West Coast Regional Meet III
May 18 – 22, 2006
Total Miles: 1,623
Seattle – Eureka
A pre-ride BBQ was planned at a friend’s house, where those who would remain behind gathered to see off those of us traveling south. I came over after work to find the grill already hot and people milling around inside the house. I unpacked the steaks I had brought and the group got bigger and eventually spilled out into the backyard. Conversations ebbed and flowed like a gentle tide, with occasional uproars when a particularly exciting story was relayed. Doug and I knew that we’d be riding south in the morning and we were looking forward to it. Doug also thought that Dave and Fritz, two good friends of ours, were also riding south but found out that neither of them could make it. Instead, we made arrangements for Chris to ride with us with the mutual stipulation that this trip was all about pictures and enjoying the scenery.
Surprisingly enough, we were all standing around in my driveway the next morning at the pre-determined hour of 9am, with both Chris and Doug ready to go and me stuffing some last-minute things onto the GS. And true to form, we left about half an hour after the targeted time and whisked our way south and out of the city. Traffic was light and we kept up a steady pace. The goal was to get out of Washington as quickly as possible and into Oregon where we’d drop down a gear or two and find some rural, twisty back roads out to the coast.
View of Longview, WA
Despite it being noon, we stopped for breakfast at a tiny little diner where I had eaten before that was just off the highway. It comprised of simple fare, but it was tasty. We were surprised when a man dressed as your typical chef came out to our table to inquire how we liked the food. Given, the restaurant didn’t have a lot of patrons at this time, but I don’t think that I’ve been anywhere where the chef himself has solicited my opinion. Doug, Chris and I were amused, flattered and slightly bewildered as we paid our bill and sauntered back to our bikes.
At this point Doug declared that he had had enough of the interstate and suggested that we take a road that paralleled the 5 down into Longview. It was a good choice as the pavement weaved its way along the Cowlitz River and through lush farmlands. It was a brief jaunt before we reached the bustling industry of Longview, WA and crossed over the mighty Columbia River. An overlook gave us the opportunity to stop and admire the vast river, snow-capped Mt St Helens peaking over the Cascade Range and the huge cargo ships loaded with wood for foreign markets.
A short ride along Route 30 led us to the turn off for Route 47 and thirty miles of fun. The road started out timid enough, passing through densely wooded terrain and occasional houses. Then the dance started. The corners came faster and tighter with a respite every few minutes. Then it was a staccato beat to the turns: a sharp right followed immediately by a more languid left-hander, only to be repeated immediately, again and again. Doug had taken the lead and ran with it. Chris followed gamely, his headlight visible when the road stretched out for a rare moment. Route 202 picked up where 47 ended and we continued the game. Eventually this, too, came to and end and we spent some time along Route 26 hunting down an elusive “gray line on the map”. Through perseverance we found it: the Lower Nehalem Rd. It promised a couple of miles of gravel in the middle, but the rest of the squiggle looked delicious! Chris, having only been riding for less than a year and never on gravel, was up for the challenge and we took off for the unknown. The road was a pleasant unlined affair, following the Nehalem River in its spring runoff. I thought that we might have taken a wrong turn when we ended up trailing slowly through a State Campground, but that was all apparently part of the plan. The pavement gave out and Doug took off. I followed Chris and we snaked our way along the river, the road twisting and turning at the whim of the terrain. Occasional oncoming cars and trucks would give me a start, as the road was narrow and the sides not well maintained. The “7 miles of gravel” guess turned out to be closer to 15+, but it was a grand time, with very little in the way of civilization to clutter the scenery. Two exceptions to that would be the few campers parked along the river, full of fishermen and families out for a weekend getaway, and the surprise sight of a Forest Service helicopter on its tiny landing pad.
A quick stop early on in Oregon
Quiet Oregon roads (Lower Nehalem Rd)
Checking out the gravel roads in Oregon
Doug comes back to see what’s taking so long
The pavement came back for good (after numerous teases) and we were making good time towards the coast. I caught the whiff of a chemical sanitizer odor and wondered which farm it was coming from and why. But the odor never went away. I puzzled over this until I rounded a bend and found that we were following a flatbed truck loaded with a number of port-a-potties. The driver was kind enough to allow us to pass and we were again zipping through the Oregon countryside. We stopped briefly at Wheeler to determine just where we were and then dropped south on Miami River Rd before being spit out onto 101 just north of Tillamook. At one point we stopped at an overlook to admire the view when Chris noticed that he was missing a bolt from his chain guard, and the remaining bolt was loose. A quick dip into the trunk of my GS brought forth a zip tie, wire cutters, loc-tie and a screwdriver. Doug rested and I watched while Chris fixed his bike. This would be the only mechanical problem we were to have the entire trip, and it was more fun than anything!
