Saturday, August 18, 2007

Montana Vacation

I have finally found a motel with high-speed internet, and am catching up a bit with blogging. This all makes more sense if you start reading from the Day 1 post.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Say "Uncle"

Day 6 - Bozeman to Red Lodge

The day started with more chatting with family and a late start. Michele recommended I stop at the Leaf & Bean in Bozeman. It was only 5 blocks from my uncle’s house so I stopped for a latte and some coffee cake before heading out, not really believing I’d get through Yellowstone today.

When I made my first fuel stop, I bonked. Not so bad I couldn’t continue, but bad enough to decide not to pass up the next motel. When I got to Red Lodge I checked in to a rustic mountain motel and took a much-needed nap. I cleaned most of the 2000 miles off the bike and caught up with email. Right now thunder is announcing a storm coming in from the west. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for Yellowstone.

Today was a nice, short 150 miles, 2170 since the start.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

From the mountains to the prairie...

Day 5 - Cut Bank to Bozeman

Several bikers had spent the night at the same motel and we chatted at length after breakfast and coffee. One had been at Sturgis and was taking the long way back to his home in Minot. Three others were traveling together from Missouri. Yesterday they had stopped for free-range cows on the way down the Going-to-the-(filtered)-Sun Road when a fourth biker came up fast behind them and hit one of them. No serious damage to the guys standing still, but the speeder from CO was airlifted to Kalispell. A good reminder about being hypnotized by the scenery and the ride.

I got rolling by the usual time but didn’t expect to see much but freeway today. As I proceeded south, the air got smokier and smokier and soon I thought I must be back home in the San Joaquin Valley. I could see faint silhouettes of mountains on both sides, but they seemed only like ghosts.

Before it got too smoky, however, I entered another mountain range south of Great Falls and met up with the Missouri River. Here it was clear and beautiful, not the "Muddy Mo" I crossed many times between Omaha and Iowa. There was a rare viewpoint turnout on the freeway, so I stopped and took a couple pictures.

The Missouri River before it gets muddy

Other than crossing the Missouri several times, the rest of the ride into Bozeman to visit an uncle I hadn’t seen in many years was uneventful, but catching up with family members is great.

Today’s ride was 295 miles, just over 2000 since I left home

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Glacier's on Fire!

Day 4 - Missoula thru Glacier Park to Waterton Park and back to Cut Bank

I slept better last night but still feel very sluggish this morning. The TV says the sun will be filtered today, as Montana is on fire and there is smoke everywhere. Everybody is advised to just stay home and watch TV. Nevertheless, after some bad coffee I hit the road. The Big Sky was Big Smoke. Tired and disappointed, I headed toward Glacier Park, the furthest destination on this trip.

Skirting Flathead Lake was very beautiful and I stopped for my 50-mile brunch in Polson at a quaint little lake-resort restaurant. My morning dose of protein, starch and cholesterol perked me up and by the time I passed through Kalispell I was starting to feel pretty good.

Glacier Park is full of beautiful hikes, rafting tours, and so on, but I limited my tour to riding up the Going-to-the-(filtered)-Sun Road, a beautiful and well-engineered road up and over the Continental Divide. There was some construction at the top, creating some short 1-way delays, but mostly there was little traffic and zillions of turn-outs and vista points. As usual, however, the views were much too expansive, even in the smoke, to capture with a few pixels behind a camera lens.

Smoke on the Water (not by Deep Purple)
View from the village

Attractive waterfall (the big waterfalls with names were dry)

Heaven's Peak viewed from The Loop

I stopped many, many times, and the speed limit was a leisurely 25, sometimes 40. Near the top I got behind a lady who came to a complete stop quite often, either taking pictures from her car or stopping to catch up with the podcast version of the park tour. Passing was impossible, so the big Wing and I just toughed it out. The engine got hotter than I’ve seen it since crossing the Mojave Desert last year in 120-degree weather.

Looking back on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

I stopped just before the top to photograph the treacherous road I had just climbed, etched into the side of some very steep mountains. When I returned to the bike, it would not start. The battery had been working hard all afternoon starting and restarting the bike, burning too many lights (I repaired the trailer lights a couple weeks ago), and was not getting recharged on the slow stop-n-go trip up the mountains. I pulled out the trusty jump-starter and continued up to the top. I parked at the visitor center at the Continental Divide, knowing I’d have to jump start it again. The last time I rode across the Divide was at Pie Town in New Mexico, a much less eventful crossing, if not tastier.

