Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Upper 20's into work this morning

The street outside my house looked like white velvet under the street light. I crossed my driveway and scuffed my boots across the fuzzy white surface to see if it was slippery. Although it looked intimidating, it felt like bare pavement.

I decided to give it a try.

The temperature was in the upper 20's when I rolled my bike out of the garage and started it up. Although we had a little bit of freezing fog during the night, the mist had dissipated and I could see stars overhead. My pre-dawn commute would be the first of the week; I had errands each day that demanded use of my car. I flipped my visor down, squeezed in the clutch, dropped it into first gear, gave it some gas and began to roll forward.

It barked far worse than it bit. Although I rode gingerly until I got to the main highway -- which is sprayed with de-icer -- I never lost traction or felt like I was about to. Once I was on the main highway westbound I knew I was in the clear.

There was an east wind in town that actually warmed things up several degrees. When riding, I can feel even minor temperature differences. The only part of my body that was cold was my cheekbones from the air swirling inside my helmet. Once at work, I dismounted and walked around the dark exterior of the office building and unlocked the front door and entered the warm lobby, ready for another day's work.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Riding across the metro area

Saturday I rode to Beaverton on the other side of the Portland metropolitan area to visit my good friend, Keith. We used to work together at a dot-com and haven't seen each other for nine years. He's thinking about getting into motorcycling so in addition to the visit among friends it was also a chance to have a little Q&A about bikes, riding, safety, training, etc.

The ride itself was about what you'd expect. I took expressways (Highway 26, I-84, I-405, and Highway 26 again) to get there as it was the fastest way across the city. Traffic was thick but wasn't slow. Riding a motorcycle in an urban environment like that is both stressful and kind of fun in a sick sort of way. There is zero margin for error if you crash -- emergency responders would be using sponges to get you off the pavement -- but you can maneuver amongst the cars a lot easier. I'm fortunate that my bike is rather tall so I have excellent visibility, and cars see me easier, too. Plus, my jacket and bike combination makes me look similar to a police officer, so that helps as well.

It was foggy and cold going there mid-day, and even foggier and colder on the way home. I got back to my house in Sandy just before dark amidst very thick fog, cold but safe. It's tiring to ride a motorcycle in the city, and doing so when the weather isn't 65 degrees and sunny makes it even more of a challenge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Additional blog

As if I don't already have enough going on in my life already, I've started another blog -- my third. This one chronicles my journey toward writing and publishing a fantasy novel.

You can check it out here:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ride actively

Engage your brain. It's the most effective and important piece of safety equipment at your disposal. Focus on what's happening right now and what can happen in the next several seconds. Events farther out than that are of only minor concern and what transpired yesterday is irrelevant.

Motorcycles don't stop any better than most cars but can accelerate quicker than just about anything on four wheels. Use this to your advantage when necessary and adjust your following distance accordingly.

Never pass on the right, ever. Only pass on the left when you can see that it's safe to do so. Be in the proper gear and have some engine revs built up before you start. Don't pass when both of you are accelerating; it makes it that much more difficult to do so. Be wary of the car in front of you potentially turning left. It's surprising how often motorcyclists t-bone a car turning left in front of them during a passing maneuver. Don't pass on curves unless you can safely handle the needed speed around the corner and you have full visibility of what's coming.

Pay attention not only to the vehicle in front of you, but to the vehicles in front of him. Their brake lights will come on first, giving you even more notice that things will be slowing down. Don't follow in the center of the lane. Follow in either the left or right tire track, depending on visibility and road conditions.

When you see a car on a side road waiting to pull out, weave side to side in your lane as this increases the chance they'll see you. Motorcycles are narrow and it is difficult to judge their speed when coming toward drivers, so the side-to-side weave helps give them a better depth perception of your speed and position. Some riders turn their brights on to increase visibility, but be careful about flashing your brights -- some drivers consider this a "Go ahead!" signal and will pull out in front of you.

Loud pipes don't save lives, they only make you look like an ass. Get a loud horn instead (never test it without wearing earplugs).

Riding is optional. Don't drink and ride, ever. Don't ride if you are tired or distracted. Some people ride to relieve stress; go back and read the first paragraph again. You don't want your thoughts to be anywhere other than the moment. That fight you had with your significant other and that overdue bill will still be waiting for you when you get back, yet all that concentration and focus you spent on the ride will magically ease their sting.

Take care of your bike. Change the oil and filter regularly and learn how to do it yourself. Performing basic maintenance tasks yourself will not only save you money, it will make you more familiar with your bike and help you notice when things need attention such as binding chain links, loose or broken hardware, low tire air pressure, or leaks.

Respect other riders as you want to be respected. Give the 'wave' to everyone on two wheels, even if they ride a bike or brand you may not like. If you see another motorcyclist in need, even when you are driving your car, stop and offer to help. There will come a day when you need help and karma goes a long way.

If you drop your helmet on a hard surface, replace it. They are made to destruct themselves in a collision in a sort of sacrifice on your behalf and this damage may not be visible to the naked eye. You don't want to find out the hard way (no pun intended) that your helmet's ability to protect your skull has already been used up. Never buy a used helmet.

Wear all your gear all the time. If it's hot out, get gear with hot-weather ventilation but still has proper padding and abrasion protection. There's nothing cool about road rash and no one will be impressed by the painful series of skin grafts you went through because you wrecked your motorcycle while only wearing shorts and a tank top.

Finally, motorcycling doesn't have to be any more dangerous than a lot of other activities we take for granted (you'd be surprised by the statistics) but the stakes are higher if something does happen compared to crashing in a car. However, once you have taken the proper precautions and practiced the needed skills, enjoy the experience. Fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy after a certain point so you don't want to be ruled by it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Crazy weather

Saturday I went for a one-hour bike ride in the area and experienced dry pavement, wet pavement, snowy pavement, wet pavement covered with leaves, sunshine, rain, hail, and even snow flakes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Slick roads and low-elevation colors

Fall is my favorite season. It's not perfect, though. Leaves turn orange and yellow and red, then fall to the ground. It often rains at the same time, making leaf-covered roads slicker than snot. It's beautiful but it requires control.

Sunday, despite the heavy cloud cover and spitting rain, I went for a short local ride along roads Bluff, Lusted, and Ten Eyke. The route I chose took me down to Dodge Park where it crosses the Sandy River and back up the other side toward home. There had been a lot of wind and rain in previous days so the beautiful fall colors were on the roads as much as they were anywhere else. Riding in these conditions demands attention and care. Easy throttle, easy brakes, and careful lines. It was beautiful and good practice.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Slick roads and high-elevation colors

Friday afternoon I dashed out of the house to get a ride on Marmot Road before the rains came. The eastern half of the road had dust and gravel across both lanes because the road department had come along and scraped the side of the road (to kill weeds or something) and it pushed all the debris onto the road surface. They swept over the top of it but left a slick layer of dust and gravel.

I reached Lolo Pass Road and turned around for the return ride and the rain started. Within minutes it was raining hard and all that dust had turned into mud. Combined with a lot of wet, fallen leaves, Marmot Road became almost as slick as an ice rink.

I took my time and used very smooth throttle, brake, and cornering action and fortunately made it home wet but without incident.

Saturday the rain went away so I put my camera in my top case and headed up the Clackamas River Road, veering south onto Fish Creek. I stayed on fire roads and was soon traveling on gravel and dirt. My goal was to take photographs of the fall colors, but most of the road was lined with conifers and I didn't get any decent views of nearby mountains until I got above 4,000 feet elevation.

I stopped a few times and took some pictures, but most were uninteresting (which is why they aren't posted here). I made it back down to the main highway but hadn't had enough riding so I turned right and rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning around and heading back home.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It was a dark and foggy morning

When I left work this morning it was still dark and I could see the constellation Orion the Hunter hovering above me, standing on his head. The air was chilly, in the mid 30s, but wasn't cold, at least not to me. I was dressed appropriately as you might have guessed.

By the time I passed by the Highway 212 exit I entered fog. It smelled odd, as if it was mixed with wood stove smoke and a faint hint of baked bread. The mist swirled around me and blended with the light from my headlights and those of oncoming cars and I had the strange feeling I was in a music video or an episode of The Twilight Zone. It was enough fog to make the ride interesting but not enough to hamper visibility.

By the time I got to work my pant legs and jacket arms were wet from the mist, but I was still warm inside my gear and smiling as I unlocked the front office door to start my work day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comparison: Suzuki V-Strom 650 vs. Yamaha FJR 1300

Purists would claim that these two bikes are dissimilar enough to eliminate the possibility of comparison. That misses the point, at least for me. I'm trying to find out which bike is best for me so this is a subjective comparison based on my own criteria. Some of my readers may find this comparo to be irrelevant while others may find it to be the right stuff at the right time. Read on if you dare...

2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 (model: DL650)

I currently own this bike. In fact, the bike pictured here isn't something I grabbed off of Google, it's my bike. I've put 43,000 miles on it since February 2007 when I bought it new. It cost $7,995 and I've put more than $2,000 worth of farkles on it, although the engine, suspension and brakes are all original factory equipment (well, I replaced the brake pads once). Only the tires, seat and wind screen are after-market brands.