Coastal roads are interesting in the scenery that they provide, the varied road structure they entail and the numerous towns that they roll through. Fortunately for us it was still early in the season so that traffic wasn’t a hindrance. What was slowing us down were the many small towns that dot the landscape and their lower speed limits. Not that Oregon has the best speed limits to begin with. It took us a long time to get anywhere, and by the time we reached Newport it was getting late. Chris had made plans to stay with a friend of his in Eugene, so he decided to peel off and head east on Route 20, while Doug and I would hunker down for the night where we were. Doug hadn’t gotten any sleep the previous night and today’s ride had left him bushed, so it was an easy decision not to push on any further that day. We found a cheap motel (so cheap, in fact, that we could have each gotten our own room and a 3rd one for our gear and still saved money!) and unloaded the bikes. The wind was relentless off the coast while we wandered aimlessly around the town, looking for a likely place for dinner. Nothing spectacular caught our eye so we settled for some plain-Jane Denny’s-like restaurant about a mile south of where we had started for a good but uninspired meal.
Doug snoozes while we work on Chris’ bike
It was a late start the next morning, with a light mist coming down and a very gray and uninspiring sky overhead. There wasn’t a set route planned, but we each had an idea of roads that we’d like to cover. Doug and I sauntered down the coast to Reedsport, plagued by wet roads and still-overcast skies. I was tempted to stop by the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and in hindsight I really wish I had. But the weather wasn’t conducive to much exploration and I knew that we were already in a bit of a time crunch to make it to Fortuna anywhere near the 6pm dinner. At Reedsport we turn away from the coast and headed inland on Route 38. I had been on this road a couple of years ago but I had no distinct memories of it other than “it was nice”. And that memory held true. It’s an easy route that follows the Umpqua River as it meanders lazily through Oregon forests. The valley is filled with farms and pastures and a couple of small towns. The clouds continued to follow us inland, breaking up slightly as we reached Elkton. Doug had spied a twisting gray line on his map that would lead us south and he wanted to look for the source of that line. We backtracked through Elkton a couple of times before stopping to ask for directions. The man to whom Doug spoke with seemed determined that the road we were looking for didn’t exist and offered us an alternative route. We took him up on it (there wasn’t much of a choice, really) and proceeded south on Route 138, looking for the “sharp turn” that the local had warned us of as an indicator of when we should turn off. We were still following the Umpqua River and the road we were on was wide and fast. We both saw the bridge at the same time and came to the same conclusion that the local was off and that this was the turn we wanted. We crossed over to the west side of the Umpqua and promptly had no idea which way to go at the “T” on the other side. We guessed one way, rode for a mile and then turned around to try the other way. The “other way” turned out to be a beautiful paved road that zipped along the river past small farms. Then the sign we both love to discover: “Pavement Ends”.
Indeed, the pavement did end, the road narrowed and almost immediately we found ourselves on narrow single-lane forest service roads snaking their way through the mountains. The roads were marked with their own language, a code of sorts that neither Doug nor I could figure out. We meandered for a while, all the time wondering if we were choosing the right turn offs and just where we were headed, when I became frustrated at the late hour and that we still had a long way to travel before reaching the California border, let alone Fortuna. We backtracked our way out of the forest, back across the Umpqua River and onto Route 138. It wasn’t more than a few miles later when we saw the “sharp curve” that the local had indicated and the route we should have taken. We took it.
Ahhh – it was a great road! Perfect radius corners set in the wide river valley of the Umpqua River, excellent pavement and only a slight rain to spatter my visor. Doug took off like a shot but I was tired and lagged behind. We were followed eventually by a UPS delivery truck that took the corners with ease, making me feel almost inferior on my two wheels. The whole route was just over 20 miles, but they were all very enjoyable one. At the end of the road there was the Umpqua General Store where we stopped for a quick snack and beverage. Now it was time to make tracks. We shot directly east to the interstate, making our last gas stop before we took on the last 265 miles to Fortuna. The interstate from here to Grants Pass is nothing short of a high speed run over the mountains, passing cars and semis left and right. I had my radar detector and therefore felt confident in flying along. Of course the GS doesn’t exactly “fly” along with too much ease, so it wasn’t very difficult to keep the pace at a near-legal level. At Grants Pass we stopped to give our hosts a call to let them know that we were “running late” and that we’d be there as soon as possible. Of course it was already 4:30 and it was estimated to be at least another 3 or 4 hours to Fortuna. Time to fly like the wind!!!