A "horn" left by a glacier at the Continental Divide

My plan was to exit the park to the east and camp for the night at a nearby town. Upon exit, however, the sky to the north was actually free of smoke, so I followed the nosewheel into Canada and Waterton Park. Here the sky was truly big…and blue. I bought some gas at what became the point on my trip farthest from home and pointed the Wing back into Montana, passing many campgrounds and pulling into a motel in Cut Bank.

Overlooking the valley at Waterton Park - Canada

Just outside Waterton Park Village

Except for a few miles inside Glacier Park, there were very few cars on the road anywhere. The roads up here are very lonely. What a wonderful way to travel! Today’s mileage was 364, many many more than originally planned.

Monday, August 13, 2007

But no lolos from Hawaii

Day 3 - Arlington, OR via WA and ID to Missoula

I called a tire shop in Hermiston promptly at 8:00, and immediately found the tire I needed. I stopped at the hardware store across the parking lot to pick up a tire iron in case I had to pull off a blown tire before I made it to the tire shop. I also picked up a gasoline container so I can carry a reserve in the trailer. Was on the road by 8:30 and slowly limped along the Columbia River to Hermiston.

The road was great, with the river on my left and on my right several stands of Douglas fir trees planted in rows very close together, much like citrus in Caleefornia. This is the tree on the Oregon license plate.

Luck was with me and I made it to Hermiston and the tire shop without further incident. The salesman talked me into replacing both tires and said it would take 45 minutes to an hour. Perfect! That’s just the time I needed to have my usual 50-mile brunch. But Monday morning is busier than planned, and 3 hours later I pull out of the shop and head for Missoula, thinking I might no longer be able to make it before nightfall.

The dead tire
The ride across Washington and Idaho was amazing, mostly following the Lewis & Clark trail.

The road followed river beds all the way, passing through Clarkston, WA, and Lewiston, ID. This route across northeast Oregon, Southwest Washington and the Idaho panhandle was really beautiful, following the Columbia, Clearwater, and Lochsa rivers up to Lolo Pass. I tried to imagine the pioneers of 200 years ago following this river gorge in search of a northwest passage, and wondered how many trailer tires they ruined on their journey. I remembered the computer game Oregon Trail that the Kaimuki Intermediate School students played so much in computer “class.” They traded pelts for food, equipment, and other supplies. I am trading plastic money for gasoline and rubber tires.

As I neared Lolo Pass the air began to get smoky, and I remembered that Montana is on fire right now. Just a couple miles from the top, a huge buck elk was grazing by the side of the road. He was beautiful, but before I could even reach for the brake pedal, he ran away, apparently camera-shy.

After a brief pause at Lolo Pass, I rolled down the mountain and arrived in Missoula much later than planned, but with ever so little light remaining in the sky. The tire shop and the change to Mountain Time cost me about 3 hours.

Today’s 426 miles were mostly very beautiful, and very tiring. Maybe I’m too old for this kind of mileage.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Never Pass a Gas Station

Day 2 - Weed, CA to Arlington, OR

The day started normally enough, with the sun rising over Mt. Shasta. I was topped off and on the road by nine, but a few miles up the road toward Crater Lake I came up on a very serious accident involving a large pickup with travel trailer and small car. No emergency vehicles had arrived yet, but there were several people tending to the scene and marshalling cars through the wreckage. As I crept through there appeared to be only one injury, but all the vehicles were absolutely finished. This left me with a sense of impending doom as I continued north. Every couple of minutes I was passed by another emergency vehicle heading in the opposite direction for the accident.

Aside from that, the morning was beautiful. Scenery and weather were both ideal. Mt. Shasta was on my right for many miles, then in my rearview mirror, and more and more snow was revealed as more of the north face came into view. The sky was blue and cloudless and the temperature was in the high 60s. Perfect riding weather.

Not knowing the gasoline situation in Crater Lake National Park, I stopped at a gas station to top off a few miles outside of the park. Just as I pulled up the electricity went off and there was no way to pump fuel. I chatted with the proprietor for a few minutes (an old Norton rider) then headed on up to the park. He told me there was a station just inside the entrance, so I was not concerned.