The Good

This bike is very versatile. It can carve up the paved twisties, shoot me across unpaved deserts, and carry me on mountain fire roads all in the same day. It is inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to accessorize, inexpensive to insure, and inexpensive to maintain. Parts are relatively cheap and service is available just about everywhere I would choose to go. It has also been extremely reliable, with TPS sensors being the only part that's gone bad.

The Bad

Because the V-Strom is a dual-sport, by its very nature it is meant to be reasonably good at several different types of riding. Because of this it doesn't really excel at any of them. It excels at being versatile so it makes an excellent single bike (not everyone is rich enough to have a different bike in their stable for every riding style). The V-Strom can be modified with knobby tires, skid plate, etc. to work as a great adventure tourer, and if you were to specialize a Strom this is where it shines. But if your love lies on asphalt, this bike has a problem. It is very flickable and can carve up the twisties with the best of them, but it lacks in raw horsepower and off-the-line grunt. Top speed tops out around 110 mph and 0-60 performance isn't something that will make you say "Whoa!" anytime soon. The brakes are mushy as well. Unlike accessorizing the Strom for off-road performance, there are very few options to boost on-road performance and most only provide single-digit improvements in horsepower.

The Ugly

There really isn't anything particularly ugly about the V-Strom. It has no major faults or warts.

2011 Yamaha FJR 1300A

This is the bike I am currently researching as a possible replacement for my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom. It is Yamaha's flagship sport-touring model and is highly rated for its performance, comfort, and styling. The reliability of the FJRs has been excellent, with a few kinks in early models worked out in subsequent releases. Compared to competing models from BMW, Kawasaki and Honda, the FJR wins in motorcycle press shootouts time and time again.

There are several characteristics and features about the FJR that appeal to me. It has a very sporty engine that is powerful yet manageable. Unlike liter-class sport bikes such as the Suzuki GSX-R 1000, the FJR won't get out from under you because you gave the throttle the tiniest extra bit of unintended twist. Despite it's 670 pound wet weight, the FJR is surprisingly flickable, especially at low speeds, and this has made it a strong player among mounted law enforcement agencies.

The riding position is somewhat sporty but still upright enough to allow high-mileage multi-day rides without requiring frequent visits to the chiropractor. The seat and handlebars are height-adjustable as well. The wind screen is power-adjustable and the fore- and aft-seat densities vary, giving pilot and pillion their own appropriate level of cushion.

Hard side cases with removable soft bag liners are included and after-market top cases are readily available, including offerings from Givi, a brand I've grown to love. The grips are heated as well. The drive train uses a low-maintenance shaft drive and oil changes are a snap. The styling is dramatic and appealing without looking gawdy.

Because the FJR puts out close to 140 horsepower and has a top speed in excess of 150 mph, insurance rates are relatively high. It has a 6.6 gallon fuel tank but only gets around 40 mpg, so range is about the same as it is for the V-Strom -- which is more than adequate. The purchase price is also around $14,500 so initial cost is twice that of the Suzuki. My insurance agent told me the FJR will cost $140 more per year for the same coverage I currently have on the V-Strom.

At this point in my research, need to find a dealer willing to let me take an FJR for a test ride. If none will, I need to find a rental shop that will rent one to me for a day. I'm not willing to buy a new bike without test riding it first.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the zone, and wanting more

Saturday I went on a mid-day practice ride on Marmot Road, but it was far too short. I wanted more. Sunday, mid-afternoon, I tackled the NF46 run to Detroit to make up for it. My bike was running good, the conditions were excellent, and I was in the zone.

And I wanted more.

It was the fastest, smoothest run I've had on that route to date and it felt incredible. I found myself feeling as if I was beyond the capabilities of my bike. The Suzuki V-Strom 650 has been described as "perhaps the most shockingly competent bike" available by the press, and for good reason. It is very capable and versatile, and in my opinion, the single best value in motorcycles today.

Part of the problem with that versatility is the tendency to become a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of none. The V-Strom can be customized to be an outstanding dual-sport machine, rivaling the BMW GS series in capabilities -- at substantially lower cost and arguably better reliability. It can't be customized to be a true road machine, however, at least not in comparison with some other bikes that are available. Horsepower is the biggest limiting factor. You can add a few hp here and there but nothing substantial. Suspension upgrades are rather limited as well.

I am finding that I get a lot more smiles from carving up a run of paved twisties than I do taking my V-Strom off-road. In fact, riding off-road makes me somewhat nervous and I ride rather cautiously, mostly from lack of experience (it's not the bike's fault, in other words).

So despite putting 43,000 wonderful, trouble-free miles on a fantastic bike, I'm feeling the increasing desire to switch to a more road-oriented bike.

Right now I'm researching the Yamaha FJR 1300. More to come...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Possible new blog design

I'm toying with a new blog design, so please pardon my dust.

Last time to Detroit for the year?

After being off of two wheels for nearly two weeks, mostly due to being sick, I finally got a chance to ride over this past weekend. Saturday was a gorgeous Fall day, with increasing sunshine to dry off the wet pavement from the previous week of rain. Late morning I headed out, gassed up in Estacada, and made my way up the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning south on NF 46 to Detroit.

I stopped at the mini-market in Detroit and grabbed a snack, and while suiting back up a guy on a silver 2009 V-Strom pulled up and stopped to chat. Lance was on his way from Stayton to Estacada to visit his son and had never been up NF 46 before. We talked for nearly 30 minutes about our bikes and riding styles and experiences before deciding to motor northward.

Lance followed as I led the way. I pointed out several side roads that provided dual-sport riding opportunities, something Lance enjoys. We had to pass a few slow cagers but did so adequately and without issue. We stopped in Estacada and said our goodbyes and promised to stay in touch and schedule another ride together in the future.

Here's the route on Google Maps.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A new Shinko 705

I have put close to 7,000 miles on my set of Shinko 705 tires. The front looks damn near new but the rear has very little tread left down the center stripe and about 50% tread remaining on the sides. For an $83 tire, that's a very low cost-per-mile. The Shinko's have been outstanding tires, providing excellent grip in cornering and especially on wet roads.

Normally I replace both tires at the same time. With previous brands, including Bridgestone Battle Wings and Metzeler Tourances, the front wore down enough to justify replacing it at the same time as the rear. With this set of Shinko's, however, the front will last another 5,000 miles or so. As a result, I'm only changing out the rear tire.

20110923-082554.jpg This is how I rode to work this morning. I will swing over to Yamaha Sports Plaza after work to have the new rear tire mounted.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Riding: A metaphor for life

Over the past five years I have racked up over 43,000 miles riding motorcycles and have learned many things about the whole process. It’s not just a matter of how to mount, start, and operate the bike. It’s about trip planning, maintenance, safety, skills, awareness, frame of mind, and a host of other things that blend into the overall motorcycling experience.

Fortunately, none of the lessons I have learned involved loss of life (obviously), limb, skin, or even my dignity. Well, maybe there was some partial shame associated with getting my bike stuck in the snow with my wife riding pillion. But, as with life’s little experiences, we learn from our mistakes and we roll forward, hoping to avoid the accidents and inconveniences in future miles.

During one of my practice rides along Marmot Road, I was focusing on looking through the turns. Marmot Road is not in the best of shape. It has a lot of bumps, pot holes, and tree debris that can make a great ride go south in a hurry. My first instinct is to look at the pavement immediately in front of my bike. This makes my turns much slower than they should be and smoothness becomes a near impossibility. When I look ahead and keep my eyes focused farther up the road, my turns are fast and smooth and controlled. The thought occurred to me that there is a life lesson in that.

When we progress from day to day, if we have our eyes down at the minutiae traveling under our feet we lose sight of the big picture and become bogged down with trivial, petty annoyances. Minor bumps in the road seem much larger than they are, keeping us from living our lives smoothly and in control. Keeping our eyes focused farther ahead and more aware of the big picture enables us to overcome life’s little obstacles with greater ease and comfort.

I don’t intend to upstage Robert Pirsig or hijack the wisdom of his Zen work, but mentioning the parallels between motorcycle maintenance and life in general is worth the virtual ink. Keeping our bikes running smoothly isn’t very effective if we take a purely reactive approach. Exercising and eating right is just as important for our bodies as changing the oil and filters on a regular basis is to our bikes. We can go off-road or ride a little harder through the twisties or let the bike get frivolously dirty from time to time, but eventually we need to take a step back and give it a rest and take it easy, let the bike recover. Our minds and bodies are the same way. We can push things when we need to but sooner or later we need to offer up some give in equal measure to the take.

Finally, a motorcycle with all the world’s polished chrome and tricked out accoutrements is worthless if it never gets out of the garage and ridden. I wear the splattered bugs and road grime on my bike proudly because that is a certain indicator that I have been somewhere interesting. On the rare occasions when I see my bike parked in the garage washed and shiny I actually feel a sense of impatient guilt, as if I’m keeping it from having fun. We can talk all day about what we want to do in life, discuss our dreams and what-if scenarios until the cows come home, but ultimately all that verbal chrome is worth nothing more than a gnat’s fart until we take that first step out of our front door and actually walk the walk.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I haven't ridden much since I got back from my trip, other than some commuting to work. I spent a few hours over this past weekend riding to Detroit and back. I got a late start and it quickly turned warm and muggy. The bike performed great, however, and although I wouldn't say I was 'in the zone', I had a smooth ride with good control, speed, and lines through my corners.