We crawled out of Grants Pass doing the interminable 55mph. Eventually the road went from urban to rural and our speeds gradually increased. It was dry for the most part and we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly. Traffic was light and the landscape flew by. We had both been on this road many times before so at least we weren’t giving up too much sightseeing. Except for the Trees of Mystery. I wanted to stop there and find some sort of kitschy sticker for my panniers. I found one that was subtle and one that was not so subtle. Not wanting to waste time deciding, I bought them both and we were soon back on the road, held back from spreading our wings by a Safeway Foods truck. The truck eventually went its way and we were left with the coastal views of 101 south of Crescent City, passing through the little burbs of Orick, Trinidad and Moonstone. We cruised through Eureka, our hosts’ hometown, and continued the last 15 miles to Fortuna. Those last miles are always the longest. By the time we arrived the party was in full swing, if not a little past its prime. I mingled with my friends and met some new people. Eventually the night lost its favor and it was time to go back to Eureka, to our resting place for the night.
Chris, who had spent the previous evening in Eugene, was slated to partake in the bounty of our hosts and joined Doug and I for the ride north. We arrived to the welcoming arms of Becky and Gil who ushered us into their house and made me feel, once again, like I lived there and had just been away for a while. We settled in and after scoping out some preliminary photos from other peoples’ rides that day, finally hit the sack.
Porter the cat waits for his drink
Just hanging out with some of my friends
I discovered two problems the next morning. For one, the living room ceiling above me has two massive skylights that gives one no doubt as to when “morning” is. The other was the sleeping bag that Gil and Becky had thoughtfully supplied just for their guests’ use. I dubbed it “Charlotte”, as I was tangled up inside of it as tightly as a fly in a spider web. Ah, but those were minor inconveniences. I had slept well and now had an excellent day of local riding to look forward to. I dressed, put my sleeping accoutrements away for the day and then rode down to Fortuna to meet up again with my friends. Plans were being made as to routes and riding partners. I had already decided that I wanted to ride the Lost Coast road – a seventy-mile route that I was rumored to hold not only amazing coastal scenery, but also terrible, potholed roads. It sounded good to me. I met up with two other riders who wanted to do the same route, as well as Gil, and suggested that we all meet back at Gil’s house in Eureka.
While zipping north (again) on 101 to Eureka it was fun to see other bikers, more than likely people I knew, heading off in various directions for their own rides. I stopped at the store to buy some donuts and orange juice and then let myself in at Gil’s house. Doug was there and I told him of our plans to ride the Lost Coast. He got ready and soon Peter, Mark and Gil rode up and we were on our way, with Gil leading the pack.
There were three GSs, one VFR and a Moto Guzzi in our group. The GSs were made for roads like this. As for the other two bikes? Let’s just say I’m glad I was riding what I was. We started out by cruising down 101, past the Avenue of the Giants and onto the road that would take us through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park The road surface immediately fell apart, with frost heaves, dips and holes scattered across the surface. The road narrowed, but seemed even narrower because massive redwood trees on either side were dwarfing it. Trees lined the road, directing the course of the pavement more than the engineers did. It became a one lane, two-way road with blind corners and dark shadows. It was perfect. I stopped for some pictures, letting everyone else go ahead while I tried to get the camera to focus on trees that were hundreds of feet high and a dozen feet around. I gave up, hopped back on the bike and took off through the forest, merrily chasing my unseen friends ahead of me.
The mighty trees soon gave way to smaller trees, and those eventually gave way to fields and valleys and then tree covered slopes were once again de rigor. The road gained elevation very quickly, with tight hairpin turns in rapid succession forcing me to keep my eyes on the road and not on the scenery. On one corner I caught a quick glimpse of a helmet in the distance and I felt like a greyhound on the track when he sees the rabbit. I soon caught up and passed the sport bikes and one of the GSs, but Doug was nowhere to be seen. I kept on going, railing around the corners as fast as I dared, leaving the others behind in my search for the other “rabbit”. As it turned out the rabbit was waiting for me, camera in hand to take pictures as the others and I flew by. A short time later we stopped at an overlook where half a dozen other bikes were sitting, meeting up with more friends of ours going in our direction. We stood around and gossiped for a while before the call of the road beckoned to us yet again.
