When you steal from yourself
to give yourself, that which you steal
becomes of sand that you grip
tighter and tighter in your fist.
Steal not. Give not.
To steal, to give, first wet the sand
– Musings of the Deranged Bard
That’s what I first said as soon as I walked in the door about 15 minutes ago. It’s 1:45 am, Monday, August 12, 2002. We’ve just returned from the fourth of our adventures. By “we”, I refer, in addition to myself, to my trusty steed, a dark green 1994 Yamaha Virago 750 cc motorcycle. This particular trip has been rather eventful, to say the least.
The trip starts out from Bellevue, heads south to Olympia on I-5. From Olympia, US 101, US 104 along Hood Canal, back again on US 101 past Port Angeles, et al, into Astoria, Oregon via Port Angles, Forks and Aberdeen. From Astoria, back into Washington and once again down to Oregon’s I-84 to Columbia River Gorge past Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam. From there, the shortest path home.
Off we go, no longer a slave to Kronos.
Plans to start off at 6 am have of course gone awry. But I hoped that this delay would not be an example for the rest of the trip. High hopes! Downing a slice of leftover pizza and a glass of my favorite Silk Vanilla Soy Milk with honey, I head out the door in my new First Gear Kilimanjaro II motorcycle jacket and my backpack containing water, some fruits, my cell phone and my Yashica 35mm aim and shoot camera.
Let us head eastward, says the wind and eastward it is, but only briefly. 520 E to I-5 across Lake Washington, through downtown Seattle and south towards Tacoma. The day is a bit dull, but fortunately, there’s no nippy wind.
A whole and half hour later, I’m at Olympia – capital of Washington State. Rather a no nothing town. City if you please, but that would be stretching it just a tad. I ride around and cover most of it in about 15 minutes, including refueling. Hmph! State capital!
Lunch time. Stop, pull out the AAA guide and look for recommended places to eat. Hmmm. “Sweet Oasis” sounds interesting. A bit of searching finds it. The waitress recommends a dish consisting of feta cheese, pesto and basil on a dough base. I was intrigued. It just turns out to be a Greek pizza. Not bad, but why can’t they just say that instead of making it sound fancy? Oh well! The orange liqueur baklava is pretty good. Note to self – next time order the spanakopeta instead of the Greek pizza; it’s something I like and am used to.
I was really trying to find something to see in Olympia. They have a “beach” – oh wait, scratch that. The sites and attractions section of the official website lists a few places – nothing great. The legislative building probably stands out the most.
After entering the state north of Astoria, Oregon, US-101 heads north past Willapa Bay through the depressed logging communities of Hoquiam and Aberdeen, the latter the hometown of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. 101 then turns inland and skirts the Quinault Indian Reservation before hugging the Pacific coast for about twenty miles. After leaving the ocean for good, 101 winds through the Olympic National Forest and the northern tip of the Olympic National Park, then meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Port Angeles.
About 25 miles past Port Angeles, 101 turns south for its trip down the banks of Hood Canal before becoming a four-lane divided highway at Shelton and a full freeway at its junction with SR-8, finally joining with I-5.
Take a look at the map and read the description again. It’ll make more sense.
Based on the previous skinny on 101, I went in the opposite direction. Starting from Olympia, past Shelton. As the Virago steers me towards a Skokomish campsite off the beaten path, I am a tad hesitant. But there are a couple of cars ahead of me, so I figure there’s little to lose. Boy am I wrong!
I head up the trial a quarter mile and all of a sudden the paved road turns to gravel just 10 feet ahead of me. Doing only 20 mph saved my bacon. I hit the brakes somewhat gently, manage to slow to about 5 mph before the front tire touches the gravel, shortly followed by the back tire. Skid about 8 feet, before the bike starts to tilt to the right. Right leg on the ground followed by the left leg and in a matter of milliseconds, the Virago is on its side. I don’t have a scratch on me. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the bike. From an aesthetic view, she ends up with a ding on the tank courtesy of the handlebar and a few on the exhaust pipe. So with the help of a kindly dude going in the opposite direction, she’s back up on her feet and I start to head down.
Heading back to properly paved roads, the road is steep and I have to hit the brakes to slow down. Since I only want to slow down a bit, my right foot presses down on the rear brake; more like tries to press down on the rear brake pedal. Nothing moves. Quick – squeeze the front brake and come to a quick stop. Cursory examination reveals that the rear break pedal is jammed in the engine guard and won’t engage. That’s what I get for dropping the bike on her right side.
