The Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR)
Note: If you can’t wait for the video it is at the end of the story.
As I got ready to launch on the WABDR it appeared that the whole north end of the route was covered by massive wildfires. So it looked like my 6 day off road motorbike ride was gonna be about 3-4 days long.
Well, every journey begins with the first step, and my first step on this journey was a 200 mile slog down the I-5 slab to Vancouver WA, on the Columbia River.
From there it was a pleasant motor along Hwy. 14 to the “official” start of the WABDR, in the town of Stevenson.
I got settled into my home for the night at the Roadway Inn, and I was delighted when the manager invited me to just ride my motorbike right down the walkway, and up into a tiny private courtyard behind the office that was directly below my room. Sweet!
My riding partner, Dan Knight called to let me know that he’d arrived and we made a plan to link up in the morning. Dan was staying on the Oregon side of the Bridge of the Gods. Crossing that bridge is the ceremonial beginning of the WABDR.
A quick check of the weather maps before bed had me dreaming of thunder showers and lightening bolts.
As predicted, the rain was falling when I got up. Dan rolled across the river and we did the normal high-fiven’ white guys stuff before mounting up and heading out. Within a few miles we were climbing up thought the clouds on a never ending series of gravel roads. If there is one thing the US Forest Service is known for, it is making roads. Our GPS’s showed us the track, and our paper maps confirmed some of the finer details, and for the next 6 hours we motored along. Sometimes on well maintained fast gravel roads, sometimes on rough rocky overgrown tracks, and for a few glorious miles in the middle of nowhere, on silky smooth champagne asphalt that was like having your own private Moto GP track.
We had an interesting side trip to the Guler Ice Caves. It was really just like walking down a slippery staircase into a frozen basement. About three steps down the hole and the temperature dropped 20 degrees… As if it wasn’t already cold enough. We poked around in there for a while, but we had many miles to go before the end of the first leg…
Eventually we putted into the tiny mountain town of Packwood. We came to rest at the Packwood Inn, a funky little motel/RV park. Everything in town had kind of a skiing theme, except our grand motel room which had a 1950’s wood panel look, decorated with Native American designs… And a toilet that ran all night to give it that “sleeping next to a mountain stream” effect.
Hamburgers, milkshakes, gear cleaning, and story telling… In that order. Put a fork in us we were done for the night.
Once again I awoke to the sound of rainfall. Checking our weather maps on the almost non-existent hotel WiFi we found ourselves in the center of a real bone shaker of a storm. Thunder, lightening, and sheets of rain dumping out of the sky. We called an official rain delay and dashed over to the diner for breakfast. Dan was watching an aviation site for his weather updates (he’s a helicopter guy) and predicted a brief break in the deluge at 1030 hours.
Well, that never really materialized but at some point it was time for us to stop acting like a couple of Nancy’s, tuck our skirts into our armored riding pants, and swing a leg over our motorbikes. As we blasted up Hwy. 12, and across White Pass, I was just about as happy as I could be. The rain was letting up, I had my heated grips cooking away, and we were popping in and out of the clouds.
We had long ago decided to take the easier route up and over Bethel Ridge, and there was no chance we were gonna change our minds on this wet day. FS road 1500 was a dream to ride. A little washboarded in places but really the kind of route your motorbike dreams about in the garage at night, after you plug in the battery tender and turn off the lights.
At one point we rolled up on a giant flock of sheep, ranging through the timber below the road. There were several working dogs patrolling the perimeter of the flock. They gave us a quick look and then just went back to work. I was standing in about two inches of wet sheep poop so it seemed like the perfect place to change into dry socks.
The Bethel Ridge road leading down into the tiny town of Nile was just marvelous. Again, like our own private Moto GP or Isle of Mann TT track. Smooth winding sweepers for over ten miles. We stopped into the Nile country store for a cup of coffee and stayed a bit to visit with the locals. The nice lady running the place actually grew up in Everett about two blocks from my house.
Next up was a climb up through the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, and the steady rain fall was not helpful with that stretch. Let me explain why you’re not seeing any video or pictures from that leg of the route: It was the gnarliest, wickedest, butt-kickin’est, OMG most evil piece of trail I had ever had the misfortune to pilot a motorbike on. It was not possible to imagine how difficult the riding was. Oh, and did it get better when we were going down the other side? Not a chance, if anything it just kept getting harder, and harder. Dan said it best when we paused for a second along the ridge top, “today I had the very best road I’d ever ridden…. And the WORST”.
Thankfully we found a little relief when we got down to the Wenas Road. There was still lots of slippery mud to deal with but we managed to see some bluebirds along the Umtamum road and arrived in Ellensburg with nothing more than some sore muscles and really dirty motos.
The really dirty moto problem was solved with the use of the hotel’s garden hose… But actually all we did was transfer about a cubic yard of sticky mud from our bikes to the parking lot, so I wouldn’t called it “problem solved”… more like problem transferred to somebody else.
Morning arrived with the welcoming warmth of the sun through my east facing window. Dan and I got an early start and motored north into the mountains. The sun held out as long as it could, almost 10 miles, then it moved behind the dark ominous clouds to hide from us. Our ride up FS 35 was another asphalt sliver laid down by heaven. Switchback turns, connected by “S” turns, and some long sweepers. We even had a couple of majestic views open up in spots.
As we navigated our way up to Table Mountain it was socked in with a wet fog and really gusty winds. At about 6200 feet elevation the air was thin. Some of the old burned timber and fresh wild flowers, backed by a grey misty fog, were like a real life impressionist painting. Unfortunately it was so wet I was reluctant to ride with my little video camera strapped to my chest for too long.
While we did encounter a few nasty rocky sections along this leg of the journey it was nothing like the rock hopping we faced on the Oak Creek section. Most of our day was blessed with beautiful roads. Not the least of which was a detour section along the Old Blewett Highway. I’ll just let you watch the video and judge for yourself.
Eventually we pulled over at the junction of Hwy. 97 & US 2, the point where Dan was heading east to Idaho (away from the rain) and I was turning west, into the eye of the storm, to Everett. More high-fiven’ white guy stuff and then I was on my way.
Ok, as promised here is our highlight reel movie. Hope you like it:
Not much to report about the ride back over Stevens Pass other than:
A: 50 miles of high elevation blasting rain will clean a lot of dirt off your bike, and
B: when the going gets tough, the tough pull out ALL their dirty clothes from their panniers and layer them on under their riding suits.
So here are some final notes: The StrikeForceMoto ran like a charm. For every inch of the 675 miles it was the perfect motorbike for me. I got about 67 MPG all along the route, and my 3.1 gallon tank had more than enough range for every stage. The 295 pound wet weight was about all the bike I’d ever care to wrangle over those nasty sections.
And a huge shout out to my riding partner Dan Knight. Dan was the perfect easy going companion. He was riding a BMW 650 Sertão. That capable machine, and Dan’s skilled technical riding made his progress look easy. When you watch the video, and see Dan and the Sertão flowing through the fast twisty sections, you will be thinking “Poetry in Motion”, just as I did. Thanks Dan for the great ride.
That’s it for now. Kat