Sunday, May 1, 2011

Motorcycling: Eugene to New Mexico

New Mexico highway near T or C

Truth or Consequences, NM

I've had trouble motivating myself to blog lately. We've been riding hard and I have had little time to write. So this is a catch up entry. I've traveled many miles, about 2700 of them, since leaving Eugene. I visited Kay and Bruce, old Homer tennis friends, in Redding California and then traveled to Sacramento to meet with Donna for the major part of the tour. The ride to Kay's was tricky because of the horrible weather in Eugene and eastern Oregon. I waited several days for the Oregon weather to clear after my ride to Cottage Grove. I actually tried to leave Eugene one day and didn't get 5 miles before the rain came pelting down. The day's forecast had mentioned only occasional showers and a tenth of an inch of rain so I pulled off the highway, parked at a service station that had a roofed pump area and began what I hoped would be a short wait for the rain to quit. After four hours I gave up and returned to Tuli's.

I got up early the next morning and stuck my head outside for a look at the weather. Overhead, rather than the dark gray I'd become accustomed to, the Oregon sky was only partly cloudy. I quickly packed, made my hurried goodbyes to Harper and family and then flew out the door before the weather could turn ugly again. At last I was on my way south.

Dressed for the weather, I'm anxious to get going!
I wanted to stay away from I-5 so I chose to go over the 5200 foot Willamette Pass on Oregon Rte 58 to join US 97 just north of Klamath Falls. From there I'd head down 97 to Weed, California and do the last 80 or so miles to Redding on the Interstate. My idea in climbing over the pass was to get out of the nasty coastal weather that was afflicting Eugene and into what I hoped would be warmer, sunnier weather on the other side. I was in good spirits as I approached the foot of the pass about an hour out of Eugene. There I saw a sign that warned "Be alert for ice on the highway!"

Great, I thought. I've escaped the god damned rain only to be turned back by icy roads. Do I now go back to I-5 and waste two valuable hours of daylight, or should I chance going on and hitting ice? I decided to push on rationalizing my decision by telling myself I will go slowly, slowly and at the very first suggestion of ice on the road, I will immediately turn back. The road began its slow climb out up into the forest up into higher country. I proceeded cautiously, gingerly. I carry a small thermometer and with it I checked the temperature -- 42 degrees. No problem, yet. I made several more stops to check the temperature, and the pavement, and despite a brief period of light showers I never saw real rain or any sign of ice except for snow berms left from the winter's plowing. But I was nervous as a cat watching birds at a feeder all the way to the top.

Oregon 58 to Willamette Pass
Sure enough, the weather improved after I crested the pass. It stayed cool but at least it was dry. Those heated grips came in handy too as I was pushing 70 mph over the smooth sunny roads on my way to Klamath Falls. And that's where I hit the first rain -- light at first but after a dozen or so miles, heavy and constant. My First Gear jacket, rain pants and waterproof Joe Rocket boots kept me surprisingly dry as I hurried along in pouring rain to cover the remaining distance to Redding.

I spent two nights in Redding at Bruce and Kay's. Bruce retired from his job on the north slope several years ago and they left Homer a couple of years after that. They sold their big home on the bluff above town and had a beautiful place built down here. We had a good time gossiping about Homer and Homeroids. Their newest possession is a 2008 Corvette. Sheesh! What a car! I told Bruce I had always wanted to own a Corvette. He replied, "Me too. So I went out and bought one!" Kay and I even got out to get in a bit of tennis. I won't bore you with the results of the two sets we played because, well, just because.

After a truly wonderful visit I left Redding on a bright sunny morning. Again, I avoided the most direct route to Sacramento on I-5 by driving east toward Lassen Park. I had intended to tour the park but about half way there a sign informed me that the park was closed. Spring comes late to the high country - the roads were still blocked by snow. I detoured south from Shingletown and hit some nice roads. California Routes 36, 89, and especially Rte 70 along the Feather River, offered lovely views, nice curves, and smooth sailing.

Along the Feather River on CA Rte 70
I arrived safely at Donna's in Sacramento after a very enjoyable ride. Rides like the one I had along the Feather River are the reason I bought the bike and the reason I'm traveling this way. The distance traveled via my route between Eugene and Redding was approximately 329 miles, the ride to Sacramento 316 miles. The VStrom with its high profile and upright seating provided a very comfortable ride on these two trips, by far the longest I'd made on a motorcycle up to then.

Donna was having some sort of problem with her bike that delayed our departure for a couple of days. The problem turned out to be a minor one, very minor, ahem. (You can read about it in Donna's blog.) But finally we did make our break. Perhaps the best way to get from her place to where we were heading would have been to go through Yosemite Park, a park I've never visited and one that's on my list of places I want to visit someday, but like Lassen it was still closed to through traffic. We went the long way around and after a strenuous day that covered 450 miles (breaking my distance record again), on some truly gorgeous California roads, US Rte 395 and California Routes 120,  168 and 266, we arrived pretty beat up in Beatty, Nevada. We hit cold weather and even a few snow flakes near Mono Lake. Donna wore her heated vest and gloves to fight the chill.

Views above (and below) from Rte 395 near Mono Lake

It was warm in Beatty. Unfortunately, all of our intended destinations in southern Utah, St George, Torrey, Cedar Breaks, Arches NP, were having terrible weather -- cold, very cold temperatures and even some snow in their short-term forecasts. We decided to change our route and head south to Tucson where we could wait out the chilly weather. That meant a longish ride (325 miles) to Needles, California next day. Beatty is near Death Valley and since I had never been there, we first took a short detour through the park on CA 178.

