Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 10: Mound City, MO to St. Louis, MO

Another really HOT day today. The average temp from the time we started was 93 degrees. Since we're now in the Midwest the humidity is up there as well. All in all it makes for some uncomfortable moments sitting on the bike. It's not bad when you're moving - the airflow keeps you pretty cool - but anytime spent sitting in traffic is miserable.

Despite all the fun with the heat, I still love getting on the bike and moving. Motorcycles are addictive. I can't wait to spend some offroad time with the bike - soon.

Sean: We departed Mound City, still unsure why it was named such. Heading south along I-29 we passed thru St. Joseph, with little view of it from the interstate, and headed into Kansas City where we discovered their propensity for reconstructing bridges starting with the middle lane. After significant stop and go, once with a pack of bikes around us, we cleared KC and headed east. We rapidly left the other bikes on their pleasure cruises behind us as we were on a mission to book miles. We ran straight for 150 miles and pulled off just as the Triumph's reserve light came on. We took a break got gas and got back on for another 150. We peeled off Outside Columbia, MO as the traffic began to ramp up, got gas & gatorade and rejoined the fray. Stopped again around 60 miles from St Louis, seriously hot, for more gatorade and gas and back out again. over the last two stops I discovered the joy of evaporative cooling, at first drenching a bandanna in water and tying it 'round my neck and later drenching both the bandanna and shirt and jacket for an even better effect. We closed in on St. Louis and met up with rush hour, we hung on to the left lane where an open shoulder and speed were our best defense along with a very loud Triumph ridden by a glowstick. (Liz Note: Sean's jacket is fluorescent yellow)

We were successful in dodging the storms that are all around the Midwest. There was a storm system following us that we stayed ahead of, though we could see the giant anvil-shaped cloud off to our right as we got into St. Louis.

All day we crossed rivers that were overflowing their banks, roads that led into the water, and trees submerged to their tops. I didn't have an appreciation for exactly how much rain this area has had over the past few weeks - I do now. Sean and I were both determined to get some decent miles today, and we did get around 375 total. But we didn't get quite as far as we thought we would.

As we came into St. Louis at around 600pm, the Arch was right in front of us. Sean was leading and gave me a "should we exit?" signal. I was up for it and we jumped off the interstate to the Arch and the park that surrounds it right along the Mississippi River. After parking the bikes we walked to the Arch and took a few pictures. It's hard to understand the scale of the Arch until you stand directly under it looking up.
You can't really see it in the picture but that's me standing on the bench in the lower left hand corner. There is a museum right under the arch that is really cool, literally the airconditioning was appreciated. We took some pictures including the only bear we saw on the trip. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't see a real bear, Sean not so much.

After we came out of the museum, fully prepared to get back on the bikes, we noticed the Hyatt two blocks away. I have a Diamond membership with Hyatt, and lots of points good for free rooms. Hmm, maybe they had something available. After all, we wouldn't want to push too hard now would we?

Turns out they had a room that's not bad for a free room and is cheaper than the Motel6/Super8 genre we've been staying at. We are really going to pick up speed tomorrow.

Day 9: Ogallala, NE to Mound City, MO

This will be a short post - even though it was a long day. 400 miles through HOT weather. It was mid-90's the whole way and we need to make some time so we are on the Interstate. Interstates are flat, and straight, and pretty boring other than all the other cars trying to kill you. Suffice it to say that certain products are extremely valuable on a hot motorcycle ride.

Interstate driving on a bike is scary - there are LOTS of trucks and they all want to go 80-85 minimum. The wind blast as the pass you or you pass them is pretty extreme. My whole bike shakes from the buffeting. There all also lots of tornados in the area that we've been lucky enough to miss, though the cross winds have been steady at around 30mph. After 8 hours you get tired.

The area we're passing through is farmland. Corn, lots and lots of corn. All kinds of farm equipment, much of which I can't identify. Did I mention all the corn?

We got pictures coming into Iowa and Missouri, and some of the sunset last night.
We were supposed to camp last night at a place called Big Lake State Park. When we pulled in there were about 6 state cops, ambulances, and fire trucks in the parking lot. Turns out the river was flooding and the park was closed. It crested at 8 feet over the high water level. According to the fireman in lobby of the motel this morning the park is underwater.
We are heading East and South this morning, trying to stay away from the storms and tornados that are throughout the midwest. With luck we'll stay between the fronts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 8: Caspar, WY to Olgallala, NE

June 16th.

