Right back where we started from...
So, it's been quite a long while since I tried to write one of these things, so bear with me while I get back into the swing of writing.
Last year, about mid-summer, I was completely wrapped up in the hell that was my job, and was offsetting that negative with the positive adrenaline rush that is track days. Things were very much day to day, and thoughts of the road were nonexistent in my head. It was a strange time....ATL2004 had been a very good ride on the KLR, and I had taken the bold initiative to make the KLR my only road bike and was enjoying that decision...yet, I wasn't riding it anywhere. A strange phenomena. Heading to the racetrack on the Fizzer every three to four weeks seemed to be keeping my two wheeled desires in check, or maybe these mini-fixes were just keeping me from inserting the desire to head out on the road into my cranium. I think was too dumb to know I was missing anything, and that's certainly not a first.
Post Alaska 2003, riding (taking road trips specifically) naturally changed. The buildup to Alaska over the past seven or so years climaxed in a trip that is still beyond words, and just like I struggled for 8 months to start this trip report, I fail at beginning my book every time I find a few minutes in which to attempt to pick up a pen (or sit at a keyboard, whatever the case may be). The struggle to write was pretty much in parallel with ignoring any desire to go out and ride again. I was definitely in a rut.
When you've done the "ultimate", everything else seems like a letdown. I use the word "ultimate" in my sense and definition of the word, not anyone else's. There are people who will read this and disagree that Alaska is the ultimate, arguing that South America or a circumnavigation of the globe would trump my puny trip to Alaska, and in a sense, I agree with them. However, (this is one of the things that I have struggled with for a while) I don't feasibly see me doing those things - ever. A circumnavigation of the globe on two wheels is a life in and of itself, and hell, I've already got a better life than I deserve. I can't throw that away, and I won't. Those couple examples are beyond what I have carved out as a life for myself, and I'm not willing to make the life sacrifices so that I can one-up the Alaska trip. This is really tough to explain, and I'll try to get back to it more later, but in a nutshell, I don't need those things. I've done more things and seen more places than I had ever hoped, and not only do I want to go back and see a lot of it again, I still have more places than I can count on two hands that I want to go and see...so while I've been there, done that, I'm not done in any sense of the word. Which brings my back on topic, somewhat....I don't know what motivated me or reminded me that I needed to get on the road again. It just happened one day. Once the seed was planted, it grew tall and quickly.
It was very difficult to get up the motivation to take a long trip after Alaska for many reasons, the biggest of which was: What if it's not the same? A stupid fear in hindsight, because of course it's not going to be the same. The grandeur of Alaska can only be experienced in Alaska, and if that's what I was looking for, I was going to only find disappointment. That particular fear in and of itself was easy to push to the side, as I learned a long time ago not to go looking for things, but rather to take things as they come. Nevertheless, I was questioning why I had the desire to take a motorcycle trip, and I know that sounds even more stupid than the first question. As I was riding across Adam's favorite place, Nebraska, I found my answer.
I had left the day before and had decided to put "needless wear and tear" on my motorcycle by riding it halfway across the US from Chicago to Colorado. OK, sorry, that was a snide comment harmlessly aimed a a few people with whom I respectfully disagree. To each his own....please allow me start over....
I had a pretty uneventful ride across Illinois, Iowa, and part of Nebraska, but that's not to say that it was either worthwhile or useless. Much to the contrary, it was cleansing. I hate to use the "W" word in a trip report, but there were a lot of changes at work, I had been traveling like mad, and had just received a promotion and a new manager. What does all of this have to do with motorcycling? Absolutely nothing...and that's where the ride across the plains does it's magic. To be able to turn my back and leave all of the crap behind immediately after I throw a leg over the bike is a skill that I do not posses. My head was spinning with millions of thoughts as I rode those incredibly desolate miles across I-88 in northern Illinois. By the time I got to Des Moines, I was down to a couple thousand thoughts in my head, and the rest were dwindling away quickly, disappearing into thin air as the miles passed. Just when I thought they were gone, another one would spring to life for just a second and the process of cleansing would take a step backwards, but approaching the Nebraska border, I could feel the tension in my shoulders dissipating. My mind was clearing up, but nowhere near where I needed it and wanted it to be...so I kept riding.
I actually made unbelievable time today, making it to Lincoln, NE by 5:00PM, and feeling like I could ride another 250 miles without a problem....not bad for a dual sport machine, with a Russell seat of course. Riding into the sun, the wind hitting me, the engine vibrating, the 50/50 part-knobby front tire weaving back and forth on the Interstate pavement, I remembered why I wanted to do this, and the answer was right here and now. Looking around, I could see nothing but corn, farm houses, silos, cattle, and the road (albeit an Interstate) disappearing over the horizon. What's not to like? My head was becoming clearer, my body was starting to tire just a bit, and I knew for sure that I'd sleep well tonight. Best of all, my mind started thinking not of work, life, crap, and everything else that I was trying to leave behind for a while, but something far more important and the single and only thought that mattered at that moment: Where do I want to sleep tonight? That was it - that's the extent of my thought pattern. I glanced down at the map and saw some campgrounds about 50 miles up the road...and that set my mind racing 1000 miles/hour. What kind of campground would I find? Would it be like that campground on Nova Scotia where we felt like sardines in a can, or the one in Idaho where there was nothing man-made in sight and no people anywhere to be found? The next 50 miles went by in the snap of a finger, as my mind was filled with again thousands of thoughts, but this time they were all good. I skipped stopping at the first campsite - why? Why not. Just didn't feel like stopping. The next had a couple of big RVs, so I did an about face (Sorry Chicken Diane) and continued on. A few miles later, I saw on the map that there was a campground, but it wasn't marked with any signs. Perfect - maybe it's abandoned. Those are really nice because they're not crowded. (right now is when I need the "D'oh" emoticon from the Yahoo instant messaging client).
I found a "campground" next to a lake with pretty much nobody around. There was a small camper parked down the gravel road a bit, but I figured them to be no bother to me. I setup camp, and ate my gas station sandwich that I had picked up along the way. Tonight was one of those good camping nights, because the gas station also sold beer, so I grabbed a couple of 32 ouncers. The sun was just setting as I finished eating, so I walked back to the main county road to watch the sunset across a Nebraska corn field. Everything was very peaceful, and a nice gentle breeze from the west carried with it many scents, both good and bad. After the sun set, I turned around and noticed the moonrise, and having not looked at the forecast, I had no idea the moon was to be full this week. A more beautiful moonrise I have never seen, and I've seen quite a few from Houghton to Winslow. Tonight's view of the full moon, clear sky, and reflection on the calm lake is a sight and memory that will someday again help me to purge my mind of everything that is unnecessary as I drone along on a dead-straight highway in the middle of nowhere. All of that, for me, helps me to enjoy life at it's simplest and most beautiful. I don't even remember what I was trying to forget about.
Pictures: (The Lake) (I guess not...) (Sunset) (Moonrise 1) (Moonrise 2) (Moonrise 3) (Moonrise 4) (KLR in the moonrise) (Sunrise the next morning)
So as I was saying, I've carved out a damned good life for myself, especially when it allows me to have nights like I had last. Today, there was no letdown, no concern, only wonder and anticipation of what lay ahead, even though I've been there done that. As I was reminded last night, you can't anticipate what will happen, and I'm not talking about the moonrise. As I laid down to go to sleep, I put my hand down on the ground and winced as a sharp shooting pain shot up my arm. Wow, that really hurt. What did I do - I put my hand down again to figure out WTF that was. Yep - still hurts. Cactus, and there's a couple of them. That makes them cacti, right? OK, important safety tip - and one that I should know by now, having experienced "Lake Tad" in Tetsa River, Alberta - be careful where you setup your tent. Man, total rookie mistake, and me being of the lazy sort, I didn't feel like moving the tent, so I just strategically placed articles of clothing on top of said cacti so that I wouldn't hit them in the middle of the night. I slept like a baby.
The rookie mistake behind me, I set off this morning wondering what other mistakes I'd make and what I would have to do to rectify them. It wasn't so much mistakes that I was going to make today, rather I was in for many reminders. It hadn't been all that long since I'd been on the road, but it seemed like I was heading up to Agawa Bay for the first time. Everything was amusing me this morning, starting with the mist gently rising off the lake, and continuing as I rode along, now staring at the pavement below me as the white lines zip past the spinning spokes on the front wheel. I was feeling quite surreal this morning, and every input was deconstructed to it's roots and applied to the here and now. Someone painted those white lines, and someone (or a machine) tightened those spokes on the front wheel, and here they are guiding me along this path that I've chosen, exactly as they were intended to do for everyone, but at this moment only for me. Wow, I better stop and get some coffee and food...I'm starting to lose it.
