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Into Washington, into Bavaria (sort of)

I slept pretty good, despite the noise of a popular wine bar downstairs and the traffic outside my second-floor suite. Sand Creek Inn provides complimentary ear plugs for their guests plus instructions covering how to use the decorative pillows in the windows to deaden the sound. It’s nice that they were so thoughtful, but it’s no different than a restaurant giving its diners free shots of Kaopectate(tm).

My body must have still been on Mountain time because I was awake at 5:10 AM. I showered, then went next door to the first Starbucks I had seen on the entire trip for a mocha and a slice of lemon pound cake. The counter girl told me they don’t sell their breakfast sandwiches there “because we’re too remote”. Whatever that means.

There was a gift bag on my doorstep with a can of grape juice, a packaged blueberry muffin, and an orange when I got back to my suite.

My ride west to Leavenworth, Washington was one of the most frustrating and irritating I’ve ever had. At least the second part, anyway. Riding west from Sandpoint to Newport and north to Tiger is rather boring. The stretch from Tiger west to Republic is pleasant but slightly bland compared to some of the amazing roads I’ve ridden in my short motorcycling career. At the quaint town of Republic I headed south. It was getting warm so I pulled into the Ten Mile campground to change into my warm weather gear.

There was a 1979 Suzuki GS850 parked in the campground and a shirtless guy sitting Budha-fashion nearby, writing in a notebook. As I was stripped off my cold weather gear, he came over to chat. His name was Terry and he was a professional creative writer from Kamloops. This guy was a total kick in the pants and we talked and joked and laughed for nearly an hour. We took each other’s picture and swapped email addresses, but it was time I got going so we said our goodbyes and I rode south.

By the time I got to the Grand Coulee Dam, the temperature was in the lower 90’s. All my friends know I’d rather ride in the rain rather than the heat any day of the week and by this point I was getting rather irritable. I took some pics of the very large dam over the Columbia River, topped off my fuel tank, then rode up to the view point on the bluff above the valley and had a snack.

My next direction was westbound, this time over Washington SR174. The landscape was very unusual; it was rolling grassland with not a tree in sight, with large volcanic rocks sticking up out of the ground like randomly placed standing stones. The effect was rather unusual, almost alien.

I reached Bridgeport and took Hwy 97 southbound. Unfortunately I took Alt Hwy 97 into Chelan instead of the main route and had to suffer riding at 25 mph through the town of Chelan proper. There were lots of people cooling off on Lake Chelan, with me riding by in jealous sweat inside my riding gear.

I reached my motel in Leavenworth to slightly milder temperatures and one busy vacation town. As I was getting off my bike four guys pulled in on their Harley’s. One came over to talk with me, asking me various questions about my bike. His buddies came over and were listening in. I asked him which bike was his. He pointed, saying, “That’s my ‘Super Glide’ right there.”

I said, “I didn’t know Oldsmobile made motorcycles.”

His buddies started laughing as he whipped around and looked me right in the eye. I had the biggest, ear-splitting grin I could muster, hoping I wasn’t about to get my ass kicked by a middle-aged man in a pirate costume. He smiled, then said, “That’s a new one I haven’t heard before. Good one!” He shook my hand and wished me happy riding, then followed his laughing buddies into the motel.

When I asked the front desk lady about my laundry options, she told me the only place in the entire town that had laundry services available was another motel on the other side of town. I was very upset about this, because everything I had was dirty, but what could I do? I got my room and took a shower, hoping to find some way to clean a set of clothes enough to wear.

I found an iron and used the steam spray to wet a semi-clean t-shirt, then ironed it to dry it out. The effect was better than I expected. So, with reasonably clean self and clothing, I ventured out to find some dinner.

As per the recommendation of “Tall Nicki” back in Kalispell (who apparently grew up in Leavenworth) I gave Andreas Keller a try. Their ‘authentic’ German cuisine was reasonable but not as good as Gustav’s back home. The Spaten Optimator tasted pretty good, however. I felt like a dork, though, because the manager sat me at a table that could easily have seated 8 people. I just told myself I was invisible and ate my meal in peace. After picking up a small gift for my wife I headed back to my room for the evening.

One note … Even more than Sandpoint, Leavenworth had more beautiful women walking around than any place I’ve ever been, including Disneyland (and anyone that’s been there knows what I’m talking about). It was very distracting yet interesting at the same time.

Routine ride to Silverton

Saturday had great riding weather so I got in some time on two wheels with a there-and-back trip to Silverton. There were quite a few other bikers out and about, so I wasn’t the only one. There was nothing noteworthy about the trip other than getting stuck behind a couple of blue-hairs in a Miata going 40 mph with the top down in a 55 mph zone.

Where’s Dr. Seuss on such a cold, cold, rainy day?

It’s raining. It’s Oregon. It’s November. That’s what happens in Oregon in November.

It rains.

I’m not talking namby pamby pissle drizzle. I’m talking rain.

All day long.