I continue to head down, more carefully and quite a bit slower this time. Once I reach the bottom of the hill, the road is paved and very well at that. I remember seeing a fire station and wonder whether I can get some help there in fixing the brake. Unfortunately, there’s no one in sight. So, I keep going.
About 4-5 miles later, I back on 101, heading north again, hoping to find some auto repair store. A few miles down the road, I spy a gas station and decide to pull into it.
As I stop at one of the pumps, who do I spy on the other side of the pump? Another motorcycle rider! Maybe he can help. He’s on a Suzuki 1100cc bike. It’s fully loaded with what looks like camping gear. Not only are the saddle bags and luggage rack bag filled up, there are more items bungeed to the tops of the saddle bags. I imagine that the bike with its non-passenger load must weigh about 750 lbs (340 kgs).
Just as I’m getting off my bike to ask him if he can help, he pipes up with a question, “Do you know if there are any auto parts store in Shelton?” Aaah. He too is in trouble. Dead battery. I reply, “Nope, but I’m a AAA member and can call their emergency number and ask.” I pull out my cell phone and dial AAA. A couple of failed attempts (searches for motorcycle repair turn up construction repair outfits and the like) and despair starts to set in.
Brain wave! Actually, call that “remember what I’m looking for.” I ask the AAA dude to check for auto parts stores in Shelton. He pulls up the first one he finds and connects me. The guy at the store carries a few motorcycle batteries. Whoppie doo!
Now for the best part. While I’m talking to the AAA dude on the phone, our Suzuki rider starts to push the bike to kickstart it. He’s about 5 1/2 feet tall and moderately built. I begin to wonder whether he’s going to drop the bike. Not only does he not drop the bike, he actually manages to kickstart it. Did I say “manages to kickstart it?” Replace that with “He did it like a pro.”
He gets that 750 lb behemoth to about 5-6 mph and in typical cowboy style, leaps off the ground, swings his right leg over the seat, lands perfectly with both feet on the pegs and releases the clutch. As the engine sputters to a start, he opens up the throttle and the bike does a little wheelie. A cruiser loaded to the hilt with stuff does a wheelie and this guy is unfazed. He eases up on the throttle to allow the front wheel to settle back on the ground and guns the engine again to keep it from dying. Comes back to where I’m at and waits for me to finish the call and get the info. He has to do the kickstart-wheelie thing a couple of more times before he can head to Shelton with the name and number of the parts store.
This guy looked to be about 40 years old. He wasn’t some dumb kid or newbie rider experimenting with the bike’s abilities to do a wheelie. He was completely aware of the reactions of the bike to each of his actions. I stand there for a couple of minutes after he leaves, replaying the kickstart-wheelie scenes. To be one with the bike as he was is something I want to achieve. It won’t come easily. It’ll probably take me a few years, but I hope to get there sooner than later.
So as the Suzuki rider roars off, I’m standing by my bike, trying to figure out what to do. I continue to stare at the bike, like that’s going to solve the problem. I have a couple of options – I can head back to Shelton to the aforementined auto parts store and see if someone there can fix the bike or I can try and fix it myself. Either way, it would be terribly foolhardy to travel any distance without a fully functional rear brake. After a few more minutes of deep contemplation, I decide to try and fix it myself.
I pull out the toolkit and begin unscrewing the bolt holding the brake pedal in place. It takes me quite a few minutes till I manage to get it loose enough that I can wiggle the pedal free. Out it comes. Now to find some place to wedge it and bend it back outwards. I try the edge of the raised platform as a fulcrum and my own weight on either side. No dice. I scout around a bit, but don’t really see anything else I can use.
A bicyclist starts riding round from the back of the gas station and I hail him. He rides over and stops. “Do you know of any auto parts store in the nearby area?”, I ask. He asks back, “Whatcha need?” I hand him the brake pedal and whine about it being bent inwards. He looks around and tries to find some place to wedge it. We try to use the V between 2 trees growing side by side like Siamese twins. Due to the wierd shape of the bar it rotates before we can get any pressure on it. Aaaarghhh!
