Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Latest gear: HJC CS-R2 helmet and Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

When you ride as much as I do, no matter how well you take care of your gear it will eventually wear out. So is the case with my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS and my HJC SyMax II modular helmet.

My Zumo 450 GPS partially crapped out in Nevada on a recent 5,000 mile trip. It still showed my current location, speed, elevation, etc. but the touch screen stopped registering my input. The unit had been reliable although it occasionally became confused, as most GPS units are prone to be from time to time. I had to navigate the rest of the trip the hard way, using paper maps and turn logs that I would plot out the night before.

Getting around is easy enough the old fashioned way, but a GPS unit on your bike is very handy in some other ways. When you're in a city, they can efficiently guide you to nearby gas stations, restaurants, and motels. In larger cities, they help you find your way through the concrete jungle to critical junctions and highways leading out of town. A GPS can also tell you how far you are from the nearest gas station, which is invaluable when determining if you should fuel up now or head on down the road.

Garmin Zumo 220

I replaced it with a newer model, it's little brother, the Zumo 220. It is a no-frills unit that gets the job done with the features I need. Unlike the previous unit, the 220 uses a mini-USB connector to attach to the bike's power. Rather than snapping it into its mounting cradle, you must first plug the mini-USB connector into the back of the unit, then lock it into the cradle. This is an extra step, and it makes me miss the docking station used by the 450.

On the plus side, the 220 seems to lock onto satellites much quicker and the display is easy to see. I've yet to rely on it for city navigation or route plotting, but most of the functionality I need seems to be present.

HJC CS-R2 Storm Helmet

My first helmet was the HJC SyMax. It lasted about two years before an upgraded model came out, the SyMax II. Of course I upgraded, even though my old helmet was still functional. The SyMax II was comfortable and versatile and has served me well for several years and tens of thousands of miles. One of the drawbacks to both models, however, was an ill-fitting face shield. During moderate to heavy rain, water would run down the inside of the face shield because the top of the shield didn't seat completely against the rubber gasket across the brow of the helmet body. On especially cold rides I could feel the chilly air coming through that gap and onto my cheeks.

I'm loyal to the brand, both because of its value and because I know that their head shape fits me. My SyMax II has been showing its age lately and helmets should be replaced after 3-5 years of use anyway -- due to the gradual collapse of the interior padding, lessening its protective effectiveness in a crash -- so I shopped around for a suitable replacement.

This time I decided to go with a full-face model instead of a modular design. I wanted reasonable cost and features, no internal flip-down sun shade, and DOT-only certification; no Snell rating (Snell rated helmets subject the human skull to higher G-forces in an impact event; look it up). I also wanted a helmet with a design pattern on the outside rather than the plain colors I've been wearing to date.

I settled on the HJC CS-R2 "Storm" in grey. It is lightweight, has the feature set I wanted, and was surprisingly inexpensive. I paid $98 for it with free shipping from Motorcycle-Superstore.com.

I've ridden about 500 miles with it so far and really like it. I have to get used to the fact that I can't flip up the whole front part of the helmet like I could with my modular SyMax II. One downside is the face shield only has three detent positions; the first is barely open, which is great when fogging occurs, the other is in the middle and the top is all the way up. I wish it had 5 positions instead of three. The fit is fairly tight around my cheeks, so I find I ride with my mouth slightly open -- this narrows my cheeks, basically. I'm assuming the padding will deflate slightly over time. The size was spot on; I wear a small in all three HJC models I've owned. There are no hot spots, either. Although the helmet is quiet, there is a slight amount of wind noise from the top air vents, even when the vent is closed. When I raise my head into the full oncoming rush of air above my wind screen I can tell that a decent amount of air passes through the helmet. This is handy when riding in hot weather.