It’s the reason why GoreTex(tm) is the State Fabric. It’s the reason why owning a motorcycle in Oregon is a part-time job. Spring and Fall, and Summer, too = fantastic riding. Potentially some of the best three-season riding conditions in these United States of America.

But from November through February, it sucks. Here’s the current weather radar image for the area so you can see what I mean. [external link]

In the meantime, what I do while I’m stuck inside looking out the window at the gray and wet is dream of past and future rides in a state that otherwise is my favorite in the land.

Riding in the Valley of the Sun

I just returned from a short vacation to Phoenix. The contrast is dramatic between the mid 70’s and sunshine found in the Valley of the Sun and the gray rain of my home turf east of Portland, Oregon. I saw many motorcycles out and about in Arizona, with quite a lot of Gold Wings on the back roads, even a couple traversing the somewhat treacherous Apache Trail (188) — 22 miles of steep washboard gravel road.

Apparently Arizona doesn’t require riders to wear helmets. The first indication I had of this legal status was a guy on a black cruiser, running his fingers through his movie star hair at a stop light — with a full-face helmet bungied to his pillion seat. I just shook my head in wonder. After experiencing the crazy cagers on Phoenix freeways my opinion of helmet-less riders migrated to “those people are 100% insane”. Phoenix drivers are fast and seemingly incapable of staying in their own lane.

The weather there is great in the off season, of course, and there are numerous excellent riding roads outside the Phoenix metro area. I wouldn’t want to be on two wheels during the summer, though. I’d rather ride in 40 degree rain than 100+ heat, dry or not.

Besides lots of cruisers and Gold Wings, and two sport bikes, I never saw a single V-Strom. Needless to say, I could hardly wait to get home and ride. I was on two wheels the very next morning after my return, headed to work.

In a California State of Mind

Tuesday June 2nd 7:19 PM – San Francisco, CA

I just finished an amazing dinner at the Cafe Grande here in San Francisco. Don’t let the pedantic name fool you. The restaurant is gourmet and ‘all that and more.’ Chardonnay, escargot, and day boat scallops followed by tarte tartin apples (that’s French for ‘Good lord, that’s good!’). Today was an amazing exerience. And it was all California.

It started overcast and misty in Fortuna. I slept well, which is always a bonus and not to be expected when on the road. Breakfast #1 was the ‘one-notch-above-vending-machine’ continental offering courtesy of Super 8. Enough to kill the growlings in my stomach until I can get something decent down the road. It was misting a bit as I headed south on 101. Traffic was light and I made good time getting to Leggett, where I veered west onto Highway 1.

It’s amazing how you can see a route on the map and have no idea what it’s actually like. Highway 1 has got to be the curviest, snakiest, twistiest little road this side of a spastic snake’s tail after one too many espressos. I don’t think I got out of second gear more than twice for over an hour. Heaven on two wheels. But wait, it gets better.

The clouds dissipated and the sun came out without being overly warm, a luxury if you’re decked out in protective motorcycle gear. The road stayed twisty and the scenery kept up the awesome pace mile after mile. I noticed a tree with flaky bark and wilty leaves, like a very tall willow, that smells amazing. Like sage or thyme or something. They’re everywhere. And redwoods, too. Lots of huge, massive, tall redwoods. Northern California has the market cornered on great trees, or at the very least giving every other state a serious run for their money.

Breakfast #2 was at Perko’s (WTF?) in Fort Bragg. One waitress was so obnoxiously loud and fast I’d swear an oath in court she was wacked out on WAY too much meth. The other had so many piercings in her left ear she’ll eventually start walking with a limp from the extra weight. The belgian waffle with two eggs (on top, thank you very much!) and bacon — plus coffee, of course! — was pretty good, though, so I didn’t complain.

For the most part my way south on 1 was better mile after mile. The Oregon coast is well regarded, but I’d put my money on the northern California coast for overal aesthetic beauty. Plus it’s not marred by clear cuts like the Oregon Coast. The towns are more quaint and the air smells better. Must be the herb trees. Whatever they are.

Then things got twisty. And fast. The road gets very narrow and follows every curve of the landscape, alternating between mere feet above the beach to a thousand feet up steep cliffs above the water line. The turns come fast-paced one after the other and they’re tight, oh Lord they’re tight! The first gear kind and with your ass-end nearly in front of you.

Taking a break
Taking a break

Then the buzz kill came along in the form of two vehicles completely unaware of the “pull over when you’re ass is slow” law that most other Californians honor. After nearly two dozen miles of that many cars or more piled up behind these Lifetime Members of the Anti-Destination League, they finally pulled off into a resort and the rest of us took off in earnest.

First in line was a Ford Mustang, then myself, followed by a silver Porsche 911 Carrera. The Mustang was outclassed and he knew it because I was on his tail with every twist and turn. He pulled over after about a mile and let the Kraut and I get by. Then the race was on. In the rare stretches without turns the Porsche caught up to me but I gained ground in the tight turns. I scraped my pegs twice which isn’t easy on a bike as tall as mine.