We once again start playing “I spy.” He spots a drain. It’s cover has diagonal 1/2 inch slots. Perfect! I wedge the pedal in the smallest slot, he holds it up with his hand to balance it and I push it with my foot using my body weight as leverage. I have to try this a couple of times before it’s bent out enough. I’m ecstatic. “Greg”, as I learn his name while thanking him, agrees to allow me click a photo of us. I reattach the brake pedal, gas up and ride out towards Port Angeles as planned.
As I ride on, the sun comes from behind the clouds. Aaah! It starts to warm up a bit. The ride becomes more pleasant. I come across a bunch of towns with rather strange names like Potlatch, Hoodsport, Lilliwaup and Quilcene. The sun peaks in from behind the trees from time to time. Vegetation is very thick in most places.
Soon, I reach a fork in the road. As I’m at the stop sign, I need to decide whether to go right to Port Angeles or left to Paulsbo via Hood Canal Bridge. I have to see the Hood Canal bridge and so left it is. I have to ride about 14 miles before I reach the turn off just before the bridge. The view is lovely. The sun is shining down making it warm enough for me to take of my jacket. There’s a fairly strong wind blowing cooling my skin as the film of perspiration evaporates. I feast my eyes on the view.
There’s a rudimentary map and I spend a few minutes tracing the route I took to get here. Since the map didn’t list towns clearly, I was a bit disoriented. I couldn’t make out which side of the bridge I was on as per the map. As I spent some more time trying to figure it out, a van pulled into the turn out about 15 feet ahead of me. A couple of more minutes pass and I figure it would be easier to ask someone, maybe from the van. I approach if from the right side. Both doors are open and since the folks in the back are facing into the van talking to one another I swing the rear door inwards slightly to ask the guy in the front passenger seat – he’s sitting sideways with his legs hanging out. As I start to swing the back door inwards and say “Hi!” with a big broad smile, I see that he’s holding a little kid in his hands between his knees. The kid is peeing away happily. If my skin color was a couple of shades lighter, he’d have noticed me turn red. I mumble an apology and swing the door back open.
Hearing my voice, the folks in the back turn and driver steps out of the van and comes around. I smile sheepishly and ask if he knows which end of the bridge we’re at on the map. He actually smiles back. Or is it a smirk at my embarassment? He walks over to the map and studies it for a couple of minutes. He too gets confused. He looks up and down the bridge and back at the map. Finally he declares that we’re at the northern end pointing to the map. Except, he doesn’t sound very convincing. I make some small talk and having lost interest in the entire affair, decide to move on. I get back on the bike and begin a slow ride across the bridge looking on both sides, thoroughly enjoying the view. Once I cross the bridge, I pull over into the turn out at the other end, turn around and head back the way I came. Once again, I ride across the bridge taking in the scenery.
Past the bridge, I head towards Port Angeles stopping a couple of times to take pictures of the beautiful mountains and lakes.
With a bunch of photo op stops behind me, I’m soon making my way into Port Angeles past Sequiem. Time to get gas and dinner. I stop at a Texaco gas station along the US101 which seems to have turned into the main road of this port town. I gas up and as I’m getting done, a cherry red Mustang pulls up on the opposite side of the pump. A guy steps out and starts filling up. He looks admiringly at the Virago and I strike up a conversation with him. He’s owned a Harley Sportster in the past and is thinking of getting a bike again. He’s a local and I ask him to recommend a good Chinese restaurant. “Dynasty”, just off the main road a couple of miles down after the road goes downhill rather steeply, righly lays claim to be the best in town. I guess I’ll be going there then.
He’s done gassing up the Mustang and heads off. As I turn to mount my bike in search of Dynasty, I notice a black bike parked next to a white truck. The rider and someone in the truck are talking. There’s another older, bearded dude wearing a silver half-helmet. He looks back at me, smiles and nods his head. I want to take a closer look at the black bike. I walk up to it. It’s a Harley Dyna Lowrider. Looks pretty good, 1500 cc. As I examine the bike, it’s rider turns around. “Howdy, that your bike back there?”, he asks, pointing to my Virago. “Yep”, I reply. We get to talking about his bike and the silver half-helment dude walks over to us. There are a couple of ladies sitting in the truck. They’re all travelling together. Silver half-helmet is riding a Honda VTX; 1800 cc of pure muscle. His disparaging remarks about the Harley are met with a smile from it’s rider. Silver half-helmet and his woman are from Florida. They flew into Los Angeles, CA a couple of weeks ago where the Honda was purchased. The two women in the truck are sisters. Silver half-helmet is headed back to Florida by road via Idaho and Montana. Black helmet and his woman are headed to Tacoma. They’ve tried to get reservations at a hotel in Port Angeles but all the AAA recommended ones are booked up. No vacancy. So, they’re gonna go on till they reach Tacoma, just south of Seattle and are trying to find the shortest way there. Lucky for them, I just came from there.