We actually got on the road pretty early today, we were moving by 915. Which was good since we needed to make up time. We hit I80 for about 50 miles before heading into Nebraska.

As we rode we gradually started losing altitude from 5500 feet down to around 4000. The lower we got the happier the Triumph was. The landscape started gradually changing from sage and scrubland to real farmland. The road was straight to the point that Sean and I decided we needed some kind of throttle lock to help with the hand cramps we were both getting as we rode.

We stopped in Guernsey, WY to mail some postcards (population 1072) and got a recommendation for a cycle shop in Scotts Bluff, NE. We headed over on route 26E and crossed into Nebraska around 1pm.
We found Celli's cycle shop and got the throttle locks, and admired the CanAm trikes they had. I wanted to take a demo ride but we ran out of time.

We stopped at Chimney Rock to take some pictures. Really interesting rock formations were everywhere - and rattlesnakes as well.

The whole day we spent skirting two major cold fronts that promised high winds, rain and tornadoes. Not something we wanted to deal with so we ended up taking a more circuitous route. We missed the fronts but spent the last part of the day dealing with headwinds that were gusting up to 40mph on the interstate. They were bad enough that you could see the wear on the tires when we stopped in Ogalla for the night. 330 miles today. On to Omaha and toward St. Louis tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 7: Yellowstone to Grand Teton to Caspar, WY

June 15th.

We survived the night and got the fire re-started early the next morning. Made coffee using the stove, Sean gathered kindling from the nearby woods and after “checking” the depth of the gas in the tank of the Triumph with a clean stick combined with a lighter we soon had a fast burning fire to warm up in front of. Yellowstone park has the campground shower setup done in true high volume fashion – $4.75 gets you entry to the showers and a clean towel and facecloth to boot;you get as much hot water as you can use and lots of room to complete the task. The shower completed and feeling significantly more human we got ready to move on through Yellowstone south to Grand Teton park and through Wyoming.

I noted before that Yellowstone is huge. It’s got a different feel than Glacier, it’s drier and the areas we saw were more open. The landscape includes not only the classic high mountain meadows/forest/lakes but all the hot springs and geysers. It’s also got a lot of wildlife and the wildlife is not shy.

Fortunately for most people, if the wildlife gets a little too close they can roll up the windows in the car. At least for the ones on the road – backcountry hikers I hope you have the bear spray handy. Anyway, we spent the morning taking pictures of the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” then took the park road (all 40 miles of it) to the south entrance that leads to Grand Teton National Park and ultimately for us the rest of Wyoming.

As we started toward the South entrance we passed a number of signs saying “Do Not Approach Bison! Bison have gored visitors to Death! “ This is a good, though I think somewhat obvious warning. It became a more interesting warning as we came up to a narrowing of the road with the lake on one side and a cliff face on the other - maybe 10 feet of room to either side of the road, and 2 bison just walking down the road next to each other in the right hand lane. Lots of cars were passing them, and as we came up directly behind them it was obvious just how big a fully grown bison is. And we weren’t in a car. And I don’t know how a motorcycle looks to a bison. And are they going to let us go by without swinging that head at us? It was a little scary, and kudo’s to Sean who kept taking pictures through the whole encounter, at what we hoped was a relatively safe distance.

We ran into a coyote a little later, she was obviously bored by all the tourists. As she trotted

by Sean she looked over with what could best be described as disdain on her face.

We stopped at the West Geyser Basin at the west side of Yellowstone lake. It was cool and as you walked around the air was at least 15 degrees warmer thanks to the multiple hot springs and steam.

The road out of Yellowstone from the South Entrance leads directly to Grand Teton National park. We got stuck in a traffic jam as we entered Grand Teton, but made friends with a Budweiser truck driver and UPS driver while we waited. Unfortunately we couldn’t talk the Budweiser driver into breaking out any of his wares.

We started climbing up through 9500 feet as we came over Huckleberry Mountain and ran into some rain. It got really cold, really fast over the pass as we went through the rain. Coming down the mountains around Jackson Lake gave us some great views of the Tetons. They are probably the most foreboding of all the mountain ranges we've seen so far. All sharp edges and unforgiving angles (with snow!).