There were a lot of people out on bikes, mostly cruisers. I had to pass a string of a 8 or 9 that were riding 10 mph under the limit. I don't understand that behavior, but then again, they were all dressed as pirates so maybe it was some kind of impromptu parade.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The long way north

When I left Mark's house Thursday morning, my goal was to reach Coos Bay. I could go straight up Highway 101 for about 220 miles or I can take the long way getting there. You've got two guesses which way I went, and the first doesn't count.

Once in Arcata, I turned inland on Highway 299 and rode to Willow Creek where I gassed up. I then turned north on Highway 96 through Hoopa. There is a section of 96 that was carved out of the cliffside that is very dangerous. The road is narrow, the turns are tight, sightlines are abrupt or absent, and it would be a long way down if you went off the road. Although I gave those curves a run for their money, I remained within my abilities and the conditions and made it through without incident.

Highway 96 follows the very scenic and rugged Klamath River, usually from high up the canyon walls. The sun was shining, slow traffic was practically non-existent, my bike was running well, and I enjoyed the ride very much. Eventually I was in the small town of Happy Camp, a place I have visited many times before, and stopped for a much needed snack. I then rode north on Indian Creek Road.

Soon after crossing the unmarked border back into Oregon, I stopped at a construction zone and chatted with the flagger for several minutes before heading back down the hill. At the junction with Highway 199 I turned northeast and rode into the busy town of Cave Junction for fuel and lunch. The Dairy Queen was busy and as I ate my lunch I saw numerous bikes, mostly large cruisers, rumbling through town.

I mounted back up and headed southwest on 199. I waved two people on sport bikes past me, but was soon parked behind them at a construction zone. I had my iPod running and couldn't hear anything they said but somehow we managed to communicate with each other that they would lead and I would attempt to follow them. It was a man and a woman, and I noticed she had a sticker on the back of her helmet that said, "You were just passed by a girl." Although I couldn't determine the brand and model, their bikes looked to be in the 600 cc supersport category. Both riders were dressed in black leathers and appeared to know what they were doing.

Once we were allowed forward, they soon began to pull away in the straights. I don't like to ride more than 10 mph over the speed limit, so I assumed I wouldn't see them again. After three or four corners, however, I was riding up the tailpipe of the woman -- the man was riding in front of her. They both stuck their knees out and leaned into their turns, which looked impressive, but their cornering speed was at least 5 mph slower than mine. I began to get frustrated because the road surface was pristine, sight lines provided excellent through-the-corner visibility, and all conditions allowed fast cornering.

She noticed that I was really pushing for faster speed, so she waved me forward. I waved thanks as I rode past and was soon tailgating the lead rider. He had more impressive form and was slightly faster in the corners, but again my surprisingly flickable V-Strom was exceeding his ability or willingness to corner faster. After a half dozen corners he waved me past as well, shaking his head as I rode by. He gave a friendly wave, however, so I waved back, gave a short beep-beep on the horn, and zoomed ahead through the rest of the route to the coast.

I reached Highway 101 just north of Crescent City and began the long slog north to Coos Bay. There was a head wind and a fair amount of slow traffic, which combined to make it a tiring leg of the day. I stopped at a rest area overlooking the wind-chopped ocean below and took a quick break. Soon I was back on the road and made it into Coos Bay at 5:30 pm. I had been riding since 8:00 that morning and clocked 370 miles for the day. I was exhausted but happy.

Dinner was again at the Blue Heron, with a different entree of course. I slept well. The next morning I took the shortest route home: North to Reedsport, east to I-5, then follow the freeway all the way home. Riding the superslab at 70 mph was just as tiring as the zigzagged 370 miles I clocked the day before ("My butt never hurts unless I'm riding in a straight line.") I got home safely, however.

The total trip included 3,400 miles over 11 riding days, crossed into British Columbia, Canada, and touched Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. The northernmost point was Lillooet, BC and the southernmost was Mad River, California. The farthest east was Lewiston, Idaho, and of course the westernmost point was the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Big Loop

Wednesday, Mark rode his Kawasaki ZZR1200 while I rode my V-Strom down to Fortuna, then we headed inland on one of my favorite riding roads: Highway 36. It was overcast but traffic was light and the road seemed to be in relatively good condition. As we rode to the top of the first pass we had to slow down for construction, shrouded in clouds, but once we crested the pass we had sunshine the rest of the way. We stopped in Mad River, hoping to get a snack at the small store/cafe there, but it was closed. We continued onward to the junction with Highway 3, where we turned left and continued on to Hayfork.

The section of Highway 3 between Hayfork and Weaverville is difficult to describe in words, but anyone that rides it knows what I mean when I say it is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, CalTrans decided to hock a loogie into that particular dish. The road was resurfaced with a slurry-seal and gravel kind of compound so riding was slow. As we dropped down the eastern slope of the pass the pavement was solid but there was lots of gravel in the corners. That leg of the trip was ridden safely but the fun was spoiled.

In Weaverville we stopped at the Trinideli for a fantastic turkey and bacon sandwich. It was getting warm so after we ate we changed our riding gear for better venting, fueled up, then continued northeast on Highway 3. Our goal was to check on Mark's boat tied up on Trinity Lake. We got stuck behind a string of very slow cars in a construction zone and never really got past them until we got to Trinity Center, 30 miles up the road.

Mark's boat was fine, and after chatting with the owners of the boat launch, we suited back up and headed back into Weaverville, this time with a bit less slow traffic. The curves were nice but soon we were back in town. To continue the loop, we headed east on Highway 299, the main road between I-5 and the coast. It was well into the 80's by this point and the riding was intense. The curves on 299 are faster than 36 and have much better sight lines, so carving them up is definitely a faster affair. We had to pass several slow vehicles as well as some tractor trailers, but they were nice enough to use pull-outs to let us pass.

We stopped in Willow Creek for fuel and water, then rode onward. Once we crested the pass at Blue Lake the air temperature got noticeably cooler. We stopped at an empty weigh station and changed back into warmer gear, then continued into overcast Arcata. The road up to Kneeland was free of fog so we took those tight, bumpy turns at a quickened pace. My V-Strom kept right up with Mark's ZZR1200 and when we got to his house, Mark commented on how well the V-Strom corners. By the time we got back we had ridden 315 miles.

During dinner, a female raccoon came up onto the deck and pressed her face against the window, looking for a treat. Mark threw some dry cat food into a bowl and set it on the deck table for her consumption. She chowed away, mere feet outside the window, looking at us with every bite. Eventually she had enough and probably heard something scary in the woods. She grabbed one more nibble to go, then left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kneeland on a Kawasaki

Breakfast was provided gratis as part of my motel stay. Once I was fed and suited up, I headed south on Highway 101 through Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach and Brookings before crossing the border into California. Traffic was light for the coast highway -- it can be notoriously slow. I fueled up in Crescent City, then continued south until I crossed the Klamath River where I cut off and headed up into the trees and hills overlooking the coast. There were numerous people stopped along the Klamath River, looking down at the water. I didn't know what was up until I returned from my trip and asked around. Apparently a mother and calf whale had come up the river and lingered for several days, causing folks to check it out.

Farther down Highway 101 I came across a group of elk, both bulls and cows, laying in the grass alongside the highway. I stopped and took several pictures, some very close, before continuing south.

The road was blocked before I could enter the Prairie Creek Redwoods park area so I backtracked and continued south on 101 to Arcata. My destination for the next two nights was the home of my friend, Mark. He and I met the previous year in Weaverville, California and had traveled together, along with his wife, Janice, to Steens Mountain in September of last year. Following Mark's directions, I left 101 and headed up a narrow, bumpy paved road to the tiny community of Kneeland where I promptly got lost. Dick, my GPS, thought Kneeland was about two miles past the post office (the closest thing to a 'downtown'), so I had to backtrack. To make matters more challenging, the entire area was socked in with low-lying clouds (Kneeland sits at about 2,100 feet elevation) and visibility was near zero at times. After a bit of riding very slowly and using my intuition, I found the tiny Kneeland post office and used Mark's directions to find his house.

After I got settled, Mark suggested we hop on his two Kawasaki ZZRs and go for a short ride up the road. He rode his ZZR1200 and I rode his 2003 ZZR600. I had never been on a sport bike before so I as apprehensive about its speed and handling. At first it felt very difficult to turn, seemingly wanting to snap back to vertical. Once I got used to how it handled, I realized it needed more body English to initiate and hold a turn than does my much taller V-Strom. The acceleration of that little bike was intoxicating, however. It was quick yet smooth and controllable. I never needed to get into third gear and quickly learned how to tackle the narrow, tight corners of that remote country road.

We headed a few miles up the road and stopped at a turn-around in front of the tiny Kneeland air strip. Several cows blocked the road and we had to patiently and cautiously wait for them to move (there were bulls among them). At the top we stopped and chatted for several minutes. The scenery reminded me of the Scottish Highlands.

