Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Traditionally we start these moto-tours at Kirkland’s French Bakery. To the owners, I have a split personality: Moto-rider disguise on some days; and Business-power-coffee-meeting disguise on others. They have grown accustomed to my quirky split personality and I feel at home here. The coffee raises our attention span. The croissants raise our energy levels. My wife has a Mocha with us and sees us off, but can’t accompany us due to work commitments. (She’ll be happy she didn’t, but doesn’t know it yet.) We are warm and content. Thus our tour begins.
It’s 45 degrees with low clouds and fog. The low skies descend to ground level as we motor south, first on I-405 during rush hour (a necessary evil but thank God Washington bikers can use the carpool lanes), then on SR-167 (quick but not necessarily evil) and further on SR-7 to Morton and SR-12 to Randle. The weather is not what we were hoping for. Did I mention it’s cold? Ice:1 – Fire:0. And while we’re dressed for it, it isn’t a bright, sunny day promising fall colors as we ascend. Between Morton and Randle things begin to look up, and the sun’s shining in Randle as we gas up. Compared to filling my car, adding 1.8 gallons to the bike is a joy! I’m a math guy and I worked it out … I got about 58 MPG on this trip at an average of 4500 RPM’s. I’m feeling pretty good about my personal carbon footprint!
As we eat a snack of dried fruit and almonds a Seattle rider rolls up on a Honda. We chat awhile about riding; about Hondas and our Ducatis; about the road ahead; and we discover he’ll be on our route for a bit. An experienced rider, maybe he’ll meet up with friends, or maybe not. He’s not in it for the social experience; he’s in it for the ride. We leave before he does and won’t see him again.
From Randle we head south on Forest Service Road 25 over the Eastern shoulder of Mt. St. Helens. Numerous signs warn we are in an “eruption zone.” Don’t know what we can do about it except hurry.
Nick and I have ridden this road before and we have a bit of anxiety about it. Previously, it had lots of broken pavement that made it a bit of a bucking bronco on two wheels. It messed up our lines through the curves. And although the scenery is great, and the twistiness of the road is great, the pavement and the engineering were less than great. Good news! Some of the road has been repaved. There are some bad patches. There are some blind curves. There are stretches where I need to pick my way around busted pavement. Has the road been straightened? Unlikely. Have my skills improved this much? Maybe, but let’s not get cocky, okay? In any event, this road is big big fun!
As we approached Stevenson we ride Curly Creek Road (a.k.a. Wind River Road), which is among the best roads in the state of Washington for a biker. Great pavement, great engineering, and scenic. If you Google “Curly Creek,” you’ll find videos of moto-rides down this wonderful road. For your convenience, here's one: http://contour.com/stories/curly-creek-road-hd. And here's another: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaZNU8PaR54&feature=player_embedded#!.
I’m following Nick down Curley Creek as he rides through a narrow shaft of sunlight in an otherwise darkly cloudy afternoon. Just then a breeze releases a flock of brilliant aspen leaves from their branches. As Nick rides through them they explode like John Woo doves swirling behind him in a tornado of blurred gold. The camera in my head catches the transcendent sight but sadly I have no digital backup.
If you’re mystified by the John Woo reference, click here: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/e4376bbc86/mission-impossible-ii-greatest-hits. About 2 minutes into the trailer you’ll see a good example of his doves, one of his directorial trademarks.
We roll into Stevenson mid-afternoon puckish, but not hungry enough for dinner. After checking into the Rodeway, we head to Granny’s Gedunk for an ice cream cone.
As we lick our way to the bottom - we strike up a conversion with a fit-looking fellow who is maybe fifty and an older slight woman, both in leathers. Turns out he is ex-military; has been stationed all over the world; and recently retired. His passion is archery and we talk about building bows; competing in tournaments; and we learn the woman is his (probably-seventy-five-year-old) mother. She is just learning to ride and the two of them are on a short ride from their home in Portland fifty miles to the west. Both are on Harleys – hers a Softail or a Sportster as I recall. She talks about getting up the courage to ride faster than 45 mph. I love these impromptu conversations that seem to happen among bikers. As they leave, she is interested in finding a growler of a local microbrew.
We walk around this quaint but struggling town looking for a place to eat. We find the Queen of the West (http://www.americancruiselines.com/ships.php?ship_id=16), a stern-wheeler ready to depart dock on its eight-day tour up the Columbia and Snake Rivers. We find the Walking Man Brew Pub – closed; Casa de Sabor – closed. We eat a forgettable dinner in a forgettable restaurant.
