20 May – 3 June 2011
When we stopped for fuel in a little one pump Nevada town on a deserted stretch of US Highway 50, Susan came out of the gas station office and presented me with a new T-shirt. Printed on the shirt, ” I survived Highway 50, the loneliest road in America”. Little did I know…Highway 50 would make me earn the right to wear that silly shirt.
So after months of totally crappy weather, weeks of demolition and reconstruction on a home improvement project, and minutes of motorbike preparation, we were packed and ready to roll off toward Colorado. I say “toward” because Susan and I were not exactly taking the direct route. The aforementioned crappy weather had me planning a route that would take us 3 states south, to avoid the worst of the weather and the need to summit too many high mountain passes and make numerous Continental Divide crossings.
Day 1 20 May 2011
As soon as I saw the first sliver of light in the eastern sky (at about 0430) I knew we we’re gonna be in for a great day of riding. The morning revealed itself to be sunny, warm and showing off a gorgeous blue sky.
Susan and I rolled out of town and headed east at about 0800. Crossing Snoqualime Pass we were glad we still had all our winter layers on, but I knew I wouldn’t be needing them too much longer. And there in lies the first challenge on such a journey. What do you do with all your “snivel gear” when the temperatures begin to soar? Two weeks on the road had our tiny panniers pretty well jam packed. I guess I’ll just have to cram it in somewhere. We’ll see soon enough, tomorrow is looking like another sunny day and we’re rolling down US 97 through Eastern Oregon.
As far as off the bike excursions today, there was not much to report. I had planned a short hike down the Cowiche Creek Trail outside of Yakima. Sadly after 10 miles of navigating through city streets it turned out to be a kind of grubby little dirt track through a pretty sketchy rural shanty town. We chomped down a sandwich and skaddled.
No complaints from either of us though. The thermometer on the moto indicated 70 degrees for the first time in, gee let me think, in forever! It actually snuck up near 80 later in the day. The Ellensburg-Yakima canyon road never disappoints, and today it added a flock of wild turkeys as a bonus. The ride over Satus Pass was a joy, and at this moment, as I’m typing this in our motel room in Goldendale, there is a covey of quail calling just outside my window.
Day 2 21 May 2011
We awoke to a cool cloudy morning, and there may have been a little bit of rain in the air…I was ignoring that for the moment. As I scanned the huge pasture behind our window with my binoculars I noticed several burros, or donkeys, and a mule. They were tied up next to a long “horse” trailer and before I knew what came over me I was out there with them, dodging donkey manure in my flip flops. I met Tom and Mavis from the Cedar Hill Ranch up in Falkland, BC. They were also on a bit of a road trip with a few of their prized stock animals to show at the International Mule Days show in Bishop CA. The little guys were mammoth donkeys (Jacks) and the mule… was a mule (a Jenny). My curiosity was rewarded with a mini mule skinner and burro breeder’s seminar. I learned more about mules and donkeys in the next few minutes then I had learned in the previous 59 years.
Our first stop for the day was the Stonehenge War Memorial. This Stonehenge sits on a ridge above the Columbia River Gorge, world famous as a windsurfer’s paradise. Yep, it was windy! Thankfully the wind crossing the bridge wasn’t as bad as we expected, once across, we followed US 97 south for the rest of the day.
Compared to the day before it was winter again. Probably 25 degrees colder, and wet. Really wet when I found myself behind one of the few big trucks headed south bound.
How about a role call of the animals we saw: deer, pronghorn antelope, yellow-bellied marmots, ground squirrels, American white pelicans, and the show stopper – about 20 turkey vultures ripping into a dead deer carcass at the side of the road. A true “Wild Kingdom” moment, but when I grabbed the brakes to go back and take some photos Suzie said, No, No, No! I only pouted for the next 20 miles or so, then something else caught my attention. I really am getting to be such a big boy, don’t you think.
We had some lunch in Bend, and then continued south under clearing skies. Eventually we came in for a landing in Klamath Falls at the bottom end of Oregon. Kick stand down…to…hot tub time, approx. 8 seconds. Susan said it was nice to be finally warm! Our evening was completed with a nice dinner at the Dynasty Asian restaurant.
Day 3 22 May 2011
Nothing gets a moto rider’s day kicked off to a better start than a cloudless blue sky in the morning. I was so excited to get going that I went out on a little walk-a-bout at 0600. Well Sunday morning, Klamath Falls was a veritable ghost town. No one out except me and a few bums rummaging through the city trash bins.
As we rode south to California I was expecting some type of border crossing, maybe a sign of some kind. You know, Welcome to California or Leaving Oregon – Come Back Soon. Nothing! Not even a crack in the pavement. I slowed down at a RR crossing to watch a stack of white pelicans drop into an irrigation ditch and according to my odometer they must have splashed down right on the state line. A few miles further was the town of Tulelake, CA.
We were headed through the Moduc National Forest down to Susanville, following a scenic mountain highway at an elevation of around 5000 feet. I couldn’t help but think that the only thing you’d find up in Washington at 5000 feet in the mountains is 15 feet of snow. Did I mention that we truly had the road completely to ourselves. I’ll bet we didn’t see 5 cars in 150 miles.