Of all the memories of this day, and this ride across Nebraska (yes, Nebraska....that's where I'm at, and that's what I'm writing about), I remember the thing that hit me the hardest. I looked in my rear view mirror. In life, we tend to get too focused only with what's in front of us. If we're lucky, we'll catch something in our peripheral vision, or maybe turn our head and look to the side and glance at it for a second before refocusing on what's in front of us. How often though do we look behind us? Do we not want to know what's catching us, or do we not want to examine the past and the mistakes we've made? Maybe it's a little of both, but in that same vein, how come we don't look in our rear view mirror when we're riding? OK, sure we do, but not really often enough to appreciate everything which we have left behind, but also everything that we cannot and those things that continue to surround us and guide us. The sun was rising when I looked back today, and the openness of the prairie was extended to a complete 360 degree spectrum. Everything surrounded me, not just the pavement taking me towards the ever distant horizon. The ride, the day, the life is not just what is presented to us directly ahead of where we currently stand, but is everything that guides, pushes, forces, and/or allows us to move in that direction. I have a wife who encourages me to do this. How could I leave her for two years to circumnavigate the globe? I can't and I don't want to. That's my life, that's my path. Yes, I got all of this from looking at the sunrise in my rear view mirror....in Nebraska. I'm not a religious man, but those of you who know me understand why An Old Irish Blessing has meaning to me, and I'm not ashamed to say that those words were firmly burned into my brain for most of the morning.
The border of Colorado marks a man-made crossing from state to state, but also a geographical flip of the switch from the prairies to the high plains. The transition is instant, and there's no wonder why somebody decided that this was the place to draw the line. I realize that I dodged and avoided a big subject in the past paragraph, and I certainly have things that I don't like to turn around and look at, as does everyone. Today, I didn't want to turn and look a me, standing next to the KLR that had been parked in the garage all summer, hardly a mile traveled. Why did I wait so long? What was so distracting that I didn't make the time to do this? Oh yeah, it was Gingerman. Nevermind. Maybe that's why I'm writing this trip report now, in late April 2005. I don't want to get through another summer and look back at me, having missed an opportunity to live, ride, and experience all this. Let this serve as a reminder to me to always do what's important, and not just get caught up in the routine, and/or let the other temporary distractions attempt to replace that which cannot be replaced.
Damn, forgot my chain lube. I love having a "usual" gas stop in Colorado (got one in Nebraska too), but while there I noticed that my chain was dry. They didn't have anything on the shelf that would work, so I headed out towards the mountains on two lane blacktop, leaving the Interstate behind me. I won't avoid looking back at this one, as the Interstate treated me well, and got me here, mind pretty much completely cleansed. I remember Otter describing the continual mountains through which we traveled on the Alaska trip, paraphrased something like "Today, this is what I do. I ride a motorcycle through the mountains." Apologies to Otter for the poor translation and attempt to put into a few words a feeling that would take a lot of time (at least a month) to describe to someone. I don't wish to make light of the overall expression of being that he so eloquently (for him) stated in that time and place, rather to mention that this is exactly what popped into my head when I caught a glimpse of the mountains for the first time today. Truer words have never been spoken.
Pictures: First view of the mountains (Mountains 1) (Mountains 2)
I've been through Rocky Mountain National Park more times than I can remember, but never on a Sunday afternoon. The road actually wasn't crowded at all, but all of the parking lots and overlooks were jam packed. I'm glad I rode through there, as there are few places that can compare, but this wasn't what I came here to see. Scary that RMNP can become a checkpoint on the way to a further destination. But ever since I left home, I had the Pacific Ocean in mind. Something was guiding me there, and I don't like to argue with that- again, I find it's best to just go along for the ride and see what you find. Anyway, I was on a KLR, and I can remember countless times riding through this area on the Whale or the ST and wishing that I had a dual sport bike so that I could do some back country exploring. OK, before you ask, yes, I do remember what happened on ATL2004 when I decided to do "exploring" - don't you remember three paragraphs ago? I try not to ignore what's behind me, and in fact, this was clearly in my head. God knows I've gotten away with a thing or two on the KLR. Why the hell did I go exploring in the mountains south of Kootenay on a dirt road 25 miles off the beaten path? River crossings? Wow, not smart. I got away with it once, I got lucky on ATL, I gotta be smart now. I was certain that I could find a good mix of "safe" dual sporting, meaning no double-tracks through the woods, but rather sticking to dirt/gravel roads that exist on a map - some map...any map...OK, I'm sure that these roads denoted with "N.P." are on a map somewhere. So, I turned right, and followed some National Park roads for about 30 minutes until they spit me back onto a blacktop road. Not bad - a good quick introduction to some fire trails in Colorado.
Pictures: Rocky Mountain National Park (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4)
Pictures: National Park Road in Colorado: (Pic 1) (Moo!)
OK, so helmet itch sucks. In my day to day boring routine that I bitched about earlier, I use "product" in my hair....yeah, go ahead and laugh - you all use it too (not you Otter...or you Sprite, but the rest of ya!). So, I woke up late on Saturday and didn't shower before I left, and holy-hell did my head start to itch this afternoon. I was going to camp, but decided to bunk up in a hotel in Craig, CO tonight so that I could get a "fresh start" tomorrow.
Having had a taste of some off roading yesterday, I was eager to get on the road today and continue west. The road out of Craig heading towards Dinosaur is one that I've traveled on quite a bit. Wide open, can see for miles, and watch out for the antelope. Passing through Maybell this morning, on the far side of town I spotted a herd of Antelope and pulled over to take a rest and more importantly, to figure out which way I wanted to go. There was breakfast two miles back in Maybell and another place up the road in Dinosaur, but looking at the map, I spotted route 318 which looked like it turned to dirt for a long while, and would take me all the way to Flaming Gorge. So, I did what Adam says I never do (turn around, and go back the way I came) and headed back to Maybell for breakfast. Great town - 6 buildings, and I stick out like a sore thumb, but nobody seems to care. The waitress treats me like I've known her for years.
Pictures: Antelope early in the morning (Pic) and then a breakfast stop (Pic)
This is old pavement heading west on 318. Rough surface, cracks in the pavement, and the prairie grass seems to be eating the road. Stalks of grass shoot up in between the cracks, growing where it shouldn't grow, making the road seem more narrow than it really is. There's nothing out here, and I mean nothing. It looks like the old west. I again get off on a dirt road and start exploring until I realize that it's forked twice, and if it keeps doing this, I may not be able to find my way back to the highway. But it's so damned beautiful here. Dried up river beds, mesas, a few tumbleweeds, and that's about it. This is exactly what I wanted to do in Colorado. Discouraged, I pull over and sit for a while, wishing that I could keep going, but knowing that I shouldn't. Despite how it may seem, this isn't a metaphor of my life.
I don't have a boxable life. In Chicken, Alaska, we sat at the bar with an arrogant bastard from Australia...OK, his name was Kim, but he was drinking Arrogant Bastard beer. He was on hiatus from his life...or was he...riding around the North America for the next 18 months having "put his life in a box" and left. Every one of us was insanely jealous when we heard he was on the road for 18 months. When we came to...OK, I won't speak for everyone....when I came to the next morning, hung over as hell, I spent the next day thinking about little else but those words. They haunted me for some time, and sometimes still do just a bit. "Why can't I have a boxable life?" is the thought that I couldn't get out of my head. I would rationalize from time to time, but acceptance came a lot later.
Anyway, I digress...So I make my way back to the highway, continue west and hit the Utah border. Bang - road turns to dirt, rock, and gravel and will be this way for the duration. So all of that playing around before, wishing I could keep going didn't matter anyway. By naturally continuing on the path towards my desire (to see the ocean for those of you who forgot), I found myself right where I wanted to be. A 50+ mile dirt road separates me from where I am now and the direction in which I want to head. No thinking I should turn around, no worry about getting lost. What a fantastic ride. Much of the road was smooth and graded very well, but many parts were not, specifically the passes. I found myself standing on the pegs, working the KLR around boulders in the middle of switchbacks on a dirt road, somewhere in the middle (OK, upper-east part) of Utah, yelling "Yahoo!!!" in my helmet as I broke the rear tire loose and continued up the incline. The road went from perfectly groomed to, well, perfectly fun, and back again. Not a worry in my head, I rode the next 50 miles, but honestly, my offroad riding stills are not where they need to be. More times than not, I found myself focusing more on the road and less on the terrain and scenery to the side of me....and almost never behind me. I was focused at the task at hand, but with good reason - I needed to keep the bike upright. I choose to stop a little more often for a quick breather so that I wouldn't miss everything going on around me. The bike just felt funny to me.