Sean: I had stuffed the camera into the front of my jacket in the shot above - so I am not, in fact, quite so round.

The rain cleared up as we headed over Tagwater pass at almost 9700 feet. The Triumph was not happy, running really rich, at this altitude though it did keep running. When we passed through the snowfields over the pass the temperature was down to 43 degrees.

We headed East toward Riverton, WY and ultimately to Caspar, WY (where we spent the night) coming out of Riverton the road turned straight. Like a ruler straight. Through miles and miles of nothing but sagebrush and antelope. Lots of little towns "Welcome to Hiland! Population 10. Altitude 5400 feet." There was a stretch of road about 40 miles before Casper that is as forlorn a place as one can imagine. No tree dots the landscape, no reference point is visible sans the road. If a layer of snow coated the area and you had no compass you would be impossibly lost. The sight of Casper's airport in the distance was a welcome return to civilization. It got pretty late coming into Caspar and we had done almost 350 miles when we stopped for the night. Long day. Tomorrow we should get to Nebraska.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 6: Three Forks to Yellowstone

Day 6: Three Forks, MT to Yellowstone.

June 14th. It was a short ride today to Yellowstone from Three Forks. As I predicted we got a fairly late start – but all our clothes were clean!

As an aside, I like small towns. We showed up at the Laundromat and were greeted by the sign “Laundry closed – water main leak.” When we talked to the owner of the laundry, she asked us how much we had to do, called the town water service and asked for Steve. Steve agreed to wait for half an hour until we were done before he started the repair. Not something that would happen in DC.

While I was doing laundry, Sean was attempting to find a set of Metric allen wrenches to adjust the chain on the Triumph. Unfortunately, the only wrenches the auto parts store had were SAE. However, they did have a grinder in the back and a set of calipers. So Sean made his own set of allen wrenches - he was smiling all morning. And he got to do his fix the motorcycle thing, in all the years I’ve known Sean, he is never happier than when he is fixing something.

Once we go on the road it was a 143 mile trip down route 287 following the Madison River valley and through mountain passes to West Yellowstone and the entrance to the Park. As a note, most folks in Montana consider the 70mph speed limit to be a polite suggestion rather than any kind of hard limit.

We’re on bikes that really like to go fast (note the title of the blog), and we were getting blown past by grandma pulling the trailer. We stopped at Raynold’s pass to snap a picture before heading into West Yellowstone.

Sean: I had the opportunity to challenge my intuition as I thought about stopping for gas at the one station we passed as we climbed out of Reynolds’ pass, I found that the bike started to sputter shortly after the reserve light came on at 143 miles and I switched to reserve, by mile 164 I was getting concerned and glad that we had the siphon with us. Luck held out and we pulled into West Yellowstone a mile later and I since then if my gut says we need fuel, we stop for fuel.

Liz again: West Yellowstone is at around 7000 feet and the combination of a long run from Three Forks and the Triumph running just a bit rich due to the altitude led Sean into basically coasting the last few miles into town. We needed a little excitement.

Fortunately he was able to make it and we got to the park right after lunch. We stopped to eat and walk around a little bit. I tried to talk Sean into buying a Buffalo hide for his wife, but he wasn’t convinced it was something we could carry on the bike. I do have the card of the guy from the shop though, in case he ever changes his mind.

We wanted to get into the park early, since we were actually going to camp out and figured we needed the time to set up.

Entering Yellowstone was interesting from the first. We needed to get to Canyon campground, 26 miles inside the park. That’s right 26 miles into the park. The scale of Yellowstone is amazing.

As we entered the park, a bunch of people were taking photos of the bald eagles nesting. We were more interested in the bison that were everywhere. They’re big. Really big.

As we drove toward Canyon we passed lots of road construction (Yellowstone is really high and major road repairs happen all the time). As we turned a corner into some traffic I saw lots of steam on the side of the road which I assumed was from a construction vehicle, until I realized it was a thermal spring. Oh yeah, it’s a caldera, a really big one...duh. Lots of beautiful mountain meadows, streams, and wildlife. One female elk was five feet from the side of the road, just hanging out and paying no attention to anyone.

The campground was really nice and we got the tent set up and fire going quickly(we were in E-loop). It was late and the temperature was dropping pretty fast.