We had some lunch at a 1950′s style diner in Susanville. With the coming of afternoon the temperatures started to warm up and we continued on into Reno, NV. I thought that a little video of us riding under the “Reno – Biggest Little City in the World” sign would be fun. We grabbed the footage and immediately agreed to get out of town. The whole place just looked a little grubby, and it was still early enough to get further east to Fallon, NV before we stopped for the night.
Day 4 23 May 2011
With the jet fighters from Fallon NAS roaring overhead, we roared down eastbound US 50, the loneliest road in America. And they weren’t kidding! After a short hike at the Grimes Point petroglyphs, we rode east for 110 miles to Austin, NV and never came up behind another vehicle. Only about 10 cars passed us going the other way. Let me tell you that again… 110 miles of Nevada desert (at about 75 MPH) and NO cars!
On the down side, we were riding between 6500 and 7500 feet in elevation and dodging thunderstorms. Well, more like dodging in and out of them. Austin was a welcome warm up and lunch break. As we were getting back on the motorbike the hail started…
The rest of our day was beautiful scenery, deserted roads, and rugged weather. We could see the next thunderstorm 20 miles in the distance and wonder, ‘maybe it will blow away before we get there’. Usually not! But as we approached the storm cells, the smell of spring desert sagebrush would fill the air with with a wonderful fresh scent.
Finally we dropped into Ely, NV and took refuge in the second cheapest motel in town. Hoping for better weather tomorrow.
Day 5 24 May 2011
The ice on the motorbike saddle pretty much told the story. The high desert Nevada mountains were not done with us yet. The clear skies at sunrise started to fill with a heavy leaded cloud cover and I voted we saddle up and slap leather.
Our climb out of Ely NV was Epic! It was rain and snow mixed as we loaded up the bike, within a few miles we were gaining elevation and the snow was really coming down. I had to squeegee off my helmet visor every few seconds.
As always, Susan was a hardcore trooper. She just sat back there and flowed through the turns as the snow got heavier and the road corkscrewed it’s way up, up, up. I was focusing on trying to stay relaxed and smooth. The snow was not sticking to the road and my cheesy little thermometer looked to be holding around 38 degrees, so I figured we should press on and try to get down out of these mountains and into the Great Basin of Utah.
Eventually we crested the pass and started ghosting down the other side. It was immediately evident that the weather was better down in the next valley. The brief slivers of sunshine were a welcome addition. What I didn’t enjoy was the screaming 20-25 knot side winds. Holy crap! Blow my moto! Those winds were wicked.
We said goodbye to Nevada and continued east on Hwy 50. Highway 50 is actually part of the coast to coast Lincoln Memorial Highway. The Lincoln highway was opened in 1913 and it ran from Central Park in NY to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. It was the first highway spanning the country. As autos became more affordable and reliable, the developers of the highway thought that a coast to coast highway would bring prosperity and economic growth to all of the communities that it passed through. And it did – for a time. The development of the interstate freeway system during the Eisenhower era put the Lincoln highway on the skids. One has to know what to look for to find any of the old original highway markers. There are cool little cement posts with a bronze Lincoln head and metal signs with a simple “L” on them.
Farther east Hwy 50 followed the route of I-70, and so did we. The day got drier, and a little bit warmer but those pesky side winds were ever present. We called is a day in the town of Green River UT.
Day 6 25 May 2011
With a shorter ride day planned, Susan declared that we would delay our departure until 1000 local time. That would give the sun a chance to warm up the clear blue skies a bit. Sunny and 70 as we rolled east toward Glenwood Springs. We made a brief stop in Grand Junction where Suzie scored a nice fleece hat at Cabella’s. We had some food at a cafe by the railroad station, and then it was back on the road.
As soon as I discovered the infamous Doc Holliday was buried in a little cemetery up on a hill above Glenwood Springs he was added to my must see list. We dropped our panniers at our hotel and motored across the Colorado River to hike the steep trail up to the grave. Scrambling up the rocky trail it was obvious that we were over a mile above sea level. We checked out the memorial marker for John Henry “Doc” Holliday, although the exact location of the coffin is a bit of a mystery. When Doc died on Nov. 8, 1887 he was a penniless invalid. They buried him in the Potters Field (the ground in a cemetery that is often used for scoundrels, outlaws, and prostitutes – to keep there souls away from the decent folks). The plain wooden marker did not survive the years, hence the uncertainty of the actual gravesite.
After the visit with Doc we walked around the town a bit and had some dinner. I checked in with my brother Kevin to let him know we were on schedule (as if) and would be at his house in Lakewood tomorrow.
Day 7 26 May 2011
We were up and out early from Glenwood Springs. Checking the weather forecast for Vail it looked like sunny in the morning and thundershowers in the afternoon. We agreed that crossing a 10,600 foot mountain pass on a cool sunny morning sounded like way more fun than crossing that same mountain in a raging thundershower. Duh!