Then it started making noises, clunking noises, strange clunking noises that shouldn't be coming from the front of the motorcycle. Hey, why is the top triple-tree nut moving. Whoa Nellie! Yep - that sucker is loose, and going over these boulders isn't doing anything good for the front of the bike - no wonder it didn't feel good. Unfortunately, I didn't have a big enough wrench to tighten that sucker, but I was able to snug it up with a big pair of pliers. Wow, the bike feels much better now....more stable and it doesn't feel like it's going to go whichever direction is wants, despite the handlebar input that I give it. I spent the next 20 minutes looking down at that nut and wondering for how long it had been loose. Phew! Dodged one there. The mechanic at the next service station had a big wrench, and I took the handlebars off so that I could get the nut securely tightened. I'll call my first real off-road excursion of the trip a success with an asterisks next to it.
Pictures: Dirt roads north of Dinosaur and into Utah (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4) (Pic 5) (Pic 6)
I really love the area around Flaming Gorge, and I remember following Otter and Adam through here a few years ago. Man, that was a good trip, and I thought about our ride up through Idaho and up to Banff and Lake Louise for a long time. That was arguably the beginning of it all. Anyway, I spotted one of those roads on the map that in earlier years had caused me to comment "they don't put unpaved roads on maps, do they?" and decided that since the front end of the bike was all better, I should do some exploring. Plus, the road is on a map, so how much trouble could I get into, right? I found the road, somehow, and headed out with a full tank of gas, lunch stowed in the tank bag, and plenty of water (See mom, I'm being safe...she worries about me). What a cool road, an old railroad grade actually that wound through some awesome back country. I did have to violate my own rules though once I came to the first fork in the road and neither spur was marked. I took my best guess (I'm pretty good at interpreting maps) and continued on, and when I got to the kilns of Piedmont, I knew I was on the right track. As I was eating lunch there, a pickup rolled by, so I figured there's at least a little traffic (OK, 1 car in an hour) if I get in trouble. It felt good to get moving again, as the sun was beating down on me pretty good, and if you ride, you know that those first couple minutes after stopping are great, when the wind mixes with the built up sweat on your body....a couple minutes of motorcycle air conditioning....and then it just gets hot again. The same pickup, a natural gas company truck, was parked along the road, and just to be sure, I asked him if this was the road to Route 150, and he told me it was. He also mentioned that there are some great dual sporting roads in the area, but he wouldn't do them without a good map. Hey - no kidding....
Pictures: Flaming Gorge (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3)
Pictures: Dirt road (old railroad grade) across Wyoming (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4)
While the dirt roads today were certainly newly traveled roads, paved roads that are new are getting harder to come by, especially in Colorado. Route 150 in Utah was new to me, and it didn't disappoint. This road through the Uinta mountains is smooth, twisty, and absolutely spectacular. Quite rugged mountains for this area, and green all around with a few lakes scattered here and there just for good measure. With the altitude came a drop in temperature, and I took the opportunity to stop roadside for a bit and listen to the wind. I stopped near a lake and again just a few miles down the road at an awesome overlook. There were fields and fields of these awesome white flowers that just littered the side of the road. The cool air always seems to bring out that fresh and clean smell of a pine forest. Again, a great road...highly recommended.
Pictures: Awesome views along Route 150 in Utah: (Pic 1) (Pic 2)
From here, it was all uncharted territory. I pretty much looked for the road on the map that had the most zigs and zags, and headed there. After a bit of traffic, which was strange after riding for hours on the dirt and only seeing 1 pickup, what I found was Route 92. There may have been a toll to enter this road - I don't remember nor do I care. The mountains around here were magnificent and a few bucks was a small price to pay. Looking at it online now, there are apparently some really nice resorts in the area - huh, who knew? All I know is that the road twisted and turned up the side of the mountain and traversed the most thick, lush, beautiful aspen forest I've ever seen. Rays of sunlight were the only thing able to penetrate the treetops, the white bark reflecting the little sunlight that made it through the foliage. Another spectacular ride.
Pictures: The road winds through beautiful Aspens along Route 92 in Utah: (Pic 1) (Pic 2)
Heading towards Salt Lake City, the traffic did pick up, but the view of the massive salt lake in the distance made up for the inconvenience. I did see that traffic was stopped about a mile ahead, so I decided to use the force, and I exited south of the city and somehow, someway, somewhere...but not without a u-turn or two...made my way around the city and up to the Interstate. Yes, I know...but you have to understand....I said I wanted to avoid Interstates, from Salt Lake to Nevada, there is nothing but the Interstate. Unfortunately, I had read my map wrong (damn me for looking at it while I ride) and what I thought was a campground along the lakefront was only a picnic area, so I made it to the next town of Tooele and grabbed a hotel room for the night.
Up until this point, I had been riding on many roads that I had ridden before, and I was looking for anything new that I could see, especially if it was unpaved. So far, so good - my dreams of years past had been realized for the most part, and I was getting a sense of what was down those dirt roads that I had seen while riding the Black Whale through these parts in years past. It's not like I have been on every single road in Colorado, but I've done a bunch of them and in many areas, it's either paved or dirt, but there's one of each to choose from. A big part of taking trips for me is going somewhere new, and while I really enjoy revisiting places, especially those that have great meaning, nothing can compare to seeing a fork in the road and taking the leg which you have never traveled before. I certainly did a lot of new roads, both paved and dirt, yesterday, but from here on out, the excitement centered around the fact that it was all new. The entire Alaska 2003 trip (north of Jasper) was all new, and while there are plenty of places in the lower 48 that are all new, I don't oftentimes find myself in those areas. The trip "direction" this time was to a blank spot on my personal map, and I really felt like the trip was starting today. I would no longer have to look for new roads...they would simply appear in front of me.
First things first, I had to remove my license plate which I noticed was hanging on literally by a thread. The trip to Alaska had created a stress crack in the license plate, and the last couple days pretty much finished it off. Heading back towards the Great Salt Lake and the unmistakable smell of salt water, it was a perfect morning, about 75 degrees and hardly a cloud in the sky. The Great Salt Lake loomed to the right of me, the surrounding mountains and foothills blocking part of the sunrise while the unblocked sun glistened and sparkled off the huge lake. This thing is enormous, and the salt air was actually quite refreshing as it was missing that scent of dead fish that oftentimes gets associated with sea water. Without the dead fish smell, sea water is actually quite pleasant. Curiosity got the best of me, and although the signs warned not to drive off into the salt desert, I did see car tracks in the salt, and decided I needed to feel with my fingers the salt desert. Would it be like a dry sponge, or like sand, or like the tundra north of the Brooks Range, or like a dirt field in Iowa?
Seeing the Great Salt desert was definitely something that I had on my short list for this trip. So again, I wound up on an Interstate highway that pretty much goes dead straight (just like the one in Nebraska), but the surroundings were different. To the south was very little, other than a couple of secret military ranges, but to the north was a carpet of white extending from the highway all the way to the distant mountains with absolutely nothing in between. Honestly, if I were air-lifted or teleported into this position, I would probably have found the ride dull or boring, but that wasn't the case at all. I really wish I could explain this. I've had many conversations with people about the ride as a whole and the fact that it's every mile of the trip and not just the 10% of them where you're riding the twisties or sitting at an unbelievable mountain overlook that matter. I just can't quite get it right verbally, and I doubt I'll be able to do better here. Here's the best I can do - It's like stories told by people who are on the operating table at a hospital...they tell stories of levitation and seeing themselves from above on the operating table. I imagine an experience like that (no matter whether it's actual divine intervention or simply brain activity or a dream) would change your life, as you've seen things from a completely different angle and point of view. At that instant, you realize how fragile life is, and how important each second should be. I get that feeling riding across a vast, wide open landscape, like Nebraska, the Arizona desert, the Dalton highway, and now the Great Salt Desert, along with countless other places. What must the green KLR look like a few feet up and back from where I am at right now, surrounded by a great nothing? I see in my head the view from above, and it makes me feel warm and content inside. I can't describe the view, but I can describe the feeling of awe, almost like when you get the chills. I feel the surroundings, I feel my passion for riding, I experience and enjoy a part of my life that I cannot explain. It seems all the more real when I look down. Even though I can only see the view from above in my mind, I can see the shadow of the bike and me on the pavement, and that makes the imaginary view in my head all the more real. There is a view from above, and even though I only see it in my head, that doesn't matter. That view is actually there, proven by the existence of the shadow itself. At that time, place, moment, that's where I am, that's who I am, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be. I know that probably doesn't make sense, and I realize that I have failed (again) to explain this, but I'm sure I won't stop trying.
Great Salt Desert: (Pic)
Ah, Nevada. Land of casinos. I had been on the road a while when I crossed the border, and I mistakenly thought I would find a breakfast place in Wendover. I don't believe they build structures there unless they will be used as a casino, so I chose the least glitzy one and went in for some breakfast. I did drop a quarter in a slot machine on the way out, and two quarters fell out, so I took my winnings and continued across the desert. Still on the Interstate, the temperature started to rise, and it eventually topped 100 degrees, but luckily was about 95 in the shade. Honestly though, it wasn't bad. There were a couple times yesterday when I was actually quite cold, so this was a nice change from that.