We headed back down to the house and parked the bikes in the garage for the night. We had a long loop ride scheduled for the next day and needed our rest.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On the road again, headed south

— This is day 7 of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

After staying two nights at home and getting caught up on laundry, rest, and a few other incidentals, I switched to my smaller side cases and took out some of the gear I had been toting around but didn't need, including my tent.

It is now the 7th riding day of my trip and this time I'm heading south. I left the house around 8:20 am and rode through Estacada to Molalla, then south along the eastern Willamette Valley -- along very familiar roads -- to Lebanon, where I gassed up, then cut west. I stopped at a Subway in Philomath for lunch, then continued west on Highway 34 through the small community under overcast skies. I reached the Pacific coast in Waldport where I rode south along Highway 101 to Coos Bay and my destination for the night.

Dinner was at the Blue Heron, a German restaurant walking distance from my motel. The food was good and so was the wine, although their wine and beer list is minuscule compared to what it should be. The walls were covered in posters showing 1940's Saturday Evening Post covers. It was very patriotic from an American point of view, concerning a war with Germany, yet it was a German restaurant. I overheard the waitress tell another patron that the owner was Dutch. Hmm.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Respite at home

— This is the last day of the first half of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

Sleep eluded me for most of the night. I eventually dozed off at around 4 am, only to wake up at 6:00 am in a motel room without power. I looked outside and the electronic sign in front of the motel was inoperable as well. I got dressed for breakfast and noticed none of the signs down main street were working, so it was safe to assume the restaurant a block away was not an option. I ate the granola bar I had in my top case, packed everything up, and headed down the road.

I rode about eight miles into the adjacent town, Mt. Vernon, and saw the "open" sign was lit at a small cafe. I pulled in and parked right in front, between a half dozen pickup trucks covered in farm dirt. When I entered the entire clientele consisted of old white men in western shirts and an even combination of John Deere ball caps and cowboy hats. I sat down and was served by a thin, high strung women in her early 30's, face covered in pock marks and jaw working overtime. I assumed she was a meth head tweaker. She was friendly, efficient, and equally capable of dishing back the good natured teasing she received from the regulars. I told the waitress that the power was out in John Day and she said that it had been out there as well, only coming back on a few minutes before I arrived.

I was concerned about fuel. I intended to fill up in John Day before I left but the power outage shut down the pumps. I rode another 25 miles into Dayville, the next town down the highway, and whipped into a tiny two-pump gas station and filled up. Just outside of town I turned north onto a secondary road that took me past one of the John Day fossil beds, through the small crossroad community of Kimberly, through the river town of Spray, and eventually into the town of Fossil itself. Without stopping, I veered west onto highway 218, one of my favorite roads in Oregon, and drank up the delicious curves between Fossil and Antelope and Shaniko.

I crossed over the high desert via Bakeoven Road, then dropped down the canyon into the Deschutes River town of Maupin. A dozen miles beyond I stopped in Wamic and fueled up at the same store/gas station I had visited just a few weeks before. I then completed the last leg of the trip by riding up and over Mt. Hood under showery skies, back to home in Sandy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

John Day, Oregon

— This is day five of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

The continental breakfast at the Best Western on Clarkston was pretty decent, so that constituted my morning meal. I had slept good the night before, and the shining sun gave me a good start to my day. The road south quickly climbed up the amber grass-covered hills out of town, twisting and fun. Once on top the road straightened but the view east over the Snake River was impressive.

I climbed steadily until the pine trees began to line the roadside and the air got slightly cooler. I stopped briefly at an overlook above the canyon below, then continued south on Highway 129. The road began to switch back with tight corners, and soon I had crossed into Oregon and the road became Highway 3. The turns lasted a short time, then the road got straight again, more or less taking a due south heading.

Once the road began to descend from it's 5,000 foot elevation into grassy ranch land, I emerged into the small town of Enterprise. I turned east and rode the half-dozen miles into the split-personality town of Joseph. Part ranch town, part artist's sanctuary, Joseph had a high mountain, ranching kind of feel with both local farmers and out of state -- and out of country -- tourists passing up and down it's streets. I stopped at The Old Town Cafe for some late-morning eats. The waitress had distractingly beautiful auburn eyes. I overheard her name as 'Sierra' -- fitting. I could only eat a quarter of the breakfast burrito, which was as tasty as it was massive.

Knowing I was about to travel a rather remote section of my day's journey, I filled up my gas tank before leaving Joseph. I wanted to travel the road that connected Joseph with Hells Canyon and the small town of Halfway for a long time. The road was rough and without painted lines or curve markers, basically like a paved forest service road. I was on alert for deer and pot holes. It was obvious that a large forest fire had cleared a big section of the area a decade or more prior. Tall, dead snags still emerged above the small trees growing underneath, replanted after the big burn.

My GPS told me I had surpassed 6,000 feet elevation, the highest of the trip so far. After passing a couple of slow SUVs, I wound my way downhill further into the wilderness. This was remote country and a breakdown would be 'most inconvenient.' Fortunately my bike remained solid and so did I. Soon I came upon the turn-off for the Hells Canyon Overlook, so I took the three mile detour.

[caption id="attachment_832" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Jim, with his BMW GS 1200, towing a trailer"]Jim from Colorado[/caption]

At the top were three bikes, one of which was a BMW GS1200 Adventure towing a fairly large aluminum trailer. Jim, the pilot, came over to chat. He was riding out of Colorado and was winding his way around the west. We chatted for quite a while, part of which involved consulting his map of Oregon. He was working his way to the the Pacific coast and eagerly listened to my suggested routes, seeking to avoid large urban areas.

I removed the liner from my jacket as it was getting fairly warm, even at that high elevation. Yellow jackets began to take a keen interest in the dead bugs on the front of my bike. After a quick bio break, I suited back up and continued down the river valley to meet Highway 86, where I turned west and rode into Baker City.

I fueled up, then boogied onto Highway 7 to Sumpter and Austin Junction where I caught Highway 26 westward into John Day. I pulled into the Best Western where I have stayed at least once a year for the past four years. I got the last ground floor room they had available, showered, took a short nap, then dressed and walked over to The Outpost for dinner.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Clarkston, Washington

— This is day four of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

After getting my laundry done and my day's experiences written up, I watched First Blood on my iPad, then went to bed. I had a hard time falling asleep but once I did, it took.

I was up at 6:30 am, ate the sparse complimentary breakfast the motel provided, and had my bike loaded up and rolling by 7:30. The border back into the U.S. was on the southern edge of town and I was through in less than five minutes. I was asked fewer questions getting into America than I had getting into Canada three days earlier.

The sun was shining amidst occasional puffy clouds and the temperature was moderate, so I wore my warm weather gear to start the ride. I knew that the day had reasonably good conditions forecasted, but there remained the possibility of some rain drops or even a spotty downpour. I'll skip to the good part and tell you that I made it through the entire day without any rain.

Just a half hour south on Highway 97 I stopped at Whistler's Cafe in Tonasket, Washington for breakfast. I enjoyed my eggs and bacon while listening to local farmers in cowboy hats and faded blue jeans, large guts spilling forth over their belt buckles, talk about the performance vs. cost ratios of different types of seed. I realized it would be no different if they overheard me talk about web servers or riding jackets.

I cut eastward toward Republic via a route I have traveled twice before in the opposite direction. Between Republic and Kettle Falls lies Sherman Pass at over 5,500 feet elevation. The air was chilly and the skies were dark gray, taking a very brief respite between showers as the road was still damp but the air remained dry. Once I reached Kettle Falls I fueled up and took a bio break before turning south, this time on new-to-me roads.

The two lane road followed the eastern shore of Lake Roosevelt, part of the Columbia River. It was far more placid and tame compared to the broiling Fraser River I had seen in British Columbia the day before. Once I left the lake shore, the road passed through a very pleasant combination of pastures and pine trees. It actually reminded me of some areas inland from Fortuna, California, a location I intend to visit in the second half of this tour.

Although the day's ride so far had been without any twists or turns of note, I was able to settle into a decent but safe pace and enjoy the scenery. Every time I see a new part of the country I can find something about it that deserves appreciation. I am also fascinated by how different areas smell, and this leg of the ride did not disappoint in that regard. The Okanogan National Forest was especially fragrant.

In the crossroads town of Davenport I fueled up on one end of town, then backtracked to Edna's Drive-In for some corn dogs and a frappucino. Back on the road, trees became scarce and wheat fields became the norm. This time of year the wheat is still immature and a beautiful light shade of soft green. The land rolled gently and the effect of the wind blowing through the green wheat became a magical experience for me. Although I knew that part of Washington has the easy capacity to be scorching hot or bitterly cold, the combination of mild temperatures, billowy but tame clouds, and seemingly endless miles of wind-teased wheat fields mesmerized me. I was impressed.

[caption id="attachment_830" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Looking down on Lewiston and Clarkston"]Looking down on Lewiston and Clarkston[/caption]

I eventually reached the road down to the dual cities of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. They sit on opposite sides of the Snake River and are named after the Lewis and Clark expedition. I stopped at an overlook at the top of the ridge line and took some photos before zooming down the 1,500 foot decline. My GPS, "Dick," successfully guided me through Lewiston in Idaho and back across the river into Clarkston, Washington. I was unsure which motel had my reservation for the night so I decided to fuel up in preparation for tomorrow, then find a shady spot to park and figure things out.

