Monday, May 16, 2011

Motorcycling - Redding to Eugene

Eugene, Oregon

Some thoughts: I'm only a few days away from  returning to Homer, my home for the past 28 years. Yet, exactly where my actual home is these days is a continuing mystery. I have another life of sorts in Thailand. I have 28 years and many friends in Homer, in Alaska. But is it time to leave the Great Land in favor of someplace warmer, sunnier, easier to get to and out of? All my relatives are in the lower 48, and I'm finished with winters. Logic says I must leave Alaska. But where would I go?  Bothersome questions, and questions without answers, at least for the present.

The narrative resumes: The last leg of the motorcycle tour brings me back to my starting place, my son Tuli's home in Eugene. As always, I try whenever possible to avoid using the Interstate highways. They're boring and at the same time, dangerous for motorcycles. So I opted to take the scenic route back to Eugene, north and west on California Rte 299 to the coast, north along the Pacific shore on U.S. Rte 101, then a quick run east on Oregon Rte 126 from Florence to Eugene. Much longer but much more scenic. I had purchased a new front tire in Redding and consequently wasn't as  concerned about hitting wet roads as I had been -- I was feeling confident and up for the challenge. In addition, I was coming off of three days rest so my body was saying "no problem", it will be a great last ride before battening the bike down for the summer.

True to its promise California 299 was a hoot, offering great curves, smooth pavement and pretty views. The road runs alongside the Trinity River after crossing the height of land -- it's awesome highway and gorgeous scenery all the way to the coast.

Trinity River -- CA Route 299
The coast. The north Pacific coast. Damn it! It sure got chilly all of a sudden. I felt the change in temperature as soon as I sighted the ocean. And I had about 200 miles of coast road to cover before turning east. I stopped in Trinidad for coffee and clam chowder and to get warm. While I was in there I changed into my long johns, long-sleeved wind shirt, again added the fleece liner to my Kilimanjaro jacket and otherwise prepared myself for the cold. When I resumed my travels I felt fairly comfortable and I took my time running along the Redwoods Highway. I'd visited here a few years ago when I had made this very same trip in a rental car. However, the redwoods are always a special treat. How could we have cut most of them down and made them into decks and lawn chairs? An incredibly stupid waste.

In the redwoods

Elk grazing in Prairie Redwoods Park
By the time I got to Gold Beach the wind was blowing fiercely. A headwind of course. How can it be, I asked myself, that I always get headwinds, and never a tail wind? I've traveled north, I've traveled south, and east, and west, and never have I had a sustained tail wind. The wind died down after a while but I had lost enough heat while fighting it off that a warming stop, preferably over a hot cup of coffee, was what I wanted most now. I passed through town after town but I found no coffee shop, restaurant, or even a greasy spoon that was open, or so it seemed. I finally did spot a drive thru espresso shop in Bandon that was doing a brisk business. I pulled over and ordered a big latte. Clutching the cup with both hands I took my coffee over alongside a nearby supermarket and jumped up on the bags of mulch that were stacked in its lee, there to soak up some precious warmth from the sun's last rays.

Oregon coast - U.S. 101 - 208 miles traveled, 195 to Florence
Florence is but a hop skip and a jump from Bandon and before long I had covered the 70 or so miles on Rte 126 and was back in Eugene. I parked the bike, unloaded my stuff and sat down to some supper with Tuli, Shannon and Harper. Full circle. Walking upright, and safely back. A small miracle I suppose.

Trip stats: Tuesday, May 11th (my brother's birthday) 469 miles -- 8:46 ride time -- 11:02 total time. This is the most mileage I've ever accrued in a single day on a bike. And the longest time in the saddle.

After I had been back a few days, I found myself wondering again what I should do about the bike. My original idea had been to keep it here in Eugene and ride in the fall and spring, on my way to and from Thailand. And while this trip has been quite an experience I do not relish the thought of driving three or four days just to get back to southern Utah. Throw in a week or three of bad weather, a few days of gale force winds, some ghastly American road food and expensive motels, and Thailand is looking more and more like the best place to own and ride a motorcycle. Add to that the fact that I really can't afford financially to travel like this (staying in American motels and eating restaurant food) and the question becomes, why did I buy a bike here in the states in the first place?

