Thursday, March 26, 2015

International motorcycle travel

Stromtrooper, one of the motorcycle forums I belong to, is a fantastic source of information and insight about V-Stroms in particular and motorcycling in general. Recently, a forum member posted a request for advice about an upcoming trip with two buddies from Michigan to Brazil. Here was my response:

International travel

Regardless of your mode of transportation, you have a lot to think about when traveling internationally. You'll need to get a lot of visas lined up, be sure you have high resolution copies of your passport and all related documents scanned into PDFs that are loaded onto your phone as well as in some cloud-based location like Dropbox. I know someone who lost -all- their docs and were able to get new workable copies from an Internet cafe in the middle of Bolivia. You'll need to get a bunch of shots and vaccinations from your doctor. Check with the State Department's web site to make sure there aren't any new conflicts or hostage escalations in the areas you plan to travel. Etc.

Long-distance motorcycling

Traveling long distances on a motorcycle has its own set of concerns. Take good care of your chain, and clean it and keep it lubed especially after doing any kind of dusty or dirty/muddy riding. Go to your local service shop, ask to borrow an old to-be-discarded motorcycle tire like yours. Drill some holes in it and practice plugging it with your patch kit. Practice removing a wheel from your bike (front and rear), changing the tire, and remounting it to the bike. Make an inventory of the size wrenches you need to change the oil, change a rim/tire, replace mirrors or turn signals, etc. and make sure your tool roll has all of those sized wrenches (don't forget allen wrenches). Clothing ... I suggest ExOfficio and similar brands of travel wear. It is super lightweight, packs tiny, can be worn several days w/o washing if needed, can be easily washed by hand and dries quickly, and is super durable. Cotton is great for pajamas, not for long-distance travel. You will likely need to get new tires at some point along the way. Identify reputable dealerships in safer cities and contact them. Find out if you can pre-ship your new tires to their location so they're waiting for you when you arrive (if they don't already carry them in-stock). You'll also be doing a couple of oil changes along the way. Take the gear (gloves, rags, wrenches, tinfoil, etc.) you'll need -- you can buy oil on the road. Don't pack single-purpose items; save space by only taking items that are compact and can do more than one thing (as a general rule, anyway). Pack the same way every time, so you always know where your stuff is and can easily tell when something has gone missing.


Have you made a list of the bills that have to get paid, and when they have to get paid, while you're gone? And made arrangements for someone to take care of those things for you? It's great to go on a long trip, but no fun when you return home and your water got shut off from delinquent payment. Contact your motorcycle and health insurance companies to let them know your anticipated route, and find out anything they don't cover. Also find out the procedures if you need to make a claim while on the road. Store their international phone numbers in more than one location, not just in your cell phone (which can be easily stolen, lost, or damaged). Be cautious about announcing your departure on places like Facebook because people will go to your house knowing you're not there and rip you off (it happens, sadly). Do you have a Will? Not to be morbid, but it's a good idea even if you never leave your own county.

Spend your time before your trip thinking about all these kind of things. Read books by Greg Frazier, etc. to learn what you can from people that practically do this for a living. It's better to be organized -before- you leave, than try to reactively deal with complications once you're already on the road.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Road Closed to Memaloose

Over the weekend I took a day ride up Hillock Burn Road into the Cascade foothills. This road heads south and southeast from Highway 211, a few miles south of Estacada.

A few miles up the road I saw several Clackamas County sheriff deputies and a Forest Service law enforcement officer standing at a canopy on a wide spot on the side of the road. They were handing out flyers describing the rules and laws of target shooting in the area. After telling them I was only there for a ride, the deputy I spoke with told me the road got gnarly a mile or two up the road. I thanked him for the warning, and continued onward.

It had rained the night before so the gravel road was wet and there were numerous small mud puddles, but the road itself was in relatively great shape. I kept going and never came to anything that was a challenge.

Hillockburn Road soon turns into NF-45. It heads south to a W-shaped pair of switchbacks before turning north again. The highest point of the road is just below 4,000 feet, and this time of year should have seen the road under a foot of snow. I went there the same time last year and had to turn back because of snow; not this year.

