I hadn’t spent much time with my high school and college buddy, Merrill, in over a decade. We lived on opposite sides of the continent, yet when I took up motorcycling last year it didn’t take long to suggest a trip. He was a veteran rider, 20 years experience and hundreds of thousands of miles to his credit, and for the past year I’d picked his brain for advice about how to minimize the risks and develop my riding skills.
In 2006, I advanced the idea of a trip to the Interbike show in Las Vegas but Merrill was unable to make it. But his commitment to the trip was strong and we reconsidered the original plan this year making it a more scenic and mountainous journey. The new route would take us from Seattle across Eastern Washington, then Idaho, Montana and finally north into Canada. I wanted to ride the Icefields Parkway connecting Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada and we penciled in the “Going to the Sun” road across Glacier National Park. A jaunt around Lillooet, Whistler and Vancouver would bring us home to Seattle. A mere 2,100 miles to be ridden in just over 5 days. It was route of grand mountains mixed with canyon and river roads. And it was going to be cold!
I scrambled to get a heated jacket liner and install heated grips and Merrill packed accordingly. When I met Merrill at SeaTac airport (Seattle) his two duffels were full and heavy – they felt substantial, like our trip.
I was supplying the bikes. The one I’d learned on, a 2000 Katana 750 and the more recently acquired 2003 V-Strom DL1000. The Katana isn’t pretty, its heavily scored fairings told of my shortcomings as a rider when I first started out. But it was mechanically sound and Merrill paid for new tires. My top-to-bottom overhaul of the major systems, performed in the spring, seemed recent enough. I certainly wasn’t thrusting a problem bike on my close friend, yet I knew Merrill was used to the polished perfection of his 2004 K1200RS and since I’d never gotten around to repairing the fairings, I was a little embarrassed by the bike’s appearance. Merrill quickly dismissed my apologetic tone; the rashed fairings meant any additional scratches wouldn’t matter. He had been released from the pressure to return it in perfect condition.
Merrill swung a leg over the Katana and remarked how the riding position was pretty much like his K12. Whew! He was liking it already.
That left the V-Strom for me. It looked huge alongside the Katana. The bike had come with a complete set of aluminum box luggage and crash bars. Ready for adventure – it looked the part. But it also came with 28k miles of travel (Alaska, Texas, Maryland, Washington State) and it needed a lot of TLC. 7 out of 8 valves were out of spec, the throttle bodies had to be synced, forks needed oil and a heavy accumulation of grim removed. The adjustments, lubrications and host of parts to be replaced consumed most of my free time in the weeks leading up to the trip. My grime-stained hands and skinned knuckles revealed my amateur wrenching skills.
Seattle to Leavenworth – Shake Down Ride (120 miles)
Departing Sunday around 2pm and under gray skies we followed RT 2 over Stevens Pass (4018 ft) and on to a first night in Leavenworth, WA. The pass was chilly but dry and the sky cleared as we crossed to the eastern and dry side of the Cascades. Merrill marveled at the scenic beauty that surrounded him. It was his first visit to the Pacific Northwest.
In Leavenworth we camped at the Eight Mile campground (1,800 ft) and enjoyed dinner at the Tumwater Inn. Back at the campground the night sky was clear and the temperatures in the lower forties.
Leavenworth, WA to Orofino, ID – Day 1 (362 miles)
Monday had us out of the campsite by 7am and on the road after a coffee house stop at 8. Steadily increasing the thermostats on the heated gear we rode south on RT 97 over Blewett Pass (4,102 ft). Merrill kept shaking his head. The roads were all sweepers, where were the twisties that he savored on his rides back East? I was at a loss, I couldn’t offer up those roads but the day was young and I had a special surprise in mind just down the road.
Cruising through Ellensburg we emerged on the Yakima Canyon Road (RT 821). We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The blue sky contrasted with the tan canyon walls, the river wound between walls and sky. The road snaked between the three.
Picking up RT 24 we headed east past fields of hops and pushed the bikes to higher speeds as the road led straight across the flat plateau of eastern Washington. The Hanford nuclear reservation beckoned but we were hungry so we ventured breakfast at the Silver Dollar Café. Proudly claiming its location as the “middle of nowhere”, the Silver Dollar was appropriately empty. We approached the counter at 11:20, noting the meal sign on the wall “Breakfast Served 7–11” Merrill asked, “It’s a little after 11, I don’t suppose we could still have breakfast?” The wizened counter attendant looked us over suspiciously, “Yep, it’s after 11” he confirmed. We ordered grilled sandwiches and later felt grateful that we’d escaped without food poisoning.
The road continued east and eventually connected with our target road, RT 12 to Lewiston on the Idaho border. In Lewiston it became the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (as in Lewis and Clark) and now bordered the Clearwater River, the largest tributary of the Snake River, we had entered hill country and where before the roads had been straight and flat (the landscape barren), it was now lush and the road teased us with tighter curves.
We stopped in Orofino and savored our day. The Best Western Lodge at Rivers Edge had a decent restaurant were we were regaled with tales of local hunting, trapping, and fishing. Course you can’t get fresh fish locally cause their not allowed to sell what comes out of the river. L