Friday, August 4, 2017

Boulder to Oklahoma

My next stop was in Boulder to visit Jayne and Jon, my childhood dance teacher and her husband. I tried to bring them some lemon tarts from a bakery in Littleton but motorcycle transport had its way with them. Fortunately they still tasted good, even when crumpled into squishy yellow balls covered in crumbs.


We passed a pleasantly quiet afternoon eating, drinking, and walking the dogs. When Jon started watering the walls and roof of the house with a hose, I was confused, until Jayne explained that it dissipates the heat from the walls and helps cool the building down faster. It's like putting a cooling vest on your house.


I headed east into Kansas and then south into Oklahoma the next morning. I kept changing my mind about where I was going to go that night. There was a state park that looked good, but it was hot and I would want a shower before bed and I couldn't be sure the park would have one. After a long day of cornfields and small towns I did some extra miles in exchange for the luxury of a KOA.



Every time I go camping I'm reminded again why I do it. It's easy to forget; hotels are so nice, with the locked private rooms and the clean sheets under fluffy comforters and the ambient temperature controls. But when I finish my day zipped into a tent, listening to the cicadas and smelling the woods and watching the stars twinkle, it's always with the thought, That's why I do this. It's amazing.

When dark fell, it revealed that I'd set up my tent in the insistent glow of a street light, so I pulled up stakes and moved to a slightly darker place. With the fly left open to catch the breeze, I could see Hina peeking in at me, and it was strangely comforting to see her there. Poking through the natural joy of camping, there's always the worry that someone will try to rob me or an animal will think I'm tasty. Hina couldn't help with either of those things, of course, but when you spend so much time alone with your motorcycle, you start to imagine a personality into it. After all, it's just the two of you out there looking after each other.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nederland, the Peak to Peak, and Conifer

On Friday morning I got up early with the intention to do some real mountain riding on the Peak to Peak Highway. Weather was clear and traffic light as I headed up 470 to route 6 in Golden, but as soon as I got into the foothills, I hit traffic. Then there was a construction zone. Then there was a giant trailer carrying another giant vehicle, averaging a blistering 11mph going through the curves and collecting a long line of cars. When the hill got steeper we dropped to 8mph.

I saw an opening in a straightaway and pulled out, passing several cars with a twist of the throttle. Then the follow car, a pickup truck with a yellow OVERSIZE LOAD sign, pulled out of traffic and into the other lane to block me. Annoyed, I took a spot behind the first car in line and stayed there. I could have beat the trailer with no problem, but I didn't want to play games with the asshole driving the follow car, lest he think it appropriate to run me off the road in the name of safety.

 



After that I got caught behind a pair of slow motorcyclists on big cruisers, who sped up in every passing zone so I couldn't get around them. Then there was another construction zone, and another. Fed up, I turned around several miles short of Estes Park and went back. Going south I got caught behind another slow motorcyclist, this one riding a Triumph Speed Triple, a bike that could run circles around Hina if its rider would only do so. By the time we dropped back onto route 6, I'd had about three curves to myself and was thoroughly annoyed with everyone.

That night I went with Steve and Ann to a party in Conifer, which was being thrown to celebrate one of their friends getting a patent on a new method of teaching music theory. The friend's band played outside under a tent, then there was a demonstration of the patented system, and then other musicians started filtering in and out of the gigging space and jamming. Ann had gotten up to sing and was halfway through a duet with Steve when the cops showed up. A neighbor had complained about the noise level. I suspect that moment will go down in history as "the night Ann brought the cops."


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hina

When I got the Honda, my first idea was to name her something in Japanese, since that's where she's from. But after Googling the translations of several appropriate words, I found them all taken by anime and video game characters and changed my mind.


What better name for a travel companion but a goddess of travel? Hina is a goddess with many different stories throughout the Polynesian islands. One story suggests that she is a guardian of travelers, and one can earn her favor and honor her with any 2 sided object, such as a coin. (from Djaunter.com)

In Hawaiian lore, Hina is mostly described as a very attractive, smart, beautiful, determined young woman pursued by men and other creatures. Hina becomes tired of living in the crowd, flees to the moon, and eventually becomes goddess of it. (from Wikipedia)

A motorcycle is a two-sided object, is it not? Done. Meet Hina the Honda.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Kitty Time

I stayed several days with Steve and Ann, the plan being to spend two days acclimatizing and then ride the mountains on the third day. They cooked for me, I cooked for them, and one night we got BBQ from a local shack. We discussed astronomy and life and travel and work.