Yesterday, or the day before - I don't remember - I looked at my right boot and noticed some black spots on it. I didn't think much of it at the time - maybe I dripped some chain lube on it or something. When I looked down at my shadow today, I noticed it was getting worse. Up the road, I stopped for gas...in Wells I think. While giving the bike a quick once-over, I noticed oil on the radiator, and after a closer inspection, I realized that I had blown a fork seal. I kept on going, understanding that worst case the bike wouldn't handle quite right and my boot and leg would continue to get oily. About 10 miles after filling up with gas and wondering what I should do, I convinced myself that I would stop at the next motorcycle dealer and get it repaired, even if it sidelined me for half a day. Two minutes later, I saw a billboard for a Kawasaki dealer in Winnemucca, and had to laugh. Someone is still trying to take care of me while I'm on the road, and I appreciate it. I made Winnemucca in about 2.5 hours or so (it's the desert, and the KLR was maintaining 75MPH, except during the steep uphill grades) and I found the dealer. They had a seal in stock, and after the mechanic finished putting a chain on the Harley that had pulled in right before me, he took the KLR around back and got it taken care of. In the meantime, I went to the cafe across the street and had lunch. They were almost done with the KLR when I got back to the shop, and I think the entire bill was about $80 for the seal and labor. I told them that I wished I could send them some business, but I'm not sure I could help their volume business...but if you're traveling through Nevada on I-80, stop at the Kawi dealer in Winnemucca and get some chain lube or something.
While eating lunch today, I took a look at the map and figured that since the fork seal was getting fixed, I could so some dirt this afternoon. I noticed a dirt road in between here and Gerlach (now I know where it is) and decided to do that. It looked to be about 180 miles to Gerlach, so I knew it would take me quite a while on dirt, especially if it was rough, so I loaded up with supplies (water, food) filled up the KLR, and headed out. At least the first half of the road was hard packed gravel and there was the occasional (I think three) semi that was hauling something or another. I learned my lesson quickly with the semis and oncoming cars....slow down, and then stop. Let them pass, let the dust settle (about 20 seconds), and then start going again. There wasn't much traffic, but you would see cars coming for miles with the dust. By the way, this route was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and it was pretty cool. Nothing but brown sand, dirt, and rock as far as you can see. After the halfway point, the road conditions got a bit worse, and my speeds dropped from 65MPH to about 40 MPH, sometimes slower than that. Washboard sections got pretty bad, and there were some rocky parts as well, but the KLR could more than handle the road. I did find myself having to concentrate a bit more which consequently meant that I couldn't spend as much time looking around. On the pavement, if I know there's not any cars around, I'll sometimes not pay attention to the road for 30-40 seconds, using only my peripheral vision to make sure I'm "between the lines." Out here in the desert and on the dirt, it was a totally different story, and unless you want to impale yourself on a rock, it's best to keep your eyes ahead. Hey, no big deal - just a good excuse to stop more often and stay hydrated.
100 miles of gravel/dirt between Winnemucca and Gerlach: (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3)
At Gerlach, I picked up state route 447 and headed north. It was getting late in the day, and as the road tucked behind huge mesas and cliffs, the temperature would drop significantly. I believe it now when they say that the nighttime temperatures in the desert can reach freezing and then still hit 100+ degrees during the day. Driving past some farms, irrigation was obviously necessary and all of the farmers were watering their fields late in the day, sending up a mist of cool water to help cool me off after a long ride through the hot desert. I stopped in a mountain pass to look at the map and found a couple campgrounds up the road, but it was going to be a race against the sun. I crossed unceremoniously into California, again....both times that I've been to California on the bike, I expected a big hoopla event. After all, it's California, and despite my dislike for their overall lifestyle and beliefs (to stereotype...apologies to the exceptions to the rule) I always expected to see a grand sign or plaque, or something. Nope - just a plain green rectangle.
An early evening mountain pass through the high desert: (Pic)
My mind works in strange ways, and my internal jukebox was messed up today. After crossing the border, I had that song from the FOX television show "O.C." in my head....except I don't know the words to it at all, save for the chorus...so I just kept playing that over, and over, and over..... I had my mind set on random play, but kept coming back to that one. It's afternoons like this that you either live for or dread. It had been a very long day, the sun was going down, and I was physically tired. My mind kept me going. For whatever reason, I have the ability to sit in silence and let my mind wander for hours without getting bored, a trait that bothers the hell out of my wife who can't understand how I can drive to Iowa for 5 hours and not once turn on the radio. It's just conditioning from riding the motorcycle, and even when I did try putting "real" music in my helmet via a mini-disc player, I didn't end up using it all that much. I guess I'm strange in that way, and just like I enjoy riding my motorcycle to the end of the road to see what's there, so too do I like to find out to where my mind will wander and end up. At least, I enjoy that most of the time, until I get to a place that I try to avoid. Today though was one of those afternoons that only ended because of the setting sun, and now that I think about it, really set the mood for tomorrow's ride.
I ended up finding an awesome little campground, a couple miles off the highway, about 20 minutes outside of Cedarville. There were only about 5 campsites, so I chose one of the four empty ones and setup camp as the sun went down. I still had my supplies from my desert run, so I had more than one choice for dinner tonight, and Dinty Moore sounded good. It got pretty much pitch black, but I had started a fire so that I could see. When I stepped away from it and took a short walk, I realized just how many stars were out. This part of California I like very much.
I awoke this morning to the calm sounds of morning in the mountains. Birds chirping, fish jumping in the lake - very quiet and peaceful. There were bluebirds around this morning, and what I thought was a hawk in a nearby tree, just across the lake. I grabbed the monocular from my tank bag and focused in on the bird, noticing that the end of it's beak turned down, and I figured it to be a Golden Eagle rather than a hawk...but it could have been a falcon or anything else - a bird expert I am not.
Down the road a bit, I stopped for breakfast at about the only place I could find, but was not disappointed by either the food or the company. There were a couple of truck drivers that struck up a conversation with me, and told me of some nice routes, especially once from Redding to the ocean that I should take if "you like those roads that turn a lot." Yeah, sure, that sounds good to me. I was heading towards Lassen National Park first, and the ride down to the park was pretty fantastic. Only a small town here and there and a huge valley surrounded by towering snow capped mountains.
Northern California - Morning campsite (Pic) breakfast stop (Pic) and beauty (Pic)
I do enjoy visiting National Parks, well, most of them at least, and especially those that are far away from cities. Lassen is one of those parks that has everything I like, and has nothing I dislike. I had only briefly read about it on a web site, so I took my time through the park, stopping to read the placards whenever I saw one. The Lassen Peak had erupted 90 years ago and is still listed as active, and I could hear my mother in law's voice saying "Stay away, it's not safe" and laughed. I had to make a mental note to tell her that I visited an active volcano...she loves it when I tease her about worrying about things...OK, well not really, but I typically tease her anyway. The park was nowhere near crowded and pretty spectacular overall....very clean too. There were obviously views of Lassen Peak, and the devastated area was pretty eerie, but I was enjoying the pines and lakes just as much, stopping to have a snack along a really clean, blue lake. I sat and ate lunch under a clear blue sky with hardly a cloud to be seen, a cool breeze hitting me in the face as I leaned back against a tree stump, using it as a backrest. It was just another of those moments in time where I wish I had a pause button that worked. I could have sat there forever, and today was turning into one of those days when I didn't really want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to ride, or sit and eat, or sit and be quiet. Lassen was the perfect place to be. Higher into the elevations were fields and fields of purple flowers, and were the terrain not so "mountainy", Penny would really like this park. However, it had those roads with switchbacks that have no guard rails and long drops down....so I figured that a picture would have to do.