They can take 2 routes – US 101 all the way round to Olympia along the Hood Canal or US 101 part way till they get to US 104, then over Hood Canal Bridge, SR 3 to Paulsbo and from there to Shelton via SR 8, finally I-5 to Tacoma via Olympia. Since they’re not interested in the ride along Hood Canal, they opt for the shorter of the 2 routes and are off via the second route.
Time for me to hunt down “Dynasty” and get some chow. I find it easily enough. Something totally slips my mind and I end up ordering the Buddhist Delight instead of the Vegetarian Fried Rice I was planning to. Once it’s brought to my table, I realize my last experience with it wasn’t so great since the veggies are served as large pieces and it’s somewhat bland. What part of 4 stars didn’t the waiter understand? Aargh!!! But I’m hungry and wolf it down. Once the food is in my stomach, common sense kicks in. If Port Angeles has no vacant rooms in any of the recommended hotels, I better try and make reservations at some hotel in the next nearest “urban”ish town. Out come the map and the AAA guide. Aberdeen looks like the best bet for me. I alternately call the 3 hotel / inn listings. I’m not about to check into a motel unless I have to. No answer on the first 2. The 3rd call reaches a guy who has a single room available. “I’ll take it.”, say I. He puts me on hold and a lady takes down my details including time of arrival. “10:30 or 11 pm at the latest.”, I declare. I’m at Port Angeles and it’ll only take me about 3 hours to cover the 160 miles to Aberdeen. That’s what I think. Once more, I’ll find that I’m off the mark, but luckily not by a lot.
Pay the tab and head out to Forks. Once out of Port Angeles, the road has lots of curves and most places the posted speed limit is either 35 or 45 mph. The view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to my right is breath taking. There are a few turn outs and I have no choice but to stop and try to capture some of the memories on film. Little do I realize the 2 dimensional limitations of photos.
For a fair portion of the ride, the sun is directly in my eyes and there are sudden, blinding transitions from brightness to pseudo-darkness and vice-versa when I ride in and out of the shadows of the mountains and humongous, centuries old firs. Throw in the complexity of the curves and I’m doing no more than 35 mph along most stretches.
Forks is 50 miles from Port Angeles and it’s taken me an hour and a half to reach it. As I stop to refuel, I reflect on this and realize that I better cease yielding to temptations to pull over at the turn outs to take in the view and for photos.
It’s also starting to get dark. The sun has definitely set and whatever natural light is available will soon vanish. Ambient day time temperatures for the surrounding areas were in the low to mid forties (Farenheit). I can already feel the cold through the thermal lining of my jacket and am pretty sure the temperature has dropped about 20o Farenheit. Hmmm. Not so good. This means that if you factor in the standard wind chill of 20-30o, then I’ll be feeling sub-zero temperatures when I’m riding to Aberdeen. I steel myself for it. One part of me wants to stop at Forks and check into some motel; another part warns me against the safety of it; yet a third part urges me to go on, “It’s a test of your endurance.” Parts two and three join forces and crush the voice of part one. Onwards to Aberdeen it is.
In retrospect, that was a very, very bad decision. The next 2 hours or so turn out to be the most gruelling and frightening in my life. Fog starts to set in a few minutes after I’m out of Forks. Visiblity is pretty low since the fog is rather thick. Vehicles in front of me are the only way I’ll be able to tell the curvature of the road. I use their headlights and tail lights to determine upcoming curves and bumps in the road. God bless the motorcycle safety manual. From time to time, a vehicle in front of me pulls off to the side. It’s pitch dark now and all I can see around me are trees, that too courtesy of the half dozen or so headlights in front of me. Clouds in the sky obscure any possible light from the moon or stars. There are brief portions of the ride when it gets a bit warm, say for a couple of hundred yards. But as suddenly as the warmth appears, it disappears, replaced by a biting cold. The warm bits must be parts of the road along which there are no water bodies.