 

There's an aging Siamese cat in their family named Loki, who is one of the shyest cats I've ever encountered. On my first visit to Littleton two years ago, I caught fleeting glimpses of him and had to be satisfied with that. It was the same last summer, although I didn't actually stay there, just visited briefly. When I stepped into their garage/workshop area this year, Steve told me to be quiet and I might get to see the cat. Sure enough, I saw his hindquarters as he vanished behind the table.


Two days later, though, he was willing to sit on the table and watch me as long as I didn't approach. A day after that, he let me get within five feet before slowly backing away. One evening we were chatting in the garage, and after a while someone noticed Loki asleep behind a piece of cardboard in spite of the fact that I was standing there talking.

"You've broken the code," Steve said. "Go pet him." I was doubtful, expecting him to levitate and disappear in a cartoony cloud of dust and fur as soon as I got within range, but I tried anyway. The little ball of fluff barely stirred as I rubbed his back, and though he didn't go so far as to purr, he didn't complain as I gently massaged his ears. There's nothing quite like the feeling of be accepted by an animal known to hate everyone. Steve congratulated me on being hired to Loki's staff.

Wendover to Denver

Tuesday started even earlier than Monday, since I'd added 250 miles to the agenda by staying in Wendover. I was up at 5am and had wheels rolling by 6am. A beautiful sunrise over the flats was a great start to the day.


I was fighting through traffic around Salt Lake City by 8am and almost crashed when the cars in front of me stopped dead from 70mph. I managed to dodge into the HOV lane and escape. The weather was beautiful and so were the lakes scattered along the road.

Close to midday I met up with I70 and took a break. Several other bikers were also hanging around the gas station, and I went to chat with one who had parked nearby. I'd parted company just hours earlier with Jon, world-touring rider from Britain and leader of motorcycle tours, and now found myself speaking to John, world-touring rider from New Zealand and renter of motorcycles to tourists. I had to smile at the irony. One day I'll join their ranks by riding outside my own country.


The ride into Colorado was warm, scenic, and uneventful. I'd planned a gas stop at exit 142 on the western slope, in the town of Palisade. When I took the exit and saw a sign for Meadery of the Rockies I added a stop. I ended up chatting with a couple who had lived all over the country and done some motorcycle touring in the west, and got a camping recommendation from the woman working at the meadery. The mead was quite good as well, and I bought a bottle to bring to Steve and Ann.


It was warm in Palisade, so I continued on wearing my jeans and armored jacket without the liner. By the time we topped 10,600 feet at the peak of Vail Pass, I was freezing. I like to combine the purposes of my stops, though, and there was no gas in Vail or East Vail, so I rode on. The highway was busy and traffic was flying even though the curves were tight, and my attention was drawn by a loaded tractor trailer doing 85mph and passing cars and other trucks. Signs placed at regular intervals warned of brake failure, and the whole situation concerned me. I stopped at Copper Mountain, where I paid $3.22/gallon for 85 octane and more than $6 for a spinach and feta croissant. Somehow I thought that a gas station in the summertime would cost less than a ski resort in the wintertime, but obviously not.


A few rain squalls near the bottom of the eastern slope soaked my jeans and gloves, but I only had 30 miles to go and decided to wait it out. The rain stopped and started and stopped and started, and was gone before I got on 470. I showed up at Steve and Ann's perfectly dry, like it had never happened.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Winnemucca to Wendover

We were up and out early on Monday. Jon told me that early is not usually in his plans, but was a very good sport and didn't complain. We were back on the interstate, but it was pretty highway through desert hills, not the boring, endless drone of I10 that had gotten me across the south. Scotty had told me I'd be riding through the Bonneville Salt Flats and I wanted to stop and see the famous spot where all the speed records have been set.


I opted for lunch when we hit the Utah border, and we ate in another casino, the Montego Bay Resort. The breadth of options in their buffet was amazing, and the desserts were even better.

"I don't want to lose my riding buddy," Jon said. "I'm really looking forward to my mate showing up now." (A friend of his from back home in the UK is coming to the US in a couple of weeks to ride with him before they both go home.)