I pulled up a side street behind the gas station and parked under a large willow tree, then dug my iPad out of the side case. I was hoping that I had made a note somewhere indicating which motel I had reserved. I'm either getting forgetful or lackadaisical in my old age for I couldn't find anything about it. I used my iPhone's 3G connectivity to look up the Super 8's phone number and called them first. They had no reservation under my name so my next call was the Best Western RiverInn. They confirmed they had my reservation and gave me directions to their location. As luck would have it, they were only two blocks away.

The clerk greeted me with a genuine smile and handed me a cold bottle of water right away. They are apparently a biker-friendly hotel and they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I was even told they had a special place in the back where I could wash my bike if I so desired. Once I got checked in and stowed all my gear in my room, I showered and took a short nap.

On the advice of Jill, the front desk clerk, I walked to the Italian joint next door for dinner. I was unimpressed, because it was more like a re-purposed pizza parlor than a proper restaurant. The baked spaghetti and meatballs were moderately edible and so was the local red beer, so I had no further complaints.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Osoyoos, BC

— This is the third day of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

I woke up just as the valley was getting light, but chose to go back to sleep. I kept my window open all night since my room had no air conditioning. The sound of the stiff breeze (wind?) and occasional rain outside didn't bother me at all. I awoke again at 6:00 am but chose to stay in bed; I never fell back asleep.

I was the only diner in The Local -- as the restaurant downstairs was called -- as I ate breakfast. My waitress had a British accent and was very curious about my travels. She was jealous when I mentioned my eventual destination of California.

The sky was slate gray and spit occasional rain drops while I loaded up my bike. I fueled up at the gas station behind the hotel and then set off, following Dick's directions. 15 miles outside of town it spontaneously changed its mind and told me to make a U-turn and head back to Pemberton. Once in town, 30 miles later, I decided to ignore the GPS for the time being and work my way back to the main highway the old fashioned way. Once I saw signs for Lillooet I knew I was on the right track. Dick agreed with me.

The rain began to come down fairly hard at this point. The road surface was broken and uneven, further slowing my pace. Eventually the road became a series of bumpy, narrow, tight switchbacks up into the rainy mist. The clouds and rain enveloped and concealed the mountains which I knew surrounded me. The road continued to climb, eventually cresting a pass at over 4,400 feet elevation. The rain never let up.

[caption id="attachment_828" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The road from Pemberton to Lillooet, BC"]The road from Pemberton to Lillooet, BC[/caption]

The scenery was rugged and remote, and other traffic was almost non-existent. I rode cautiously. Despite the foul weather, I was truly enjoying the experience. My impression of British Columbia so far was very favorable, comparing it to some of what Oregon and Washington have to offer, yet in a significantly more dramatic way.

The rough road and nasty, wet weather slowed my pace but the skies began to brighten just as the views became even more awe inspiring. The river gorges deepened and the mountains that surrounded them got taller and steeper. I stopped for a self-portrait, then continued onward. Soon I was descending into the dry and warm oasis of Lillooet.

Lillooet is a meteorological anomaly, getting sparse amounts of annual precipitation and unusually high temperatures compared to surrounding areas. The sun was shining and I quickly dried out by the time I rolled to a stop at an Esso station in town to fuel up. I used their facilities and wolfed down a candy bar, then answered the clerk's question, "Are you from this country?" It was an odd query considering she appeared to be from India or perhaps even Pakistan, based upon her appearance and accent.

I got back on the road and as I was leaving town I could see dark clouds ahead and the beginnings of rain on my face shield. I pulled over and put on my waterproof glove covers. Within thirty-seconds it began to rain. Lillooet said, "See you later!" with a wet send-off.

After reaching the northernmost part of my trip in Lillooet, I began to ride south through even more dramatic scenery and topography. It became immediately obvious why that route has green dots next to it on the map ("scenic route"). The road rose and fell along the eastern shore of the surging and roaring Fraser River. "Mighty" was the word that came to mind as I caught glimpses of it's seething torrent, roiling and the color of coffee with cream. I could see whole trees flowing with the swift current. Local news reports confirmed the Fraser was in an unusually high water event, the highest that late in the season since the 1920's.

I eventually reached the small town of Hope, where the Sylvester Stallone film, First Blood, was filmed, one of my favorite movies. I recognized a few parts of town but the rest was unfamiliar. I pulled into a busy gas station to fill up, then noticed a homey looking diner sharing the same lot. I parked my bike in front and went inside The River Cafe. Seating was scarce so I had to sit at a dirty table. My lunch of halibut fish and chips, along with a delicious mocha, was well worth the wait. I managed to get geared up and back on the road just in time before the rain returned.

I left Hope and caught Highway 3 eastbound. The road was four lanes as it took me past the Hope Slide, a massive land slide that killed four people. Now a view point marks the location. After cresting the pass the rain let up and I had a lot of riding under mostly sunny skies to dry me out. Passing through Manning Park, the road remained at fairly high elevation almost the entire route eastward. Bouts of showers still pestered me from time to time just to keep things interesting.

The road was wide and has fast sweepers but something odd happened every time I came upon some tight twisties. Whenever tight curves came up, I always got stuck behind a slow RV, car, or tractor trailer crawling along. As soon as things got straight again, I would have the road to myself. It was if some power in the universe was conspiring to keep me from getting sideways. Without ever being able to really carve it up, I found myself in Osoyoos and the end of the day's ride.

The sun was shining when I arrived and the temperature was the warmest of the entire trip so far. I fueled up, then crossed the street and checked into the Super 8 hotel. Cindy, the front desk clerk, was very welcoming and friendly. She had a very thick Canadian accent too, which I thought was odd considering the close proximity to the U.S. border.

I unloaded my gear and took a much needed shower. Upon Cindy's recommendation, I walked the five blocks down the main drag to Smitty's Family Restaurant for a dinner of veal parmesan, side salad, and Pellar Estates merlot, a local wine. I wore shorts and sandals and still felt a little warm. The walk back to the hotel was pleasant and it was good to get off of my ass and onto my feet.

Once back at my room I got some Loonies from the front desk and went to the guest laundry downstairs to wash a load of clothes. The rest of the trip should be dry, and will likely involve much warmer temperatures, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of clean clothes for the duration. Riding in hot weather really stinks up your gear much faster than cold-weather riding.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

North to British Columbia

— This is the second day of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

It was a very tiring day. It started by sleeping in, getting up at 7:10 am, which is unusual for me. I dressed, then went to Charlie's Diner next door for breakfast. If you’ve been to Enumclaw, Washington you know there aren’t a lot of dining options. The place smelled funny, like someone's basement, but the service was friendly and the food wasn't bad. When I walked back to my room I saw a guy wearing a BMW t-shirt, smoking a cigarette, standing near his red K1300GT with New York plates. Enumclaw is an odd location for him.

Back at my room, I packed up my stuff and was rolling out under cloudy skies and occasional rain drops at my usual 8:20 am. I decided to take secondary roads north to skirt around the morning commute on I-5 through the Seattle metro area. It probably took me the same amount of time either way as I was faced with slow speed limits, slow locals, and quite a few small towns with red lights. However, I got to see several small towns that I probably would never see otherwise so it was okay in the end.

Eventually I had to hit the freeway and I made good time as a result. With nearly 150 miles in the saddle, I needed a break. I pulled off into Bellingham and fueled up the bike and its pilot before making the last leg north to the border at Blaine. I waited about 15 minutes before taking my turn at the border. After a few cursory questions I was through and headed up to the Vancouver metro area. Then my GPS started to dick with me.

There really are no quick and direct ways to cross Vancouver going south to north. My GPS routed me on several surface streets and some major thoroughfares and they all seemed to be under construction. At one point I missed the onramp to Highway 1 so I decided to take a break and top off my gas tank. The temperature was warm enough to be uncomfortable but at least it wasn't raining and it was mid-day rather than rush hour. Several twists and turns later I eventually got onto the correct route and began to make my way north out of the city.

I still needed to find an ATM to get some Canadian currency, however. I pulled off the highway into the small village of Horseshoe Bay figuring an ATM would be easy to find. It was crawling with pedestrian traffic off the ferries and had construction mucking every outbound junction. I eventually found my way back onto the Sea-to-Sky Highway, although it required the use of an illegal turn. Don’t tell anyone.

The mountains provided occasional "Oh, wow!" views but the slower speed limits didn't impress me much. Fortunately Canadian drivers are fairly polite and tend to move over when passing lanes come up. The town of Squamish came my way and I took the opportunity to pull over, find a bank, and get a snack and warm beverage at a hopping Starbucks of all places. I drank my mocha outside while a Scandinavian family of five enjoyed theirs at the table next to me (I didn't understand a single word that came out of their blonde heads). When paying for my goodies, I automatically put my coin change in the tip jar, failing to realize two of them were Loonies. That meant a $3 tip for a $7 snack! I need to remember that in the future.