Another rather disconcerting thing is that there seems to be no inhabitation. It’s been several tens of miles since I’ve seen some form of civilization. Every few miles or so, I can smell rotting carcasses. Wild animals have made their kills and having eaten their fill, left the rest to rot. This can’t be too far from the road. I realize that if my bike stalls here, I’m dead meat. No one is likely to stop to help me. There’s no cell phone coverage in this area, so calling AAA or even 911 is not an option. There’s also a fair chance that I’ll be attacked by a bear, wolves or cyotes. If not, I’ll surely die of hypothermia. What if a deer, elk or moose springs in front of me? To all these thoughts going through my mind, add the numbing cold and icy wind. I almost can’t feel my fingers. The leather gloves I’ve got on are fair weather gloves. They’re totally inadequate for the kind of temperatures I’m in. I don’t have enough layers on either. Overall, I’m cold and feeling, to put it mildly, very shitty. I keep going, nonetheless. Hobson’s choice.
About two, mind and body numbing hours later, I sight some lights and signs of civilization. The odometer indicates that I’ve ridden about 90 miles since Forks. I can’t be too far from Aberdeen. This thought sends the blood coursing through my veins and I feel some of the warmth coming back. Most of it psychological, the rest real.
I ride through the town of Hoquaim, which is about 4 miles from Aberdeen. It seems that there is no real separation between the towns. After riding for 4 miles as per the odometer, I pull over where there seem to be 2-3 folks standing around. They disperse rather quickly as I approach. Hmmm. Maybe they think I’m a cop. Take off the gloves, then the helmet and fish the cell phone out of the back pack. I call the Harborview Inn and get directions. It’s not too far from where I am, just a mile or so.
I navigate the one-way streets. I’m crossing a bunch of higher traffic streets. The signals are flashing – red for me and orange for cross traffic. The lighting at street corners is not very good and I have to try hard to read the street names. After the first couple, the lighting gets pretty bad. I almost overshoot an intersection. Luckily, I manage to jam the brakes. The rear tire skids a bit, but I come to a safe stop a couple of feet ahead of the line, not in the way of traffic – but only just. Having stopped, I spy a car on the cross street at the intersection. It too has come to a stop. I wave it by, but it doesn’t move. Instead, red, blue and white lights start flashing. It’s a cop car. I’m not sure what to do. Are the lights flashing for me? Or does need to get somewhere fast? If so, why isn’t he moving. I gesture with my hand trying to determine what I’m expected to do. “Pull over” booms the voice over the bull horn. I’m a little nervous – not because I did anything wrong, I didn’t since I had come to a stop without entering the intersection. It is coz I only have a learner’s permit and with that you’re not supposed to ride after dark. Oh well!
I cross the intersection and pull over. The car with the lights still flashing stops behind me. I take off my gloves. I’m shivering, entirely from the cold. My jaw is somewhat locked from the cold and I know I’m going to sound a bit funny when I talk. Out comes the cop and walks over to me. “What happened there? I wouldn’t have liked to hit you there.”. His voice sounds nothing like it did over the bull horn. It’s more mellow and as he looks at me through the visor opening of the helmet, he kind of smiles. “I wouldn’t have liked it either”, I reply, “I’m trying to get to Harborview and was trying to read the street name and overshot the stop line.” “Harborview Inn? That’s a bit further up the road. But while I’ve got you here, can I see you license?” I pull out my wallet and show him my license and insurance. He looks it over. “Says here that you have a learner’s permit. You’re not supposed to ride around after dark on a a permit. Are you alone or is there anyone else with you?” I tell him I’m alone. He replies that when you’re on a learner’s permit, you’re supposed to have a riding companion – not a passenger, but a fellow biker. Apparently, they encourage the buddy system. I’m not sure it’s the law, but hey, I’m not about to argue it. He seems to be willing to let me go, but wants to verify that my license is valid. Once he does, that I’m on my way – this time a little more carefully.