"I don't either," I said. I'd realized back in Texas that traveling alone is no longer my favorite option, and Jon and I were getting along like a house on fire. Taking off alone again just didn't feel right.

"So get a room here tonight and then go to Denver tomorrow," he said. The idea had already occurred to me and didn't need selling.

The salt flats were less than ten minutes from town. I'd expected them to be smooth, since you can't set a speed record on a bumpy surface, but they were actually so lumpy I couldn't exceed 30mph. So much for winding it up. A local told us later that unusual weather had caused the surface imperfections. I tootled along to the barrier, then took some pictures. We were both dehydrated and blamed our surroundings, and after we'd sunk into the soft, muddy salt at the edge of the dry zone, we went back into town. The bikes were completely caked, so task #1 was to find a car wash and hose them down.

 




When that was done, we grabbed six-packs at the gas station and jumped into the hotel pool to while away the afternoon. When the sun got low, we walked to the Salt Flats Cafe where I had some wonderful pork green chile, and then on to Carmen's Black & White Bar. Jon had found it on Google but been told by a local on his last pass through town that it wasn't a place he wanted to visit. That, of course, just piqued our curiosity.



The bar was right beside a trailer park and looked a little sketchy, but in we went. The inside was much more cozy, and the 4th of July decorations competed for space with an unadorned Christmas tree. A young chocolate lab decided after one sniff that we were his new best friends.

A posse of young rednecks at the other end of the bar had stared at us when we walked in, and if I hadn't had Jon with me, I would've walked right back out. Jon went and made friends with them, though, and we played a few games of pool. One of them in particular was quite friendly and asked Jon a lot of questions about the UK. One, however, started to become agitated when he got beaten at pool, and shortly we decided it was time to vacate the premises. Before we left, one of the guys asked me about the trip, and I ran off a quick list of where I'd been and how I'd met Jon.

"So how do you like it?" he asked. "Riding on the back all that way?"

I snorted. "I don't passenger. You couldn't pay me enough."

"What do you do then?"

"I ride my own!" I answered indignantly, annoyed by his surprise. I showed him a picture of the two bikes together on the salt flats. He didn't seem to know what to make of that.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Bandon to Winnemucca

Sometime late last year, while I was planning the trip that began in January, I was surfing the Triumph Tiger owners group on Facebook and a post caught my eye, made by an Englishman named Jon who was living on his bike in the States. Since I was planning to do the same, I sent him a message and we started chatting. When we hit a low point in the trip and I wasn't sure whether I wanted to continue, I messaged him again and asked for his thoughts. (Jon blogs about his travels at On Your Bike Tours.)

We've been messaging back and forth ever since, and when I mentioned that I was going to Oregon, he pointed out that our paths were probably going to cross. He was on his way south from Alaska, having just completed 49 of his 50 states tour, while I was on my way north. I invited him to stop by the house for dinner, and then Tracy pointed out that she and Carlo were leaving early and he should stay in the open bedroom.

Jon showed up on Friday and seemed to hit it off with the group immediately. Allen and Jon each told me that they found the other one to be very interesting. I love it when my friends become friends.

The six of us (Allen and Julie, Scotty and Danielle, and myself and Jon) went to the Coquille Lighthouse on Saturday and then returned to Edgewaters for lunch. (We'd been disappointed to find on our first visit that the crab mac 'n' cheese was only served at lunchtime.) I was surprised to learn that it was Jon's first experience with mac 'n' cheese, something I consider a dietary staple.

  

The Bozos had stocked the house with liquor when we arrived, making at least two separate trips to the booze barn to get the job done. By Saturday night, we still had a significant amount left, and assigned ourselves to finish it. Scotty, Jon, Allen, and I stayed up and by 1am had found the bottom of every bottle in the house.


I drank at least three pints of water before bed, but Sunday morning was not a good one for me. I was trying to pack up my things so we could leave, but all I could do was sit on the floor and try to keep down the breakfast I hadn't even eaten. I accepted Jon's help bringing my luggage outside.

Fortunately it was a pleasantly chilly morning and the cold air was good for me. Jon had asked if I wanted a riding companion on my way toward Denver, and I said absolutely. By the time we hit our first gas stop less than twenty miles out, I was feeling more like myself.

