I'm a fortunate man!
I really am a lucky person and I am very appreciative of that fact.
During last winter's dark and dreary non-motorcycling months I (and my wife) did a lot of planning about this summer. It was to be a special summer when we would do some once in a lifetime travel. It was also to be the summer that I did more than the normal amount of motorcycle journeying.
As I noted in my last post, I made a long trip to the Southwest in June, with the Grand Canyon as the end point of that hot but very enjoyable ride.
Less than a month later I was on the road again, this time as Seattle as my end point. (My wife and daughter flew out to meet me there and they flew back) I have just completed that 5,364 mile long round trip and what a marvelous journey of exploration it was!
I love riding alone on long motorcycle trips. Virtually every non-motorcyclist I talk to about my travels, when they learn that I usually travel alone, is incredulous. They can't imagine traveling across the continent alone on a bike, on back roads, with nothing more than what will fit in the saddlebags. I get the expected questions about: what if I break down, what if I get sick, what if I get lost, what if I get into some sort of trouble, what if, what if, what if.
I tell them that I use my brain and experience so as to avoid problems that can be avoided with proper planning and equipment maintenance, that it's almost impossible to get lost today - sooner or later a traveler will arrive at a town or some sort of civilization, I have tools that wanderers for eons didn't have the luxury of possessing; a cell phone and credit card. I carry emergency water and food at all times in case I do break down somewhere. And more. In other words, I plan ahead and I do common sense things to stay safe and well.
I encounter many hundreds of bikers on the roads, mostly small groups, but quite a few solo riders. I feel a special affinity with those few who ride for thousands of miles alone. I smile every time I see another rider in places like the mountains of Montana - they're living the dream just like I am - I can imagine exactly what they're feeling and the emotional impact of their dream coming true.
I blitzed west on I-80 / I-29/and I-90 to Missoula, MT. It was HOT in the Plains, and I-90 was a bore, but I wanted to get west ASAP. One of the more amazing sights along the way was the flooding along the Missouri River that even at the end of July had I-29 surrounded by water lapping at the sandbags along the shoulder, placed there to keep the XWay open.
Along the way I detoured to go through the Badlands again and through Sturgis (ten days before Bike Week, and already hundreds of bikers were in town and dozens of vendor tents were up). I skirted the Black Hills and went to see Devil's Tower in NE Wyoming - a first for me. What an incredible sight!
Next stop was the Little Bighorn Battlefield site.
I exited I-90 at Missoula and the fun began in earnest! Route U.S. 12 across central Idaho is just fabulous. If you haven't ridden it, do. You will thank me later! It's a lightly traveled road through forested mountains with nary a straight stretch for the entire length. Don't believe me - read the warning sign posted by the locals:
What a thrill!
Western Idaho became much more stark as I rode route 95 south for many miles before slipping west into Oregon. It was at this point that I ran into one of those problems that one hopes to avoid through planning, but sometimes things don't go as planned. It was very late and very hot as I was heading toward the village of Cambridge in western Idaho. I was getting frustrated due to miles of road construction and hold ups in the 95+ heat. I planned to get a motel room in Cambridge. (On this trip I didn't take any camping gear, I planned to motel it in local Mom and Pop motels)
Both small motels in Cambridge were filled - with all the road construction workers that I'd been encountering for the last 100 miles!
So head west on ID 71, a narrow lightly traveled road into the Hell's Canyon wilds. It's hot, dry, and lonely! An amazing sight was to behold as I was negotiating an extremely tight hairpin curve just as the Snake River was coming into sight. With a cliff to my right, and a precipitous drop off to my left, I came around the curve at about 15-mph to see a Bighorn Sheep running right at me in my lane! The sheep had nowhere else to go, unless he could climb a vertical cliff (which they basically can). We passed with a quick hello and each went our own way.
Luck was with me and in the tiny town of Halfway, Oregon an hour later, as darkness was settling in, I got the last room in a small motel.
I crossed Chinook Pass, at about 5,400 feet elevation, and incredibly there was snow all around me even at that relatively low elevation. The massive snow fall last winter is still nowhere near melting yet, and the local peaks, of only about 7,000 feet, were snow covered as of late July!
I rest my case!!
Mt. Rainier National Park was beyond beautiful and breathtaking. I'm so happy and grateful that we as a nation have been intelligent and caring enough to set aside these irreplaceable natural treasures for all people and for all generations.
On to the huge Seattle metropolitan area. From Olympia on the south to Everett on the north, the Seattle area is very large and its highways as crowded and intimidating as any in southern California or Chicago.
