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Fall semester’s classes began yesterday, and I’ve made a few resolutions for myself this time around. No more BMW forums when there are cases to be read. No more Craigslist searching for XS650 parts, no more google mapping for my next 12 hour ride, etc., etc. More books, less bikes. Still, at some point during the Business Entities lecture, I could not help but think back to Saturday’s ride around the mountains.
This was the last full day I’d get to spend on the S for awhile, so I left nice and early at about 5:15. I wanted to check out the Taylor Bridge fire outside of Cle Elum, which had consumed over fifty homes and forty square miles of forest land. I arrived in Cle Elum before the fire crews at around 6:30, and watched some big caravans of impressive looking 4X4 fire trucks filing in to battle the blaze. Most of the entrances into the burn area were blockaded, and the smoke was nasty from all the tires and cars and TV sets that have been consumed. These pics are from Highway 97:
I jumped onto Canyon road (821) out of Ellensburg, but the fun really begins in the Klickitat River Canyon, Highway 142 out of Goldendale. Stopped at this awesome little cafe in Klickitat called the Drift:
I asked some people inside about NF 25, the road that I had been wanting to ride since last weekend’s Windy Ridge adventure. The road was well known, but it seemed that no one used it much because it doesn’t go anywhere (except Randle, WA.) Perfect, I thought. On the map, NF 25 is over 60 miles of tight corners with almost no intersecting roads. It goes into a remote portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and is closed for about nine months out of the year. If the frost heave that I had encountered on my previous ride was common on other parts of the road, it was going to be an exciting day.
I didn’t know what to expect as I turned north out of Carson, but right away I knew I had come to the right place.
The first ten miles outside of Carson (Wind River Road) were a tightly winding ascent into the mountains. It was turn after turn of second-gear euphoria, and the pavement quality was pretty good here. There was almost no traffic, and I only saw two other riders at a Mt. St. Helens lookout spot.
The higher the elevation, the worse the pavement, and the more exciting this ride becomes. Getting closer to the Windy Ridge (NF 99) turnoff, the frost heave becomes phenomenal. Warning: A lot of concentration is required in here, be careful! Here is a photo from the “better” section of NF 25, showing a dip in the pavement. In the foreground, you can see the skid pattern of a car that launched out of the frost heave and off the road:
No one wants to be on board a 520 pound motorcycle that has become airborne over rough pavement, but that is exactly what happened when I tried to ride a little too fast through this section. It is not everyday that you can confront your darkest fears without even leaving second gear, but that is the beauty of NF 25.
The “really poor” section of the road was too fantastic for me to stop and take any photos. Signs advised “Rough road, 15 MPH”, and there is a fifty yard patch where the pavement is gone completely and the surface is loose gravel. Still, this road does not warrant a big dumb GS bike, just a little care and some throttle control.
There has been lots of talk about Rossi’s return to the Yamaha team for MotoGP 2013. Some are saying that he is too old at 33 to win a world championship again. Hmm….
Riding to Windy Ridge is a good way to spend a Friday afternoon, and is about as close as you can get to Mt. St. Helens without a helicopter. I chose to ride through Mt. Rainier National Park, where there was a little pavement resurfacing going on to keep it interesting.
The small town of Randle is the gateway to maybe the greatest road in Washington, NF 25. I only rode part of it in order to get to NF 99 (Windy Ridge), but I will be back to see the rest. NF 25 is really torn up from frost heave and other damages, which makes for some exhilarating riding. This is a popular destination for local sport-tourers, and there were about fifteen other bikes at the Windy Ridge look out, where Mt. St. Helens is still steaming. On the way home, I stopped at the Naches Tavern for a refreshment. Highly recommended!
Backfire was packed last night. The star of the show for me was this R100S cafe racer with a very cool front fork conversion, custom made steel intake tubes, and round slide carbs. The upside-down fork still uses the BMW snowflake wheel. Way cool:
Lots of other beauties on display as well:
Lots of cool modern bikes too, like this Christini AWD supermoto:
My secret love affair bike, the Aprilia RSV1000, in an unusual paint scheme:
Our goal was to make it to Sandpoint in one day, but my BMW had other plans. An alternator belt, which would eventually disintegrate on a high mountain pass outside of Kettle Falls, was probably just starting to fray that morning as we left Victor’s coffee shop. Was there a new, spare belt sitting in my garage? Of course there was. Did I stash it in my ample tank bag just in case? Of course not. One more BMW initiation to proudly add to my repertoire. I wonder how many more there are.