The riding out of Bandon was glorious. We sailed over hills and twisty road, sometimes shaded by trees and sometimes accompanied by water or meadows. It was so nice to be off the interstate. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to ride pleasant roads, out of the city and off the highway.

At Crater Lake

In the middle of the day we stopped for lunch at a Subway.

"Are you leaving your basha'?" Jon asked me.

"What?"

"Are you leaving your basha' on your bike?"

I squinted in confusion. "My what?"

He gestured at my helmet and I realized he was saying "bash hat." The new phrase went into my vocabulary, and we left our bash hats on our bikes and got sandwiches.

Pulling out into the street afterward, I realized the gas station was a quarter mile north on a southbound road, so I went south. Then I pulled into a parking lot, turned around, and drove north on the southbound road for about ten feet before realizing my mistake. Guess what...turning around doesn't reverse the direction of the road. I turned around again and followed Jon, laughing at myself.

  



I don't usually pre-book my travel. Most of my adventuring has been by the seat of my pants, and it works, but for some reason I had already booked a hotel and a campground between Bandon and Denver. Jon asked me why, and I couldn't remember. But I wanted to stick to the timeline, since my uncle Steve was expecting me in Colorado, so we hauled ass through Oregon into Winnemucca, Nevada. The Sante Fe Inn was very nice, and we took a walk down the street to The Pig. Unfortunately all we could get was enticing BBQ smells, as they'd closed right before we got there, so we kept walking to the Winnemucca Inn, which is a casino and restaurant. I'd call the food perfectly passable.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bandon, Oregon

The week in Bandon was more of what I'd call vacation than travel. The group had rented a gorgeous house with a view of the ocean, and we walked the beach, drank on the porch, and ate a ridiculous amount of food. One afternoon a few people went horseback riding, and then the rest of us joined them in town. We wandered the shops and then had some excellent seafood at Edgewaters restaurant.

Another day we took a drive to Golden and Silver Falls State Park, where we hiked out to the Golden and then the Silver Falls, respectively. This adventure is better described with pictures.





Ichabod, who was nicknamed Dichabod after
barking me awake early the first morning.






Friday, July 7, 2017

Benicia to Bandon

Hopping through two time zones had me up early on Sunday morning. Jesse and family built a lego pyramid and then made pancakes while I packed. When I was ready to go, Jesse suggested a photo of the kids with my bike.


"My pancakes are going to get cold," the 5-year-old protested with a sigh, but followed us outside anyway.

I stopped downtown at Rrag's for a breakfast sandwich, which took a strangely long time to make. I didn't eat it there, but stowed it in my luggage and rolled south into Oakland. There I parked at the entrance to the Mountain View Cemetery, and before I even had my helmet off I saw my friend Caroline walking toward me with her dachshund Lily.


I got in her car and she drove us to what felt like the top of the city, where we sat on some steps and caught up on life. We met in third grade and became immediate best friends, and although we tend to go years without seeing each other now, the friendship is always just like it was. As a bonus prize, Lily is one of the very few small dogs that I actually like.


As I was leaving the cemetery, my sunglasses fell off my luggage. I noticed they were gone as I stopped to set my GPS, but by the time I located them, they had encountered the heavy end of a car and were shattered into many pieces. I mourned their loss - I've never had a pair I liked better, that were big enough to block all the sun, narrow enough for my thin face, and perfectly shaped to fit under my helmet. I'd looked for another pair like them before and never found anything close. I'd have to go with the first thing I could buy though, because the sun on the California highway was in it to win it.

But first I stopped at a coffee shop near the water, where I found Gabriella, another friend from grade school. We hadn't seen each other since we were 9, and it was interesting to find out what each other had gotten up to in all that time. I've found most people adopt new names as they grow up, and sure enough, she goes by Brie now. I neglected to get a photo with her, something I'll remedy the next time I ride through California.


Around noon I purchased some gas-station sunglasses and then hit the road to make miles. The vistas were sunny and beautiful, rolling hills covered in golden grass and dotted with trees. After a while the road became more twisty as it entered mountains and the sight of a snow-capped peak started to tease me, appearing here and there around corners and through trees.

A guy riding a sport bike merged onto the highway and I gave him the two-fingered biker wave, intended to say a passing hello. He took it as a desire to race, and he dropped in beside me and then opened his throttle. When he realized I wasn't following, he fell back behind me and gestured and nodded. I kept my eyes on where I was going, having no desire to get into a corner-carving contest with this guy in his khaki shorts and skateboarding sneakers. Eventually he moved away and then took an exit.