I've yet to wear the CS-R2 in rainy conditions, but close examination (and online reviews) show the face shield is pressed firmly against the brow gasket. Although I haven't treated the inside of the face shield yet, it fogs up very easily. I also noticed the clear face shield that comes with the helmet seems to have a slight gradation of tinting or perhaps polarization from top to bottom. It's subtle. I've ordered an additional shield, the HJ-09 in "Silver", from Motorcycle-Superstore.com, to provide better tinting in sunny conditions.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ride report June 2012: Day 1

Sandy, OR to Coos Bay, OR

The weather was perfect for riding ... sunny and in the mid 60's. I started my route on roads through a fancy yet rural neighborhood, where rich executives from Portland have million dollar homes on 20 acre plots. I then took highway 99W down through the Willamette Valley to the college town of Monmouth where I headed west on rural Kings Valley Road. Along the way I followed a young buck deer as he ran down the center of the road, still in the velvet.

In Philomath I fueled up my bike at Chevron and my belly at the adjacent McDonalds, then headed west toward the coast on highway 34 through Alsea to the coastal town of Waldport. The road was in fantastic shape and traffic was light.

In Waldport I headed south in highway 101, then pulled over at the Smelt Sands wayside in Yachats (pronounced 'yaw-hots'). I walked down to the rocks and waves and took some pictures and even some video on my GoPro HD.

Back on the road I got stuck behind a land barge (RV) from British Columbia with a dozen cars piled up behind it. It took a while but I was eventually able to pass.

I got into Coos Bay and checked into the Best Western by 3:30 pm. After a nap and a shower I walked down to a local restaurant, Shark Bites, but they were closed so I ate next door at EZ Thai. The phad thai was adequate but unremarkable.

Ride report June 2012: Day 2

Coos Bay, OR to Fortuna, CA

I left Coos Bay at 8:30 am after a decent complimentary breakfast (with real food; the best of the trip). It was sunny and cool but not cold. Traffic on 101 was very light and I didn't stop until I got to Brookings, just north of the California border. I parked in the shade behind a gas/food mart and ate a snack. After a bio break, I continued over the California border for the first of three times in a single day.

I cut inland on highway 197 then connected with 199 to Cave Junction, back in Oregon. 199 is scary in some parts, narrow and winding with deadly consequences if you go off the pavement. I fueled up in Cave Junction after riding 180 miles. A tall guy in rafting sandals asked me several questions about my bike as I gassed it up. He was considering getting a V-Strom. I then ate a BLT at the My Place Cafe next door.

It was warming up so I opened my jacket vents before heading up and over the pass back into California to Happy Camp. Patches of snow were visible in spots along the roadside at the 4,600 foot summit but the road was dry.

It was getting even warmer so I removed my jacket liner, then got onto highway 96 westbound. Soon I came up behind two new V-Stroms, but they were riding so slow I soon passed them both with a beep-beep and motored onward. My next break was Willow Creek where I got on highway 299 for the last leg to Fortuna. I rode 380 miles to that point. Dinner was a really tasty Italian club sandwich and French saison beer at the Eel River Brewery next door to my Super 8. Both establishments are highly recommended for riders.

Ride report June 2012: Day 3

Loop day, Fortuna, CA

The day was spent riding a 270 mile loop in the area. These are my favorite roads and are worth riding a long ways to experience if you're not from the area. I headed inland, eastbound, on highway 36, then veered northeast on highway 3 from Hayfork to Weaverville. This section is gnarly and wicked and amazing on a motorcycle. It demands attention and offers a great reward to those who conquer it. In Weaverville I stopped at Trinideli for lunch. My friend, Mark, stopped by as he was driving home from Trinity Lake. After lunch, he drove on while I continued the loop by turning westbound on highway 299. Back on the coast, I turned inland and rode the narrow, winding road up to Mark's home in the rural community of Kneeland. Mark and I had dinner and a lot of laughs, then I rode back down the hill to my motel in Fortuna.

Ride report June 2012: Day 4

Fortuna, CA to Sparks, NV

When I left Fortuna at 8 am it was drizzling and cool as is typical of the Eureka/Arcata/Fortuna area. I headed inland once again on highway 36 and by the time I went up and over the first pass I had sunshine and blue skies.