My V-Strom with its Heidenau K-60 knobby tires performed wonderfully and I built up my confidence riding on the gravel road.

It was my hope that the road was open at the north end where it quickly descends to the Clackamas River and crosses to highway 224 at the Memaloose bridge. The sheriff's deputy didn't say anything about the road being closed, so I remained hopeful. The previous September "36 Pit Fire" had burned both sides of the river near where the bridge crosses, and was behind the road closure. Still, since 224 was open to local traffic, I hoped they'd let me through so I could loop back to Estacada and not have to backtrack all the way to 211.

Unfortunately, within a mile or two of the final descent down to 224 I came upon the road block. They had erected several concrete barriers and piled boulders on both sides. One side could have been bypassed if I walked the bike through and was very careful, but I suspected there would be landslides or other natural barriers further down the road and didn't attempt to by past it.

I ate a protein bar and head back the way I came. This time I was able to go a bit faster and with greater confidence on the gravel road. When I eventually got back to the sheriffs, I told him the road was blocked. He said, "Yeah, I probably should have told you about that. There are several landslides just past it so you wouldn't have made it through anyway."

By the time I got home I'd ridden 120 miles, more than half of it off-road. The total route took 4 hours.

Monday, March 9, 2015

South-central Washington on a sport bike

This past weekend I went for an overnight trip to visit family at their home in rural south-central Washington state. I rode my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, nicknamed "Shoot to Thrill." The weather was perfect, the road conditions were great, the bike ran wonderfully.

I left Gresham Saturday morning and got on I-84 westbound. At I-205 I crossed the Columbia River and got on SR14 eastbound. Between Washougal and North Bonneville I got stuck behind some slow cars that for whatever reason were all Oregon drivers. To this day I don't know why people think driving 10 mph below the speed limit is a good idea.

Here is the Google Maps route I took.

I stopped at the rest area on the north end of the Hood River bridge for a bio break. The sun was bright, air temperature was about 60 degrees, and the wind was calm. The river was nearly mirror perfect. Continuing east I had more of the road to myself without the hassle of slow cagers. At Lyle, I headed northeast on highway 142. This road follows the Klickitat River and has many fast sweepers and a few tight turns. The road was in great condition and didn't appear to suffer any damage during the winter.

In Goldendale, I rode south a few miles on highway 97 to the Chevron where I filled up my fuel tank. I rode 133 miles on 2.3 gallons of gas. What a machine! After a quick snack, I continued east on the Bickleton Highway, then to my sister's house. The last two miles were on gravel road, and although that's never any fun on a sport bike, I kept it upright and stable.

The ride home the next day was even better. Rather than backtracking the whole way, I continued east to the tiny community of Bickleton before heading south to Roosevelt. This stretch of road is simple at first glance, but has some interesting characteristics. It has numerous straight stretches a few tenths of a mile long, followed by a 90 degree turn posted at 30-45 mph. Each turn is banked, and the pavement is in perfect shape. There is some gravel on many of the curves, however, so picking a good line and maintaining control is critical. The other interesting aspect of the route is the rows and rows of wind turbines.

Here is the Google Maps route I took home.

The road descents about 2,000 feet to the road-side community of Roosevelt along the Columbia River. It comes to a T-intersection with SR14. I turned right and headed west toward home. From this point forward, SR14 can be extremely windy. Today, however, it was calm and I had the road practically to myself.

I stopped in The Dalles for gas and food before continuing west. Traffic increased, and there were lots of motorcyclists about. Several sport bike riders gave me the signal for law enforcement ahead (by patting the top of their helmet). I saw one unmarked Washington LEO with his lights flashing, having pulled over a guy in a blacked-out Honda accord. I got two more warnings for cops but never saw where they were hiding.

I crossed back to the Oregon side via the Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks. I pulled up behind a buddy in his car just as we were getting onto the freeway. Small world!

By the time I got back home it was in the upper 60's.