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June 2011: Cross Country Motorcycle

June 11 2011

Day 33: Last Leg Home

My last day on the road. After 7,575 miles coast-to-coast, today I make my victory ride from Pullman to Sammamish. It feels like I've been gone a very long time!

This is a route that I've driven hundreds of times since I first drove to Pullman to begin college in June of 1973. It feels so familiar and my mind's eye compares it to all my other traversals. My first trip was taken as a high school senior with my buddy Dave Neir, when we borrowed my dad's 1966 Volvo for a college scouting trip to WSU. What an adventure for an 18 year old taking his first long drive.

I liked what I saw at WSU and I made many more Seattle-Pullman trips over the next five years while earning my BS EE degree. This was so much fun that I spent two more years to get a Master's degree, which again meant many more trips along this route.

Here's a photo of me, very excited, as I'm leaving the Willett's house in Pullman. My gear and outfit looks pretty much the same, except with almost 8,000 miles of bugs and such artfully arranged on all my leading edges.

Can I ride under a big farm machine? I've seen lots of machinery on my trip, as a consequence of being off the interstate freeway system. I thought I was done with them now that I'm almost home, but not quite. Here, near a wheat elevator west of Colfax, I see one more giant tractor. It almost seems like I could simply ride under it. Wouldn't he be surprised! But it would be too close for comfort so I choose a wide path around it and pass when it's safe.

In 1978, I married a Pullman girl and since then we drive there a couple times every year to visit. I have many fond memories (with a few not-so-fond snowstorms) of driving along wheat fields and over the mountains to Seattle. If we had perhaps taken pictures of each trip, we'd have a photo essay of our adult life and growing family.

Now, at last, I'm home again after 6 weeks and 8,000 miles, right where I want to be, in the best place in the whole country. Now it's time to collapse!

June 10 2011

Day 32: Montana Mountains to Pullman

Shawna made a(nother) fabulous breakfast and had to leave the B&B in the morning. This map shows the plan for the day: ride north from Darby, MT almost to Missoula and then go over Lolo Pass. Then wander the remote state highway through Idaho to Kooskia and along the Snake River, eventually coming out at Lewiston-Clarkston.

I had a leisurely time packing the motorcycle. It doesn't seem like all my stuff could fit, but it does! And there is room to stash, for example, the riding pants after the day warms up by strapping them onto the back seat.

I got to "enjoy" the highway (de)construction that they're still working on, just north of Darby near the city of Hamilton. They have the same few miles of dirt roads that I "enjoyed" a month ago when I arrived. At least now there are some concrete curbs built, a sure sign that road surface will follow soon.

I love riding the Lewis&Clark valleys up to Lolo Pass, and then down the long winding road to Lewiston. And when I say long, I mean 100 miles of twisty canyons along the Leschi River, followed by 70 miles of gentle canyons for the Clearwater River. Is there such a thing as "too many twisties"? Well, maybe, but only after you've ridden the same stretch a few times, lol.

River levels are astounding. All the rivers since the Missouri River (seen in St Louis) are obviously at very high levels. Today's rivers in Montana and Idaho are astonishingly full of spring snow run-off, and trees and sandbars are covered or washed away. These shrubs are normally high and dry.

I didn't take many pictures today since I rode this route once already a month ago. I rode this route eastward on my way away from home. Today's westbound trip is rather a blur since all I wanted was to reach Pullman on my way home.

June 09 2011

Day 31: Back to Darby's B&B

This is Thursday 6/9 and I'm itching all over to get home. Here's my plan … ride today to that wonderful River Run Retreat B&B in Darby, then tomorrow to Pullman, then at last to home! There are just two problems. First, it's raining and temperatures are in the upper 40s. Second, it's over 500 miles to Darby, Montana.

Is today's ride even possible? My rain gear is good, but nothing will keep you really warm and dry at freeway speeds in these conditions. As much as I'd like to be home, safety is more important. If I get cold, wet or tired then I'm going to pull off and rest.

I woke up at 6am feeling quite refreshed. The fleabag's bed was soft and comfortable, and I never heard any traffic. Which is a bit surprising, since the motel is exactly at the town's only stop sign. Every car, truck and semi screeches to a stop and accelerates away, right outside my door.