Nearing Red Bluff the temperature was climbing so I pulled over and switched to my warm weather gear configuration ... Aerostich Darien jacket with vents open and minus the liner, and I opened the thigh vents on my Firstgear Kathmandu pants. As I rode the amazing roller coaster curves of 36 just west of Red Bluff, I kept feeling something hit my boots. Later I realized I was riding through crickets.

I fueled up in Red Bluff, then got lunch at a busy Subway before continuing east across I-5 on highway 36. From this point on, except for the last two days of the trip, I would be riding roads new to me. East of I-5, 36 is a lot of grass and scrub oak and heat. Eventually the elevation climbed enough to moderate the temperature. The road before and after Lake Almador was amazing as was the timber, tall and uniform.

Once I got to Susanville I fueled up my bike and continued on, now in hot, arid country. The border into Nevada was unmarked. Once I got into Sparks I used my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS to find the Super 8. It was a hotel, rather than my preferred motel, so I had to load all my gear on a cart and wheel it inside to my room. Once I got a quick nap and shower out of the way, I went to the casino/truck stop/restaurant next door for dinner. There were some shady people in there and it reminded me of the cantina scene in Star Wars IV, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." (I am sure those truck drivers are salt of the earth good people, but they can present a rather gruff, scary first impression.) The chicken parmesan was pretty good.

Before I went to dinner I washed my ExOfficio t-shirts and underwear in the bath tub and hung them up to dry. My wool socks were the only thing I didn't attempt to wash by hand; I saved them for later when I could wash them in a motel with a laundry room.

Ride report June 2012: Day 5

Sparks, NV to Ely, NV
Highway 50, "The Loneliest Highway"

I survived highway 50, the loneliest highway in America. It certainly is that. Fortunately it wasn't overly hot. It was 92 degrees when I reached Ely at 2:15 pm. On the way, I fueled up in Austin (3.58 gallons) and got some grub in Eureka. Breakfast earlier that morning was again in the casino/truck stop next door to the Super 8.

Once in Ely I checked into the Ramada and ate dinner at Evah's inside the hotel. It is nasty and should be avoided. My room was nice, however.

I decided to wash my wool socks by hand. I use Dr. Bronner's peppermint castile soap and hot water, then I roll the socks in a towel and step on it to wring out the water. I draped them over the luggage rack which I propped in front of the AC unit.

The route for the next day showed a forecast of 98 degrees and lots of boring, dry scenery. I miss mountains and curves.

Ride report June 2012: Day 6

Ely, NV to Page, AZ

This was the hottest, toughest day of the trip so far, but had some truly amazing scenery. For everything worth having there is a price.

The day started with a continental breakfast at Evah's that was so-so. Then I discovered the touch screen on my GPS stopped working so I could no longer plot routes. It still showed my current location, speed and elevation, but I had to navigate the old fashioned way for the rest of the trip.

I headed south on highway 93 and got gas at a junction near the Utah border. Two presumably Mormon women in traditional dresses and hair styles stopped in a brand new Volkswagen SUV and got out to clean the windshield. They were absolutely beautiful but had sour expressions on their faces.

I made it into Cedar City, Utah and stopped for gas at a Sinclair station, then ate lunch at the Subway next door. A businessman in a suit chatted with me about my bike and trip as we waited in line, and he told me the scenery in Colorado would blow my mind.

I tried to take scenic route 14 east out of town but a few miles up the road was a blockade saying the road was closed. I saw a local drive around the signs and continue up the road but I didn't want to take any chances so I pulled over and figured out a detour using my printed AAA map. It required that I head south on I-15, then pass through Zion National Park.

The temperature was climbing fast and so was the traffic on the super slab. Pushing high speeds doesn't impress me and it uses up tires and oil, something I wanted to be cautious about on this trip, so I maintained a reasonable speed. At one point a roadrunner dashes across the hot freeway in front of me. Meep meep!