A group ride of more than four gets crowded. Our cast of characters is Edip on his new KTM super-stomper Super Duke, Alejandro on his Ducati 848 Italian killing machine, and Steve on a borrowed Monster 620. The Monster had a bit of bringing-a-knife-to-the-gunfight quality, but the same could be said of my own portly yellow fraulein.
Things went swimmingly as we blasted our way to Winthrop, where the Duck Brand Cantina has substantially improved their menu. Even Alejandro’s discriminating Mexican palate was impressed by the carne asada tacos. We sat outside on the patio and watched the Methow Valley’s tourism economy in full effect. Every summer, along with all the RVs and Seattle weekenders, Harley Davidson riders converge on Winthrop like a horde of chromed locusts. Our bikes stood out among the monotone seriousness of big Harleys like multi-colored party hats, and we enjoyed being the only riders in town without bandanas.
Continuing east through Okanogan, Tonasket, and Republic, Highway 20 becomes sparse, hot, and dry. Trying to keep up with Edip’s super-nuke, I was flogging the R1100s pretty hard going over Sherman Pass when my little red “battery” light popped on.
A sinking sense of lameness crept in as I thought about what might be wrong, and how long my bike would keep running. We made it to Kettle Falls and I shut down the motor. As soon as I started to remove the alternator cover, little shreds of rubber belt started falling to the ground like dandruff. Not good. It was about 7PM, and auto parts stores were just closing. There was a Walmart ahead in Colville, and a BMW dealership in Spokane, 75 miles south. The bike was obviously running on battery power, and I had no idea how much longer it would continue. We considered making a belt out of something to get down the road a little further. After a couple of really bad ideas, including “try a pair of panty hose” (suggested by a Kettle Falls local at the mini market), Edip had the idea of making an alternator belt out of zip ties. “There is no way in hell that will work”, I thought.
It did work. And one zip-tie belt can last for about ten miles of easy cruising, just for future reference. We made it to Colville, where there was decent phone signal so that I could consult the gurus of Advrider and the Pelican Parts Board, and I learned that most auto parts stores carry a standard belt that is exactly compatible with the BMW oilhead. As in, I did not even have to adjust my alternator position. Who knew? Apparently most BMW riders.
Here is the list of easily obtainable belt alternatives, from most auto parts stores:
12 31 1 341 779 BMW current part number
12 31 1 342 087 BMW expired part number 10/15/2002
12 31 1 341 549 BMW expired part number 07/17/1996
…….4 04 024 5 Goodyear Gatorback Poly-V Belt
…….5 04 024 0 Dayco Poly Cog Belt
…….K 04 023 3 CarQuest Poly-V Belt
NBH25 04 023 3 NAPA Alternator
Luckily, Colville is a great little town, with a hotel that is “family, pet, and biker friendly.” We stayed the night a few blocks from the Carquest that would heal my oilhead, and got some food at the local tavern, which proudly sold the “Mother of all Hot Dogs.”
It’s time to finish up posting about this trip!
The San Francisco Bay area is my favorite place in the world. Sorry, Seattle. While I was down here visiting my mom and brother, Bubba and the Snowpeach flew down to meet me. We visited Point Reyes National Seashore:
Jordan and I checked out some junk-art:
The ride home was not going to be as interesting as the five days I spent getting down here. I left on monday morning, and had a class to attend on tuesday evening. I could have slabbed it all the way home on I-5, but there was a section of highway between California and Oregon that I really wanted to check out, Highway 96 out of Happy Camp to Indian Creek road. It turned out to be a mistake, but it was a scenic mistake.
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End of the road, somewhere on Indian Creek road on the morning of Day 7:
The snow closure meant many miles of backtracking, and riding a lot more of the slab than I had intended. In the end it was still worth it, and I made it to my torts class in time anyway. It is strange that riding on the freeway for six hours is equal to the fatigue and exhaustion of riding for ten or twelve hours on curvy backroads. Boredom is a killer.
Waking up in a lake front squatter’s camp in the middle of all those mountains, I fired up the stove for a cup of yerba mate. It’s easy to see why Lake Tahoe has become a vacation paradise for the wealthy, and I was glad to be able to pilfer a little bit of the good life for my humble purposes, if only for this one night. I studied the map for the ride that lay ahead.
Today would be a day of extremes: the furthest point from home, the highest elevation of the trip so far, and the most remote section of highway. But more than any of those things, today was a mental high-point of the journey itself, an exalted realization of the joy of traveling. I began to feel a certain equilibrium, and packing up the camp was as easy as making the bed at home. There was a simple spring-in-my-step as I stuffed the bags, tightened down the straps, checked pressures and levels, jumped onto the bike and pointed her back onto Highway 89. I could get used to this life, and the only thing better than the thought of continuing on to the edge of the world would be to share it with the snowpeach, who was flying to Oakland airport to meet me in a few days.