The road signs told me that I was seeing Mount Shasta, and when I realized that 101 went rather far around it, I stopped for a picture from the highway. It was an area I would have loved to explore, but I was already looking at a nighttime arrival on Agate Beach and I didn't want to make it any later.

There is no right way to dress for riding those mountains. The lower stretches were a toasty 95°, which made staring at the snow on Mount Shasta a rather disconcerting experience. The higher passes were colder, dropping into the low 60s and making me shiver. From the protected interior of a car, you can't tell how much the temperature changes around you, but a rider feels every degree. Looking at the temperature is just an estimate, and nearly useless when riding through changing elevations. Here it's 80°, and then you come around a corner and it's 60°, and then down in this valley it's 90°, like swimming through a pond and finding that suspicious warm spot where your friend was treading water a minute ago.

When I do long milage days, I find creative ways to change my position on the bike. One of these is to lie down on my tank bag with my left elbow draped over my clutch lever. I don't like to spend long in this position, as I can't see my mirrors from it, but sometimes a couple of minutes is all that's needed. I was sailing up a straightaway in this bent-over position when a black SUV pulled up and paced me on my right. I glanced over and with a sinking feeling noted the CHiP insignia. The officer pointed angrily at my front tire and mouthed something that rhymed with "Motown."

I had no idea how fast I'd been going, but I rolled off the throttle and nodded to him. I tried to pull into the center lane behind him, but he continued to pace me so I was forced to go in front. Then he pulled into the left lane and started pacing me from the other side. There was a strange noise, and I realized he was saying something to me over his PA system. Through my earplugs and full face helmet I had no idea what it was; all I heard was "wah wah wah" like Charlie Brown's teacher. He might have said "Texans suck" or "Enjoy the mountains" or "Sit up and pay attention, dumbass." Then he sped away and disappeared.


The sun was showing its golden afternoon side when I saw the Oregon state sign. I'd purchased a second new pair of sunglasses, as the first new pair gave me a headache. I made my last gas stop just past sunset, in a town that was closing down as I rolled through. I was the station's last customer for the night. The attendant said he'd let me pump my own gas.

"Is that not allowed?" I asked, confused.

"Well, you're in Oregon," he responded, then saw my plate. "Oh, you're from - you rode that here from Texas?! Wow."


Despite gathering clouds, hints of sunlight were visible in the sky until past 10 o'clock. I forged on through the mountain passes in the increasing darkness, hoping for no deer in the road. I was just thirty miles from the house when red and blue lights came on in my mirrors.

I sighed and pulled over. The officer told me I'd been doing 70, which is entirely possible, but he neglected to tell me what the speed limit was. My combination of Texas plates and New Hampshire license meant I had to dig out all my documents, which were buried in the bottom of my luggage. Fortunately the officer was very kind, letting me off with a warning and then telling me that my intended route was blocked by a landslide and giving me a new route.

He told me to skip the turn for 42S and my GPS would take it from there, but when I passed the turn, Google just told me to turn around. I pulled over and debated. I didn't actually know where the landslide was, and the officer had told me that the alternate route wouldn't be far out of my way. The only alternative I could see on the map added probably 20 miles to my trip, and I was cold and tired and just wanted to get there already. Besides, shouldn't Maps know about any road closures?

I ended up deciding to trust the officer and guess at the location of the road closure. I followed the only way I could see, my GPS protesting all the way that I was doing the wrong thing. The twists in the road tightened and the grade got steeper, and then it started to rain. Wonderful.

Thirty miles, I told myself, shivering. I covered the last few at a snail's pace, creeping around unlit hairpin turns and squinting through my messy shield. Suddenly the road got bumpy, and I was startled to realize it had become gravel. My shield was too wet by then to see through, so I raised it and let the rain beat me in the eyes. The gravel road led around a few more tight turns, and then I was at the gate. I got through but wasn't sure where to go from there. I ended up inadvertantly exploring the neighborhood, climbing a tiny, obnoxiously tight road, where I parked on the lawn of a likely-looking house. It was the wrong house. I went back down, nearly dumping the bike down the hill. Process of elimination eventually led me to the only road/driveway I hadn't tried, and there at last was a welcoming house full of friends.