It's raining quite steadily; it's a good thing the bike is parked so close to my motel room's door. To save time, I load everything into the Starship Enterprise and scoot off without coffee or breakfast. When you have a long drive ahead, it's good to do some miles before eating breakfast.

On the way out of Broadus, the radar trap police car is still parked in the same place, carefully monitoring and reporting speeds of incoming traffic. On second glance, the same police office is sitting in the same way in the driver's seat. Did he sit there all night, unmoving? Yes! They staffed this car with a mannequin. I circle back for a picture. It would be more correct to call it a womannequin! And to think that Peter almost went over to ask her for directions yesterday, lol.

The ride continued very cold, sometimes wet, but smoothly enough over the continental divide finally arriving at Shawna's bed & breakfast in Darby, MT.

Officer Larry Rose came by Shawna's house. He's the one that wrote a speeding ticket to David Letterman.

June 08 2011

Day 30: A BMW in a Harley-Davidson Town

The plan for today, Wednesday June 8th, is to travel two hours north to the BMW dealer in Sturgis, SD, and install a new mirror. Then proceed westward on a route and hopefully reach Broadus, MT. Here's how it went...

Today is cold, about 54 – 58 degrees and overcast. I dress warmer than usual but it still isn't enough. I stop to put on my armored pants for warmth. I stop again in Rapid City for my first cup of Starbucks coffee in a month just so I can wrap my hands around a hot paper cup. I put on a warmer shirt. It helps, but I will remain chilly for the rest of the day. However, I can't complain about the cold weather after complaining so much about the heat since leaving Virginia.

The new mirror shroud is ready when I arrive. I'm pretty relieved. This is the main broken part of my four-part mirror assembly. They let me use a guest table upstairs to transfer the other three old parts onto the new one. Good news is I brought the BMW service manual. Bad news is that mirror re-assembly is not covered. Good news is that I find a web page using my iPhone that describes it. Bad news is that it requires a special pry bar tool. Good news is that I'm at a BMW dealer with a full shop. Bad news is they don't lend tools. Good news is that a gruff old parts guy says "hand me that!" and proceeds to pop out the mirror himself. Cool. I can re-assemble everything and mount it on the bike. It works fine but it's not perfect – there was hidden minor damage to two parts, so I will replace them when I get home.

This BMW dealer has the fabulous new K1600 on his showroom floor! This is the replacement for my K1200, and comes with all sorts of incredible technology. It has a six-cylinder engine with 165hp, an electronic cockpit control system, and a gyroscopically-stabilized headlight that stays level and looks into a turn. Fantastic. I don't dare take it for a test drive, even though they offered. I really want one but I just don't see motorcycling as a long-term hobby above all the other fun things I would rather do. I'm actually thinking about selling my beloved K1200 after I get home. (Want to buy? Send me a message!)

"Sturgis" is synonymous with "Harley-Davidson" and their huge annual rally. What's it like with a BMW bike here? I asked the dealership staff about it. This dealer carries Yamaha, Harley-Davidson and BMW motorcycles. He said the H-D marketing is awesome. But its sales are carried by styling and brand loyalty. If a Harley rider takes a test drive on a BMW, they usually switch brands!

I ride through town and park my Starship Enterprise in the big H-D parking lot. I go inside the store wearing my Spaceman Sam outfit (BMW-issue body armor made of ballistic nylon with Kevlar inserts) just to piss them off. Every other customer is wearing black leather, tattoos and a do-rag. Nobody makes eye contact. Their parts department guy is helpful and friendly, and happily sells me a kickstand plate bearing the H-D brand name. I don't tell him how much I like the symbolism of parking my high-tech bike on their logo and grinding it into the dirt. I guess it's true that it's a Harley town for two weeks of the year and just another agricultural backwater the rest of the time.

I ride westward again on I-90 and Hwy 212 from South Dakota, across a thin corner of Wyoming and on into Montana. Life is great! Riding is easy, she hums along happily at 75 mph just keeping up with traffic. This is wide green grassland with occasional cattle. The overcast skies somehow make the grass brilliantly eye-searing vibrantly green. Beautiful.

As I near a small town, I'm catching up to a truck hauling a 4-horse trailer. Something looks strange… As I get closer, I see that all four horses have their heads out the windows, bobbing their heads and opening their mouth wide to catch the wind. It looks like some of them let their big horsey lips flap in the breeze. They look as happy as a puppy dog with his head out the window.