Ultimately it got down to 35 degrees that night, but we were pretty warm between the fire and good gear. It was very dark and the stars late were clearer and brighter than any you see nearer to “civilization.” As you can see in the picture of the campground map there was nothing resembling civilization east of our campsite for at least 50 miles. It was comforting to have the bear patrol come through shortly after nightfall (most likely just to make you feel secure…).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 5: Glacier to Three Forks, MT (Almost to Yellowstone)

Note: Delayed post - Lack of connectivity at Glacier and Yellowstone impacted our ability to post for a few days.

Day 5 (June 13): Glacier to Three Forks, MT

Our hope for Day 5 was to get to Yellowstone, but we didn’t. Somewhat typically we got a late start. We ran into some deer right before we left.They were just walking around the lake.


Sean got a couple of good pictures inside the lodge, next time we’re here we will try and stay there. The fireplace is perfect in the morning, especially since it was averaging around 35 degrees when we got up.

After loading up we finally got on the road at 1100 – stopping in West Glacier to update the blog. It felt slightly strange, but good, to have connectivity after two days without it. Both Sean and I were a little weirded out by being off the grid. I think it would be easier if our families had been with us, but without them there it just felt strange. Of course, it could just be our Type A need to always be in touch….

Sean: In a nod to Maintenance, I took out the WD40 soaked a rag and cleaned the chains on Zen and Artie, nasty black gook removed that job was done. I then encouraged Liza, across the street, online, to hurry the F$%@ up by honking the horn at her along with various other forms of sign language in the hope that we might hit the road before the multiple layers I was wearing caused me to melt.

We came took route 83 down through Seeley Lake, MT. Stopped to have lunch on the lake at a little burger stand called Lindey’s. It was really warm, not a cloud in the sky. A nice change from being rained on.

Sean: This place was obscenely pretty, a hillside lawn leading down to a level acre dotted with shade trees at the edge of Seeley Lake where a trailer lunch wagon/burger stand and picnic tables marked the eatery/dock/floatplane base including the orange wind sock rising 20 ft above the trailer. Shortly outside of Seeley Lake we passed Salmon lake with the house on the island in the mountain lake surrounded by waterskiers and cabins dotting the far shore. We followed the road tracing the lakeshore until it transformed into Blackfoot Creek which we ran along and above for miles. Soon the landscape switched again and the tree cover lessened replaced by green brown felt hills sparsely treed to our left and a narrow meandering creek to our left, itself ensconced in dark green grasses with horse and cattle farther off and the occasional farmhouse every few miles.

The road began to rise and with another shift the water was gone replaced by hills irregularly corrugated as far as the eye could see with the road carved through the most level path it could follow. Next was another rise and the ground leveled. You could easily imagine the now gently rolling hills covered by Buffalo sometime past. We passed the single homestead with the obligatory wooden arch over the drive reading “HOME ON THE RANGE”.

We passed through Helena on our way to stopping at Three Forks for the night. Three Forks was pretty well closed down when we got there. It felt like the classic sleepy Western town. Fortunately the Frontier Club was still open, where over a beer we got a recommendation to stay at the Broken Spur Motel for the night. We checked into the motel, meeting Roger the proprietor who is a font of knowledge about Montana in general and Yellowstone and the Three Forks area in particular. We spent close to half an hour chatting with him last night and more this morning. As an aside, if he ever decides to get out of motel ownership he should consider voiceover work. He has that deep, rolling commanding voice that professional announcers/newscasters/preachers have. Think James Earl Jones with a slight Western accent.

We ended up back at the Frontier Club for dinner, it was pretty well packed for a Sunday night. They served the biggest burgers I’ve ever seen. Apparently they are kind of famous in the area, the owner of the Frontier Club is a former butcher who is particular about his beef. Thanks to a round of free drinks from another bar owner from Great Falls, we had a late night. So I guess we’re not getting out too early this morning. Surprise!

Day 4: Glacier National Park

Note: Delayed post - Lack of connectivity at Glacier and Yellowstone impacted our ability to post for a few days.

Day 4 (June 12): Glacier National Park

Since Sean and I only have about 10 days to get across the country, we only planned one non-travel day at Glacier. It was good to not pack up the bikes, even though we’re getting pretty good at it.

