Monday, July 30, 2007

Day 7 - Ellensburg, WA to Portland, OR - 335 miles

“So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears…
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

It’s over! Ah, but it was so sweet. This has been a great trip and we cannot say enough good things about riding and seeing this area and the meeting it’s people.

We started off with a small navigational blunder by Bill, which lead us 30 miles east of Ellensburg on the WRONG interstate. Oops! We turned south and at Mattawa stumbled into serious orchard land along the river. The wind along the river is incredible and we struggled to keep our bikes on the road at times. There were miles of fruit orchards protected by walls of 100 ft high Lombardy poplar trees that formed remarkable windbreaks.

We found ourselves again in the Columbia River valley but on the Hanford Site where the Dept of Energy produced plutonium for bombs. We wisely turned away from the guarded entrance and continued south through the Rattlesnake Hills, which were rolling, arid and interspersed with irrigated verdant green areas of agriculture. This area is all about water and power with evidence of both readily visible.

We wandered through Toppenish and marveled at the murals on most all of the downtown buildings before heading south and west to Glenwood at the foot of Mt. Adams, an impressive but underappreciated Cascade peak.

Based on a tip from Doug we stopped for a delicious fired chicken lunch at The Logs. Our server, Diane, regaled us with stories about the restaurant’s history and people from the area. We tried to get to Mt St Helens but were deterred by the prospect of a long ride over gravel roads and elected to head south to the Columbia River Gorge.

We got a great up close view of the windsurfers on the gorge and met an interesting couple from Oregon who filled us in on local history. Under threatening skies we returned to Portland and called Doug. He arrived with his fully stocked trailer and took our trusty V-Stroms away.

We plan to ride this wonderful area again in the future and intend to do business with Doug again. For today it’s time to repack and head home for Nashville.

This was our fifth motorcycle adventure. We finish safe and sound after riding 2375 miles in 7 days and are anxious to plan our next journey.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day 6 – Ellensburg to Enumclaw, WA and back

Today we decided to stay in Ellensburg but venture across the Cascades again with Mt Rainer as our focal point for the day’s ride.

We started our day with a scrumptious discovery. A squiggly line on the map turned out to be a unique canyon road along the Yakima River. A number of fly fisherman were already out on the water. The canyon walls were shear and the view was breathtaking.

First we needed cherries, Mt Rainer cherries. They did not disappoint.

Our plans to ride around Mt Rainer were derailed by the closure of White Pass on the southern side of this historic mountain. We traveled to the road closure site accompanied largely but fellow motorcyclists who were also lured by the low traffic on the road. It was a pretty ride although Mt Rainer was not visible. We passed along Clear Lake formed by a dam on the Tieton River.

Following this we circled the northern rim of the Rainer Park and enjoyed the vista of the mountain from Chinook Pass. Judging by the crowd we were joined by most of Seattle.

We descended to Enumclaw for a late lunch at a local trendy eatery. The name means “Place of Evil spirits” but they were not in evidence. We had a nice lunch followed again by delicious local pies.

The ride back was on a local interstate since this was the only pass through the Cascades we had not traveled. We are excited about our last day’s ride back to Portland but reluctant to see our trip end.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Day 5 – Winthrop, WA to Ellensburg, WA – 320 miles

We started the day with a pledge to stay cool and to go where it’s green. In the parking lot of the hotel we met two fellow bikers, Annie and Terry from BC, Canada, who are on a multi-week trip to the States. We swapped tales and admired Terry’s very sleek Victory Kingpin cruiser. Terry presented is with Canadian lapel pins that we are proudly wearing on our riding jackets.

We had a tasteful breakfast in a trendy coffee house in Winthrop. The coffee shop was populated with hiker-types, all decked out in hiking shorts and sandals. In order to fit in, we ordered quiche with our coffee. Some bikers. The entire town of Winthrop is built on a western theme and is quite popular with both hikers and bikers.

The day’s ride led us right into WA 20, a spectacular mountain pass highway that leads across the Cascades and features splendid views of high mountain peaks and glaciers. It also featured two Ducatis that we joined in a spirited chase down the mountain. It was one of the most exhilarating rides either of us can remember. We captured part of this run on video and will upload it for your viewing pleasure. The incredibly scenic route took us by glacial lakes and briskly flowing mountain rivers.

We next descended on Darrington, WA, where we planned to ride a dirt road over the Barlow Pass. We plans were derailed when we stopped at the local forest service office and learned that the road was closed. We did get pictures in front of an impressive Douglas fir that dated to the early 1900’s, when this part of Washington was covered in virgin forest. It was a reminder of man’s impact on the Pacific Northwest. We stopped for lunch in Arlington, WA, just outside Seattle and had a delightful lunch of clam chowder and home made crème pies at the Bluebird Café.