Lassen Volcanic National Park (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3 - a nice lunch spot) (Pic 4) (Pic 5)
The rest of the day, I just rode. Except for the guy in the old Dodge Horizon who decided that he wanted to attempt to keep up with me through some twisties, it was pretty uneventful yet perfect. As I mentioned, I was really mellow today, and why shouldn't I be. I was riding through the mountains of California on a wicked-twisty road heading towards the Pacific Ocean. Days like today are what you can't experience unless you're traveling by yourself. That's not to say that I don't like riding with others, and there are things that can only happen when you're riding with a couple of good friends as well. But today, I just rode, and I have a feeling that this is exactly what Otter enjoys most about motorcycling, but that's of course speculation as I will never claim to understand the innerworkings of his mind. At times, it was getting to the point where I was getting a bit tired, but I didn't want to stop and rest. The ride, the flow of the road, the surrounding trees and mountains - everything was just where it needed to be, and it was almost like I didn't want to mess with it and risk having it end prematurely. I remember passing by some places where I could have stopped, yet my hand remained on the throttle, content to just watch the miles go by. My brain had pretty much shut down, and I was splitting time between the upcoming twisties, and looking over my shoulder at the trees, lakes, or whatever I had just passed, only so that I could extend the view and sight of whatever I was looking at for a few more seconds, and only until the next scenic spot made it's presence known to me. It was a great afternoon ride along one of the longest and most consistently twisty roads that I have ever been on. Every aspect of the ride along route 36 was just fine with me, especially when I neared the end and the road traversed a Redwood forest, another of my checkmarks that I wanted to make for this trip. I had never really seen the redwoods up close, and to say they are magnificent is a huge understatement. They are so tall and so full that barely a ray of sunlight makes it through their foliage. I swear some of them are as big as a house.
As the day progressed, thoughts of the Pacific Ocean were running rampant through my head. I don't know what it is about the water that gets my blood boiling. Maybe it's the ceremonial end to the journey, as you can't go any further, but that's also got quite a negative spin on it. If you can't go any further, then you're trapped on an island and have reached your limits. Maybe it's just a place where there's a lot of sand and if you can either watch the sunrise or sunset. Not everything has to be overanalyzed. Whatever it is, it's a pretty magical moment for me when I catch that first glimpse. I always feel like I've accomplished something amazing, even though all I did was take advantage of a situation and ride my motorcycle for a few days. I remember the first view of the Pacific back in 1998 like it was yesterday, but it was the second view that holds much more meaning to me. Standing at that old dock in Eureka is something that I will not soon forget, and as I passed through town, I saw the hotel that Otter and I stayed at all those years ago, and the road that we took to the dock...and I honestly had no desire to go see it again. Sure, it's 2500 miles from home, but why would I want to go back there and ruin that memory in my head, even though I can practically see it from here?
I headed north of Eureka deciding that I was for sure going to camp on the beach or as close to the beach as I could. I found a campground that backed up to the beach and picked a campsite that had beach access. After setting up camp, I watched an incredible sunset, sitting alone and quiet on a huge piece of driftwood, ending the day much in the same way as I spent it.
Sunset over the Pacific (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4) (Pic 5) (Pic 6) (Pic 7)
Last night, I cracked open a book that I've been sitting on for almost five years now. I had started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance back in 1998, I believe after I had returned from California for the first time. At the time, my head wasn't in a good place and although I was enjoying the book very much, it made me think about things way too much. It is part of the reason why I made some changes in my life back then, deciding that a refocus on quality and a step backwards (or a u-turn, which ever you prefer) is a good thing to do if you're not happy. I don't know what made me pick it up tonight, but I did and found my bookmark in the same place as I had left it years ago. I backed up two chapters and started reading again, remembering why I put down the book, but not being able to put it down last night. Something made it a lot easier to read this time, and the book made sense - believe it or not.
Anyway, I packed up camp and headed out early the next morning, trying not to wake up the campsite, and feeling bad when I had to turn around and go back as I realized that I had left my lighter on the table. I made my way north into Redwood National Park, seeing a few elk and immediately stopping to eat them. I saw the sign out of the corner of my eye, and stopped at this awesome German restaurant where I ordered elk steak and eggs while German music played over the sound system (Kev - you would have loved this place). I also gave Penny a call this morning to tell her about the purple flowers that I had seen in Lassen, and when she said she wanted to go see them, I told her that it was quite mountainy, and that she may not like it.
Some elk (Pic) in Redwood National Park which I then proceeded to eat (Pic). Elk steak und auf ist sehr gut!
Heading north into the heart of the redwoods, I decided to do some exploring, and took as many backroads as I could, some of them ending up along the shoreline. An exact opposite from the ride yesterday afternoon, this morning I found myself riding 5 minutes in between stops, taking pictures here and there, and really enjoying the views of the ocean and rocky shoreline. I wish I had taken more pictures of the redwoods, but it was always so dark and hard to get good shots.
Redwood forest - (Pic 1) (Pic 2) Northern Cal (Pic 1) (Pic 2)
If this is what it means to not have a boxable life, well then days like today make it OK with me. Standing in Northern California a hundred feet above the ocean was pretty awe inspiring, and as usual, the pictures above just don't do the view justice. Even if you had the widest of wide angle lenses, and could capture the 180 degree visual spectrum from that point including every possible color of the visible spectrum, there are some things that no film can capture. The question "why?" isn't something that you can see. Why did I end up here? What did I do to be so lucky, and the scary why that popped into my head this morning, why am I not doing more? I'm not talking about riding further and farther, but what else can I be doing to help my fellow man? I am a giving person, and I do not ask for much of anything in return. That attitude was a conscious change that I made years ago, and one that I feel has impacted my life tremendously, yet I sometimes wonder what else I can be doing. I try to lead my life in such a way that not only are my hopes and dreams realized, but also whenever possible, I try to help others enjoy new things or realize opportunities that they might not otherwise. Right now, this is pretty much focused around motorcycling. The ATL ride, track days, tire changes, etc - those type of things I know in my heart make a difference to the right people, but motorcycling isn't the thing for everyone (despite what I might wish). I hope that I make a difference to those that I surround myself with, but is that enough?
Luckily, I'm a realist and that helps keep me from getting stuck spinning my wheels in the mud with random thoughts too often. The identification of reality as a necessary evil usually brings me back to center. I know why I ended up here, that's an easy question to answer. I'm here because this is where I want to be, and I can put up with all of the shitty parts of "the game" if I can come out an do this every so often. That's an answer that I've come up with and used for years now, and it's absolutely true. I have learned to take the good (my wife, my friends, my views) with the bad (the need to work in order to have fun, society's flaws, injustice in the world, and my latest favorite - the survival and prosper of stupid people), yet it doesn't keep me from asking the dreamer questions every so often. There are days and weeks when I question this path now and then, but again, on days like today, it's clear to me and I revalidate that what I'm doing for myself is the right thing. I liken it to the Rocky Mountains. For those people who live in Boulder and see the mountains every day, it's commonplace and usual, unlike when I see them and am dumbfounded. Would not each day become usual if I did have a boxable life? Would not the views that I find awe inspiring now become common?
Northern California and Oregon Coast(Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4) (Pic 5)
Further up the coast, I leave the Redwoods behind for the rocky shoreline of Northern California and Oregon. I realized today what day it was, and understood that I would probably only see the ocean for a few more hours before I had to head inland. Plus, Crater Lake was a side trip that I really wanted to make, and it was almost due east of where I was at. I took my time heading up the coastline, stopping from time to time, and even visiting Point Blanco Lighthouse. Before I turned inland, I made my way back to the ocean, and took a long break there. The time spent along the Pacific was short, but the journey was not wasted in getting here. I really took my time, wasn't rushed, and saw a lot of things along the way that I hadn't seen before. I realized one of my dreams in riding a dual-sport bike through the backroads of the Rocky Mountains and across the desert. This almost sounds like the end of the trip, but it was far from that. I was determined to do the same thing on the way home. Just like seeing the ocean for the first time gives me that feeling of accomplishment, it's safe to say that turning and riding away from it is quite deflating, and I was a little down for the first couple miles as I left the water behind me. The only thing worse than this is looking over your shoulder and no longer seeing the Rocky Mountains, but luckily that won't happen for a few more days.
Point Blanco Lighthouse (Pic 1) (Pic 2) Last view of the Pacific (Pic)
Before leaving the town of Bandon, I grabbed a sandwich since I realized that I was getting hungry, and I headed back into the mountains of Oregon and towards Crater Lake National Park, my next mini-destination for this trip. I ended up on another super twisty road through the mountains, taking a break only to enjoy my lunch next to an old covered bridge. As I approached the Interstate, I hit the only real rain for the trip, and it came down pretty good. The checkout girl in the convenience store had a shocked look on her face when she saw me buying water, hot chocolate, and some ramen noodles (somehow, I had run out of my emergency food supply) as I was dripping water off my rain suit. It's times like this when opening your mouth to explain is pointless. Only reason I write these reports (sometimes and when I get around to them) is that I know they are not wasted on the audience.
A covered bridge (Pic) in a mountain valley
It stopped raining once I made my way east, but after having ridden through the rain, and then riding another hour or so, man, I was pretty tired. I passed by a state campground, hoping to find one of the National Park campgrounds up the road. Riding, riding, riding....no signs....starting to get dark...wondering if I should have just stopped....starting to get cold...and barely catch the sun and rain faded national park campground sign. After some much needed and warm soup, I huddled in my sleeping bag, warm as a bug in a rug, and read a couple chapters of my book...and it kept getting better. I'm not an avid reader by any definition, but I can see now how people get sucked into a book. It was only because I was getting very tired that I put it down and went to sleep.