We decided to go on a trail ride in the morning – the first time I’ve been on a horse in 12 years, Sean longer than that. It was cool riding through the forest, eerie quiet though, and really muddy. The rain at Glacier has been pretty steady over the past few weeks, we had the best weather so far this season.

Sean: Liza was on Rex and I was on Mick (these are the horses), Rex was very noisy through much of the ride and Mick seemed concerned about something off to the right of us, as horses are prey animals perhaps it was something carnivorous. The ride was sloppy but very pretty passing through the hemlock, pine and larch forest – I pointed out “The Larch” to Liza but the Monty Python reference was lost on the guide Taylor aka “Mule”. But to be fair he spoke of a west Texas meat pie form neither of us had ever heard of before, nor apparently any of the riders that Mule had raised the question to prior.

Liz: Though next time I’m in Waco, TX I will probably be looking for strange meat pies.

After the ride we took the bikes around the lake to see if we how far we could go on Going-to-the-Sun road. Not very far as it turns out, the road is scheduled to open on June 18th. Right now the clearing process for the 60-foot snowdrifts blocking the road is ongoing. Every time they clear a drift another avalanche blocks the road again. We did get some great pictures of a moose on the side of the road - no bears though.
We spent the rest of the day just walking around taking pictures. It was a spectacular day.

Day 3: Colville, WA to Glacier National Park (late post)

June 11th, Day 3 started auspiciously. We managed to be up, packed, and ready to hit the road by 9am. Of course, we didn’t actually start at 9, but we were ready.

After the obligatory stop a Walmart we finally got moving at 930. Our plan was to go north on 95, cut over on 20 East to Bonner’s Ferry, ID, and then pick up 2E to Glacier. So we departed going east on 2 - after about a half hour of the daft leading the ignorant we entered Chewelah - at which point sufficient caffeinated blood was flowing to Sean’s brain that our misstep was identified.
(Note from Liz: Sean WAS leading, I know my limitations. Note from Sean: She made me lead it was her idea.)

Luck was on our side as the shorter, albeit less obviously marked, route past the ski resort intersected with 2 at Chewelah.

We found our little mountain pass road that would get us back on track. The road rose and twisted curling back and forth upon itself as it took us up and over Chawelah Mountain pass at around 4800 feet on a beautiful paved road with lots of fun curves. The temperature plummeted by about 30 degrees as we hit the top of the pass – a combination of adiabatic lapse plus a rainstorm. Going down the pass was interesting in the rain, as we traveled down the obviously less trafficked backside of the mountain, the road surface grew more rural and was interspersed at ~1mile intervals with cattle grates. The combination of gravel and wet had us both significantly more attentive around corners.
We reached the lowerside of the mountain approaching our planned route travelling through mountain farmland finally arriving at route 20. We stopped for a moment to catch our breath before launching toward the remaining 40 miles to Idaho.

Sean: I donned my helmet and gloves and pulled away from the stop. As I turned I looked down to my right where 20ft off the road, in a pond surrounded by cattails, a gorgeous blue heron eyed me warily. Likely affronted by the noise I was adding to an otherwise serene scene.
Liz again: Finally, at around 11am we crossed into Idaho. We went North along 20 almost to the border with Canada before we turned East. We stopped in Bonner’s Ferry for lunch, finding a place that had a Harley Davidson 1200 Softail in the center of the dining room. Sean ordered the “Heart Attack Special” – a cheeseburger with barbecue sauce, Tillamook cheese, bacon, and two onion rings - it came with an appointment card for a local cardiologist.
We crossed into Montana and started to understand the whole “Big Sky” thing. Huge, open vistas of mountains, glacier fed rivers that are an unreal shade of jade green. It was a magical ride towards Kalispell and Glacier. We chased a train along a river that was loaded with a long line of trucks, finally passing the locomotive around a curve that took us back into the mountains. Arriving in Kalispell we could just see the “real mountains”, snow-capped and jagged coming into view.

We were confused by the Montana obsession with huckleberries as we got into Kalispell. There are an amazing number of products you can make from huckleberries apparently (beer, soap, tea, bacon, God knows what else) – all of which were being trumpeted on street signs as we came out of Kalispell.