We spent the afternoon riding US 2 across yet another pass through the Cascades. The ride started among a frantic Friday rush of city folks heading out of town to spend their weekend in the mountains. They can probably be seen tomorrow in hiking shorts and sandals, eating quiche in neat little coffee shops.

Lethargy quickly overcame us, the result of crème pie and the deadly boredom of stop-and-go traffic. We pulled into a drive-through espresso bar and downed major doses of sweet caffeine. It’s an unusual regional phenomenon. The entire Pacific Northwest runs on caffeine. We had no choice but to go native.

We soon arrived in Leavenworth, WA, a way to cute German/Bavarian themed mountain tourist town. Not in the mood for theme towns, we elected to move further south and back into the stifling heat of the plains. Our mission was to set ourselves up for our coming mountain rides around both Mount Rainer and Mount St. Helens. We spent the night at Ellensburg, WA, which is fairly close to the famous Hanford nuclear facility. As of yet, we have experienced no radiation poisoning.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day 4 - Lewiston, ID to Winthrop, WA

Fatigue and another 300 miles have taken a toll. We are exhausted. do you feel sorry for us? Apparently we are in the second hottest place in the country. We left Lewiston and headed for the Grand Coulee dam and then the mountains as in the eastern Cascades. By 11 Am it was insufferably hot in the low elevations around Lewiston despite the spectacular view of the town as we left.

Shortly thereafter we were riding through eastern Washington and were in the midst of massive wheat fields that stretched to the horizon. See the photos of wheat up close. It made us proud to be Americans in the breadbasket of the world.

After that we were back in the flatlands on the way to the dam. The roads were under construction and we were forced to take several detours. See the alarming signs. We saw a baby tornado in a harvested wheat field. It was quite the sight. huge
The Grand Coulee dam was huge but boring to be honest. We had lunch and moved on.

The highlight of the afternoon was a stop in a roadside gas station for water. It was on an Indian reservation. Out of nowhere a bus load of Buddhist monks in saffron robes appeared in the store. They bought a case of coke, used the facilities and left. We felt strangely disoriented.

By about 4 PM we had finally reached the eastern Cascades and began to climb for cooler weather and the majesty of the mountains. Tomorrow's ride should be cooler and more scenic.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Day 3 - Baker City, OR to Lewiston, ID

(Readers are advised to reread the Day 2 post since technical difficulties plagued last night’s post.)

Today we left Baker City and struck out for Missoula, Montana in a failed attempt to add both Idaho and Montana to the list of states we have ridden on our bikes. Stifling heat defeated us in northern Idaho so we turned west and finished the day in Lewiston Idaho. We road 340 miles and had a fine time.

Splendid Oregon vistas outside Baker City were visible at the Oregon Trail interpretive Center. We saw Conestoga wagons and the beautiful green valley that lured our ancestors west. It was inspiring. We traveled east on our way to the Oxbow Reservoir on the Idaho-Oregon border. Much of the morning was notable for the presence of a large amount of smoke in the air making visibility limited. We rode the Hell's Canyon trail for most of the morning.

Crossing into Idaho we had a wonderful 90-mile ride along the twisting Salmon River. Later we saw a helicopter hauling a huge bucket of water from the river to dump on a fire in the mountains.

We had a great lunch at Eddy’s steakhouse in Grangeville, ID where all the beef comes from their own ranch and is purely grass fed. The BBQ sandwich was excellent.

We turned west due to the heat after stopping at the Clearwater River and dunking our water vests (hydrophilic gel covered with fabric that cools via evaporation – a personal air conditioner) in the river. We then had a nice cruise along the Clearwater for about 60 miles through the Nez Pierce reservation on our way into Lewiston. This was part of the Lewis and Clark Trail and was very historic area with spectacular views of this broad river and the arid hills surrounding it. We stopped frequently to guzzle water and re-wet our vests. They were a great relief.

One last comment…we have not been in the Rainforest since Day 1. We have been in arid regions. We are headed back to the rainforest and you will see fields of green again. We promise.

Day 2 - Central Oregon

First days are a lot like first dates. You really don’t know what you’ve got. Second days and second dates are always more fun if you like what you saw the first time. So it went for us today. We did 350 miles of the most exquisite twisty roads we have ever encountered in our cumulative 100,000 miles. Central and Eastern Oregon was a very arid area and proved to be a fabulous surprise. It was a day in biker paradise! We are suffused with endorphins and fatigue but smiling non-stop.
We started the day with a delicious breakfast at our overnight stop, Cousins country Kitchen and Inn in The Dalles. The parking lot was full of locals just as it had been for supper the night before. After splitting biscuits and a cinnamon bun (all homemade) and two coffees we hit the road. We headed straight south into the arid hills of Central Oregon that are covered in a short brown grass since there is only about a inch of topsoil sitting on top of thousands of feet of super-hard basalt volcanic rock that flowed over thousands of square miles of this area epochs ago. We found one great road after another with interesting small Oregon towns strung along the way like beads on a necklace.