Finally, I make to the Harborview Inn. It’s smaller than I imagined. Just as I notice the sign, it’s turned off. Had I been a few seconds late, I would have been struggling to find the place. I park the bike and try to locate the entrance. It’s dark and I have a pretty hard time. I see some room numbers on the front doors and try to look for another entrance without numbers. That would be the lobby. Nope. No luck here. I fish out the cell phone and hit redial. Room 101 is what I want. It’s the entrance. I’m greeted by Cindy and her son. After checkin, I’m shown my room – the Canterbury. As you can see from the photos, it’s rather cozy. I settle in for the night. It’s been a long day and tomorrow promises to be no shorter.
A firm knock on the door and Cindy’s voice anouncing that it’s 8:00 am greet me the following morning. I’ve slept soundly. I get out of bed, shower and am down for breakfast. There are 4 others in already there at a table. One couple is from Canada and are going southward to California, the other couple is from Oregon and are headed to Seattle. While waiting for breakfast to be served, I walk into the living room and look closer at the decor. There are a couple of rather curious items on the walls. From a distance, one of them looks like butterflies mounted in a frame. A further inspection reveals that it’s made from rock cuttings. Peculiar! The wings, body and antennae of the butterfly are cut from various colored rocks. Cindy tells me that these were made by her grandfather. After a rather disappointing breakfast (being vegetarian has its disadvantages), I go back to my room and pack up. The open road beckons.
I head south, towards Astoria, Oregon. It’s cool, but the way sun is shining, I’m sure it’ll be blazing hot in the afternoon. The mountains along the way to Astoria resemble the heads of men. Some totally bald, some partially and some with a full head of trees. I drink in the view as I ride along. Part way, I end up behind a BMW rider. His is a cruiser too. I follow him across the bridge to Astoria. We part ways as I head into Astoria and he further south on US 101. At the traffic light, as he rides away, he waves to me. Brotherhood of bikers.
Inquiries with the folks running a store near the Astoria Column yields a restaurant recommendation – “If you’re a vegetarian, go to Columbian Cafe.” Three of them there and it is unanimous.
Columbian Cafe it is. I ride back down the hill into the city. The cafe is part of a cinema theater. “Stuart Little 2” is on at the time. I walk in – all the seats at the counter are taken. I prefer to sit in booths anyway. I take off the jacket and grab the booth in the middle. As you can see from the photos, the color contrast is an eye-catcher. The guy in black, Daniel keeps up a cheerful banter with the chef, Uriah.
Daniel hands me a menu and I look it over. There are a couple of dishes that look rather interesting and I’m not able to decide. So, I ask Daniel for a suggestion, taking care to specify that I’m vegetarian and I like spicy food. He recommends the “Vegetarian Mercy”. I order it – Hot. They have 5 levels and “wild” is the only one more spicy than what I’ve ordered – Daniel guarantees that “wild” will make me cry. While I wait for my order to show up, I take pictures of the Voodoo room – they are the third through sixth photos above. The room looks empty, but is it really?
I’m back at my seat and I overhear the guy at the counter in a yellow T-shirt and beige hat tormenting who appears to be his son about girls. The kid is about 12 years old and this guy is taking special pains to be loud so as to embarass the kid and enjoying it at that. I can’t help laughing out loud – the father turns and grins and the kid glares at me.
My food arrives – it looks very interesting. There are a red and green peppers sliced thin with artichokes and onions. There’s rice and toasted french bread. A brown blob of coarsely chopped peanut paste next to the rice. Interesting. As I dig in, I find that the food is lacking salt. Add a few dashes and it’s perfect. There’s a little sheet of paper talking about jellies that the chef, Uriah has created that have become the rage and apparently, people from places as far as away as New York dine here and buy bottles of it. The jellies come in 3 flavors – garlic, pepper and jalapeno. I try them all and would definitely recommend them to folks that don’t mind a bit of sweet stuff with their salty food. It isn’t particularly the kind of thing I personally go for. The orange cream soda is locally produced and tastes pretty good. The frosted glass added a certain touch.
I take my own sweet time eating the food. I don’t want to make any stops before dinner except for gas, so this is my time to chill a bit.