I reckon it had to do with my assumption that motorcycling here would be essentially the same as motorcycling in Thailand. I've never entertained the notion of owning a bike in Alaska. Why? The climate is too damn cold. And this trip, here in the "mellow" lower 48, was a cold, windy one. Carrying enough clothing to meet every situation you might encounter in the springtime means carrying a massive amount of gear. Contrast that with Thailand winters where weather is rarely a factor, the winds light or calm, accommodations inexpensive, the food delicious, and cheap to boot.

And too, the distances one needs to cover between the fun motorcycling roads are vast here in the states. Example: the trip from Needles to Tucson was a tough one, 352 miles, brutal miles on I-10, that were not very scenic. We had a 3-day interlude in Tucson before driving another 93 miles on I-10 until we got into good roads again on the way to Silver City. So was it 500 miles between Needles and the next "good road"? No, not quite. Actually, the last good road before Needles was in Death Valley, 196 miles back. We drove roughly 700 difficult miles to get from one good motorcycling road to the next. Sort of crazy, eh? Or maybe I'm just soft. Not cut out to be an American long distance biker. At any rate, after much soul searching, flip-flopping and gnashing of teeth, I've decided to sell my bike; the same bike I spent so much time researching, so much time looking for and so much time driving last month.

The VStrom is an awesome motorcycle and I hate having to sell it. While I wish I could own two bikes of this caliber, one here and one there, I simply can't afford to do that. A choice must be made. I've looked into importing a bike into Thailand but everyone says that process is fraught with difficulties. The DL650 would eat up those Thailand hills, even riding 2-up and carrying all of Nut's and my gear. If I can sell this machine for about what I paid, I will turn around and start looking for a similar motorcycle in Thailand.

All dressed up and no place to go


I'm not sure when I'll write again. It will be early spring in Homer when I get there. The pushkii will be just showing, the French Open will be playing on TV and my partners may or may not have work for me. I'll do a little salmon fishing, ride my bike, and play some tennis. Before long it'll be time to head overseas again, back to Thailand and back to Nut, my BTGF. I have tentative plans to visit Nepal next fall.  And then too, my buddy Joe is back in Fiji running the dive school at the Manta Ray Resort in the Yasawa Islands so a visit there could just possibly be in the cards. A return to Fiji would really be going full circle because that's where all this wanderlust began. Stay tuned if you wish....

Motorcycling from Ely, NV to Redding, CA

Eugene, Oregon

I've come full circle and I'm back in Eugene as I write this post. My long anticipated motorcycle trip is over and I'm glad to be back safe and sound after traveling more than 4600 miles over the past few weeks. The weather was a constant hassle and surprisingly, the sheer geographical size of the United States was too. I'll explain that a little more as I go. But first I need to tie up a few loose ends before closing this portion of my blog, the journal of my motorcycle trip through the American southwest.

I left Panguitch, Utah, on my way to Ely, Nevada on May 5th. I took Rte 89 north to Utah 20 and hung a left to Beaver. From there I rode Utah Rte 21 west all the way to the junction with Nevada Rte 487 which skirts Great Basin National Park. I detoured into the park and took a short ride on a park road up to about the 8,000 foot level before it terminated in a snow berm. Even though the air was decidedly cool at that altitude, it was a pleasant day with the heady fragrance of fir trees wafting in the light breeze.

Great Basin N.P.

Jeff Davis Peak - Great Basin N.P.
From the park it was only a short jaunt into Ely. Trip stats: 250 miles (including the side trip to Great Basin) -- 4 hours moving -- 83 mph max speed -- 6 hours total time.

In Ely I again stayed in a small motel. I first stopped at a few chain motel offices to inquire about rooms and prices and learned that the going rate in this town was around $70/night. The place I ended up staying, the Great Basin Inn, was cheaper at $50 and nicer too. The exterior wasn't much to look at but it had old fashioned doilys adorning the end tables and lace curtains backing the venetian window blinds. The huge bathroom was tiled with those white octagonal tiles that were popular back in the 40s and 50s. I liked it just fine.