I reached Broadus Montana at 5pm, about as expected. I'm cold and hungry and the bike is thirsty. I see two young bikers at the Conoco station. We talk, and I find they're travelling the country on the cheap, starting in Waterloo Iowa and riding to Bozeman to stay with a friend. They're on day three of a ten-day trip. Their rule is to "never pay for a place to sleep" so they pick secluded spots away from main roads to pitch their tents. Wow, I thought I was being daring by "camping" at KOA most nights. Peter is just out of college, and Derek just finished teaching his first year of high-school algebra and geometry. Nice guys and I buy them dinner at Cashman's Cafe.

The clerk at Conoco recommended a motel for me. She said they're all old but very clean around here. I check in, unload the bike, and walk around town for photos. I found the place I want to retire: the Powder River Senior Center is cleverly placed by the bar & grill.

I update my blog, and write these words, and these, and these, and these, and these…

   

June 07 2011

Day 29: Blow Me Down in South Dakota

I checked out of the fleabag motel in Alliance, Nebraska this morning. Sunny skies and 68 degrees, perfect. Well, almost...

The plan was ride west and a bit north, along famous Highway 20 through Casper Wyoming and hopefully to Idaho Falls. It was to be scenic county roads and state highways, including the "Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway". But alas, it was not to be.

Here is my actual route for the day. After the accident, I backtracked in order to head toward the BMW motorcycle dealer in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Just west of Crawford NE is some wonderful country that looks like the Badlands nearby. This ison Hwy 20 that connects from Yellowstone all the way across the country. Today's weather was nice, not too hot for a change, although the wind had been picking up all along. I pulled off to a scenic overlook to snap a few photos of my sleek motorcycle against the primitive countryside. The winds were strong so I checked the parking position carefully. Yes, lots of weight on the kickstand, and yes, it felt quite stable. But it ended up literally "against the primitive countryside."

Then I took ten steps away and raised the camera to watch a sudden gust slam my baby flat onto her side. Don't believe the usual descriptions where people say that horrible things happen in slow motion; it happened so suddenly and she was instantly down, with the rubber parts straight out sideways and lots of shiny things straight down.

How was I ever going to raise the 800-pound (plus gas and luggage!) bike upright against that strong unrelenting wind?

There was nothing else to do but unload all the gear I could reach so as to lighten the task. Further, everything must be put somewhere that the wind couldn't carry everything away.

So I carefully unload everything I can, placing them in the lee of the wind and stacking heavy things on top of light things. When I'm half done, a Roadtrek camper van pulls up. I make the universal shrug "shit happens" and after a minute an old couple climb out and offers to help. Jack begins looking for solid lift points, while his wife Rae suggests moving their van to provide shelter from the wind. Brilliant idea! With their big van blocking the wind, this suddenly looks doable.

Jack and Rae are a full-time camper van couple. They were married five years ago and travel the country. On this trip, they started near San Francisco and are headed generally east visit relatives. They're in no hurry; they've allowed a month for what could take a week.

Although my bike was laying flat-out horizontal, it was easy to rock it onto the side support panels to a 45-degree position. From there, Jack (whom I suddenly feel is my best friend ever) and I are able to lift back upright onto the kickstand. I hop on; the engine fires up and I jockey it around to face into the wind (although it's too late now, duh) assuming the camper van wasn't blocking it.

I was expecting lots of body damage because it fell onto curb stones, but only one mirror was broken. The scuff pads were scuffed but all the plastic panels are in perfect condition. Thank the FSM!

I tried calling the nearest BMW dealer to ask about parts. They are in Sturgis SD but my AT&T phone fails to connect. Jack tries his phone and he can't reach them either. Must be in a dead zone.

Jack and Rae followed me for the next 40 miles to be sure I was fine. The bike and I were great, but the wind was not done yet.