I got back onto the highway without any more hijinks from my GPS and soon rolled through the resort ski town of Whistler, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It has seen a lot of high end development and looked like a very spendy town to visit. The scenery was spectacular, and I wondered if a return visit during winter would be in the cards.

I had originally intended to spend the night at Nairn Falls Provincial Park in Pemberton, but as I passed by the entrance I quickly realized it was a few miles outside of town. I wanted to be able to walk to a restaurant for my evening and morning meals (I left my stove and mess kit at home) so I decided to ride into town and see what lodging options existed. I stopped on a side street and asked my GPS to show me what was available, and I picked the first place listed, the Pemberton Hotel.

[caption id="attachment_826" align="alignright" width="300" caption="This is the view out of my hotel window in Pemberton."]Pemberton, BC[/caption]

The room was tiny, barely 9' x 9', but the price was right so I checked in. It took me several trips but I eventually managed to get everything off of my bike and into my tiny upstairs room. The restaurant downstairs had a bar in the back so I consumed a local Russell lager, then ate two tacos ("Taco Tuesday!") plus a green salad for dinner. I took a short walk around the block before finding a gift shop where I purchased some locally made jewelry as a gift for my wife.

Tomorrow will be the longest ride of the trip but the route is straightforward and doesn't involve any major urban areas. I have hope that my GPS -- now affectionately nicknamed "Dick" -- won't lead me astray as I pass through Hope, BC or my destination, Osoyoos, BC, but I'm not betting my life on it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Enumclaw, where?

— This is the first post of a series, documenting a recent 11-day, 3,400 mile loop trip I took to British Columbia and northern California. —

I left the house at 8:28 am under mostly sunny skies and 58 degrees. The bike looked like it was loaded for bear, with a tall tank bag, 41 liter side cases, 46 liter top case, and my waterproof duffel bag and tent stacked on the pillion seat behind me. I had already filled up the gas tank the day before so I had my earphones in and my iPod set to play my "jazzed" playlist and off I went, up the mountain to Government Camp and around to Highway 35.

I had to stop at three different construction zones, the first governed by a carbon-based flagger and the other two by silicon-based automated traffic lights. I stopped in Hood River to top off my gas tank and grab a nutrition bar for a snack before paying a fifty-cent toll to cross a very squirrely metal-grated bridge over the Columbia River. The wind was blowing strongly from the west and wind surfers were taking advantage of it in increasing numbers. Fifteen miles later I left the windy SR-14 and turned northward to the small hamlet of Carson, Washington. The wind calmed and the trees got taller as I travelled north into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, named after the first director of the U.S. Forest Service.

The goal was to ride Forest Service roads north between Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the small town of Randle, Washington. I checked the Washington Dept. of Transportation web site before I left to make sure the roads were all open. Unfortunately, I was stopped by a locked gate with the claim that the road beyond was blocked by snow. In the middle of July. I turned around and backtracked a few miles before heading west on NF-25 through the small community of Cougar and onward to Woodland, where I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a chicken sandwich.

The freeway had a posted speed of 70 mph so I made good time, but as I've mentioned before, my butt never hurts unless I'm riding in a straight line and this slab run north was no exception. I pulled off into a small town a mile east of the freeway to fuel up. As I was putting my tank bag back on a man walked up and asked me several questions about my V-Strom, specifically wanting to know about it's dual-sport capabilities.

After another 20 miles of increasingly crowded freeway traffic northbound, I took exit 127 and headed east another 20+ miles to the nondescript town of Enumclaw. I checked into my motel and unloaded my gear, called my wife to let her know I had arrived safely despite the detour, then took a nap. The motel was probably built in the late 60's and still used brass keys instead of the more common swipe card. The furnishings were adequate although the free Wi-Fi was non-existent.

Dinner was at the Crystal Bistro next door. It was half local-dive-bar and half sushi-joint. I sat on the sushi side as the five locals sitting at the bar reminded me of banjo music. I ordered vegetable tempura but the Japanese waiter (accent and everything) told me, "So sorry, no tempura today." I ordered gyozo (pot stickers) and a Sapporo instead, along with chicken parmesan from the regular menu.

He brought a bland and mediocre salad and my beer shortly after, followed by dry and probably previously-frozen pot stickers. The chicken parmesan was supposed to be served with marinara sauce but came on top of fettucini Alfredo instead. It was cooked perfectly but was far too filling.

Emerging from the restaurant and hoping tomorrow's breakfast at nearby Charlie's Diner was a better experience, I noticed rain drops on the parked car's windshields. The forecasts were inconsistent on the timing but they all agreed that there was a chance of showers within the next day or two. I guess they started early.

Monday, June 27, 2011

24-hour Bike Camping Trip

I had a 24-hour window of opportunity this past weekend to go for a quick bike camping trip. I loaded my gear on the V-Strom and set off by noon. The sun was shining and it was in the upper 60's, quickly climbing into the lower 70's. I fueled up in Estacada, then headed up the Clackamas River highway to Ripplebrook, where I continued east on NF58 past Harriett Lake. The road turned to gravel for about 10 miles before crossing the earthen dam at Timothy Lake's outlet.

I followed the road around the southern shore of Timothy Lake before hitting Skyline Road (NF42). It was a quick 8-mile jaunt to a brief run south on Highway 26 before continuing east onto NF43. This road connected to NF48, and soon was I zooming past Rock Creek Reservoir and hitting the long straight into the tiny community of Wamic.

I grabbed two snacks, ate one and saved the other for later that evening, then chatted with two guys from Hood River riding tall off-road bikes with large home-made sidecars as they stopped to fuel up. Soon I was backtracking to Rock Creek Reservoir where I followed some narrow forest service roads to a particular campsite within the Mt. Hood National Forest.

There was another group set up about 75 yards away, but despite smoke still coming out of the campfire, no one was home. I wanted to ask permission first before I made camp, just as a courtesy, but in their absence I made the decision to go ahead and set up anyway.

I soon had my tent erected and my gear stowed inside. I propped my bike up on its center stand, sat aboard, leaned back against my top case, and pondered the sky while listening to several different species of birds arguing about the various disposition of seeds in light of recent changes in the world economy.

Weary from the ride and mentally relaxed from contemplating the heavens, I retired into my nylon and aluminum structure, struck a face-down horizontal pose, and remained inert for over an hour. My slumber was disturbed by the return of my neighbors. I decided it was dinner time anyway so I emerged and began making dinner.

The freeze-dried beef stew was unappetizing but wasn't foul, either; it served its purpose. Once I got my mess kit cleaned up, I returned again to the comfort of my tent and pulled out my iPad to watch a movie. iPads are fantastic for travelers and I highly recommend them. You can watch a movie, read a book, play a game, compose a blog, etc. When you have Wi-Fi or 3G access you can plan a trip's route or check the weather forecast.

By this time it was getting dark so I brushed my teeth and prepared for bed. Just as the last hint of light was fading, I heard "Huff! Huff!" outside my tent. Thirty seconds later I heard it again. I figured it was a cow, although I had never seen any cow pies in that area. I wondered if it was an elk, as the noise was fairly loud and actually seemed pretty close by. I heard the creature stomp the ground twice, then walk around. It sounded as if it was close to my bike, parked about 20 feet away from the entrance to my tent.

I grabbed my small flashlight, unzipped my tent, and peered outside. I saw nothing. No bodies, no glowing eyes. I knew I had heard a large animal of some kind but couldn't find any physical evidence of it, so I zipped the tent back up and crawled back onto my sleeping bag for some iPad solitaire. Less than 5 minutes had gone by before I heard another "Huff!" accompanied by a large animal walking around close by. I grabbed a different flashlight, with a broader, brighter beam, unzipped the tent, and looked outside. Standing 20' away was a female deer. She was grazing on some grass on the edge of the creek and seemed completely unfazed by my sudden emergence from my tent.

I was getting annoyed by the interruption at this point so I began to make my own huffing noises back at the creature. She gave me a look bordering on contempt, then returned to her grazing. I grabbed a pine cone and threw it at her, but it wasn't very heavy and fell short. The deer remained unimpressed. I put my sandals on, stepped out of the tent completely, and began looking for a rock. The doe adopted more of a "Bring it, homeboy!" expression. The rock I found was at least as big as a grapefruit. I heaved it underhanded toward the doe. It struck the ground a few feet short, bounced up and smacked her in the rear flank. She leaped at least three feet straight up, then bounded a quarter of the way around my camp before heading into the woods up the hill and out of sight. That will teach her to mess with a top predator!

I brushed the dust off my hands, took off my sandals, and crawled back inside my tent. I put my iPad away, undressed, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Another five minutes went by before I heard two different deer walking around outside my tent. One even pawed at the corner of my tent fly, as if to say, "Oh, no you di'nt!" I decided to ignore them, treating them like I would a semi-crazy person trying to engage me in conversation about UFOs on a crowded subway train. Eventually they wandered off and I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke at 5 AM, daylight beginning to filter through the trees. Although I normally get up around that time, I had no reason to this particular day and didn't want to disturb my neighbors (who had stayed awake quite late into the night playing music and even shooting guns). I allowed sleep to return and awoke again two hours later. The sun was hitting my tent broadsided and lit it up so bright I had to squint.