Lunch is over and it’s time to head out again. Donning my gear, I’m astride my bike and head east on state highway 30. A half hour or so out of Astoria, it’s time for me to get some gas. I pull over at a gas station and fill ‘er up. Just as I pay up and am ready to leave, something makes me want to verify that I’m headed in the right direction for the Columbia River Gorge. I approach the attendant, a kid about 15 years or so. He’s talking to a lady, not unattractive, except for 2 things. She’s smoking and has a God awful number of piercings. Don’t get me wrong, I myself have pierced ears – but this lady – I can count over 20. Each ear has over 1/2 a dozen, her nose, eyebrows (not as strange as you think – I know someone who has one of these and she’s pretty attractive) and tongue. She actually turns out to be rather pleasant. She walks into the store and pulls out a map, studies it for a moment and recommend that I take the ferry across the Columbia river, not 3 minutes from theh gas station, back the way I came. The ferry is due in 9 minutes and I can make it with plenty of time to spare. I’ll be in Cathlamet, WA once I get across and the roads are better and I can make good time.
So, off to Cathlamet across Columbia River it is.
While on the ferry, I pull out the map and take a look at which highways I want to take. I need 409N followed by 4E. I get off the ferry on the Washington side. Once off the pier, I take a right. As I take a right, I see a sign further up ahead of where I had turned that says “409N”. Hmmm, should I turn back. Naa. I keep going. About 7 miles down, I come to an intersection and the road going across looks bigger than the one I’m on, but do I consider getting on to it? No, I keep going. This road, based on the sun, has to get me to 409N shortly. An additional 8 miles later, seeing no traffic and just some really small dirty tributaries of the Columbia River, I head back the way I came. Once again, I’m at the major intersection. I head past it the way I came all the way back to the pier. This time, I follow the sign to 409N. And a couple of miles down the road, where do I find myself? At that same major intersection!!! Aargh! Incredibly frustrated, that I had wasted over 45 minutes being Robinfreakinson Crusoe (I know it’s an incorrect reference, but it sounds appropriate), I feel like getting off the bike and kicking myself. But this time around, good sense prevails and I don’t waste any more time!
As I approach the town of Cathlamet, where I get onto 4E, I see a green bike stopped on the side of the highway near an intersection. Like other fellow bikers, who had stopped to check whether I was stuck (when I was actually taking photos), I figured I’d do the same. Not that I’m any good at diagnosing / repairing bikes. As I approach, the biker open up the “trunk” of the Green Honda Goldwing and pulls out a map. When I hail the biker, I realize that it’s a bikerette – my term for a female biker. She’s not stuck or lost, just looking for the optimal route to her trailer. For those that don’t know, the more powerful bikes like the 1996 Honda Goldwing this lady was riding is more than capable of hauling a trailer. With 1500cc, why is it a surprise to you? Ann is from Olympia. She compliments me on my choice of riding gear. We part ways, I head for Vancouver, WA and she for her trailer.
A little under an hour later, I’m in Vancouver. I need to get gas again. I fill ‘er up and head south on I-205 into Oregon. Once again across the Columbia River, though this time I can’t even see the river as I cross it. Then it is I-84W towards the Gorge. I’ve heard and read sooo much about this. It is good to finally be able to do this ride.
As I ride towards Cascade Locks (which I’ve determined will be my turn back point), I see signs for Multnomah Falls. I’ve been here before, about 3 years ago, but I don’t remember details about the trip except for the falls themselves. As I ride past them, I’m somewhat tempted to make a stop, but then the view of the Columbia River as I ride along I-84 is more inviting than the falls – besides, I can remember the falls from the last trip I made and can see at a distance from the freeway.
Bonneville Dam comes up next and I make a note to stop there on the way back. I don’t recall having been there before. I need to say this again – the view of Columbia River to my left as I ride along is simply breathtaking. From time to time, I also see Mount Hood, which by the way is a volcano.
It’s 6 pm by the time I reach the Bridge of the Gods. I actually go past the little hill leading to the brige entrance (if you can call it that), stop at a gas station for some refreshments. I then cross the bridge paying all of 50 cents as the toll. I stick to the speed limit of 15 mph on the bridge, looking to my right at the Columbia River, as I ride on the steel gratings that line the surface.
Once I reach the other end, I head east on 14 towards Bonneville Dam. As I near the gates, I see that they’re closed. Damn! I should have stopped on the way when I had the chance. I figure I might as well head back and ride back the way I came. As I approach the turn off to the bridge, I notice a couple of bikers parked at the corner talking to each other. I pull up next to them to admire their bikes. One of them is riding a Honda VTX (just like silver half helmet in Port Angeles) and the other guy is on a Honda Magna 750. Nice bikes. I ask them if they can suggest any locations from where I can get some good shots of the Bridge of the Gods. They tell me to head back into Oregon and past the gas station I had stopped at. About a 100 yards down, there’s a marine park from where I can take some photos of the bridge spanning the river.