It got really cold last night, but what I didn't know is that it would get colder. My handlebar thermometer dropped below 30 degrees on my way up to Crater Lake, and I had a funny memory in my head of Kurt commenting that the heated grips on the ST1100, that I had loaned him for an ATL trip, had "Stopped Working." Funny, all the voltage testing we did showed them to work, and man - they are getting warm. It was just one of those mornings where the heated grips couldn't keep up. I saw a cafe, but since I had left really early (OK, not quite Adam early) but the restaurant didn't open until 8:00 and it was only 7:15. I stopped and saw a cool waterfall, and gave my hands a chance to warm up before continuing on.
When I entered the park, I took the opportunity to stop at the welcome center for a hot cup of coffee before continuing up to the lake. I can handle the cold with the best of them, but when my fingertips ice up, that's where I draw the line. I can handle the sniffles, my legs or arms getting cold, etc - but damn, when my fingers go, it's all over for me. Luckily the coffee was good and hot.
Crater Lake is something that I had been waiting to see for a long time, and having seen some spectacular pictures of it, I knew the real thing would be even more beautiful. It was not what I expected. I have never seen a deeper blue water in my life - ever, anywhere. We're lucky to live in America and have such a diverse landscape to call our own. Crater Lake is another example of this, and one that far too few people see for themselves. After having breakfast at the cafeteria in Rim Village, I headed out counterclockwise around Crater Lake, rewarding myself for leaving at the butt-crack of dawn this morning by deciding to spend as much time here as I want. No next destination to shoot for and nowhere else to be...a great way to spend a morning. There was nobody around, probably because it was 35 degrees and the wind was absolutely howling, but I took advantage of that by enjoying some quiet time (yes Penny, my favorite) at a few overlooks. The whitebark pines that grow at this altitude and in this severe weather actually grow sideways and out of shape due to the constant wind. I spent the better part of the morning, circumnavigating the lake before turning around and heading north out of the park. Definitely a morning well spent, and is near the top of my list for favorite places in the lower 48.
(Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4 - see the moon?) (Pic 5) (Pic 6) (Pic 7) (Pic 8) (Pic 9)
Back into the mountain valleys of Oregon, I found myself in a bit of traffic here and there, but more than that, I found myself staring to the west into some really tall and jagged peaks that are part of the Northern Cascade range. I had thoughts of visiting Mt. St. Helens and or Mt. Ranier, but knew also that I was coming up on Labor Day weekend and it would be best to avoid National Parks, and I thought that today might be Friday, but I wasn't sure. I figured that I had been taking my time and enjoying the sites, and if I bolted up to either park it would be a quick visit only. Better to save them for a time when I can stop and enjoy them, so I turned inland and headed for the far northwest part of Oregon and the Blue Mountains. I was able to dismiss the traffic that I experienced on Route 97, and instead find some backroads where I quickly found isolation again.
Looking at the map, I noticed that there was a dirt road that would take me from the small county road that I was on back up to Route 26 and closer to the national forest where I had hoped to find a campground. Of course nothing was marked on the map with a name, but I stopped, figured out about how far the road was from the last intersection, and did my best to take the correct road. This was a little bit outside of my guidelines for off road riding, where I said I would need to be careful and only choose roads that were clearly marked and when I was certain I had enough gas and supplies should the worst happen. To make a long story short, I did choose the right road, but didn't realize it until about 40 miles later when I actually hit Route 26. In between though, this dirt road snaked along a river in between some awesome foothills. There were some tree tunnels, and overall, it was a great ride, and I was glad both that I took the chance and that I didn't have any problems. I doubt a forest ranger would have been along anytime soon.
A little dirt riding (Pic) in Oregon before finding a campsite(Pic) for the night
I stopped in Mt. Vernon for gas, and the attendant mentioned a campground just a few miles east...I almost stayed there, but I talked myself out of it. I had been doing a good job of finding out of the way campgrounds, and I just couldn't see camping among the RVs and generators tonight. I went back to Mt Vernon and headed north on 395, hoping that I'd find a national park road with a clearing where I could camp. There wasn't anything along the first road that I tried, as it ended quickly and I was getting a little nervous. It was getting dark, and fast. I went a few more miles up the road, spotted another gravel road with forest access, and about a mile in I discovered a clearing, and to make matters better, there was even a picnic table there. Sometimes it's better to be lucky.
No bear encounters last night - phew. I always get just a little bit more nervous camping in the middle of nowhere by myself, but I did sleep like a baby last night after reading a couple chapters of Zen. I broke camp quickly and headed up the road, finding breakfast just a couple short miles away. Peggy served up coffee and breakfast while managing the store, and watching after her kids. She and the other customers there this morning told me to go a couple miles up the road and turn right just after crossing the river - they said it would be a nice ride, and they were right. Apparently I wasn't the only one riding in the area. As I came around a corner, I saw a guy taking my picture, and thought, "Hmm, that's odd." I turned around to talk to him, and he was a COG (Concours Owners Group) guy who was waiting for people to show up and thought I might be one of them. It turns out that he posted that picture of me to the COG mailing list and some Chicago COG members immediately recognized me....so here's one of the few times where you'll see a picture of me on a trip.
Breakfast (Pic) and picture from the COG photographer (Pic)
I decided that I was going to do a lot of exploring today, as the Blue Mountains were pretty fantastic. I started out on some really picturesque blacktop roads along the mountain's edge with incredible red pines and great views of the surrounding mountains. Temperature was nearly perfect in the mid 70s. I could immediately see why the COG group picked this area in which to ride.
Heading into the Blue Mountains of inland Oregon (Pic 1) (Pic)
Of course, I wasn't going to stay on pavement all day, and seeing as this was all national forest, there were lots of dirt roads to choose from. I wasn't too worried about getting stuck or needing help - there were enough people in the area that I figured it wouldn't be more than an hour or two before someone happened by. I found one incredible trail that wound up the side of the mountain and the view to the west with the sun shining was just unbelievable. This is why I bought the KLR. I had been having a lot of run on backroads over the past few days, but this was the first time that I took a trail up into the mountains and found an incredible view like this. (Pic) (Pic 2) Without the KLR, I wouldn't have made it to this particular place, and that's not to say that I wouldn't have found something else that would be just as good, but I went over and gave the KLR a couple of pats on the back anyway. Needless to say, I was enjoying the ride today, even though I had only traveled about 50 miles as the crow flies today. I was enjoying not being in a hurry, and I just kept exploring, spending the next few hours going back and forth, up and down the mountains on dirt trails.
More pictures of the Blue Mountains and some awesome dirt trails I found:. (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4)
Later on in the afternoon, I headed east just a bit towards Hells Canyon, curious to see what I'd find there. I stopped for food and water along the way, assuming I'd camp. Hells Canyon in and of itself is pretty cool. The river carved through here creating couple hundred foot high canyon walls, but I don't think it created the Hells Canyon campground. Park your car in a parking lot, go inside a fenced in area, and setup camp...I think not. I sometimes have trouble making decisions, but this was an easy one. No f-in way. I got the hell out of there and headed back up the road to the last turn off that I saw that headed into the national forest (see a theme? - Thanks Adam). Just about 10 or 15 minutes up the road was a campground, with an outhouse this time (considered a luxury item), set along a mountain stream. It wasn't perfect, but it would certainly do...but now I had to make a decision, and I don't like that. It's bad when you have three guys riding together who get to the end of the road and nobody wants to decide if we turn left or right. When you have to take off your helmet and gloves, and pace back and forth at the campground entrance (after you almost left), well that's worse....but I just didn't have the capacity to make a decision. I could keep going, but it was about 100 miles to the next town through pretty twisty roads. I could stay, but it's still early. I could go ride around a bit, but I'm pretty tired. Eventually, I said "fuck it" and I set up camp. Once I made the decision, I was completely relaxed and didn't look back on it, but wow - that was way more difficult than it should have been.
It was still light out, and would be for a couple hours, so after a short hike along the river, I decided to read a bit. I sat down at the picnic table, facing my tent, and started in on the next chapter. The book was really pulling me in and I read for a long time - longer than I can usually read before my mind starts to wander uncontrollably, just like it did the other day in California and how it typically does after a long ride in the late hours of the afternoon. When that starts to happen, reading just doesn't work. I can't concentrate - probably one of the reasons that I did poorly in college, yet I digress. I hear a twig snap as if someone stepped on it, and then hear it again. I glance up from my book to find a white tailed deer walking through my campground. It startled me, but I didn't move - or at least, I tried not to. It looked at me, it's ears perked up, and I sat there motionless, staring face to face with the deer, only about 8 feet from me. She took a couple more steps and licked some water off the tree stump in the middle of my campsite. It felt like days were passing as I watched her walk around, ever mindful of the occasional sound, and ready at a moment's notice to run back into the safety of the woods. I admittedly hate deer when I'm riding, but this experience was completely different. I was awestruck so say the least. I watched her walk over to the river and take a cool drink before she turned around and walked back into the woods from where she had came. I looked around, hoping to see someone else standing there to validate that this had just happened, but was secretly pleased when there was nobody.