I pulled off the freeway at the exit for Zion, then paid $12 to go through the park. The canyon walls truly made me say, "Oh, $hit!" inside my helmet after every turn. It barely looked real. After climbing some hairpin switchbacks, the road enters a tunnel. The eastbound traffic had to stop and wait for a large RV to come out of the tunnel. As I was sitting there sweltering in my helmet and gear, I chatted with the ranger lady flagging traffic. She said she had just measured the ambient air temperature at 120 degrees. Yikes!

Eventually we were allowed to proceed through the tunnel. There are several windows cut out of the rock and into the open canyon air.

I eventually made it south and across the border into Arizona to the resort town of Page, near Lake Powell. It was hot and I was parched. Because my GPS was on the fritz, I had to ride around the loop through the entire town before I found the Super 8. The front desk staff were not very friendly but my room was cool and large and I was out of the heat. The nearest restaurant was a pizza joint about a quarter of a mile away across a Home Depot parking lot. The chef salad and beer were good, though.

Ride report June 2012: Day 7

Page, AZ to Durango, CO

The free continental breakfast that morning was nothing but meager pastries, juice and coffee, so once I was packed and ready, I rode into town and ate at a steakhouse that served breakfast. I also discovered small black ants in my room, over in one corner.

From Page, I headed south to Kaibito, then turned north toward Kayenta where I filled up my gas tank again. It was very warm, bordering on hot, and it wasn't even noon yet. The region is also very arid and sparse, but that can have it's own beauty. America’s hit song went through my head, "I've been through the desert / On a horse with no name / It felt good to be out of the rain..."

I then turned north on highway 163 and rode through Monument Valley. The view was just like you see in the movies, although the classic view is seen when traveling 163 from north to south, so I had to look in my mirrors and over my shoulder to see it.

Then I continued east through historic Bluff, Utah with its sandstone cliffs, through the Four Corners region, and into Colorado. I stopped in Durango and checked into the Best Western there. I had called ahead and made a reservation the night before.

Dinner was in the adjacent restaurant, the special rib eye steak. It was cooked perfectly and the meal was a good value. I did another round of bath tub laundry and got a good night's sleep.

Ride report June 2012: Day 8

Durango, CO to Manitou Springs, CO

The free breakfast at the Durango Best Western was adequate but lacked proteins. I then headed north on highway 505 to Montrose. The passes are beautiful and so was the road. It was breezy in Montrose where I gassed up and ate a snack. I then caught highway 50 east which was much drier than I would have thought. I could see the smoke from a wildfire to the south as I neared Pikes Peak.

Going over Monarch Pass was fantastic. The road was in great shape and other than dodging a pudgy marmot sprinting across the road the ride was fantastic. I stopped at the top of Monarch and took a picture of my bike in front of the Continental Divide sign, then continued onward.

Colorado drivers were beginning to frustrate me. They seemed to go 15+ over the speed limit in the straights but would slow WAY down for any kind of curve. They acted like they were freaked out by it and it seemed contradictory. But, that is better than Idaho drivers that are slow no matter what the circumstance.

The mountain towns of Silverton and Ourey remind me of those little villages you see pictures of in the Swiss Alps, quaint and small. Manitou Springs has a similar flavor, with a much busier, pedestrian friendly feel. My place of rest for the next two nights was the Best Western on the eastern edge of town, across from Garden of the Gods. I was very glad to check in as the area was beginning a record-breaking heat wave, with temps well into the upper 90's.

Dinner was at a pizza deli next door called Savelli's. The food was good and so was the service. My room was adjacent to the guest laundry so I got caught up in that regard as well.

