An Early Spring Ride Across the Border
It had been a long winter and the passes had finally opened: it was time to visit my friends in the Kootenays again. My friend Chris decided to join me and the two of us made a run for the border. We were both on large dual sport bikes and I took advantage of that by incorporating some dirt roads into our route.
May 3-4, 2008
Total Miles: 843 miles
Seattle, WA to Castlegar, BC
My friend John (GetFuzzy) in Castlegar had some things at my house and I had been meaning to get them to him for a few months now. But finally the passes were open and I had a free weekend; it was time to head north. It would just be a quick weekend ride, with 9 to 10 hours of riding planned for each day and an overnight in Castlegar.
I met Chris (req) in Monroe just after 8am, just a little later than I said I would be there. The skies were overcast and I had left Seattle under a very light drizzle. I hoped that the east side of the Cascades would be true to form and offer us drier and warmer weather. We crossed over Hwy 2 to Stevens Pass and while it was chilly it was at least dry and the roads were clear. We rolled in and through Leavenworth with no problems and kept going east to Hwy 97. From there it was a familiar ride along the Columbia River north to Omak and then we pointed our bikes east once again along 155. Not more than 13 miles later I took us on a seemingly random dirt road that disappeared into the hinterlands of north central Washington. I had been on this road once before a couple of years ago and I was excited to take it again. It didn’t disappoint me at all.
The Wenatchee River along Hwy 2
Early view from the dirt road off Rt 155
I was surprised to see snow along here
Solid dirt roads with some ruts thrown in for variety
The GS packed with goodies for the Canadians
Further along the Aeneas Valley Rd
A little mud…
A little more mud
Somewhere along our route
After many happy miles, we traded the playful dirt roads of the Aeneas Valley for some fast and smooth pavement up 21 to the town of Republic. It was lunch time and once again, Mel’s at the south end of town did not disappoint. After a tasty and filling lunch, Chris and I took off for the border via the fast and enjoyable Hwy 21 into Danville. Surprisingly, the border guard didn’t want to looking into my panniers and seemed content when I freely told him that I was leaving stuff behind in Canada. Once across the border it didn’t take us long to reach Castlegar, riding along Hwy 3 past Christina Lake and Nancy Green Lake. The weather had only gotten better as the day went by and I was sorely tempted to stop for photos, but there weren’t that many places with good views, so onward we flew.
But there was one little stop I wanted to make. Jim (bubba zenetti) had pointed out a road that would take me to the elusive railroad bed that had been converted to a dirt trail. I wondered what this looked like and since we had some time to kill, Chris was game to find out. We didn’t get more than a mile in when the pavement turned to dirt and a mile or so later, that dirt had become mud slicker than snail snot. At the first patch of snow I had to cross I realized that conditions probably wouldn’t get any better and turned around, only to find that Chris had already stopped and was just waiting for me to regain my senses. We went back to the pavement.
Chris says “no further”
Slick mud was just as bad as slushy snow
Pulling a retreat from the detour
Better mud as we had back to pavement
That night Chris and I stayed with Jim and his family as he hosted a rather spontaneous gathering of motorcyclists from the area. We ordered in pizza and wings and talked about things that generally only motorcyclists find interesting. Despite the stimulating conversation, it wasn’t a very late hour when we all retired to our respective sleeping quarters for the evening.
Morning was casual, with Mike (Lazarus) making pancakes and sausage for the group before we all toodled off in our own directions. The first thing Chris and I did was to stop at Nancy Green Lake for a proper photo in the morning sun. We were to have another spectacular day of riding.