Central California Coast
Central California Coast

We went through a couple of small towns with 25 or 30 mph speed limits and that allowed him to catch up. For whatever reason, perhaps the challenge, I allowed him to pass by pulling over onto one of the numerous turn-outs. He zoomed past and I pulled back on the throttle to catch up. His acceleration far exceeded my bike’s but I could carve up the turns with an edge.

Soon I was right on his tail again. This kept up for several miles, with the cliffs getting steeper down to the crashing waves below and the road seemingly getting narrower with every mile. Eventually he pulled off on a side road and I continued on a much safer and more sensible pace. Maybe someday I’ll get a sport bike, something more appropriate for my riding style. Or maybe not. I like remaining alive.

Highway 1 north of San Francisco
Highway 1 north of San Francisco

The last stretch of 1 before reaching San Francisco is very tight and technical and not for the faint of heart. My clutch hand was beginning to get tired so I focused on solid yet safe technique. Soon I was in the city and feeling the need to strip down to warmer-weather gear. I pulled into an alley between two buildings and stripped down to my skivvies, getting a very interesting stare from a lady in a Honda taking a short-cut through the alley, then changed into my riding jeans and switched into lighter gloves. More comfortable, I got onto 101 and was soon turning a corner to see the Golden Gate bridge. I was blown away by how massive it is.

I had put a $5 bill in my chest pocket, easy to reach and ready for the toll. Somewhere my research got mixed up — they required $6 — so I had to pull my gloves off and dig my wallet out of my front pants pocket which is not an easy task when sitting on a bike. Once through the toll-booth I found myself in busy city traffic. It was urban warfare and everyone was out to get me! “Clowns to the left of me / Joker’s to the right / Here I am stuck in the middle with you!”

My handy GPS guided me true, thank God! I never would have found my way otherwise. I ran a red light, though, as prophesied by several dreams I had a while back. The lights in San Francisco are on the corners of intersections and aren’t very easy to see with the massive amount of visual pollution bombarding the senses. I pulled over in front of a hotel and asked the doorman where my hotel was. He said, “Right here, sir!” Wunderbar! I shut off the bike and unloaded my luggage onto his brass cart. Once I checked in, the desk clerk assured me my luggage would be deposited safely in my room while I looped around the block and parked my bike in the secured parking garage.

After getting showered and settled, I took care of a few phone calls and e-mails (it never ends for an IT guy, unfortunately) I headed downstairs to dinner. Tomorrow? Who the hell knows! I’m playing things totally by ear, which as anyone who knows me can tell you is completely out of my nature. Things have gone swimmingly so far, here’s hoping that continues!

Larch Mountain Sunday Morning

After pulling a rib muscle last weekend, I finally healed well enough to be able to ride again. To dodge the hot weather, I left early Sunday morning (before 8am) and rode down through Bull Run, Aimes, then through Corbett and up to the top of Larch Mountain. There were only two cars in the parking lot, but lots of bicyclists heading up the hill for some kind of race.

It was a short trip but was fast and smooth and it was great to get out of the house.

The Big Thaw

The Portland metro area, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is thawing out from one of the biggest and worst snow storms in decades. I had 23″ of snow fall at my house in the Cascade foothills and have a pile of snow several feet high blocking a large portion of my driveway.

According to my notes, I haven’t ridden my motorcyce since 12/9, the longest riding drought I’ve had since I bought my bike back in February of 2007. It’s driving me nuts.

Now that the snow is gone, the prodigious amount of standing water and sanding gravel on the roadways is the biggest problem. It’s raining to beat the band and there is no sunshine in the seven-day forecast, but I’ll probably ride to work on Wednesday anyway. That will give the road crews enough time to hopefully sweep the main streets. The rain won’t bother me, however.

It’s been quite a storm.

Chilly ride through the Willamette Valley

It was dry but cold and windy Saturday morning. Riding opportunities are rare this time of year so I bundled up and rode despite the chilly conditions. I headed south on a very familiar route through Estacada, to Mollala, then to Silverton and Sublimity where I turned around and retraced my steps back home. At one point a woman driving a mini-van with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof pulled out in front of me. Fortunately I was able to go around her via the oncoming lane, otherwise I would have been faced with the choice of slamming into the back of her or running off the road.

She got a decent blast of my horn.

My bike performed great as usual and despite having very cold toes and fingers when I returned, I really enjoyed the ride. 140 miles was far too short of a trip but this time of year I take what I can get.

Trip reports and revisions to my book

I just got back from two separate motorcycle trips, one up through British Columbia to southeast Alaska, and the other down to the northern California coast. When I take trips such as these, I carry a paper journal and write notes about what happens on a daily basis.

Upon returning home, I compile these notes into ride reports that I post on my other blog, Two-Wheeled Astronaut.

Once I was back home and settled, I got cracking on revisions to Ohlen’s Arrow and was able to get them completed. The next step is to hire a professional editor to go over the manuscript. My goal is to get the book back on the e-shelves by the end of August.

If you know of a professional editor — that means it’s their day job, not just something they do on the side — please drop me a line.

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.