Ride report 2012: Day 9

Local rides, Manitou Springs, CO

My goals for the day were to ride to the top of Pikes Peak and ride through Garden of the Gods. I got an early start up the mountain and was at the summit by 9:00 am. The view from the top is nice but you are so high above the valleys below that they almost seem abstract, like seeing the ground from an airplane. Still, it was definitely worth the fee and ride. The ride up seemed somewhat scary but for some reason the ride down was a piece of cake. The slow speed limit almost seemed like a needless frustration, although in practical terms it makes a lot of sense. Guard rails are rare and the drop offs are steep and frequent.

Back in town the heat was already climbing rapidly. I was boiling inside my gear as I rode through the Garden of the Gods park. It is a large park with numerous unusual and beautiful rock formations, criss-crossed by many hiking trails. It is definitely worth seeing and I would eventually like to hike around in the park ... on a cooler day.

I was back in my air conditioned room, chilling and resting by noon. After all that hot desert riding I needed a down day.

Ride report June 2012: Day 10

Manitou Springs, CO to Laramie, WY

I slept well and was up early. After the adequate free continental breakfast I was heading west on highway 24, then north on local route 67 through pine trees and hills to the junction with highway 285. It took me over Boreas Pass at 11,482 feet with some technical but fun switchbacks on the northern side.

I stopped and gassed up in Fairplay before turning north again on local highway 9. Wow, what a route! Hoozier Pass was amazing ... 11,541 feet and fast, too. I then rode through the famous and opulent ski town of Breckenridge. The downtown main street looks like something from a Hollywood set, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few movies were actually shot there.

At Dillon, where 9 meets I-70, I pulled into town and took a break at a Starbucks. Back on the freeway, it soon climbed to a tunnel at a pass at 11,158 feet. What a trip! A bit later I turned off of the freeway and caught highway 40 northbound for yet another section of fantastic Colorado scenery, including Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet. So far the V-Strom had been tackling the high elevation passes, and even the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak, without complaint. There is less power, obviously, but I only noticed it when attempting to pass.

I gassed up in the cowboy community of Granby before taking rural route 125 north. A sign said moose was in the area but I never saw any. I did see a three point bull elk about 50 yards off the road as he ran up into an aspen grove. I bet the area is beautiful in the fall.

By the time route 125 hit the town of Rand, I was out of the mountains and timber and onto the windy prairie. On the way I could see the smoke plume from a massive wildfire just west of Fort Collins. The plume looked similar to the one created when Mt. St. Helens erupted, which I witnessed firsthand as a kid.

I then crossed into Wyoming, my first visit to the most sparsely populated state in the lower 48. The temperature warmed a bit but it wasn't oppressively hot like it had been in Utah and Arizona. I found my motel in Laramie after filling up my fuel tank. The town of Laramie has the charm of dry toast and a glass of lukewarm tap water, but not as wet. There were no food options within walking distance so I ordered a Pizza Hut delivered to my room. Thunderstorms were predicted for the area, and some were intense, but they dodged Laramie leaving the dust on my bike intact.

Ride report June 2012: Day 11

Laramie, WY to Deadwood, SD

My bike's odometer hit 50,000 miles today, just south of Mt. Rushmore.

The continental breakfast at the Laramie Super 8 was lame. It was served in the walkway between the front door and the reception desk, so people walking in and out of the hotel were literally having to dodge the folks trying to grab a nasty, old pastry and burnt coffee. There wasn't even anywhere to sit! I grabbed an apple, a small cup of coffee and a packaged cinnamon roll and took them back to my room for reluctant consumption.

Before leaving town, I stopped at the Chuckwagon Cafe and ate a real breakfast before heading north out of town, with no intention to ever return. Until I reached South Dakota, the road passed through nothing but prairie and I saw many pronghorn antelope and deer along the way. In contrast, the hills of southwestern South Dakota are beautiful and look like some kind of manicured park.

The skies were threatening rain so I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Custer for a quick lunch and to switch to wet weather gloves and to put the waterproof cover over my tank bag. The rest of my gear was already waterproof. A few brief showers fell while I was inside the busy DQ but did little to remove the growing patina of dead bugs on my fairing.

