— 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.