We finally arrived at Glacier at 730pm Mountain time, and drove up “Going-to-the-Sun” road to along Lake McDonald to the lodge and the cabin where we’re staying. The cabin is tiny, but it is right on the lake. This is an amazingly beautiful place. I watched sunrise over the lake this morning, turning the water from dark purple, to orange, to green as the sun came up. Not a bad place to be.
As a note this blog post is late because of the lack of connectivity at Glacier. We'll post more tonight, when we will hopefully be at Yellowstone.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 2: Wenatchee, WA to Colville, WA

It was a beautiful day yesterday. We started in Wenatchee where it was really warm and dry. Almost too warm – we had to stash some of the layers inside our jackets/pants to avoid overheating. The road north from Wenatchee follows the Columbia River with towering hills on either side passing thru rock outcrops and beautiful homes along the river a few hundred feet below.

We turned east to head toward Idaho and started climbing through a twisting canyon road, great fun on the bikes, up a few thousand feet. Suddenly the canyon road stopped and turned into Iowa. Seriously… one minute your climbing the mountain and the next green farmland as far as the eye can see. It went on for miles. We stopped in Wilbur, WA to get Sean another shirt. The Wilbur motto on the T-shirt in the store was: “Wilbur, WA a nice little drinking town with a farming problem.”

When we came out of Wilbur and headed north along the Spokane River it felt like God had switched the view from “standard” to “ultra-HiDef”. Incredible river valley vistas that probably would have been impossible to capture with a camera, but really made Sean and I consider buying helmet cams. Twisty roads overlooking the river valley were a lot of fun to ride. We stopped in Kettle Falls for pizza, and watched cottonwood trees provide what looked like snow drifting over the bikes.

We ended up in Colville, WA at "Benny's Colville Inn, A good place to stay." We met a group of bikers from British Columbia who come here every year "because it's dry." Found some good refreshments, and we had an early night.

We have 300 miles to go today to get to Glacier. It should be a beautiful ride.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 1: Seattle to Wenatchee, WA

The first day, and all in all it was great. A few ups and downs (literally - yes I dropped the bike again -twice) but we learned a lot. Really.

First off what we figured out before we left the hotel. We had WAY too much stuff. Necessitating a ruthless weedout of all extraneous items and a deal with my friend Neal to bring back an extra suitcase with him from Seattle. Despite the smaller mound of stuff, it still was a bit of a struggle to get everything on the bikes. We managed, but ended up getting Sean some saddlebags.

Next we discovered the true joys of Seattle weather. Specifically cold, driving rain across Snoqualmie pass. After over an hour of 40 degrees and rain that was sheeting down, we stopped in Easton, WA to recover. Where we left large puddles on the floor as we downed most of a pot of coffee, more for the fact that we could use it to warm up our hands than anything else. There was a campground store next door where we decided to implement our own version of "chemical warfare".

We bought out the stock of Hotties handwarmers and put them everywhere. Feet, hands, under our jackets, etc. It was probably more psychological than anything, at least we felt better about going back out in the rain.

We took route 97 over Blewett pass, and all of a sudden the weather was beautiful. Our jackets dried out and life was much better. Despite our best efforts, we didn't get as far as we planned ending up in "The Apple Capital of the World" in Wenatchee, WA. More later.

Per Sean - Well I'll say that I brought the right bike to address the maintenance part of this "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" trip but nothing a phillips head screwdriver wouldn't address. Otherwise the Triumph decided it must be back in britain based on it's pure joy of the rain.

Liza properly initialized the right and left bar ends of the brute, I'll call it Zen hereafter but that was mostly due to the weight placed 5ft above the road and the lack of gyroscopic stability ( ie not moving fwd).

Once we cleared Blewett pass the rain left and evaporative cooling while breezing down the other side was surprising - suddenly the gear was dry and warmth returned leaving us to marvel at the beautiful scenery.

Miles would love the mile long views of rolling meadows surrounded by 600 ft hills and rushing creeks and Annabelle would love the apple orchards and windmills along the river our our way into Wenatchee ( this due to the rain slowing us a bit and causing us to be unable to get to Pearrygin Park in time to get the key for the cabin).

Logan would have liked the new GT 500 which slowed long enough to look us over in the rain and then just hammered its way up the Snoqualmie pass. We had a little issue locating the hotel as the front desk assured us that they were on Main St. and we tried to explain that, as lovely and important as we were sure Wenatchee was, they were not represented at that level on the maps available to us. As we turned around to trek back the 2 miles to the aforementioned hotel, I noticed the lovely gray green plants growing along the hills and thought that Heather would love the color. I decided that it would be best described as sage at which point I realized that there was a reason I had made that connection, doh!