With food in my belly, I continued north to the exit for Mt. Rushmore, seeing the unfinished Crazy Horse monument in the distance. The unusual rock formations surrounding Mt. Rushmore reminded me of a grey version of those found within Garden of the Gods back in Colorado, albeit a different color. The Rushmore monument itself was underwhelming, mostly because it was much smaller than I anticipated. I didn't want to pay the rather high fee just to park, so I rode past it, turned around and rode back toward the main highway. A few rain drops fell but I completely dodged the rather intense showers that were occurring all around me.

I eventually made it to Deadwood and checked into the Hickok House Best Western. After my usual routine of unpacking, taking a nap and then a shower, I was ready for dinner and a cold one at the restaurant next door. The service was good and the food was, too, including their green chicken chili.

The whole town of Deadwood is a national historic landmark and is well worth the visit. If you can, watch the HBO series of the same name as I hear it's actually fairly close to the real historic events (although it is still Hollywood, so take it all with a grain of salt).

Ride report June 2012: Day 12

Deadwood, SD to Greybull, WY

Pam, the waitress at the Best Western restaurant, was a hoot and really knew a lot about Deadwood history, specifically Al Swearengen and Calamity Jane. The food was excellent, too, especially the bacon.

My first stop of the day was Devil's Tower, but first I had to cross back into Wyoming. As I crossed the border from South Dakota, the wind picked up as if turned on by a switch. I don't think I spent a single second in the state of Wyoming without the wind blowing.

The side road to Devil's Tower is beautiful. Imagine pine trees, green grass, and rolling hills on a quality road with hardly any traffic. Yeah, it was that kind of experience. If you've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, however, Devil's Tower itself is somewhat of a let down. It's cool, but it's exactly the same as you see in the movie so seeing it in person is somewhat underwhelming.

I backtracked back to I-90 and caught it westbound about 100 miles to Buffalo. That stretch of freeway, as you would imagine, is uninteresting.

I ate lunch at the busy Hardees in Buffalo before taking highway 16 west into the Big Horn Mountains. 16 was great except for the muddy and dusty (yes, both) construction and REALLY slow cars coming down the western slope of the mountains. The curves seemed to have these drivers freaked out of their minds and anything above 25 mph for them was out of the question. I eventually got past them.

The rest of 16 is hot and dry to Worland, then I turned north to Greybull for more of the same. There is a lot of erosion and the geology of the area looks like it was once under a great inland sea (which it was). Apparently a lot of dinosaur fossils are found in that area.

It was hot when I got to Greybull, a small farming community centered around a once-busy railroad switch yard. There was construction going on downtown but I looped around and found the Greybull Hotel from a back street.

The Greybull Hotel was unexpectedly one of the highlights of my trip. The owner, Myles Foley, is a great guy and a total crack-up. He's also one helluva great host. The hotel was built in 1914 and had a speakeasy in the basement. Myles gave me a full, personal tour. The room rates are an excellent value, too.

Dinner was in a common room of sorts on the ground floor, just inside the front door, although the restaurant proper is in the basement with a nice, cozy feel to it. I sat at the same table with several locals and we talked and laughed well into the evening. I had a great time meeting my new friends. The prime rib dinner that Myles had on special was fantastic, too.

John, one of the local regulars and the Realtor that sold the hotel to Myles, suggested I take a different route for the next day than the one I had originally planned. At first I intended to head straight west through Cody and into Yellowstone National Park, but John suggested I go north into Red Lodge, Montana, then enter the park over the Beartooth Pass. I'm so glad I took his advice.

Ride report June 2012: Day 13

Greybull, WY to Butte, MT
Through Yellowstone National Park

I walked to a really dumpy restaurant across the street for breakfast. Myles told me their breakfast was okay but their lunch and dinner was to be avoided. It got me fed without unpleasant after-effects, so no harm, no foul.

