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.