After a uneventful border crossing at Lauier (it helps when the guard used to ride a KTM) Chris and I were off to explore the unknown! We’d take westbound roads that ran parallel to the border and the well-known Highway 20. I didn’t know the names of these roads or if they were paved or not, but Chris was game to check them out with me. The first one was Boulder Creek Rd that branched off of Hwy 395 just south of Orient. Excellent pavement, narrow views and consistent corners greeted us and kept us going for the 26 miles to Curlew and Hwy 21 (from the previous day’s ride). But instead of heading south on 21 we caught the West Kettle River Rd and headed… west. The valley was wide and pleasant and we made sure not to follow the main road as it veered north back towards Canada. Instead we followed the secondary turn and it became Torado Creek Rd and led us on a merry chase south through a flat-bottomed valley full of ancient and decaying remains of the farming community.
After another abrupt junction the road took off to the west again, now called Chesaw Road. It would lead us to Chesaw, of all places, and it was a fantastic ride there. The pavement thus far today had been in very good repair and this section was no different. What was different, however, was the amount of sand on the surface. It was frustrating, as the road now snaked its way through narrow valleys and trees that crowded close on both sides. Fishermen populated the shores of tiny lakes as Chris and I zipped by, our pace hampered by larger quantities of sand scattered across the road’s surface.
Nancy Green Lake along Hwy 3
My GS ready to go
Boulder Creek Rd west of Orient, WA
West Kettle River Rd along the Kettle River
An old homestead along Toroda Rd
Heading south along Toroda Rd
Along Chesaw Rd
More Chesaw Rd
South of Chesaw on Hungry Hollow Rd
Hungry Hollow Rd
Heading towards Tonkaset on Havilah Rd
After Chesaw we darted southwest on Tonaket-Havilah Rd and enjoyed the scenery as it spread out before us. We were coming to the point where the Cascades were being revealed in all of their snow-clad splendor. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road (but the still-frequent sand demanded that I do so) and I eventually ignored a farmer’s No Trespassing Sign to take a picture from his field. I had parked my bike and when I looked back to see where Chris was, I was surprised to see him standing next to his bike while it lay on its side. Apparently a rut had gotten the better of him. I took a picture and then helped him pick up his bike. I’d like to point out that I did not drop my bike at all on this ride.
Small detour provides a photo op!
Chris and I check out someone’s private property
Amazing views of the Cascades
More views from Havilah Rd
We lunched in Tonkaset at Whistler’s Diner (slightly above average food but excellent service) before deciding to stick to the pavement for the remainder of the day. This wasn’t a bad decision at all, as it meant that I got to ride over Loup Loup Pass (Hwy 20 between Okanogan and Twisp). I lost Chris early when I passed a large truck and he didn’t, but he wasn’t far behind me for the 20-some miles that make up this oh-so-tasty stretch of road. The surface was dry and clean and what little traffic there was, was easily dispatched. And per usual, I saw no signs that anyone was interested in enforcing the speed limit along here. Wheeee!
After a quick fuel-up in Twisp we puttered out way through Winthrop and then westward to the North Cascades Highway. It had opened a mere three days ago so there were a lot of bikes. We had just rounded the larger sweeper at the bottom of Washington Pass when we were stopped by traffic. Dozens of cars were parked randomly on the road way. I could only guess that there was a slide blocking the road ahead. Taking advantage of both my bike’s smaller size (ha – I never thought I’d say that about the GS) and my flagrant disregard for the law, I weaved my way up to the front of the line and made myself at home while the plows did their work. Chris followed me up and kicked back on his bike.
The plow finished its work and we were free to roam across the pass, which we did with much aplomb, despite waiting for the local law enforcement to come out of the woodwork. We never did see them but for a first run of the season I was glad to be safe than sorry.
Liberty Bell peak at Washington Pass, North Cascades Hwy
Chris waits patiently for the avalanche to be cleared
People waiting for the road to be cleared
Oooo look! It’s almost clear already!
Looking back down from Washington Pass
Chris hoping that the snow doesn’t come back
Near Diable Lake on Hwy 20
We dropped down to the east side of the Cascades and took a short break at Rockport. Now it would just be a few more back roads and then I-5. Fortunately the traffic wasn’t too bad on I-5 and I was home in what seemed like record time. Another beautiful ride under my wheels and time to plan the next one…