A great Washington ride

Sept. 15, 2012

Well, we managed to squeeze in a few more good rides:

In mid August we did a little 500-mile over-nighter up to Fort Benton in north central Montana, then back through Great Falls and along some of our favorite roads along the Missouri River to Helena, then home.

Our longest tour of the year (so far) began Aug. 29 and concluded Sept. 5 – eight days, five of which were dedicated to riding (one was for a wedding and two were for visiting long-time friends). We covered 1,800.3 miles end-to-end in absolutely perfect weather: high 40s to low 50s in the morning warming to high 70s and even low 80s in the afternoon.

This trip took us St. Regis, Mont., then over the pass and along the St. Joe River to St. Maries, Idaho. We knew the top 10-12 miles of the Idaho side of the pass was getting pretty rough. Well, in late August, that was all being rebuilt and ought to be awesome next spring. We did struggle navigating 50- to 200-yard patches of loose and deeply graveled roadbed, fully loaded, pitching downhill with the front end tending to head where it wanted.

We made our way to the Palouse Country of east-central Washington, stopping in to see our favorite barista, Melinda, at the Eclaire coffee shop in Tekoa. Then it was to Steptoe Butte, St. Johns, LaCrosse and south to routes brand new to us.

With just over one million square miles in the Northern Rockies region, even after riding the area for 30-plus years it is comforting to know there are still new pieces of excellent, extraordinary, incredible, etc. tarmac to seek out an explore.

We crossed the Snake River south of LaCrosse en route to Dodge (great saloon) and Starbuck, where there was a tremendous flea market lining the highway. Re-crossing the Snake, we stopped and enjoyed a break at stunning Palouse Falls.

We cruised deserted asphalt, some of it pleasantly twisted, through fields of grain, potatoes, corn, onions, alfalfa and fruit orchards to Kahlotus and Connell and finally Othello for the night. The agricultural productivity of the region, possible with Columbia River irrigation water and a hot climate, is stunning.

At Othello, I recalled spending a night here in the third week of September in 1983, 29 years ago. I’d been to the coast on my ’83 Honda CB 1100 F. When I awoke in the morning, it was raining. It snowed heavily as I rode U.S. Hwy. 12 over Lolo Pass and into Missoula, Mont. You just don’t forget a day like that.

We kept west, passing through Royal City to I-90 where we crossed it and the Columbia, then took a pleasant backroad to Kittitas. Oooo, Hwy. 821 south through the Yakima River Canyon was sweet but with an oh-so-slow speed limit…and it was being patrolled!

At Selah we headed west through Naches, then Rimrock and White Pass, Packwood to Ashford (very remote but very rough), and Alder, then north to Sumner for the night. It was a short one-hour jaunt to Green Lake and Seattle the next morning. The wedding was equally short and sweet; the best kind.

We pulled out of Green Lake and the Seattle metro area Sunday morning at 7:20. After fully traversing the state, 12 hours and 10 minutes later, we rolled up the gravel driveway of friends Jim and Diane Bailey who have a place along the east shore of the Pend Orielle River about 80 miles north of Spokane.

That long day had us hitting Bothell northwest of Seattle, then picking up Hwy. 2 at Monroe and running that to Wenatchee. We hooked into Hwy. 91A north along the Columbia to Chelan for lunch.

The route to Chelan was all pleasant enough once away from urbania, but it was after Chelan that we began to hit our stride in terms of remote and rural two-lane, much of it mountainous to boot.

Right out of Chelan we found what is apparently a county road that took us through grain country, even a two-mile stretch of gravel before blacktop resumed. We ranged up toward Bridgeport, then east to Grand Coulee Dam and a refreshment stop.

Ahh, things were looking up as we hooked north toward Elmer City, then east to Hwy. 21, then north through Keller to where we picked up the little secondary to the ferry at the Inchelium-Gifford crossing over Roosevelt Lake (Columbia River reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam). Wow, is that some fine mountain riding!

At Gifford we ran to Addy because the slightly shorter route to Blue Creek was under construction. Woohoo! Though speeds were posted at 50 mph, then 35 at the twisty summit, we, er, pushed it a little over that, heh heh. Talk about getting some wear from the edges of the tires!

Then down into Chewelah, another quick pit stop, then across the Flowery Trail (gotta love that name), past the 49 Degrees ski area, giving a nod to a doe, fawn and little buck still in velvet, then dropping down into the Pend Orielle River Valley at Usk.

At this point we’d covered about 1,400 miles, yet this last 30 miles was the absolute best piece of moto-road on the whole trip … and it was entirely new to us! There’s a reason (actually several) that I journal my trips. This one will call us back!

The lack of motion was welcome

It was dusky – almost dark – as we rolled the last 19 miles up the river shore to our friends’ brand spanking new home. There we cooled our jets for a couple of days with good brews, good barbecued chicken and ribs, and some fine cocktails including a little Sailor Jerry rum with lime and ginger ale.

None of what we rode home was new, but it was all grand: to Usk and Newport, then Plummer, Idaho, Moscow, Kendrick, Orofino, Kamiah, Lowell and Lolo Pass. About 20 miles from the top of the pass, visibility was down to 100 yards due to forest fire smoke. I was afraid we’d run into a road block any minute but we made it over and down into Missoula, Mont., and back home to Butte, our apparel stinking like a campfire.

This tour represents what sport touring is all about: Riding a good bike with a good companion over excellent roads that are both familiar and new, seeing new sights and communities while meeting great people, then taking a break to hang with family while a nephew gets hitched, and hooking up with 25-year friends for a couple of days to celebrate their new home.

Ride hard, ride free, ride well, ride safe.

– Cole Boehler

Comments are closed.