanting to get home after dark, Mike and I began packing up and loading our bikes. We rolled up the driveway and with a couple of "meep-meep" toots on the bike horns, we were on our way back home.

Mike and I rode through Goldendale on 142, back the way we came, but turned north toward the tiny mountain communities of Glenwood and Trout Lake.

[caption id="attachment_499" align="alignright" width="340" caption="Mike and his Suzuki M50"]Mike and his Suzuki M50[/caption]

The road descended down the side of a river valley and Mike and I took the opportunity to snap several photos of both the scenery and each other as we rode by. The river wound its way along the bottom of the valley below and we could see the road ahead doing the same down the other side of the valley.P2200016

I relied on my bike's GPS to help us navigate the two-lane country roads between Glenwood and Trout Lake. We caught glimpses of Mt. Adams, skirting and shy behind cloud cover. Just before reaching Glenwood the clouds lifted and we got a good shot of the mountain.

[caption id="attachment_501" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Mt. Adams southern face"]Mt. Adams southern face[/caption]

We stopped at the General Store in Trout lake eager for a corn dog, but they were fresh out so we decided to press on and have lunch in Stevenson.

SR141 south is a beautiful drive interspersed between forest and small farms and ranches. Property values are substantially higher than one might expect, however, due at least in part to the scenic beauty of the area. It wasn't long before we got stuck behind some slow cagers, however. Maintaining caution, we followed behind until we got to SR14 at the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia Rivers. Turning west, we picked up our pace under beautiful sunny skies and the glistening river to our left and continued on to Stevenson.

We parked our bikes in front of the Skamania County Courthouse and walked across the street to the Big River Grill for lunch. Mike had a reuben with tomato basil soup and I had a grilled salmon sandwich with the soup as well. Rested and fed, we went back outside into the sunshine. I intended to cross back over to Oregon via the Bridge of the Gods into Cascade Locks, while Mike would continue west on SR14 before crossing into Oregon either via the I-205 or I-5 bridge. So we shook hands, said our goodbyes, and continued on our separate ways.

Just west of Stevenson I crossed the high, narrow and fairly scary Bridge of the Gods. The swift wind tilted my bike sideways several times over the short bridge span, but I've jumped out of airplanes before so it wasn't as scary as it would have been otherwise. I paid my toll, then got on I-84 for a quick ride to Troutdale, then home to Sandy.


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