Two Sukukis touring Death Valley

Gas prices in the Valley were atrocious -- the highest I'd ever seen in the states. Since I posted this photo on Facebook I've heard from friends living overseas and they tell me, no worries. Petrol costs more there than in Death Valley. Perhaps if gas cost this much in the rest of the U.S. people like me wouldn't waste as much fuel as we do. But Americans can justify almost anything, don't ya know?

The riding in the Valley was sublime. We had made an early start and the temperature was quite fine for riding when we went through even though the sun bore down pretty hard. Massive vistas, stark and colorful, were the order of the day.

Next day was a hard slog. We went from Needles to Tucson on a hot and very windy day, much of it on Interstate 10. We later learned that the wind was gusting to 45 mph on the super slab. This is no fun on a motorcycle especially if you throw into the mix of high speed traffic countless big semis buffeting your bike with powerful, turbulent wakes both fore and aft. My bike is high and I'm tall so my wind profile is especially troublesome in such conditions. I hate riding the Interstates, especially because even when maintaining the 75 mph speed limit my 650 cc motor is spinning at an astounding 6000 RPM. One thing I learned on this leg is that for extended cruising on fast highways, the wee-Strom is literally screaming along at what, to my mind and ears at least, is an uncomfortable pitch. Donna's Suzuki Bandit, OTOH, is loafing along at about 4K at 80 MPH with its monster 1200 cc engine barely breaking a sweat. Perhaps there is a 4-cylinder cruiser in my future. We persevered though and after  a voyage of 352 miles of 7.5 hours duration we finally arrived in Tucson. I was overjoyed to be in Mike & Mimi's back yard sipping a cold Longhammer IPA, recounting my tough day on the super slab.

We were pretty fagged out and considering how much I enjoy spending time with Mike & Mimi (Homer buddy Mako's parents) I called Donna next day and suggested we stay an extra night or two in Tucson. She readily agreed. She was having her own issues resulting from our long rides and was also staying in pleasant surroundings with good friends. I had a most excellent visit with my friends. I slept outside in their cozy backyard all three nights. The weather in Tucson is practically perfect at this time of the year.

Although we hadn't planned to go that far, our next stop would be Silver City, New Mexico. We drove some fantastic highways to get there -- beautiful country, big sky country, with marvelous twisty highways. US Rte 191 north to Alpine was spectacular. Some photos:

U.S. Route 191, Arizona

U.S. Rte 191 - click to enlarge

U.S. Route 191, Arizona
Riding U.S. Route 191, Arizona

It was a long ride to Silver City but when you're seeing roads and country like this the time and the miles pass all too quickly. We covered 390 miles in a little over 7 hours of actual ride time. After a fat lunch at the Bear Wallow in Alpine, we first headed east on Rte 180 which after passing into New Mexico and cresting at 8000 ft above sea level plunged south to Silver City. Another magnificent highway, empty but challenging nonetheless, curvaceous and beautiful -- it was a pleasure to ride.

Longhorn cattle cross Rte 191
While in Silver City I noticed that my rear tire, a 150/70x17 Metzeler Tourance, was worn almost smooth in the center. The previous owner had advertised them as "almost new" in his Craigslist ad but when I questioned him about them later he replied, "They're practically new. I think they only have about 5,000 miles on them." Since then I've learned to my chagrin that the lifetime of a motorcycle tire is shorter than that of a car tire, far shorter.

I called all around Albuquerque, the nearest city of any size, and learned that none of the dealers had my particular size tire in stock. Ordering one and waiting a week for it to arrive simply wasn't an option. Then I called Bear Mountain Motorcycles in Silver City. They had a tire that would serve, a Dunlop K591, in stock. When I asked if they could install it the owner said the shop was actually closed. He was leaving for a short trip later in the morning. I groaned when I heard that. So close and yet so far. He must have heard that groan over the wire. After a short interval of dead air he says to me, "If you can get over here fast I guess I can mount it for you." I hopped on my bike and headed over to 108 College Street pronto. Forty minutes later I was back at the hotel, in time for breakfast and ready to continue my trip with a brand new rear tire. If you're biking in this area and find yourself in need of motorcycle services, please stop at Bear Mountain. You won't be disappointed.

Our trip here to David and Annie's in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was the shortest to date. Only 89 miles of highway separates the two cities but the highway is lovely. Almost before I knew it the clock was chiming beer-thirty in T or C. We drove NM Rte 152 through Kingston and Hillsboro to get here.

Donna takes a turn on Rte 152
We've been here for two days and we're enjoying our visit with these good Homer friends. David just recently took the Alaska plates off his car, exchanging them at last for New Mexico plates. He says they're very happy here and have no plans to move back to Homer. The dry climate is a blessing for Annie's rheumatism and both of them are tanned and looking very healthy and contented. Donna and I had planned to stay only overnight but once again the weather has turned its ugly face toward us and denied us a peaceful trip north. This time, it's high winds. Apparently, they're normal in this part of the U.S. in springtime. Who knew?

We were prepared to slog north today but Annie talked us out of it last night. She convinced us to stay over and wait for the winds to subside. I'm looking outdoors while I write and notice the trees in this sheltered place twisting and bending with its gusts. I can hear the wind howling in the wires too and I'm glad we're not on the road trying to make it into Gallup before nightfall. The forecast is for moderate winds tomorrow. We'll see. The weather has been the consistent bad actor in this little vacation and I won't believe that forecast until it proves true.

New Mexico dry lands near T or C