When I got to the park, I proudly bought my “old guy” lifetime park pass, but had to pay cash because the electricity was out at the entrance. I went to the general store and gas station inside the entrance and was greeted by the same lack of wattage. I hung around a few minutes weighing my options when someone radioed in that the outage was due to a fire about 30 miles south of the park. The expanse of the outage was unknown, but a clerk told me there was a station on the other side of the park, a few miles out of my way, but the best bet for getting fuel before I ran out.

After taking a few pictures of the amazingly blue lake, I proceeded to the next gas station, thinking I might be sitting there until electricity returned to the area. Not to worry, there was indeed electricity there and when I told the weather-worn old proprietor about the Crater Lake problem he laughed. His electricity came from the other direction, but he has his own generator because of the many power outages during the severe winters, with “twenty feet of snow.”

Crater Lake, Oregon

Proceeding north from the park the scenery was nice but remarkable only in the series of large pyramid-shaped mountains way off to the west. Not long past Bend, I stopped at Redmond for some fuel and a coffee float to energize me for the final leg. I was feeling pretty tired from two long days of riding, so decided to skip the camping and go to a motel.

The scenery north of Redmond was less exciting, save for the constant presence of the majestic mountains to the west. About 50 miles or so from the Columbia River I passed through an area that is no doubt very windy as a rule, and this afternoon is was extremely windy. There was a large wind farm just east of the road, but all the windmills were feathered because the wind was too severe. And it was another crosswind, much more severe that the one I experienced yesterday. This was a two-lane road, so there was no way I could escape the turbulence of trucks and RVs passing me in the opposite direction. It was the worst crosswind I have ever experienced, and would have stopped if I thought there was any chance of the wind abating before dark.

The last 10 miles descending to the Columbia River provided some of the best scenery I’ve seen so far. It was about 2 hours before sunset, so the sun was low and modified the colors somewhat. The fields in the foothills were golden (real golden, not the brown we see in Caleefornia). The gold of the freshly harvested wheat flowed into light greens, punctuated with dark green trees. The next level of color was bright blue, with the purple of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams off in the distance. Next was the grey of the massive amounts of smoke blowing north from a large wildfire not far from Redmond. Then another layer of blue, then a white strip of stratus clouds. It was fantastic, but I couldn’t figure out a way to capture it with a camera. Views like this are why we ride.

At the river I stopped for one more topoff before heading east to the motel. I noticed that one mudflap was missing from the trailer, presumably from the severe wind I had just ridden through. At the motel, as I was unpacking the bike, I noticed an extremely bald spot on that tire, down to the cord, so I imagine that the mudflap was somehow blown into the tire and locked it up long enough to create a sever flat spot, but not long enough to blow the tire.

From the Village Inn at Arlington

The nearest tire shop is 50 miles away. If the existing tire can make it that far, and if they have such small tires, I might still make it to Missoula tomorrow. Or….

Today’s mileage was 418.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Montana, here I come!

Bakersfield to Mt. Shasta - 519 miles

Motorcycle trips are great! Mostly. But often to get to the good stuff you have to drone through miles of boring stuff. Such was today. 519 miles of riding, with nearly 500 of them on I-5. The only highlight of this first day of riding was a stop for lunch in Sacramento. An online search had uncovered an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue just off the freeway, so I rolled in for a mini loco moco and a Strawberry Guava. Nothing like a Styrofoam box full of protein and starch to make your day. I think the cholesterol is left out here in Caleefornia. They also had malasadas, but only in lots of 10, so I passed that up.

Gas mileage barreling up the freeway was horrendous, even for holding 70 mph. Turning east after Sacramento I discovered why. There was a severe crosswind of at least 25 or 30 mph. What had been a strong headwind was now forcing me to lean into the wind several degrees. If a car or truck passed me on the left I had trouble maintaining control in the turbulence, so I got into the left lane and made the speeders pass me on the right. This was very difficult riding and I very happy to turn back into the headwind.

There was little to see today until about mile 495, when Mt. Shasta came into view. Shasta soft drinks were very popular in Hawaii years ago, so the profile of this mountain was very familiar.

My motel room also provided a view of the mountain, if somewhat obscured by trees.

This may be the last time I attempt more than 500 miles in one day.