Thanking them, I head over the bridge to Oregon. The toll leaves me 1/2 a dollar poorer and the lady at booth gives me more precise directions to the marine park. I ride over and take some photos. After chilling for a few minutes, it’s time to head back home. The sun is starting to set and I don’t want to test my luck again by riding for too long in the dark.
As I ride westwards towards I-205, I slow down to take in the view. It may be some time before I can do this again. I smile. It’s been a good trip. Once again, I see signs for Bonneville Dam. I have to try and get a look at the dam. I exit I-84 and what do I see – the gates are not closed. Closing time is listed as 8 pm. Woohoo. I have a few minutes, if I hurry. As I approach the entrance, the guard warns me that there’s little chance of making it to the dam itself, since they’ve been doing the rounds and making people leave. I take my chances anyway. As I ride in, the area seems empty and I’m expecting a ranger or guard to tell me to leave. But I don’t encounter any such person. I do see a few folks who are packing it into a van. They’re kind enough to spend a couple of minutes taking photos for me. I too decide to head out, but stop closer to the dam. Just as I take what I think will be my final snap, a truck pull up and the park ranger gets out. “You have 1 minute”, he says, friendly but firm. I ask if he’s willing to take a photo of my bike and me with the dam in the background. He is and does.
That’s the last photo in the roll and it starts rewinding the film automatically. I smile to myself and ride out of the park.
I-84 meets I-205 and I’m headed north to Vancouver, where I get fuel for the bike at the same gas station I had going into Oregon. Fuel for me is available at the Taco Bell next door. So is conversation with Jerry, the manager. He likes the bike. Good for him.
I begin the long ride back home. I’m doing about 75 mph. It’s not so cold this time around. We’re a bit inland and the situation is reversed. For the most part, it’s warm and only in spots does it get a bit cold. Soon I’m in Olympia, 1/2 way to Seattle.
I have to hunt for a gas station. I traverse the main roads of downtown, not finding a single one. Okay – I want to go home and I’m rather irritated. I ride back towards I-5 hoping there’ll be one on the way. There is. As I pull into the gas station, the engine sputters to a stop. Should I be concerned? I’m a bit too tired to think about it and I simply start to fill her up. By the time the tank is full, I look at the meter and it reads 2.6 gallons. Aah. I had used up 2.5 gallons of gas for a 75 mile journey. Looks like fuel efficiency for the Virago drops to about 30 mpg when you’re doing 75 mph.
I’m back on I-5 heading north. The Tacoma dome is a familiar and welcome sight. I need as much of that as I can get. So I take I-405N, besides, it’s a shorter route home.
Finally, I exit off I-405 onto 8th Street east into the heart of Bellevue. Home is just a mile or so away. Along the way, I notice a cop car with lights flashing stopped at about 124th or so. There’s no other car in the vicinity, so it doesn’t look like he’s pulled someone over. I ride on and as I prepare to turn left at 140th, there’s another cop. This time, the car is parked across the middle of 140th as though he’s trying to block traffic. As I make the turn and near him, he signals me to the gas station. I ride a little closer and tell him that I live just up the street and I’d like to get home. He replies that the area has been cordoned off and is expected to be so for another 15-20 minutes. No, it can’t be. I’ve ridden nearly 500 miles today and I really want to go home!!! Irritated as I am, it’s not enough to relieve me of my common sense – he’s doing his job. I leave the scene and ride around a bit across 520 to Seattle and back.
About 25 minutes or so have passed by the time I’m close to home again. This time there are no cop car lights flashing as I approach. I make it into the complex and park my bike.
It’s 1:30 am when I step in through the door. It’s nice to be back home.
My first motorcycle. Sweet ride. Tops out at 110 mph. It was almost entirely by chance that I wound up with this beauty. I bought it from a colleague at the time. Initially, it seemed a bit heavy at 500 lbs dry, but it hugs the road really well. Ergonomics are great – I’ve been able to ride a few hundred miles per day without any issues. The low rev thumping sound is simply awesome.