There wasn't much going on in Ely except gambling. I pushed on to Winnemucca the next day. I was expecting to face a long trek through the dessicated and barren northern Nevada desert. If my past experiences were any guide, there would likely be headwinds as well. Instead, and to my great surprise, the desert was green and there were even flowers, great masses of flowers, in some areas. The first part of that trip was over U.S. 50, aptly nicknamed "The Nation's Loneliest Highway". It was definitely that. With its open spaces, huge magnificent vistas, few towns, and no traffic to speak of, it lived up to its namesake. Because it had been a warm morning I was able to get an early start --  before the wind could build to any velocity -- so the ride west was easy. Just outside of Austin I turned north on Nevada 305. Again I was pleased to see green fields and rafts of flowers here and there. I stopped for lunch at a stone house ruin, pictured below.

Lunch stop along NV Route 305

Lunch stop along NV Route 305

VStrom in the sagebrush -- NV Route 305
I stayed at the Town House Motel in Winnemucca. Another nice place, run by the owners, neat as a pin inside and conveniently located just off the main drag - about $60 for the night. Ride stats: 322 miles -- 5:18 ride time -- 6:56 total time.

I had always intended to end my tour with a visit to eastern Oregon. But the goddamn weather simply would not cooperate. As I've mentioned earlier, the forecasts for all of eastern Oregon had rain, cold temps, and even snow in them for the next few days. It was either wait it out in Winnemucca (no thanks) or call it quits and head back to California where the weather was decent and where I had friends to stay with.  My trip log follows:

May 7, 2011: Winnemucca, NV to Redding, CA: 395 miles -- 6:40 ride time -- 85 mph max speed -- 8:50 total time -- a long day but not too uncomfortable -- a  testimony to the riding characteristics of the VStrom.

The rides were unpleasant, and boring, heading west on I-80 (163 miles) and north on US 395. I-80 was head-windy by late morning and it was very windy and gusty on 395 until I reached Susanville. The roads from Susanville to Redding were awesome (retraced my route from Chester to Shingletown) although I was racing the rain as I fled out of the mountains. I had to stop to don my fleece liner and rain pants near Lassen when it got chilly at higher altitudes. I hit a bit of rain in Manton and was worried because my front tire was almost treadless now. I managed to escape the rain when I turned west on Oregon Rte 44 at Shingletown. Arrived Redding in good spirits, staying just ahead of the rain. The weather report indicates a break in Eugene's persistent nastiness on Tuesday. Hmmmm.... It took three days to get out of Eugene and from the looks of the forecast, it was going to take three days to get back.

I stayed again with my Homer expat friends Kay and Bruce. Kay and I played some tennis on two of those days and I did better than when I was here a few weeks ago. I reckon I won't have to give up tennis right away. I can still hit the ball and if I can manage to lose a few of the pounds I picked up during the past month of extreme non-aerobic activity, I might even do alright this summer ;-))

Bruce and Kay at their home in Redding
Soon it came time to pack up for my trip to Eugene -- the last leg of the "big tour". When I arrived in Redding I joked with Kay and Bruce that I was thinking of selling the bike. The trip had been fun, and exciting even, but overall I had to rate it as not as much fun as motorcycling in Thailand. As the days passed I found myself thinking more and more about that. We gossiped about Homer, I cooked some Thai food for an appreciative audience, Bruce took me for a ride in his Corvette, Kay and I played some tennis -- but in the back of my mind that thought had taken root and lodged itself firmly.

Motorcycling through southern Utah

Winnemucca, Nevada

I know I've said it before; that this or that particular highway is the most spectacular, the prettiest, (or the curviest, the most enjoyable on a bike), but Utah Route 12 takes the cake. Fantastic scenery everywhere you look, many nice curves, amazing vistas, stunning colors, massive geological displays -- it has it all. Someone was telling me it's one of the top 10 motorcycling roads in the country and now, after experiencing it for myself, I can totally agree with that assessment. I'm in Winnemucca, Nevada, and in position to run up into southeastern Oregon tomorrow, to stay at a hot springs a fellow Dull Men's Club member, name of Kevin, recommended but once again the Oregon weather has snubbed me. In the forecast: rain, rain, and then later, possibly some snow!