Once up, I made coffee and ate a granola bar as I took my time packing up. I refilled my water bottle with my Katadyn filter down at the creek, checked that everything was tied down on my bike, then mounted up. I rode back up the same gnarly, rocky, dirt road that brought me there, fortunately without any mishaps. Back on the pavement, I boogied back into Wamic where I had a more substantial breakfast at the Sportsman's Pub-n-Grub. The decor was nasty and the waitresses were friendly but slow. The food wasn't half bad, however. Fed, I mounted up again and headed west along NF48. I passed the spot where my wife and I had gotten stuck in a snow drift just a few weeks earlier, this time the pavement was dry and clear. At the junction with Highway 35 I was flagged down by one of six riders parked nearby. He spoke with an Australian accent and wanted to know if the road to Wamic was clear. I assured him he and his BMW-riding buddies could make the route just fine as I had just come from there. He thanked me with a smile, I wished him a "Shiny side up!", and I merged onto 35 and headed back over the mountain to home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Take Him To Detroit!

On the third try in a month, the NF46 road from Ripplebrook to Breitenbush / Detroit is finally clear of snow. They even swept the tree debris! On Sunday I had a fantastic ride to Detroit and back, scraping my left peg on a hard hairpin just below the pass. My new Shinko 705 radial tires are fantastic, providing excellent grip on wet pavement and confidence-inspiring cornering with increased lean angles.

They posted speed limit signs from the pass south to Detroit varying between 40 and 45 mph, which is ridiculous. Those twisties are excellent and the road surface is in great shape.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snow in June?

We left the house Friday afternoon and rode back into town before crossing the swollen Columbia River via the I-205 bridge and catching SR14 eastbound. My wife, Corina, hadn't been on my bike since last summer and our planned overnight trip to my sister's house outside Goldendale, Washington was a great way to get back into it.

The sun was shining and it was forecasted to be the warmest day of the year so far after what has been an unusually wet and cold Spring. We stopped at a gas station/market in North Bonneville for a snack break, then continued to Lyle where we turned north onto highway 142. Riding through the small community of Klickitat, we continued up out of the river valley and onto the breezy plain west of Goldendale.

We stopped at the 76 station in Goldendale for fuel and were joined by 10 guys on BMW and KTM adventure bikes. Fueled, we continued east on Bickelton Highway another 30 minutes before arriving at my sister's house.

The next morning, after a relaxing but far too short visit, we backtracked to Goldendale before heading south on 97 for ten miles, then SR14 west to Dallesport where we crossed back over the mighty Columbia. The water was roiling and turbulent in the spillway under The Dallesport Dam, letting out a massive volume of water every second.

We rode south on 197 into the tiny town of Tygh Valley before heading west toward another tiny town, Wamic. The only store and gas station in town was abuzz with locals celebrating the store's 25th anniversary as well as a large group of off-road motorcyclists. They were fueling up during a large rally organized out of Hood River.

Rolling through town, we cut off into the woods at Rock Creek Reservoir. Our destination was an unmarked campsight used during deer hunting. The rough gravel road was rutted and washed out in several places and interspersed with many large mud puddles. After a little slipping and sliding, we made it to the campsite. Off the bike, we explored the trees surrounding the camp, looking for a cross we mounted to memorialize Corina's father who had passed away two years prior. We were pleased to see the cross was still there, no worse off despite the passage of both time and weather.

We mounted up and headed back up the gnarly road and made our way back to the highway westbound. Our intention was to ride NF48 to where it linked up with Highway 35 next to White River. About a mile shy of the junction we came to a large patch of snow across the road.

There were tire tracks and ruts crossing it and the snow didn't look overly deep, so Corina dismounted and let me ride forward. Within 30 feet into the snow the bike stopped. The snow was nearly 2 feet deep and the bike high-centered on the skid plate, reducing weight and therefore traction on the rear tire.

We rocked the bike side to side to create more space, then dug at the snow with sticks and our hands. The temperature was easily into the 70's and combined with the elevation we were both sweating and breathing hard, seemingly without progress despite the intense effort.

Corina got behind the bike and pushed while I worked the throttle and pushed with both my legs. After a great amount of effort and straining, the bike inched forward about 4 feet before getting stuck again. We had at least another fifty feet of snow drift to cross and we began to wonder of it would be possible. We could see another snow drift just like this one waiting for us 100 yards ahead.

With more digging, pushing, heaving, grunting, and groaning, the bike moved slowly forward. We made it through and parked the bike on bare pavement, then took a break to catch our breath. After a brief respite, we rode on to the next drift. Approaching it, our hearts sank. We could see that this drift was even deeper and had no tire tracks through it. Whoever had driven their four-wheel drive vehicle through the first drift had turned around and gone back before attempting to cross the next. Within a mile of a snow-free highway 35, we knew we had to go back across the snow drift that took us an hour to cross the first time.

Corina got off and walked while I slowly rolled ahead to the snow drift. I hoped that the rut we worked so hard to cross would be easier to traverse. With a lump in my throat, I gave the bike some gas and entered the snow drift. Halfway across the bike stopped. I killed the engine, then began rocking the bike side to side. The rut was deep enough that the bike was being pinched on the sides, effectively reducing the weight on the back tire and therefore reducing traction. I wondered if attempting to ride across a section without ruts would have been more effective, but the bike probably would have just sunk into the deep snow and stopped.

As Corina approached the back of the drift, my effort to clear lateral space around the bike and my pushing forward with my legs while working the throttle was just effective enough to help me inch forward. With a loud "Whoo hoo!" I got purchase on the widened rut we dug out on our way through the first time and emerged triumphantly onto bare pavement.

Stopping, I put the bike on it's side stand and located a small stick to scrape off the snow embedded into every cavity on the bike's underside. Corina caught up to me and we smiled, still out of breath. We chugged some water, then noticed three off-road bikes from the rally group riding up the road toward us. We waved them to a stop and warned them of the struggle we had just gone through. Even though their tall bikes with aggressive knobby tires would have no doubt had better luck crossing the snow, they decided caution was the better approach and turned around and headed back the way they came.

The guys said they would try to ride NF43 and connect with Highway 26. Corina and I discussed that route, but I had run into snow on that route in previous years so we decided we would ride all the way back to Wamic, gas up the bike and grab a snack, then backtrack to Tygh Valley where we would continue south on 197 to highway 216. It was a longer way home but we knew that the entire route would be plowed and snow free.

I had just switched from a set of Bridgestone Battle Wing 90/10 tires over to a more 75/25 oriented tire, the Shinko 705. Considering the depth of the snow and the mud and gravel I had ridden so far, the Shinko's had done a decent job. They also perform great on the pavement, cornering very capably.

Back in Wamic, the gas station/store was hopping with off-road rally riders and anniversary celebrants. We struck up a conversation with Sam Cobb, the owner of a small tavern in Tygh Valley, who was present to celebrate the store's anniversary. Fed and fueled, we said our goodbyes, then worked our way back home.

The original route should have been about 160 miles and lasted only four hours. Instead, we rode well over 250 miles and got home four hours later than intended. It was an adventure and we pulled through it together, no worse for the experience. Having a folding shovel on board would have been helpful, but using the most important tool of all - our brains - would have been far more effective. Even if you can see the other side of a snow drift, it can easily be too deep for a motorcycle to cross. Mud puddles are the same way; you can't tell how deep they are just by looking at them.

The funny thing is, when I woke up the next morning, I felt like getting back on the bike and heading right back up into the mountains for another go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fixing flats and Shinko 705's

Back in September of 2010 when I was in Frenchglen, Oregon I picked up a fencing nail in my rear tire. I was able to fix the flat using a plugged tool and my DC powered air compressor. The tire -- a Bridgestone Battle Wing -- held air until today.

When I went into the garage to ride to work, the tire was flat. I fired up my air compressor, added some air, and headed into work. The day before I had dropped off a new set of Shinko 705 tires at Yamaha Sports Plaza in Fairview -- my go-to service shop. All I had to do was ride there after work to get the new tires mounted. Except my rear tire had no air in it, again.

I pulled out my 12v DC air compressor and began filling the tire up. It took a while, mostly because the leak was still active. Hsssssss. I acted quick, suiting up and jetting over to the shop. I made it safely and an hour later my bike had new shoes.

The Shinko 705's are more of a 75/25 tire whereas up to now I have been running tires biased more toward street riding -- 90/10's. My first impression was dramatic. The Shinko's feel slippery and squirrely on pavement and I notice a distinct tread vibration at slower speeds. Everything I read about them says I'll get used to their behavior, but initially there will no doubt be an adjustment period. I'll post a formal review after I've got some miles clocked on them.

[Update 6/7/2011] I've put several hundred miles on the Shinko 705's and really like them. They provide better grip on non-paved surfaces and corner very well in both wet and dry conditions. They are a great value.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's easier than it seems but is harder than it looks

Riding a motorcycle has a mystique that is both alluring and intimidating at the same time. They can be powerful and fast and potentially deadly. They can be exciting and scary and even relaxing. They can be beautiful and sleek or utilitarian and downright ugly. They are as diverse as the people that ride them.