My campsite (Pic)
For more than one reason, I was glad that I had camped where I did last night, because it was quite a ride to the next town. After crossing the river into Idaho, the road meandered for a few miles down the path that the river had chosen thousands of years ago before turning inland and traversing some pretty serious mountains. Over the past couple days, I don't remember a breakfast that I didn't enjoy, and this morning was no different, minus the service. Now, if you know me, you know I'm a patient person and I don't get upset if it takes a few minutes to refill my coffee or get my breakfast. I'm not talking about slow service, I'm talking about impolite people, maybe stereotypical people. I have eaten in some way out of the way places, but never have I gotten the feeling that people were genuinely nervous about my being there. As I sat at the counter (to be polite so that I wouldn't take a table for one), the waitress never once made eye contact with me, walked past me after having filled other's coffee but didn't fill mine - that kind of crap. I then noticed the sign that they had posted that read "We reserve the right to refuse service..." or some crap like that. Honestly, I don't like "holier than thou" people, and I tried my best to even crack a joke and get a smile out of the waitress, and failed miserably. What's the point of owning and operating an establishment like that if you don't genuinely enjoy it? I don't get how people like that get off thinking that they are better than others. I pity them. I paid my money, left a small tip (I usually tip very big, especially when people are nice, but I'm too nice to not leave a tip at all), and left. Poor people - I really do feel sorry for them. They are missing out.
The restaurant experience didn't ruin my morning at all, but it did (of course) get my mind racing. In Idaho, I believe there is a state law that mandates that any road must follow a river, and the more meandering the better. I followed route 55 south and then took the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway, this time going up the seemingly endless grade before turning north on Route 93 - and seriously, I think every road followed a river the majority of the time, which is a good thing. The mountains or foothills around here are mostly brown and dusty, but the clear water and blue skies frame the mountains perfectly.
(Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3)
So as I'm riding along the Ponderosa Pine Highway, there's this group of Harley riders at an overlook. One of the reasons I ride the KLR is because it allows me to just cruise along at 65MPH on backroads and not feel like I have to go any faster. I find it much more relaxing than going 75 and always catching the cars in front of you. So a couple of these Harleys see me coming and pull out in front of me, and who cares, I would have done the same thing. I'm now riding along at 55MPH mid-pack with a group of at least 50 bikes, and no shit - not one of them made eye contact with me. What a bunch of assholes. A couple of them even passed me - I forgot that they don't like to ride staggered, preferring to ride side by side (for obvious safety reasons...man, I'm really laying on the sarcasm thick today). So I'm riding along in the right side of the lane, staggered behind the rider in front of me and some dickwad passes me in the same lane. I sped up and looked over at him like, "Hey, dickwad? What the fuck are you doing?" and he kept on his merry fucking way. I saw another guy behind me creeping up, so I moved to the middle of the lane, doing my best to make the KLR take up the entire lane....because fuck them. I figured it best to get out of the situation, so I wound up the KLR and passed the lead 7-8 bikes, and kept her wound up to about 80 to put them behind me. Just a few miles later, I turned north on Route 93 and they continued straight. What a bunch of boneheads. It's beyond me why anyone would act that way. Remembering my readings from the Dalai Lama, I took this as another method by which a good Buddhist uses opportunities like this to practice tolerance, and I feared that I had failed...no doubt I'll get another shot at it some day. If there's one thing this world is full of, it's inconsiderate people.
Later in the day, and as had been happening from time to time, the road would occasionally lose contact with the river that it was following. Usually, this would mean higher elevations through the mountains, and one particular stretch of the highway really grabbed my attention. I stopped to take a couple pictures here and there, and realized that it had been a while since I had an extended break. I was starting to transition into mileage mode (Kurt's favorite) so I took a few minutes to sit, relax, and have a Nutri-Grain bar. It hit me sitting in this spot that this was realistically one of the last chances I would have to just sit and enjoy the view. Tomorrow I would have to make some serious time across Montana, and the day after that, I'd have to make the Dakotas a distant memory, but right now was right now, so I just sat. I don't know for how long, and it doesn't matter. (Relaxation)
As dusk was approaching, I started suffering from the lack of decision making ability that cursed me the other day. I passed by two perfectly good campgrounds - I don't know why. I just couldn't convince myself to stop, figuring the third would be better. Well, it seemed as if the third would never arrive, and god forbid I turn back (right Adam?), so I kept going...the road climbing into the higher altitudes, and reaching about 7000 feet and 40 degrees before I found the next campground, just a few miles shy of the Montana border. I grabbed an open campsite that was somewhat isolated, but there was a small RV parked in the next site over. Just about the time that I finished setting up camp, the woman from the RV walks over and states "Here, you don't have to cook dinner tonight" and handed me a hot dog, pickle, and chips. I didn't realize until now (writing this report) that this happened on the same day as both the breakfast service and the Harley riders, and that actually makes it all the more fitting. Things just always have a way of evening out. I've talked a lot about finding out what's at the end of the road...sometimes it's nothing, and sometimes it's places you will never forget. I had a little of both today.
I stayed up for a little while last night talking with John and Marg over by their campfire, and two nicer people I have not met. They are from Minnesota after all. Before I turned in for the night, Marg asked what time I would be leaving in the morning, and I told her that I'd probably head out around 7:30. "OK, breakfast is at 7:00," she said, a smile on her face. I graciously thanked her and told her that she didn't need to do that. I didn't want to impose, so I figured I'd get up a little earlier and make my escape. I was wrong. About 6:45 as I'm having my camp-coffee, she walks over to say good morning, and tells me that breakfast is almost ready. It was about 34 degrees out, and honestly, I wasn't looking forward to riding yet...and she wasn't letting me leave until she had fed me. I tried one more time not to impose (secretly hoping that she'd insist and I could go warm up in their camper), and on queue, she insisted. Inside, the heater was running and the smell of coffee, bacon, and pancakes filled the air....blueberry pancakes at that. We picked up our conversation from last night, exchanging stories about the places that we had traveled to, while we ate Marg's delicious breakfast....and seconds - she insisted again. After one more cup of coffee...ok, and one more but this is the last one, we exchanged email addresses and I thought I was on my way. The conversation and company had been very pleasant this morning, but unfortunately, I had a lot of miles to ride and I had to be going. Before I could get out the door, Marg handed me my lunch...some left over blueberry pancakes and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with this special raspberry jelly that she brought from home. All of this because I skipped the first two campgrounds that I saw. I guess a lack of decision making isn't too bad after all.
Nicest people I've ever met. (John and Marg)
I headed out into the cold, warm, full from breakfast, and my lunch safely stowed in my tank bag. By the time I made it to Big Hole National Battlefield I was pretty cold, so I stopped for a few minutes to warm up, the temperature now finally approaching the 40 degree mark. Up the road was the town of Wisdom (how ironic) and I had hoped for a nice welcome sign, but the town was...well, there was nothing there (how ironic). I did the best I could to take my funny picture of the trip at the next crossroad.
(Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (I think I can see it)
Along the way, I started thinking - big surprise. Here I was in the middle of the mountains on a pretty nondescript road. (Pic) I was enjoying the ride very much and I figured that were Adam here, so too would he be enjoying it. So the question that I asked and failed to answer at the time was, what's the difference between this dead straight road and the dead straight road across Nebraska, or Kansas, or Oklahoma, or anywhere else? I couldn't answer that question at the time, but I may be onto something now. When I talked to Adam about this - OK, razzed him because I know I can - he said something along the lines of "it's just different" and something about me having a different mental state. I don't think he was far off, and it's just what I've been talking about - my mind's ability to wander, play music, relive past memories, whatever and wherever it goes that must make a ride across Nebraska more than just tolerable for me. If that's the reason, then the next question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing....and let's not go there right now.
At some point, I realized that I was going to end up on the Interstate through part of Montana, just because, well, that's the only road in that area. So now I'll contradict myself - I couldn't see riding the Interstate all the way across Montana...this all started years ago on a solo trip home from the Blue Ridge Parkway - Otter and Boy had taken off a day before, and I found myself winding home on backroads, criss crossing the Interstate 5-6 times but deciding that two lane was preferred. To this day, unless I have to, I'll take two lane roads even when it's time to "make time" and start heading home. It's not that I don't want to get home, I've just learned my lesson about letting a trip end when it's supposed to end, and not ending it just to get home...and let's not even talk about ending a trip early....wow, that really sucked. Ok, back on topic, if I can figure out what that topic was....oh yeah, so I went a few miles north and out of my way to pick up US Route 12. Why the hell not? I actually know where this ends up in Montana, and there's a great campsite near the North Dakota border, so all I need to do is get there. I stopped first to eat my lunch (thanks again Marg) as a stared out at the Crazy Mountains (once named the Crazy Woman Mountains, but it was changed either to be politically correct or to remove the redundancy). The PB&J sandwich was awesome, as were the pancakes....nothing like fresh blueberries eaten roadside in the middle of Montana.