I want to go due north to Sturgis. The wind wants to go due east. ("A motorcycle leaves Chadron at 10 o'clock going north at 60 mph. A gale leaves Wyoming at 8 o'clock going east at 30-50 mph. How long can the motorcycle remain upright?") The ponds have whitecaps. The wind flattens field grass with a million fingers galloping over hillocks. My motorcycle is leaning hard left to keep a straight line, until a vehicle passes the other direction and I'm suddenly slapped first left then right. The picture shows my average lean angle to maintain lane position on the straight road. My helmet is pushed to the right and I get a crick in my neck; it's as if someone attached a string to the top of my helmet, looped it over a pulley and suspended a weight on it. There is some relief if I lay forward onto the gas tank to hide behind the windscreen, but then it's harder to steer and other muscles ache. It feels so bizarre to negotiate a sweeping curve to the right while still leaning left. This is the most difficult white-knuckle ride of my trip.

I stop for gas in Buffalo Gap near the stomach-turning touristy Hot Springs, SD. The wind is so strong it rocks and twists the huge canopy roof above the Shell station gas pumps. I can see the huge steel upright roof posts flex and pull against their giant mounting bolts. The wind rips open a pump-side towel dispenser and for a moment the air is full of fluttering paper towels. The cloud of towels are gone in an instant of upward fluttering snowflakes. Some other bikers tell me the police have told the truckers (mostly cattle-haulers) to park for the remainder of the day.

I pause for a snack in the lee of the Shell station and via text messaging Juanita confirms the BMW dealer's number. We talk and they can expedite a new chrome mirror into their shop by tomorrow afternoon. Good thing I called!

I reluctantly start on the road northward to Sturgis again, and immediately spot a KOA kampground. Okay, that's it, I can take a hint, I'm done for the day. I'll rest here and finish the ride tomorrow.

June 06 2011

Day 28: Carhenge

I rode today from St. Louis, Illinois to Alliance, Nebraska. Yet another really hot day of riding.

Behold, what's this? I spy with my little eye a red dot on the map labeled Carhenge. I must go see!

June 05 2011

Day 27: Random Facts of St Louis

I spent the night in Drury Inn, east of St Louis. Here are some fun facts about the area that were provided by friends:

East St Louis is one of the most dangerous ghettos in the country. You don't want to spend the night there. It's a good thing I'm actually staying in Fairview Heights.

East St Louis streets and sewers were first laid out by the grandfather of a high school friend, Paul Richards. I hope the layout was not a contributing factor in its ghettoishness!

The online review for this Drury Inn includes a comment by some idiot that "the furniture is nondescript." So what does he expect at a big chain hotel? It is hotel furniture after all.

St Louis area was one of the first settled by the French before the revolution. It includes the first beam and mortar church built in the US, by French Catholics.

Cahokia is the famous site of Woodhenge, which was the huge national center of the prehistoric mesoamerican native city. This predates later tribes by a great deal. The Mississippians all disappeared and no one knows why.

Alton is where Lewis and Clark set off from. I've followed with interest the various L&C sign boards along the first several days of my route. What an amazing and rugged journey they had.

Alton is said to be the single most haunted city in the US. There was a horrible civil war prison (and the war itself of course). After the war, people tore the prison down as a convenient source of building materials. They carried all the stones home to build garden walls and foundations. Many people believe the ghosts went with the stones.

June 04 2011

Day 26: Brutal Heat

I started in Winchester KY (near Louisville) this morning. I might have stayed at Quality Inn another night, as the room layout was so comfy with a kitchenette and mini fridge. But the internet connection was so slow! It took minutes to load the google home page. Download speeds were 0.2 mbps; this is like using old dialup lines on the new internet. Finally in the morning I mentioned it, and the desk clerk gave me a "Telkonet" bridge that connects over the building power wires. It worked okay but still only 2 mpbs. Lesson: It pays to complain.

Morning temps were wonderful at 75F for riding. But every 20 miles the temperature inexorably clicked up another degree. By the time I reached the "Skeeter Mountain" rest area on the Indiana – Illinois border the gauge read 102F. This is just plain hot no matter what you wear or how much water you drink.


I rode on west on I-64. Boring straight highway posted at 70 mph, but it's good to put distance behind me. I didn't take pictures because Indiana and Illinois look the same as always. Lots of trees gradually fading into lots of farmland.


There is no point to staying on the freeway when I'm so hot and tired. When I reached St Louis, I stopped at the first nice hotel I found. This was "Drury Inn Suites". It costs a little more but they offer a ton of neat stuff; first on my list is the free Pepsi dispenser! Plus, there is Starbucks next door. Ah, civilization.

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