Snow! What a bummer. I'm reading, and hearing from random people I've run into over the past few days, about how awful this spring has been for so many people, for so many communities. All I can say is, I've been there and experienced the bad weather first hand. Motorcycling during a threat of snow is bad business, dangerous business.



I left Capitol Reef at about 9:15 on a nice, but cool, morning. I had camped in my tent that night and, although it wasn't a particularly cold night, I didn't sleep well. I can't figure out what's going on with me and tent camping but for now at least, it seems I simply cannot sleep in one. On this night, I had put the rain fly over the tent in a move to keep it warmer, put all my warmest clothing in it too, including the heavy fleece liner from my motorcycling jacket, in a bid to beat the chill.  You can see the tent site again (repost of that photo) in the photo above. Wunderground weather later informed me it never got down to lower than 50 degrees that night. Still, I didn't get much sleep.

Oh well, off I went, groggy and in need of a cuppa. Dressed for a cool ride I headed back into Torrey where I got that much needed chance to stop for coffee and get online with the free wi-fi in a little cafe at the junction of Utah Routes 12 and 24. The plan was to do a slow, casual tour along Utah Rte 12 visiting the Burr Trail and Bryce Canyon N.P. The trip along Rte 12 was possibly the best motorcycling I've ever experienced and the little side trip along the Burr Trail out of the little town of Boulder was special beyond that. Donna had told me not to miss it and I'm glad I took her advice.

View south from Utah Route 12 - chilly at 9000 ft above sea level
Along Utah Route 12

The Burr Trail is mostly within Capitol Reef National Park. It's a paved road that meanders through a fantastical, lovely red-rock canyon. It's early spring in these photos so the cottonwoods are just unfurling their leaves.

My VStrom on the Burr Trail

Burr Trail dry creek
 
Burr Trail cottonwoods

Burr Trail cottonwoods
After the Burr Trail and Capitol Reef N.P., Bryce Canyon was something of an anticlimax. Sure, it was pretty and offered some great long distance views but it's a popular park and the overlooks were crowded with tourists. Give me the peace and quiet of off-the-beaten-path places like the Burr Trail any day.

Bryce Canyon National Park
I arrived in Panguich (Paiute for "big fish") shortly after leaving Bryce and turned in to a little motel on Route 89 on the east side of town. By this time I was in need of a shower and a real bed. I opted to stay at the locally owned Purple Sage motel. It was a nice place, furnished more like a home than a standard motel and at $49/night, affordable too. Stats for the day: 230 miles -- 72.6 mph max speed -- 5:19 total time moving. I encountered blustery winds a couple of times but overall the biking was pretty nice, a welcome change from the norm for this trip. And the scenery? Fantastic!

It was gonna be another chill night so I made no effort to get up early. Had a cup or two of terrible dishwater-blend coffee and plain toast that cost me more that $4 in a local greasy spoon before heading west to Ely, Nevada, my next stop.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Motorcycling - from Bluff, Utah to Capitol Reef N.P.

Panguich, Utah

I made it here to Panguitch late yesterday afternoon after another great day (2 in a row) of motorcycling. Southern Utah has to be one of the prettiest places I've ever been. I'm going to skip over the trip from Show Low to Bluff because again, it was one of those I'd rather forget-- it was basically a slog through a cold day with a ton of wind buffeting the bike almost continuously. We got up early and found that the temperature was only 29 degrees. Ooops, I reckon there's no need to leave right away. We had coffee, looked at Google Maps and the weather north of Show Low trying to come up with a plan and a destination that would avoid the cold weather that continued to plague us. Finally we decided to head to Bluff or maybe even Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, if the day proved favorable. With that in mind we set off heading north through Navajo country on Arizona Rte 77.

By the time we got to Bluff it was late afternoon. It had been a hard day on the bike (252 miles in 5 hours in the saddle) but the evening here in Bluff was shaping up nicely with blue skies overhead and a temperature of about 70 degrees. I was all for stopping but Donna was feeling the draw of her home and husband in Sacramento and wanted to press on to Torrey another 2-3 hours away. I told her to go on ahead. I was finished for the day. I wanted nothing more than to get some chow and pack it in. We had talked about splitting up at some point so I could do some camping. And now that we had finally reached our elusive goal of southern Utah, I was really wanting to take my time. It was great traveling with Donna but our pace on the road is slightly different. She likes to rip along at speed whereas I like to dawdle. Part of the reason for that is my inexperience, part is that my bike isn't as well suited as her Bandit for racing along on these big western straightaways. Nothing but kudus go to Donna - she frequently reminds me "always do your own ride. Don't do anything that you are uncomfortable doing. I'll be waiting up ahead." I'm grateful for that and for her vast storehouse of knowledge about biking in the southwest. She made it an exciting and interesting trip through some of the nicest territory on the planet. I owe her many thanks.