It wasn't long before the mountains started to disappear, and I kept looking over my shoulder or into the rear view mirror (which vibrates so much on the KLR, it's pretty much useless) hoping that they wouldn't be gone, but knowing that eventually they would no longer be there. I put on the miles this afternoon without much of a problem, really only stopping for gas. There really is nothing out here, and this is the only part of the trip that I wished I had the CBR...doing 140MPH on these roads is like doing 65 down the Tri-State. The further east I got, the more barren the land, except for the occasional antelope. I stopped in Baker, MT for gas and camping supplies, including a cold beer (man, it had been a couple days) and I raced south on Route 7, hoping to beat the sunset and get to Medicine Rocks before the sun was completely gone. Medicine Rocks is probably in my top 5 of places to camp, boosted to that level I'm sure by the great memories that I have there. Unfortunately and unlike last time, I didn't have the park to myself...there was one other person there, and he was in my campsite. Bastard! Oh well, I just went further back into the park and found another great campsite, catching the last rays of the sunset before they gave way to the stars. Both sunsets that I have seen here have been incredible, with the full spectrum of colors from purple, to red, to the sky blue above displayed against the nothingness of the Montana back country. How could this not be one of my favorite camping places.
Last view of the mountains.... (Pic) Montana sunset at Medicine Rocks (Pic 1) (Pic 2)
I actually verbalized the words "oh my god" when I read the last pages of Zen last night, and for those who haven't finished it, I encourage you to dig in and do it. It only took me about 6 days to finish it....5 years and 6 days, that's not too bad.
Pictures of Medicine Rocks: (Pic 1) (Pic 2)
After my last camp coffee of the trip, I packed up, loaded up the KLR, and said so-long to Medicine Rocks again. I can't wait to end up there again some day in the future. I had to make some time today, so what did I do? That's right - dirt road. D'oh! Hey, why the hell not?? I could either head back north to Route 12 or I could head south a bit and pick up that unnamed road that would take me over to South Dakota and the town of Buffalo, SD. C'mon, everything else had gone right, this would be fine too, right? Despite missing the road altogether, it was fine. Once I was 5 miles past where I thought it should have been, I turned around and found it....unmarked, but it followed a creek, which was unmarked, but it looked like it went in the right direction, so what the heck. Let's give it a try. It looked like a nice ride, and it was. There was an old prairie house just off the road, and I just had to stop and see it. The view from the house was incredible, and I stood there wondering what life must have been like for the people who lived here.
An old house in the middle of nowhere along a dirt road (Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3) (Pic 4)
After the house, the road twisted and turned through some small foothills and forest areas, and I caught a view of the house itself on the way up the hill. Great ride, and man, I hope I'm on the right road. When I hit the South Dakota border, and route 20 appeared, I knew I was OK, and better yet, breakfast was only a few short miles away. The waitress (would would actually talk to me) and the restaurant patrons wanted to know how the heck I ended up there, and I told them that I had just come from Montana on "some dirt road that I saw on the map." At that point, they did look a little dumbfounded, but they continued to talk to me nonetheless.
Time to play the zig-zag game. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but there was no straight line from here to Sioux Falls, and that's where I was headed. I spent the day heading south, then east, then south, and then east again. I totally forgot about the sunflowers. On the way out to Colorado a week ago, it seemed that there were sunflowers growing wild in about every ditch. Here in South Dakota, they had sunflower farms, and the side of the roads around these farms were too littered with sunflowers. If anything, they were a nice change of pace from the wheat and grasslands...just like the canola fields in Manitoba.
Late in the day, I did pick up the Interstate around Plankinton and I realized that I needed to bite the bullet and do some Interstate droning for a while. My motivation at this point, after completely misjudging the distance and thinking that I could make it there today, was to stop by the Emke farm in Tama County, Iowa and drop off the souvenirs for Spencer and Amanda. Since it was getting dark as I crossed into Minnesota, I figured I should shoot for a hotel tonight....especially since I had been camping for the past...ummm, let's see...8 days or so, and I'm sure that Penny would appreciate me not coming home and smelling like a cattleyard. I made it to Albert Lea and called that good for the day. By sheer luck, there was a sportsbar/brewpub across the street, so three guesses where I ended up and the first two guesses don't count.
I did the same thing across Iowa today that I did across South Dakota yesterday, except that I didn't have a map. I knew that once I got close I could find my way there, and once I hit Marshall county, I'd be able to find Tama county pretty easily. I ended up (somehow) right where I needed to be, swung by the farm to drop off a few things, and then made my way home via backroads.
How do I summarize a trip like this, as well as close the loophole on many of the questions I asked? Well, I'm not sure I can. Instead, I'll just go with a couple quick random thoughts and see where that leads me.
First off, what the hell was I waiting for? I've got no excuses, I should have done this earlier in the summer, giving me a chance to recoup some vacation time and do another trip in the fall. Yes, trackdays have certainly cut into my vacation time a bit, and the years of taking three week-long trips are behind me, at least for now. Three or even two week long trips isn't really what I need or want right now anyway. I can always do the miles to get myself to wherever I need to be, and quickly at that, but once there, I'm really enjoying the pause button, even if it only works for a short time. Lately, I've been dreaming and thinking of Newfoundland, and that's not a week long trip anyway. Most of the places I want to go are going to necessitate 12-17 days anyway, so there's certainly going to be a shift in street riding to accommodate those further away destinations. So right there, I contradicted myself, because I probably won't have time for ATL, trackdays, a "big" trip, and another "big" trip, simply because the destinations and the desire to spend time there have increased on both accounts...so maybe I should learn a lesson from Boy and not think twice about taking a 4-5 day trip to Arkansas or something like that. It's not a big trip, but that's OK too. I used to really enjoy them, and what's to say that I won't enjoy them again? Either way, Alaska 2003 is in the past, and I'm over that and working on figuring our motorcycling again, specifically street riding. I'm on my way, finally, but I should not have waited so long to get back out there. There was no reason to delay and nothing to fear.
I need to more quickly realize when I'm in a rut and do something about it. Easier said than done for sure, and man, the ruts are getting longer and deeper these days. That reminds me, I gotta get back out on the XR400 and practice, but I also need to make sure that riding the XR on a Sunday afternoon doesn't distract me from my center, just like track days have done. There are so many aspects of motorcycling that I want to explore and I need to be careful not to go too gung ho in one direction, although that's probably not fair to say. Until a few years ago, all I had been doing was street riding. When I got bit by the track bug, I fell hard and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I needed to hit the track as hard and with as much passion as I did street riding years ago to truly examine and find out where it would take me. What I found there was awesome and I see a number of distinct paths that I could take, but now I need to decide which are most important, as not all paths can be traversed. I certainly don't want to give up the track altogether and I plan to ride as much as I can this year again, but I need to remember what's in my rear view mirror and look behind me every once and a while to make sure I'm not leaving something behind that I shouldn't be ignoring. Road tripping is not one of those things that I want to ignore, nor can I afford to do so. At the core, it's what makes me what I am as a person.
Taking trips is what I do for me, and me alone. I make time for road trips for myself for the same reason that I will go out of my way to help others - it's just what I do, and it brings me happiness. I got married about a year ago now, and had asked Adam to stand up at my wedding. He happens to be about 10 years older than me, and his wife jokingly asked me "Why do you want an old man to stand up at your wedding?" Without hesitation, I went into this long discourse about how Adam and I share a common bond, ended up in the same place and time somehow, and tried to explain how many of life's lesson's I've learned from Adam over the years. I have learned more from Adam over the years than anyone else I have ever met, save for one. I want to surround myself with people from whom I can learn lessons. Not all of the lessons are things I want to repeat or include in my daily mantra, but the people with whom I have surrounded myself for the past 30 something years have had a profound impact on my life and who I have become, some way more than others. Why would I not want to do anything I could to repay them? It makes me feel good about myself as a person to do good for others, and it makes me feel good inside to do something like a Left Coast trip for myself. Neither are things that I ever want to sway from, as both are vitally important to maintaining a balance in my life.
When you've done the "ultimate", everything else seems like a letdown....until of course, you do that something else again and realize that there was a damned good reason why you started doing this in the first place. It may be different, but that doesn't mean that it won't be damned good. Don't ever forget that.