More later.

Sean In Seattle!

Sean arrived in Seattle last night and we collected his bike from the shipping company without (much) incident. He's riding a 1995 Triumph Trident 900.

We arrived at Allied Van Lines in Kent, WA around 1:00pm. They knew we were coming and I thought they'd have it unloaded and ready to go. Nope. They did have a beautiful custom Harley chopper complete with the "gorilla" bars and enough chrome to blind you sitting where they told us his bike would be. Paperwork mixup - Sean did offer to trade and got a pretty hairy eyeball from the bike's owner.

After locating the Triumph and some minor maintenance (we needed to have some kind of motorcycle maintenance factor) we got everything to the hotel. The picture above is of us and the unloaded bikes. We still haven't packed everything up and loaded it. We needed to get two more bags at REI last night, hopefully the packed up bikes do NOT resemble anything like the following:

Monday, June 7, 2010

How NOT to buy a motorcycle

I really like the bike I ended up with, despite the fact that I bought it sight unseen, dropped it on my first ride, and had to spend close to 5 months figuring out how to ride it. I learned some key things about what not to do when you buy a motorcycle.

1. DON’T spend so much time on websites reading reviews of the bike that you forget that riding it is the only way to really tell if it’s the right bike for you.

I wore out my web browser looking at the BMW Motorrad website and drooling over the bikes. After a while I got a notion that the dual-sport brand new F800GS was the right bike. How I came up with that without even SEEING it is a mystery to me. But, within two weeks of making up my mind that I wanted one, I had it on hold in Seattle.

2. DON’T forget there is a big difference from a 1980’s era 125cc Honda dirtbike and an 800cc BMW.

A big difference doesn’t even begin to cover it. I showed up at the dealership with my check in hand and walked around the bike for the first time in September. All that kept going through my head was, “That’s a big bike. A really big bike.” Not that it changed my mind about buying it, I’m nothing if not focused. The F800GS is an enduro bike that has a suspension that can handle dirt and roads, and like most enduro bikes the suspension makes it tall. I’m 5’7” and I have really long legs for my height, but with a standard seat height of 34” this bike is tall. It also weighs 450lbs and is a little more powerful than the previously mentioned Honda.

3. DON’T get overconfident the first time you ride a new bike.

Did I mention that I bought the bike before I rode it? At the dealership they were finishing up the paperwork and told me to take it for a spin. Ok! This was gonna be fun. So I wheeled it out to the parking lot – with help - and jumped on. Well, not really. I actually took two tries to get my leg over the bike and managed to sit on it with my big toes on each side barely touching the ground. “Hmm, maybe I really need the lower seat,” went through my head. Never mind, I was going on a demo ride dammit. Check gauges, side stand up, run switch on, and with a nice little rrrooommm I started the bike.

Put it in first gear, give it some gas and, WHOAAA!!!! Grab clutch and brake and attempt to arrest bike as it leaps forward. Breathe heavily, ok nice and easy take it around the dealership. Phew, up and down some hills, around some curves, stall it out once or twice, and let’s get back to sign those papers!!

4. DON’T drop the bike on your first demo ride.

I was feeling pretty good heading back to the dealership. Slowed down to turn in and headed toward an open parking spot that happened to be right in front of the showroom window. As I pulled in I neglected to notice that the spot wasn’t level. Did I mention the fact that I could just barely touch the ground? Did I also mention the fact that the bike weighs 450lbs? Did you know that if a motorcycle starts to tip over, you have a relatively short amount of time to stop it? I learned a lot about my bike in about 2 seconds as it very gracefully (and fortunately slowly) fell over. In front of all the sales guys watching me. They all desperately attempted to not laugh at me as I picked myself and the bike up off of the ground - they all kept turning around and giggling though.

5. DON’T be embarrassed to take it slow.

After ordering the lower seat, arranging to pick the bike up the next day, and making my way back to my hotel in my rental car through insane Seattle I-5 traffic I finally made a good decision. I figured out that there was no way I was ready to ride the bike in traffic. Not without some nice, quiet back roads where I could figure out what I was doing. So, how was I going to get my bike to Joe’s? Time to fess up to Joe about my problem.