Dinner. Sleep. Ride. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Breakfast is at the Bahma Coffee Bar. We’re ready to ride.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Bahma makes these great breakfast sandwiches and serves a bottomless mug of coffee big enough to swim laps in; the perfect start to our day.
After a quick grocery stop for lunch fixings we head across the Columbia River over the Bridge-of-the-Gods, then west on Oregon SR-30 past Multnomah Falls to Troutdale. From here we head south through Gresham, Sandy, Eagle Creak to Estacada where we gas up and find our “signature road” for the day, SR-224, a.k.a. the Clackamas Highway. This is a wonderful road well within our skills; huge fast sweepers, tighter faster s-curves one after the next; and post Labor Day freedom from traffic and speed tax collectors. We give the bikes their head and let ‘em run. What a joyous road!
I like roads that follow fast river valleys. The water carves a twisted path through typically pretty terrain. Road engineers follow the path of least resistance, the river bed itself. As you descend (in our case) you ride through changing microclimates each with their own smells.
We ride in trail a second or two or three apart. I’m third in line for this particular road. As we ride, my daughter leads through curves. She’s at the top of her game and her lines are perfect. My son-in-law follows exactly on her line through the corners; and I follow his line. There are many many times when I feel like I finally understand what a Blue Angel pilot must experience. Nick is keying off Carolyn, and I’m keying off Nick. We bank left; reverse to the right through a moment of low gee transition, over and over again. We are not three bikes, but rather we are one formation. This is really fun!
We gas up in Detroit. We’re not short on gas, exactly, but on these mountain roads we’re never sure where the next gas station will be. My philosophy in life is – keep the gas tank more than half full and (at my age) the bladder more than half empty – words to live by, I say.
We follow SR-22 south through the lava fields, turn right on SR-20 bypassing Sisters, turn left onto SR-126 to McKenzie Bridge.
Our home for the night is a tiny cabin at the Cadisfly Resort (http://www.caddisflyresort.com). We had a great little cabin on the river but no food here besides general store and a sandwich place. We’ve been sitting (okay it’s pretty active sitting) all day so we opt to walk to dinner at a restaurant three miles down the road. I like restaurants that serve country food – not so much because I like country food but because the food I do like is always good there. For example, this restaurant serves a Chicken and Tater Tot casserole that I skip. I have a big bowl of chili and a salad as I recall and it was great. Our walk back is in near total darkness, disturbed by thoughts of bear and “ice road truckers.”
Next day, we’re up pretty early for breakfast at the Rustic Skillet and the road to Crater Lake.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Ah, the Rustic Skillet: Open at 6:30; Comfort Food; Easy Prices; and Great Bloody Mary’s – according to the sign. This is a Biscuits-&-Gravy kind of place, if ever there was one, and by the time we leave we have enjoyed three of the previous four food groups opting to skip the Bloody Mary’s. We chat with a couple of elderly fellow diners who are interested in us and in our bikes. They recommend a different route to us, “old 19.”
Per their directions we follow SR-126 and make a left onto Aufderheide Drive to the Cougar Reservoir. We stop briefly at the top of the big earthen dam to look at the lake, look at the dam, look at the river flowing away from it and snap a few pictures. And we are blasted by loudspeaker instructions to do … something. We wear earplugs, to protect our hearing from wind and engine noise. And we have our helmets on. So we literally can not understand what we we’re being instructed to do. We continue doing nothing. Then louder and more urgently – we hear blah blah blah from the loudspeakers. Still unintelligible, we decide someone had a hard on about us being there and we leave.
Eventually Aufderheide Drive T’s at the South Fork Road a.k.a. National Forest Development Road 19 – old 19 at last. What a terrific surprise – this old road is even more fun than the roads we’ve been on. We eventually intersect SR-97 heading south away from Bend, and turn right on SR-138. On my last visit to this road, I learned to hate it. A highway engineer laid out this road with only two tools in his toolbox: a map and a ruler. As you turn onto it, you see the road running perfectly straight for 16 miles (all the way to the horizon where it climbs a steep hill and disappears). A warning road sign punctuates the irony: Caution Limited Sight Distance. If his road wasn’t twisted, at least the engineer had a twisted sense of humor.