Can I take this opportunity to mention that the motorbike was running like a top, even at these high altitudes. Before we knew it we were headed down the east side of the Rockies, and then coasting into the Colorado Katzer’s driveway in Lakewood. We had covered 1708 miles.
27-30 May 2011
We spent a very relaxing 4 days with my Brother Kevin and sister-in-law Debi. There was a constant parade of relatives, neighbors, and friends stopping in to say hello and ask about our journey. There was also a constant parade of birds and animals coming to the house, what fun for me! Basically we were treated like rock stars!
Day 12 31 May 2011
On the road again. Lakewood treated us to a wonderfully sunny, and moderately warm morning. We headed north toward Fort Collins. As we neared the Wyoming border we picked up a wicked cross wind that just kept pounding us all day long. At times it was all I could manage to grip along at 45-50 MPH, struggling to keep the bike upright in the gusts. In fact at one point just past Laramie, WY as we were west bound on I-80 a highway advisory sigh flashed the following: Caution light trailers, 45+ MPH side winds ahead.
Yikes, it was a battle! Over lunch in Rawlins we agreed to re-think our plan and try to get in a few more miles before we hung up our spurs for the night. We were headed north on 287, a smaller two lane state highway and I was hoping the wind might be behind us for a while. Well is was, off and on for a mile or so, but overall it was another 127 miles of rocket blasting wind from our 9:00 o’clock. Empty roads and beautiful scenery dotted with pronghorn antelope.
We were following the route of the Overland Trail, one of the original pioneer super highways. Unlike the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, the Overland Trail was a well maintained wagon route with regular stations positioned at one day intervals. Virginia Dale Colorado was one such stations. The station was founded by a scoundrel named Jack Slade who named it after his wife. Slade was said to have committed his first murder at the age of 13, and had a nasty reputation around the territory. But he ran a really efficient stage stop and the locals tended to look the other way as long as the stage ran on time.
Further up the Overland Trail we visited Split Rock, Wyoming. Just an empty flat spot in the rocks these days, it once was a stage stop and a Pony Express station too. It was here that I was reminded of the joy of being a motorbike traveler…as Susan and I were getting off the moto a van pulled into the lot and the driver, a large man with a mustache that was more “out of control” than mine walked straight over to us and started jabbering away. I think he got out most of his life story before I got my helmet off and pulled out my earplugs. His name was Lulle and his wife was Yvonne, they were cowboys visiting from Sweden. Let me tell you that again in case you weren’t listening…They were cowboys from Sweden!
Did I mention it was really windy?
They had been in Canada, moving a huge herd of cattle, then toured through Yellowstone, sleeping in the back of their rental van…there was a slight language barrier, but that was the gist the story. Lulle was a motorbike rider and related several moto adventures to us. I liked this big guy instantly! We all laughed a bunch and took some photos. But eventually went our separate ways. I’ll be looking forward to an email from Lulle when I get back so I can share this story with him.
The little town of Riverton WY welcomed us for the night. Our first day back on the road found us logging 367 miles…367 very windy miles!
Day 13 1 June 2011
A beautiful day in the Rendezvous City (Riverton). We were out fairly early and had a really nice day on the road. The wind behaved itself and the the antelope count was over 50 again, and we started to see more mule deer too. There was a couple of places were the road was stripped to gravel and we had to Q up behind a pilot car for 13, and then 6 very dusty miles. Crowley WY – Cowtown USA – was our choice for second breakfast. Susan and I agreed that these little northern Wyoming towns were actually kind of cool. They seemed cleaner and much better maintained then some of the “rusty little hovels” we motored through in southern Wyoming. Eventually we were 361 miles down the road in Bozeman, MT.
In Bozeman, the first thing motel manager said was “Looks like rain tomorrow” :-/
Day 14 2 June 2011
Ok let me sum up the day for you in two words: Wet – Cold! We knew we were in for a frog strangler when I checked out the weather radar maps. We needed to get across the Continental Divide so I-90 was our safest route…OK, probably the only route! Is Junuary an actual month? Well we managed 369 miles to Coeur d’ Alene, staving off hypothermia several times by bunkering up in cafes’ along the way. At 1500 hours the sky was dark, blustery, cold…I had to double check the time piece stuck to my dash. Yep, it really was June 2nd. Sunshine in the forecast for tomorrow!
On the bright side…I just can’t say enough about my Firstgear Kilamanjaro motorcycle jacket. Absolutely waterproof! Worth every penny I paid for it, oh wait, I got that for free! I won a raffle drawing at Eastside Powersports. Yeah! Thanks Eastside Powersports.
Day 15 3 June 2011
Our final day on the road was dry, still a little cold but DRY. We blasted across Washington State like road racers. I stopped at an overlook above the Columbia River to get a photo and reflect on our journey. A few miles farther west we would pass Ellensburg and complete the loop. We’d ridden through 9 states, been on the road for 2 weeks, and covered 3,224 miles.
We hope you enjoy the story as much as we enjoyed the trip.