Not knowing the local regs, I avoided the high speed multi-passenger vehicles lane for the first couple miles on I-405. The 'slow' lanes were stop and go, while the special lane was moving rapidly. After seeing a few motorcycles in that lane I quickly followed suit and my average speed immediately went from about 5-mph to 60!
I had a marvelous dinner with family members that I haven't seen in many years, and went to meet my wife and daughter who had flown into SeaTac that day. I left my bike at a local H-D dealer for lube changes and some other minor maintenance, and they were kind enough to hold it for me for a week.
After a week together wife and child flew back home and I resumed my journey. I went north to Everett and got on US-2. It would be my travel host all the way back to Michigan. US2 has always been one of my favorite roads. I love the lore of cross-continent routes and have traveled most of many of these highways across the country (U.S. 6, 20, 40, 50, and 2). I'd been end to end on 2 in a car, and most of the way on a bike before this, but after this trip I've been end-to-end on US 2 on a motorcycle also. It's a cool road, with lots of history and scenery along the way.
I detoured through Glacier National Park again - taking the Going To The Sun Road up and over the park mountains. Because of road construction on that road, and the much higher level of snow melt runoff, the road was very rough and even muddy in long stretches. Very nerve racking. Lots of white knuckle tight curves with water splashing on me and slick mud beneath. I assume it's going to be a many year project resurfacing this road - I can't imagine a more technically and logistically difficult road to work on in the entire continent!
Lots of snow left from last winter resulting in waterfalls cascading down mountain slopes everywhere a person happened to look (when not focused on a car trying to squeeze by on one side and a thousand foot drop on the other, slip sliding in the mud!)
US route 89 east of Glacier is one of my favorite roads - though I've ridden it only twice.
Gassing up in Browning, I headed east again on route 2, and immediately the mountains are behind you, and the great high Plains extend ahead for hundreds of miles.
It was considerably cooler on the way east. The incredible heat covering much of the country had eased its way south a bit and the northern tier of states were pleasantly cool - all the way from Washington to Michigan.
My worst surprise of the entire trip was in northwest North Dakota - specifically that area around Williston, ND. A few years ago black gold, aka crude oil, was discovered in very large quantities in NW ND. For a hundred miles one cannot look in any direction without seeing a drilling rig at work, and existing wells and tank batteries on pretty much every forty acre parcel. The last time I rode through there, in 2004, it was 'normal' North Dakota countryside. Now it is a bustling place that is hard to believe. Thousands of large tanker and chemical trucks ply the roads - all roads - large and small. Access roads have been carved across the countryside to gain access to drilling sites and production facilities. Warehouses and every kind of support facility imaginable line US 2 for miles. The highway is dirt covered and rough with 'troughs' dug into the asphalt from the heavy trucks. Williston itself is a nightmare. I couldn't wait to get through the town and the entire area. Without question Williston has to be the epicenter of crude oil exploration in North America right now.
But inexorably I headed east on 2 - across ND, MN and finally Wisconsin. Upon hitting the Michigan border I headed along the Lake Superior shoreline, visiting beautiful Porcupine Mountains State Park, riding up M-107 to stunning Lake of the Clouds.
The weather was gorgeous that day and my spirits were high as I traveled through eastern MN, across the tip of Wisconsin, and much of the western U.P.
My final day threw the first real rain at me in ten days of riding. It was off and on, but unfortunately it was on in a big way as I crossed the Mighty Mac Bridge. I've ridden across the magnificent Mackinac Bridge dozens of times on a motorcycle and love it! This was the first day I rode across during heavy rain and high wind, however. And because the outer concrete lanes were closed for maintenance, I had to ride on the very slick iron grating of the center lane. My motorcycle did not like that!! Whether due to a combination of tire size, tread pattern, frame and suspension geometry, or whatever, my Road King was frightfully squirrelly as it slipped and slid across the slick metal grating. For the first time in my life I was thrilled to reach the opposite shore.
The rain quit a half-hour later and I rode down I-75 in comfort. It was hard to accept that this amazing journey was actually coming to an end - that the next morning I wouldn't be getting on the bike again and riding through marvelous scenery down wonderful roads, listening to the music of the bike as the pipes resonate with an impossible to describe sound that is among the loveliest music on the planet.
5,364 miles - some hot and tiring, some indescribably wonderful - but all of them now burned into my memory. I've been able to explore America on two wheels for nearly forty years and I've seen things and met people who have enriched my life immeasurably. And for that I truly am a fortunate man!
Did I mention that I love motorcycling?