We ride up and around Crater Lake before stopping for the night at the Diamond Lake Resort. This is a wonderfully scenic drive with lots of views of the Lake and turnouts on our right as we do our clockwise tour. At one turnout we run into a fellow biker from Seattle. He’s been on the road since mid-May doing an 18,000-mile “figure eight” tour of the US. His route: Seattle to Florida to New England to San Diego and home. He is a few days from home when we meet him. He’s been laid off from his tech job at a company I’d considered investing in a year ago. His girlfriend encouraged him to “follow his dream.” And he is clearly on a budget. He’s been couch surfing much of the way. He described wearing his tires thin to the point the cords showed through the tread. He then rode for a couple of hundred miles hanging first off one side of the bike, then off the other, leaning the bike so the less worn edges contacted the road. He seems in good spirits if a little road-weary and appears to talk to himself a bit too much.
At that point six bikers from Vancouver BC ride up on big touring bikes. We chat a bit and at the sight of heavy rain on the other side of the Lake, move on. We skirt south of the storm, round the west end of the Lake and head to Diamond Lake.
We check in, have dinner, shoot a few games of pool and hit the sack. On our 2008 trip, a forest fire had downed power lines to the resort on the hottest day of the year. No air conditioning and no hot meals. This is better. After breakfast the next morning we are ready to roll.
Friday September 17, 2010
The only gas for a long ways in every direction is at Diamond Lake. They have a monopoly and they know it. We add just enough $6/gallon gas to get us to our next known filling station. We depart in a cloud of decibels on the next leg of the adventure.
When the three of us ride, we are normally good about staying within site of each other. If one of us gets too far ahead, she’ll stop and wait. If one of us gets too far behind, he’ll keep riding until he finds the others.
Thirty minutes or so into our ride today we pull off the road briefly. When we resume, Nick is in the lead, I am second and Carolyn is third. Carolyn fell behind for reasons I don’t recall and I pull over at a turnout to wait for her.
The hard dirt of the turnout swiftly turns into a deep layer of soft mushy pea gravel. I’m in trouble here. As I slow the bike, it starts to skid, and just as I bring it under control, the wheels grab the pea gravel and stop. Momentum being what it is, the laws of physics being unchanged since I learned them in high school, the top of the bike that is now partially broadside to my direction of travel, doesn’t stop. But rather, it tosses me over the high side about 15 feet to land on my back and shoulder in the gravel. I slide for a ways and stop. I remember the wheels biting into the pea gravel and I remember leaving the bike. I remember landing and I remember wondering when some part of me is going to start to hurt. But I don’t remember my “flight.” Boy, that happened fast.
Nothing hurts. I am amazed (and gratified) that all this armored gear I wear really works. I get up as Carolyn rides up. With the help of a pickup driver who stops to help, we right the bike and get it up onto firm pavement. The right sidebag took the brunt of the landing and is badly scratched but otherwise undamaged. The breakaway mirror broke away just as it was supposed to. I pop it back in place. There are a few scratches in the paint on the right faring, but otherwise the bike’s fine. I’m fine. As we continue and off-and-on for a while as we ride, I reflect on the laws of physics.
Halfway to the coast it begins to rain pretty hard and gets colder. We have mostly waterproof gear so the rain shouldn’t bother us. When we run into the falling raindrops at 60 mph, say, they work their way past supposedly waterproof seams. When we get to Bandon, we’re wet but not so much that Carolyn’s little travel hairdryer doesn’t dry out our clothing. Showers warm us and the rain slackens enough for a walk around town.
We wander into a used bookshop and my daughter buys a $26 Lee Child hardcover book, 61 Hours (http://www.leechild.com/61HRS.php). It cost $6. Actually I buy it because they don’t take debit cards so the book will be mine when she’s done reading the next Jack Reacher story. I’m reading it now and it’s a good one. We stop at the Alloro Wine Bar for a glass of wine – warm and cozy. And we wander around town looking for a place to eat. Several folks have recommended the Wild Rose Bistro and warned us away from The Wheelhouse Restaurant. The Wild Rose can take us at 8:00 so we walk down to the marina to kill time. There are a few nice boats, and a few older boats with character in need of repair.
We strike up a conversation with Mike McClure … our only conversation partner whose name we ever learn. He’s retired from teaching Philosophy and Comparative Religion. He is on a 4 month road trip pulling a camper trailer from Florida, through the Southwest, over to California and is now headed to Victoria and Vancouver BC. He laughs easily. He possesses the gift of gab. His personality is all hale fellow well met. He’s irreverent but not unbecomingly so. He’s curious about us, about our bikes, and our trip. We chat on the dock of the marina for most of an hour while the sun goes down, bid our farewells, and head to the Wild Rose.