Donna refers to me a "returning rider" because once upon a time I had a bike, a 4-cylinder Honda CB750. But I never drove it on roads like these and I didn't fully understand the mechanics of driving a motorcycle back in 1975. It was fast, sure, and I had a good time with it but touring like we're doing is fairly new to me. My travels in Thailand taught me a few basics and reminded me of the joy of being out on the open road on a bike but the reality of my situation is that I need to go slow while gaining mileage, and experience. I had a few close calls in Thailand -- curves in which I went in too hot and had to drift into the opposite lane halfway through. Luckily traffic was always light and our speeds low -- nothing bad happened. But here in this open country I'm cruising at speeds the old Phantom can't even get to let alone maintain.

So it was that the time came to say goodbye to my traveling companion for the past two weeks. Donna made for Torrey and I looked around for a place to camp. I ended up in a little RV campground right in town. I set up my tiny 3 lb backpacking tent, distributed my gear inside it and then walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

It was a fitful night. It got down to 39 degrees and I didn't sleep well. I was chilly despite the fact that I was wearing everything I had with me. I never had trouble sleeping in a tent before -- I guess I've gotten too soft, too used to a big bed with a warm girlfriend beside me. Plus, the dry air irritates my nose and gave me a headache, neither of which helped my sleep situation. Along about dawn I did catch a couple of winks because when I woke it was 8:30 and the air had warmed up some. I walked over to the Comb Ridge Coffeehouse for breakfast. Had a very good quad latte, very unusual in these parts, and a helping of blue corn pancakes. Afterward I packed up and headed off to Capitol Reef National Park. The roads Donna suggested were fabulous and the day a fine one, at last.

Scene along U.S 163 just west of Bluff

Donna had suggested taking a road called the Moki Dugway (Utah Rte 261) even though I had to go out of my way a bit to do it. I went and I'm glad I did. It starts with a switchback gravel road that climbs up onto a plateau. Fortunately, the switchback turns are paved. I would never have driven it were that not the case.

The Moki Dugway
The plateau above was nice road and good riding. And totally without traffic.

Utah Route 261
After Rte 261 I turned onto Arizona Rte 95, perhaps the most scenic highway I've ever driven on. I include in that comparison one my favorite roads from Alaska, the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward. Beautiful surely, but different. Here the colors are vivid and varied, the rock exposed and weathered, the vistas practically endless, the sky overhead a brilliant blue.

Along the highway - Utah Rte 95
I don't have a lot of pics of 95 - my jaw was hanging open and I just couldn't decide which scenes could best communicate my sense of wonder at what I was seeing. I'd run up over a rise in the highway and when the view ahead opened up I'd say to myself, wow, wow, this is what it's all about. I took a break at a coffee shop in Hanksville and then turned west onto Utah Rte 24 and Capitol Reef N.P. The wind on 95 had been very moderate, almost not noticeable, but now a strong headwind battered me once again. But the roadside scenes were sublime and the sun full out making the colors jump out at me. I just slowed down to 45-50 mph and took it easy. Before long I found I was entering the park. The road runs along the Fremont River. I stopped to take a couple of photos.

Fremont River - Capitol Reef National Park
Fremont River - Capitol Reef National Park
I arrived at the campground soon afterward and asked what the prediction was for the night's low. The campground host said they were calling for about 40 degrees. I decided to stay but this time I'd go ahead and use the rain fly. Not for rain, because it seldom rains here, but to add a few degrees of warmth. Last night I foolishly left it off thinking I'd be warm enough. Wrong! I drove into nearby Torrey for supper, bought a Caesar chicken wrap and a couple of beers. I took this photo on the way there. You can see the highway to the right side of the photo.