I took highway 310 north to Red Lodge where I gassed up, then began my climb up the Beartooth Pass. The road up climbs the northern face of a deep valley wall before reaching the spectacular summit at just a hair below 11,000 feet. The top has a 360-degree view of the surrounding snow-dappled mountains and it simply takes your breath away. I consider it the most spectacular scenery I have ever witnessed, even more so than Zion and Glacier national parks (although they're very close).

I then descended down the other side and entered the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. I never realized how large Yellowstone is. It cost me $20 to get in and took several hours to ride to the other side. The speed limit varies between 25 mph up to 45 mph, and I hear they can be pretty strict about violations. I saw a lot of buffalo, a mother black bear and her two cubs, and a lone, sandy-furred wolf loping along a river bank near a large buffalo. Lots of people were stopped to photograph it. I never saw any moose or grizzlies.

Out of the park, I stopped in West Yellowstone, Montana and gassed up, then ate a snack at a small but very busy McDonalds before continuing north to Butte.

Just north of Ennis the clouds above the mountains gave me a wonderful site. The virga -- rain that falls but never reaches the ground -- looked like blue and grey hair. I ended up riding almost completely around the storm without it ever getting directly above me. When I reached I-90 for the fast run into Butte, looking back I could see the storm had moved on top of the road I had just traveled.

Because of the slow slog through the park and the great distance I had to travel, this ended up being my longest day yet, time-wise. I left Greybull at 7:50 AM and didn't get to Butte until 5:45 PM. In Butte, I gassed up in preparation for the next day and checked into the very nice Best Western there. Dinner was a whiskey on the rocks and a chef salad in the lounge, then I went outside and cleaned the construction dust off my chain and added some oil to the engine.

Ride report June 2012: Day 14

Butte, MT to Grangeville, ID

I slept good, then ate breakfast in the adjoining Perkins restaurant. I had fueled up the day before so I was on the highway by 7:50 AM.

It was a 120 mile slog on I-90 once again to get to Missoula where I turned west on highway 12 to Lolo. I gassed up there, alongside two guys from Alberta, Canada riding Suzukis. One was a DL100 and the other was a Bandit. I smiled at them but they ignored me. I ate a snack, then continued on 12 up and over Lolo Pass.

I had to go around some really slow cars, all with Idaho license plates, then over the pass and down the other side. The road surface at the top of the pass was rough, but it smoothed out soon enough. The sun was out and it was a pleasant riding temperature, so the rest of the ride was very comfortable.

I stopped at the small Apgar campground to eat an energy bar and drink some water, then continued on. The 50 mph speed limit on highway 12 in Idaho is needlessly slow. The road is in great shape, the curves seldom get below a posted 40 mph, and the sight lines are more than adequate. I guess they just hate speed in Idaho.

Just past Lowell a group of six BMW riders come up behind me and soon they zoomed past, all with Alberta license plates. They all rode a different model of BMW, with a big R1200GS leading the pack. They were going at least 20 mph over the limit and were passing car after car over a solid no-passing line. I tried to keep up with them for a little while but their aggressive pace was a bit more than I wanted to risk from a speeding ticket standpoint.

Eventually they pulled off into a small park and I rode past and into Grangeville. I stopped at the first gas station and filled up my tank, and after coming back outside from a bio break, I saw the Alberta BMW Club pull into the station. They stopped, one rider got off her bike, they smiled at each other, then mounted up and took off again without getting any gas at all. I had no clue what that was about.

I checked into the Super 8 in Grangeville, a place I've stayed at before. The staff is very friendly and the value is excellent. I ran a load of laundry and after a shower, I walked to Palenques a few blocks away for a great dinner of Mexican food.

Back in my room, The Weather channel had that nasty warning tone, then a red ticker across the bottom saying there were dangerous thunderstorms in the area with quarter-sized hail and possible tornadoes. I went to the front desk to see if there was room for me to park my bike under the front overhang, but it was filled with Harley baggers. I left my bike exposed in the regular parking lot and took my chances. The storms apparently stayed 60 miles away in Washington state and avoided Grangeville altogether.