When you ask a BMW motorcycle guy to ride a brand new F800GS back to his house for you, generally the answer is “Sure!!” followed by a very large grin. The bike got to Joe’s without incident, and thanks to his patience and willingness to go riding any weekend I was in Seattle, I am now at least semi-competent on the bike.

Which is good since we leave for the cross country trip in 2 days!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


So I needed a motorcycle. Truth be told, I've actually been looking at motorcycles secretly for years. I kind of knew what I wanted, but needed a little push to actually commit to a bike.

For the past 8 years or so I've spent a lot of time in Seattle. Primarily I've been there for work, but Seattle is a place that grows on you beyond the normal bounds of work travel. Yes, the weather is interesting, but it is an incredibly beautiful place - mountains and water and music and great people. Buying the bike in Seattle just seemed to make sense, and it gave me a great excuse for the trip.

What bike though? Over the past 8 years I've made a few friends in Seattle. So when I mentioned the motorcycle conundrum to a friend who's a longtime dirt bike guy, he told me, "You need to talk to Joe."

Joe is a BMW guy. Which was good, since I seemed to be spending lots of time on the BMW website looking at dual-sport bikes. When I mentioned my fixation on BMWs to Joe, about 5 minutes after I met him, he smiled and handed me a motorcycle magazine with a review of the bike I was looking at, offered me space in his garage to keep it, and offered to help me get up to speed riding it. Two weeks later I was the proud owner of a F800GS.

Well, it wasn't quite that easy - next post I will get into the details of how NOT to buy a motorcycle.

Friday, May 28, 2010


There are lots of issues when you decide to do a cross country motorcycle trip and you have no motorcycle, no license for a motorcycle, no helmet or any kind of gear, and a 30 year gap since you've actually ridden ANY kind of motorcycle.

When we were growing up we didn't have motorcycles. Fortunately for us, and probably to my mother's dismay, a lot of our neighbors did. We would jump on their bikes and toodle around the neighborhood. We crashed only occasionally, and never told our parents where the road rash came from.

So, where to start? First I needed a license, and to get a license I needed SOME kind of training. Since I have a six year old son, training was important. Killing myself on a bike was not in the plan. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) was a great discovery. They have courses in every state, assume you know nothing, provide the bikes for the course and the helmet, and have a test at the end that will get you a motorcycle endorsement on your license. I signed up in September last year. Fortunately I passed the course (having a blast in the process - who knew a Nighthawk 250 could be so much fun) and got my license on Sept 17th, 2009.

Now what? Well, I guess I needed a helmet. It would be a start anyway. So I started looking at helmets. As a side note, when I started looking for a helmet I really started noticing the difference in communities among riders. There is the HD crowd, the sportbike crowd, the dual-sport crowd, the dirt bike guys, and the touring crowd. More on that later, the different culture of each of the communities is interesting. Finally settled on an ARAI Vector - with the really cool blue/spiderweb graphics. It's the first time in years I had an excuse for wearing something that tacky - and all in the name of safety!!

Now I just needed a motorcycle.


This blog is about the cross country motorcycle trip I've been planning for a long time. A really long time. I lot of people I've talked to about this trip (family, friends, co-workers, guys on the street), keep asking me "Why?" So I thought I'd dedicate the first post to the primary reason. Obsession....really.

When I was 14 I became obsessed with a book about motorcycles. It used as a primary plot device the story of a 17 day motorcycle trip across the US. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig is about metaphysics, relationships, facing your past, and motorcycles. It's two-thirds memoir and one third philosophy, with the philosophy focused on reconciling "classical" vs "romantic" thinking. While I've read the book many times the reason I always came back to it had more to do with the motorcycles than any kind of real interest in philosophy.

Flashing forward thirty years I have a real motorcycle, 2 weeks of vacation, a brother willing to accompany me and a detailed itinerary from Seattle, WA to Leonardtown, MD. I'm blaming ZAMM for putting this idea in my head when I was 14.

We leave from Seattle on June 9th. We hope to be home (Sean to Atlanta and me to MD) by the 20th of June. We have stops planned for Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Sturgis, and any other interesting places that we can manage along the way. Yes, we are looking for suggestions.

Sean is riding his 1995 Triumph 900. I am riding a BMW F800GS. Neither of us has a whole lot of experience motorcycle camping. This should be fun!!