89′s route along the western edge of the lake is surreal, twisting its way high above the rocky shore. I felt like I was riding on a ribbon that had been tossed out into a breeze. The road ran high along a ridge and there was no shoulder on either side, just a four inch white line separating the pavement from a steep and sharply descending oblivion. Running wide on a corner here would mean certain death for a traveler, and I thought about something Stormy had said, with a levity that was unusual for him:
“Remember that little boy you’ve got at home.” He reminded me that I had a couple of good reasons to ride safely and arrive home intact.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Stormy had been teaching me about The Pace. He never got preachy about technique or safety, and there’s no question that he believes in hauling ass. But he’s also a 64 year old rider who has logged over 350,000 miles and can’t remember the last time he crashed. In most of the curvy sections on our route, he rode as fast as I did but he never got out of his seat, while I was hanging off of my tank. Stormy just stayed planted and looked relaxed while his toes were dragging on the ground. It was The Pace.
Stormy paid me a respectful compliment that I’m still proud of, and it was much more than just a compliment. It was a subtle and supportive teaching, from a wise old master of the motorcycle. He said,
“I won’t ride with a lot of guys, but I’ll ride anywhere with you, anytime. Because you’re a good rider and a fast rider, but there’s a conservativeness to the way you ride the bike.” That Missouri drawl emphasized his words: “A lot of guys don’t know about that, especially guys your age. They’ll come into a corner too hot. And then they’ll get their tits in a twist.”
Coming from him, it felt pretty special.
Highway 4, also known as Ebbetts Pass Highway as it crosses the high Sierra, defies all description and I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I will say this: when supermoto riders dream, they dream of this road.
On the morning of day four, we rode together on the last section of Highway 299 to the junction with 139, and had breakfast in the town of Adin at a little burger joint. There were several local guys out on the front patio of the place, and in typical fashion, Stormy was best friends with all of them in a few minutes. The conversation went from motorcycles to mule breeding to firearms to romantic encounters with plus-sized women. I talked with an old-timer about raising buffalo for nearly half an hour, and we all drank coffee and looked at the landscape.
I was genuinely sad to part ways with the Storm. There hadn’t been a dull moment since we started, and now I would be relying only on maps instead of his crazy anecdotes. We said our goodbyes at the local gas station. We each bought some water bottles and other supplies, and when Stormy was paying for his corn nuts, the clerk said,
“Would you like a bag, sir?” Stormy winked at me and replied,
“Well, I had one once. But I divorced her.”
Today’s routing came exclusively out of the Destination Highways map. I hit two roads that were absolutely stellar, and that I never would have ventured onto without the DH guide: Eagle Lake Road (201) heading into Susanville, and the spectacular Janesville Grade (28 No. 1–> Indian Creek Rd.–> Antelope Rd.–> Beckworth Genesee–> N. Valley), between Janesville and Greenville. The road out of Janesville becomes extremely remote, lacks signage and is in some disrepair. It was a particular highlight of the whole trip. I highly recommend it, but it is easy to get lost and you would not want to have a break-down out there. The plus side is that there is no traffic.
Highway 89 is a blast all the way to Lake Tahoe, and one could easily spend a few weeks on an adventure bike out here, exploring the High Sierra. I was in a strange mood as the temperatures started dropping and the air became crisp with the clean alpine atmosphere. I rolled through Lake Tahoe right as the solar eclipse started, and dozens of cars were parked in unusual places along the side of the road with people standing around, staring up at the sun with odd contraptions held up to their heads. Things like welding masks, cardboard tubes, and blacked-out ski goggles. The eclipse cast an eerie light over the lake, and I felt like I was in a weird and picturesque sci-fi movie.
Because Stormy likes hot showers, we had been camping at designated camp sites. I prefer wilderness camping because I like an excuse to not take a shower, and that is what I planned to do in Lake Tahoe. However, even though the lake is surrounded by National Forest, free wilderness camping is difficult in the Lake Tahoe region because there are expensive vacation homes all over the hillsides. I was not having any luck finding a secluded spot to pitch my tent, and the Lake Tahoe campground wanted $24 for a tent site. Luckily, I found a closed, gated road overlooking the lake that I was able to sneak the bike onto. I camouflaged my hi-viz BMW from the surrounding vacationers, and pitched the tent right on the road. Free, lake-front camping!