Ride report June 2012: Day 15

Grangeville, ID to John Day, OR

I ate a muffin and bowl of cereal in the hotel lobby, chased down with a cup of coffee, before packing up and heading into town for breakfast at Oscar's. The sign on the back door said they wouldn't open until 8 AM, a 45 minute wait, so I headed down the highway about 45 miles to Riggins.

I stopped at the Summerville Cafe for breakfast. The inside of the restaurant smelled like someone's damp, musky basement. My breakfast burrito was the size of a small child, but was adequately tasty. I overheard a few patrons make some seriously racist comments about President Obama and what would happen to him if he ever visited their town. I decided I'd better leave before the locals started playing banjo music.

Back on the road, I continued south through New Meadows and then into Cambridge where I fueled up. I then took highway 17 across the Snake River at Brownlee Reservoir and back into Oregon before hitting highway 86 to Baker City. That is a fast road with great sweepers and excellent site lines. The road surface is in pretty good shape, too, with very little gravel in the corners.

In Baker, I stopped once again at Subway for lunch. An older gentleman came up to me as I was eating and said, "You look like a biker." We chatted for several minutes, and he told me he had been riding for over 65 years. He wished me a safe trip and left.

I then gassed up at the Chevron in town and got on highway 7 heading southwest past Sumpter, then at Austin Junction I got on highway 26 and headed west into John Day.

I pulled into the John Day Best Western and got a room. The gal at the front desk was super friendly and gave me the same room I get every time I stay there.

Again, my usual routine of unpacking, taking a short nap, and showering preceded dinner in the lounge of The Outpost restaurant a block away.

Ride report June 2012: Day 16

Grangeville, ID to Sandy, OR

Breakfast was at The Outpost a few minutes after they opened at 6 AM. The food is always good there, especially their breakfast.

Eager to get home, I didn't waste time. I was on the road shortly after 7 AM. I topped off my tank in Dayville, then got on highway 19 through Kimberly and into the tiny town of Spray. I then worked my way to Fossil where I headed west on my favorite road in Oregon, highway 218, to Antelope.

218 is a lot of fun. There is a variety of curves, all banked perfectly, there are very few blind corners and sight lines are far, and the road surface is in fantastic shape. The road can bite you if you're not on your game, but if you get into the zone it's a thrill to run it.

I rode through Antelope, Shaniko, over Bakeoven road into Maupin, through Tygh Valley and into Wamic where I gassed up and ate a snack. I then took FS48 west, but had to detour onto FS43 to get to highway 26 as the rest of 48 to highway 35 remained closed, presumably due to late season snow (they don't plow it).

I was soon up and over the pass at Government Camp and back at home in Sandy by 12:30 pm.

Ride report June 2012: Summary

I had ridden 4,945 miles in 16 days (one of those days was just local riding and doesn't really count). I had ridden from sea level on the Oregon Coast to 14,110 feet atop Pikes Peak in Colorado. The southernmost point was Kaibito, Arizona, the eastern most was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the northernmost was Missoula, Montana.

My bike performed without issue or complaint as did my riding gear. I wore t-shirts, underwear, and pants from ExOfficio, a combination that worked wonderfully in the heat, all of which could be washed in a motel sink and dried by morning.

While riding, I had a GoPro HD camera with waterproof housing sitting in my tank bag. I would often unzip the tank bag with my left hand, pull out the camera, press and hold the ON button, then film several seconds up to two minutes of the ride and scenery as it passed by before shutting it off and putting it back into my tank bag (all with my left hand).

I used an iPad and the free WiFi in my motels each night to check weather forecasts, review the next day's route, and keep in touch with family via email. I even used Facetime to video chat with my wife during the evenings.

The heat was probably the most challenging part of the trip, but even that is straightforward enough; it's really just mind over matter: "If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."