After our late dinner we agree not to set an alarm but out of habit we’re up at a reasonable hour anyway. Across the street is the Bandon Coffee Café.
Saturday September 18, 2010
We linger over breakfast sandwiches and large mugs of steaming coffee ambivalent towards braving the hard rain that’s been falling all night. I don’t despise riding in the rain. The bike doesn’t care if it’s raining and in the right gear I don’t care. But I’d rather get on the bike dry and have it start raining sometime later.
When we saddle up it’s raining hard right now. We gas up and head north. It will rain like this all 236 miles to Manzanita. This is a great scenic road, with dramatic coastline on our left and light traffic. Its beauty is largely lost on us. We pull over in Newport for lunch and to warm up. I leave with a guilty conscience because of the huge puddle my wet gear has left on the floor.
As we reach Tillamook I realize the water level inside my boots is up to my ankles. I create waves inside my boots as I shift gears with my left toe. I can squeeze my gloved fist and wring water out of my gloves. I take my feet off the pegs when I stop and feel water, which has pooled around my butt and thighs, run down my legs and into my boots. The water level there rises. This is not an Easy Rider (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJS8j9YYB9w )moment. Cue the music and as it comes up, it’s not Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild. If Easy Rider had had a monsoon scene it might have cued Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU2_BEqg1Ac).
We roll into Manzanita cold, tired, and soaked-to-the-skin. The motel operator at the Sand Dune Inn takes pity on us and offers to dry our gear in his big industrial-sized dryer – the one he dries the motel’s towels and sheets in. Bless him, his children, and his children’s children forever and ever, Amen. If I return, I will stay here out of loyal gratitude. You should too!
Showers warm us but don’t take the edge off our grumpiness. We look for dinner and nothing appeals. We settle on a pizza joint, Marzano’s. The food’s good, the place is warm, and in time our moods improve. It’s stopped raining mostly as we walk back to the motel and hit the sack – but the forecast for tomorrow is more of the same. We hear rain throughout the night.
Sunday September 19, 2010
A short walk to Bistro Manzanita for quick coffee and breakfast reveals we have a break in the weather. Not only is it not raining, we can see blue sky above. We walk down to the Pacific and out onto the flat sand beach. Manzanita is exactly in the center of a beautiful hole in the crummy weather surrounding us. It’s exactly how I picture the eye of a hurricane. Thankfully the hurricane eye follows us most of the way home.
We track north toward Astoria and detour to Fort Clatsop. History buffs – this is where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark ended their transcontinental trek and awaited a ship to return them home. They built a small fort and waited nearly a year for a ship that never came – they had to walk home and boy were they pissed! There’s a neat visitor center and some short hiking trails. Worth a quick stop and the $3 admission.
Our plan of record is to proceed across the Astoria bridge into Washington and up to Bremerton, ride the ferry to Seattle and proceed home from there. We abandon the plan because time got away from us on the beach and at the fort. From Astoria we take SR-30 east to Longview and I-5 back home. Quick. Efficient. But not especially interesting.
I get to thinking about motorcycling skills. Of the three of us I think Carolyn’s skills are probably best. Nick and I each have areas where we are stronger than the other but to me and on average, our skills seem more or less equal. When we’re in trail over twisty roads, I can follow as fast as Carolyn can lead. But I can’t lead as fast as she can follow. That interests me.
When you ride, your brain/brain stem/muscle-memory constitute a computer that solves the problems of physics you encounter. As you ride solo or when you lead, velocity, acceleration, cornering radius, traction, lean angles, site lines, tracking lines through corners, hazard detection and obstacle avoidance are all being computed simultaneously. It’s a big computational load, which your biological computer gets better at with experience. I’m sure that’s why some familiar roads seem straighter and less challenging today, than say, in August of 2008.
When you follow, your wetware can substitute tracking the rider ahead, a less computationally intense activity, for some of the work. At the margin, I can follow at a speed that’s higher than I can lead and still do it within my skill set.
Maybe I think too much.
As I write this, it’s been two weeks since our return. I remember everything fondly, even my minor spill. Well maybe not Saturday’s rain, but everything else. It was fun, intellectually and viscerally entertaining. I’d do the 1300-mile loop again in a heartbeat.