Utah Rte 24 - Capitol Reef N.P.
After supper, and after writing in my journal, chatting with my neighbors, and finishing my setup work for the night I hit the sack. As it turned out, it never got below about 50 degrees that night. How do I know? I was awake most of the night even though I was plenty warm. Go figure.

My tent in Capitol Reef N.P. just before sundown
The ride to Panguitch along Utah Rte 12 was, once again, utterly spectacular. The day started out chilly but it soon warmed up and the biking was excellent. I'm out of time this morning so I can't write about it now but I'll try to get to it tonight. I'm headed to Ely, Nevada today where I'll again spend the night in a motel. This trip is coming to an end. Next day I'll bolt through Nevada to Winnemucca and then turn north into eastern Oregon. In a few days I'll be back in Eugene

Monday, May 2, 2011

A bad day for motorcycling

Show Low, Arizona


We left Truth or Consequences early yesterday morning after spending three fun days with Dave and Annie. Alas, all good things must come to an end so we somewhat reluctantly packed up, dressed for the chilly morning air and took off heading north to Gallup, NM, by way of U.S. Rte 60 from Socorro, through Magdalena, to Quemado and NM Rte 36 to Gallup. Our goal was to get within attack distance of those parks we had missed by going south to Tucson in last week's big cold snap. But almost as soon as we got up to highway speed Donna signaled me to pull over -- she was wanting another layer to help fight off the morning chill.

We wanted to stay off I-25 and ride Arizona Rte 181 to Socorro but after only a few miles 181 dead-ended and we were forced onto the super slab once again. The 70 mile ride on I-25 to the junction of US 60 was totally miserable. Strong cross winds, cold and gusty, assaulted us the whole way. The sun was out but didn't provide much in the way of heat. As we raced along at 75 mph virtually alone on the big highway I was watching the miles click off ever so slowly, slowly on my GPS when my thoughts turned to motorcycling in Thailand. In Thailand the weather is never a factor. You don't have to carry cold weather gear or even rain gear for much of the "winter" over there. Pretty easy. Today I'm carrying enough clothing for at least three separate climates: rainy Oregon, sun-baked Tucson, and these frigid Rocky Mountains. And it's May 1st! Why the hell isn't spring already here?

Finally we got free of I-25 and began our trek west on US 60, a nice, scenic highway even though a bit too straight for fun biking. We stopped in Magdalena for coffee and to add extra warm clothes to the mix. We ate breakfast at the Bear Mountain Coffee Shop in Magdalena -- wonderful homey atmosphere and honest-to-god homemade pies and biscuits.  Before mounting up I put on my heavy gauntlet gloves, wind pants and an extra polypro shirt while Donna put on her heated gloves and jacket.

We filled up at the local Conoco station and began a discussion of just where we were heading because rather than warming up, the day was still decidedly cool, er, cold. Magdalena, and the rest of our intended route for that matter, is at about 6000 feet above sea level; the temperature was only about 50 degrees at  11 o'clock. Then too, we noticed what looked like storm clouds building in the north. Were we really going to turn north to Gallup when we were both feeling chilly already? Nope. We decided to bail. Donna was familiar with Show Low from many previous trips through here so we decided to head that-a-way and wait for the cold to moderate; we continued driving west on 60 until we got to Show Low at about 4 pm. We hit the room and immediately cranked the heater up to 75. But once again we had been forced to ditch our plans. Once again the weather had screwed us royally.

US 60 near Show Low Arizona on a cold May Day afternoon
Today dawned clear and cold. Very cold. It was a bracing 29 degrees at 6 am this morning. To make matters worse, my grip heaters are not working. Quick checks of fuses and connections turned up nothing. Oh well, I'll just have to mark it up as an interesting experience, this springtime motorcycling in the Rocky Mountains. Yep, sure.

The forecasts for later today and tomorrow are promising much warmer weather. St. George, Torrey, and Bluff, all in southern Utah, should have temps in the high 70s or low 80s by tomorrow. All we have to do is get through this chilly morning before suiting up and heading north. I'm starting to believe that old adage: the third time's the charm. It took three tries to get out of Eugene and if we're lucky, this third attempt to get into Utah will be the one that works.

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