Many people fear motorcycles and assume that riding one is beyond their abilities or level of accepted risk. As with a great many things, however, the preemptive bark we anticipate in our minds turns out to be far worse than the actual bite.

Riding a motorcycle is far easier than it seems, but doing it well is much harder than it looks.

Once the basics of working a manual clutch and brakes have been mastered, just about anyone can ride a motorcycle. The Basic Riders Course provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a fantastic way to get up to speed (so to speak) quickly and efficiently. "Congratulations, you are now qualified to ride around a parking lot in first gear!"

As with a lot of things, the more you learn about riding a motorcycle and the more miles you get under your tires, the more you realize you still have to learn.

As I noted in a previous post, I recently attended the Lee Parks Total Control riders clinic up in Olympia, Washington. It involves a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on training in a big parking lot. I already know how to ride a motorcycle. I've racked up over 37,000 miles in the last four years. I took the class because I want to learn how to have more control and smoothness in my cornering. Refine my technique, basically.

When I watched our instructor, Jeff, take his Honda VFR in tight loops around the range during our class, I was amazed at how effortless and smooth he was. Experts make the more difficult task look easy and Jeff definitely qualifies as an expert. He loudly proclaimed, "This is what riding success looks like!" without saying a word. I want to be like him.

It's not about speed or being able to drag my knee on every corner. Anyone can go around a corner on anything with two wheels. I want to do so masterfully.

Yesterday after work I rode up Marmot Road and Barlow Trail Road all the way to Zigzag and back to get some cornering practice under my belt. It was a frustrating experience. What I learned during my class seemed to have abandoned me. None of my corners felt right, nothing was smooth or easy. I was mentally going through the ten steps Lee Parks teaches for smooth cornering but somehow it wasn't translating into actual results.

On the way back, something happened. I gave up. I stopped fretting over the details of what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to do it and just took the corners naturally. I basically said, "Screw the practice, just get home," and something magical happened. My cornering became effortless and smooth. The same thing happened during my class on Saturday. When I stopped thinking and started feeling, everything fell into place and my technique improved.

Considering this, I've drawn a few conclusions from the process. Practice the techniques without worrying about the outcome. Let it be practice and nothing more. Don't worry about winning races or impressing anyone. Go through the motions in the correct order and with the correct technique. Do it over and over again. Then move onto the next technique. Practice one technique at a time. Do each over and over again. When it's time to actually ride, stop practicing and simply ride. Let your muscle memory and the less-than-conscious part of your brain do what you trained it to do.

Riding a motorcycle is easier than it seems but harder than it looks. But it can be done, by anyone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lee Parks Total Control clinic

I enrolled in the Lee Parks Total Control riding clinic and attended the session in Olympia, Washington on Saturday, May 14th. Because it was an all-day class -- 9 AM to 7 PM -- I decided to make a weekend trip out of it.

I took Friday off of work and rode across the Portland metro area to Scappoose on Highway 30 before heading away from the Columbia River and into the hills of Northwest Oregon. The road is a nice bend of tight curves and broad sweepers but the surface is somewhat rough in spots and blind corners demand a lot of attention. Once in Mist I continued north on Highway 47 to Clatskanie. This section is very technical and you really have to be on the ball to survive it. The road surface is very rough, the corners are tight and rapid-fire, and there are log trucks patrolling the area ready to pounce on slacking motorcyclists.

The route from Pittsburg to Mist and then north to Clatskanie is heaven if you're a big fan of clear cuts. For those unfamiliar with the term, it's a way to harvest timber by mimicking the bombed out fields of eastern France during World War I. Everything gets cut down and removed, leaving the landscape scarred and defeated, right down to the road's edge. It's truly an ugly sight.

Once in Clatskanie (pronounced 'clat-skuh-nigh') I turned west and followed Highway 30 to the hamlet of Westport where I veered north onto a narrow paved road to the terminal of the Westport Ferry. This river crossing is the only ferry remaining on the lower Columbia River. For $3 a motorcycle gets portage to Puget Island, which has a bridge across the north stem of the Columbia back onto mainland Washington.

Waiting at the ferry terminal was a short, gray-haired and bearded man in black leather, sitting on the guard rail next to his 2001 deep blue Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. Walt and I chatted as we crossed the Columbia, the only passengers on the small ferry. The ride was very smooth thanks to a lack of wind, and within a few minutes we were docked on Puget Island and rolling back onto terra firma.

As per Walt's suggestion, I stopped at the Riverview in Cathlamet for lunch. The club sandwich and side salad were adequate and soon I was back on the road, heading west on SR 4 to connect with Highway 101 north. This section of the coastal highway offers rare glimpses of Willapa Bay, home of famous oysters, before going inland at Raymond for another stretch north to Aberdeen. There were numerous state and county law enforcement officers cruising the area, nabbing speeding motorists. Fortunately they left me alone.

Once across the Chehalis River in Aberdeen I turned west onto Highway 12 to begin my way inland toward Olympia. I stopped just east of town and fueled up, both my bike and myself. It was a four-lane divided highway all the way to Olympia and the miles passed quickly. My destination was the Super 8 in Lacey, and although my GPS told me right where it was, it was visually difficult to spot and I missed the entrance. A quick loop onto the I-5 freeway brought me back around for another pass. The manager said I could park my bike in front of the lobby so they could keep an eye on it for me. It's always a great experience when businesses are motorcycle-friendly.

After getting settled I walked a few blocks away to O'Blarneys for some bangers and mash and a beer to end the day.

Saturday began dry, contrary to the forecast of increasing chance of showers. I made it to the classroom location about 10 minutes early and already a half dozen bikes were parked outside. Several riders were grouped around Ian's Kawasaki Versys, watching and assisting as he fixed a flat tire. By 9:10 everyone was present and class began.

The course is 40% classroom lecture and 60% range exercises. The lectures were informative but tended to be long-winded and sometimes tangential. Our instructors, Pete and Jeff, were very knowledgeable, engaging and definitely likable. After introductions were made, we talked about the theory of cornering as well as the mental attitudes needed to ride effectively. Eventually we headed out to the range, a large parking lot behind a nearby mall about 5 blocks away.

The range exercises were the most useful part of the clinic. Anyone that took the MSF Basic Riders Course would find the format and approach very similar. We had a large area to work in, roughly the size of two football fields side-by-side, with circles and routes painted on the asphalt. Pete and Jeff set up several circles and lines using small orange and green cones, then gave us instructions for our first exercise.

To start, we practiced straight-line throttle and brake control exercises, learning to smoothly adjust our speed using a combination of both. Then, after riding around the range to scrub (warm up) our tires, we began some simple turning exercises.

We didn't break for lunch until 1:10 PM and only had 15 minutes to grab something and meet back at the classroom. We continued with another lecture while everyone wolfed down their food. This time the lecture was far more focused and less tangential. We talked about specific cornering techniques with an emphasis on body position. The group moved out onto the parking lot outside for a series of exercises.

One exercise taught us to visualize a corner's turn-in point ahead of time, and then recognizing its position in our mind when we reach it. Then we moved onto a pair of exercises that involved leaning to the side into the arms of two other riders, followed by sitting on our bikes and leaning off with our bodies while other riders held our bike. After that, we suited up and headed back to the range.

The remaining series of range exercises taught us how to locate our turn-in point and how to use our head and direction of sight to ensure smooth cornering. Looking through the curve is probably the most influential part of navigating a corner smoothly. I scraped my pegs a couple of times during these exercises, despite riding the tallest bike in the group. It was easy to tell when my eyes or head moved out of that 'look through' position because my bike would twitch and swerve along with my line-of-sight. Even my throttle control varied with my eye and head position. Whenever I looked steadily through the curve my cornering technique was smooth and even.

And then the rain came. During a lecture on tires earlier in the day, instructor Jeff commented that modern street bike tires are capable of far more than most bikes and riders will demand of them. He also said that they provide up to 80% traction on wet road surfaces, still above what most riders will need. Those comments gave us the confidence to keep taking the curves in the range exercise even after the rain had the pavement soaking wet.

We rode in at least an hour of hard rain, and I personally found it exciting to take the same corners at the same speed but on very wet pavement. It boosted my confidence dramatically.

(A rider from British Columbia modeled his new leather Aerostich Transit suit after we returned to the classroom. He said he really liked it and that it was well worth the cost.)

After retiring back to the classroom at 6pm, the remainder of the session was about suspension. Since the suspension on my V-Strom has very little adjustment capabilities, I decided to bag the rest of the class and head back to my motel in the rain.

I parked under the front cover at the motel and verified I had permission to do so. Back in my room, I spread out my gear to dry out, showered, then headed to the Shari's next door for dinner. The rain was falling heavily and never let up for the remainder of the trip.

On Sunday I gassed up and headed home via I-5 in the heavy rain without stopping. Unlike the 260 mile route I took getting to Olympia, the southbound freeway was the 140 mile direct route home. It's amazing how much more exhausting riding in the rain is compared to riding on dry pavement. My gear held up well, including my Aerostich triple-digit glove covers, but the big winners were my Darien Jacket and my Sidi Canyon boots. They performed admirably as always.