Our first surprise came in Antelope, OR, a town of 37, where we happened into the Antelope Café and met Rich Miller, the owner. He talked us into a lunch of marionberry (local berry) cobbler a la mode and regaled us with tales of the town’s days as Rajneeshpuram. In the early 1980’s the town was taken over by the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh after he purchased a large ranch in the county. The Antelope Café was renamed Zorba the Buddha Café and local government was populated by devotees. The cobbler was fabulous and the meal fueled our run through the magnificent road down to Fossil, OR.

Our trip there was interrupted by a brief stop at the John Day (namesake of a local river and original settler) Fossil Beds replete with magnificent basalt promontories.

We fueled up Fossil, Oregon, after being directed to the local service station via an anonymous two-way radio conversation with the owner’s estranged wife. She was most upset that we purchased fuel from her “jerk” husband.

It made for an interesting interlude followed immediately by a kick ass stretch of road down Oregon 19. We assiduously observed the speed limit on this fabulous road with up and down curves and emerged unscathed.

We stopped briefly in the town of John Day in order to secure electronics at the local Radio Shack (particularly well stocked). At point our diet for the day had consisted entirely of sugar and caffeine so we added Peanut M&M’s in order to maintain balance for the rigors ahead.

We then transitioned into a much greener environment as we ascended Wallowa-Whitman National forest to the remote settlement of Granite, OR. Our plan to ride through the remote Elkhorn Pass at 7400 ft. was derailed by low gas.

We stopped at the local eatery/gas station and asked two mid-afternoon beer drinking couples for help but were advised they had no gas so we retraced our route down to the curious tourist community of Sumpter, OR. Sumpter has only one thing going for it. That’s the presence of a massive river dredge that has been transported to this remote mountain town and floated in a tiny millpond. It was a totally incongruous site.

We did not linger however since the locals seemed unfriendly. Our sole conversation while there consisted of some anonymous local yelling at us over our radios for being on “his frequency. “ We ignored him and motored out of town and on to the former gold rush town of Baker City, OR. That’s where we called it a night after 350 miles of very notable riding.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 1: Portland to The Dalles, Oregon

Sunday evening in Portland was punctuated by the arrival of our rental bikes courtesy of Doug Cushing, the sole proprietor of Northwest Motorcycle Adventures, a start up motorcycle rental business in Portland. He delivered 2 virtually new Suzuki 650 cc V-Stroms, each equipped with a full complement of required touring accessories, such as premium caliber touring bags, tire repair kits, first aid kits and battery jumper cables etc. Doug is both personable and professional. After some probing questions we discovered his day job is supervising the upkeep of aircraft for Hawaiian Airlines at the Portland airport. We were extremely impressed with the quality of his operation and very reassured that we were on well-prepped bikes. For the non-riders in our audience, the caliber of the equipment you use on a trip like this can mean the difference between a great trip and a miserable one. Doug clearly understands his customers.

We started out under overcast skies (a recurring first day theme on all our trips) and headed southeast on a back woods route around the southern part of Mount Hood. This quickly led us into deeply forested parts of the Mt Hood National Forrest where we found ourselves on a one-lane asphalt road following the rushing Clackamas River. The roadside campsites we passed often gave off the smell of cooking fires from the family groups we saw outside their tents. Tall, old growth Northwestern forests of evergreens and panoramic mountain vistas were the stuff of the morning ride as we came closer to the base of Mt Hood. The morning skies cleared and lovely Mt Hood came into view. As we reached the road’s summit we were amazed to find a large number of skiers unpacking for a day on the summits. Many came in vehicles like the curiously named “Bustache”.

In the afternoon we descended to the Columbia River gorge by driving through the Hood Valley, an agricultural area notable for it’s abundant fruit orchards. Just as we discovered in New England, coffee is king in the Northwest. We got gas and lattes in a “no name” service station and continued onward into the rushing wind. That’s a literal reference since the river gorge gets a heady 30 MPH blast from the West every afternoon due to the warm air that rises off the land and pulls in cooler air from the Pacific. We encountered a half-mile square area of river where at least 100 windsurfers were tearing it up on the white-capped river. We ended the day by riding 30 miles of Oregon Highway 30 alongside the southern bank of the Columbia from the striking Rowena Overlook to our destination for the night, The Dalles, a farming town located on the river below one of the massive dams that both irrigate and power this area.

We rode about 230 miles today and were very pleased with our gear and our destination for this trip. It was a day of non-stop visual treats and demanding curvy roads. It doesn’t get much better than that when you are touring on a motorcycle!