The number of bikes was now greater and everyone took “their place” in the group, riding according to how they wanted to attack the road. I only saw the leaders when they stopped to take pictures of the rest of us, or when I had stopped to take their pictures before they could pass me again. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. Not the fastest and not the slowest. It was a comfortable pace for me and I enjoyed myself thoroughly playing leapfrog with my friends.
A view on the way to the Lost Coast
On the way to the coast
Zarly and miles coming around the bend
Then the ocean appeared. I rounded a bend and suddenly it was there. I don’t know how the world’s largest body of water can surprise me, but it did. The road surface became flat and smooth and fast. The sportbikes were in their element, spinning the speedometer needle around the instrument face. I myself wasn’t looking for speed. Instead I studied the grassy hillsides, the rolling waves and the languor of the cows in the fields. I stopped for photos of the wild flowers and to catch some fellow riders in action as they zipped by me. The rocks offshore held birds and seals and other, smaller, unseen creatures. The sky was almost blue and the wind whipped in from the ocean’s vast surface, giving life to the tall grasses nodding in unison. This was what it was all about. It had nothing to do with the miles but instead all about the experience. This was here and now and this was living.
First view of the Pacific
The Lost Coast
Stopping to smell the flowers
VFRfan shows his stuff
Rising up from the coast and heading inland
It is only for a few miles that the Lost Coast road actually follows the coast before diving inland again. But when taken from north-to-south, the “dive” inland is much more like an ascent. Or, more accurately, an assault. It’s an 18% grade that takes you up like a roller coaster ascending the first hill in an amusement park. With a sharp turn at the top just to make things interesting. From this point on the Lost Coast was all inland roads, snaking up hillsides and rolling along ridge lines. The roads were narrow and slightly better maintained than through the redwood forest but they were still challenging to ride on. Our group scattered, and as we got closer to our destination the photo stops decreased. Only a couple of us bothered to stop in the picturesque town of Ferndale, taking in the beautiful restored and maintained Victorian buildings. From here it was a quick trip to Fortuna and our second group dinner. And this time I would not only be on time, I would be early!
Coming up – and quick!
BMW-K coming down the mountain
Dinner went well and I was able to catch up with some old friends and meet still more new ones. The night went late with stories being swapped and plans made for future rides. Eventually I geared up and made the trek back to Eureka for another night under the skylights. This time I took the sofa while Chris had the cot and Doug stayed again in the plush bed of the guest room.
Zarly teaches us how to pose
Posers in training
The morning wasn’t very leisurely, as we were to meet our crew for breakfast and then head off for our individual destinations. Chris, my companion for the trip south, would be continuing south while Doug and I would be returning north. Everyone else at breakfast was heading south it seemed too, and we had arrived too late to hook up with our northbound brethren. After a hearty breakfast and some good ribbing in the parking lot we said our goodbyes (again) and mounted our GSs to head north. We taxied along 101 until we reached the turn off for Route 299, where I eagerly anticipated smooth, known roads and a good pace. Unfortunately I wasn’t on my game. I couldn’t hold a line if you had handed it to me. I didn’t push the pace and Doug was very understanding, letting me lead how I wanted to. When we reached Willow Creek we made the decision to keep going east on 299 instead of north on 96. I kept hoping that if we headed further inland then the clouds would part and I’d be basking in the warmth of the sun with dry roads passing beneath my tires. It wasn’t to be. The sun played peak-a-boo for a while and I was tired. I relished the thought of finding a quiet pull-out along the Trinity River where I could park the bike, lay down on the grass and close my eyes for 15 minutes. No sooner had I mentally drawn out that thought then the clouds thickened and promised another dousing. We reached Weaverville and I knew that the road would get very technical between here and the interstate, something I was not looking forward to in my mental state and with the impending rain. As an alternative Doug and I consulted the maps and saw that 3 ran north of Weaverville, following the shores of Trinity Lake before joining up with the I-5 at Yreka. We chose to take the unknown northern route along the lake.
The rain started almost immediately, drenching the roads as I led us along unfamiliar territory. The road was in good shape and there was no traffic to impede us. I took the turns fast considering that they were wet and new to me. Doug followed along behind, trailing me like a hound dog “gone to ground”. The lake was almost deserted on this rainy Sunday, the glassy surface broken up by a gentle breeze and drops of rain. We followed the Trinity River north for quite some time, enjoying the wide, volatile riverbed that dominated the valley. The road veered suddenly from the lowlands and immediately rocketed my bike upward, twisting its way through tree-covered slopes. I spied a waterfall at one bend and pulled to the side to investigate. There was a scattering of snow nestled among the trees and the river was a raging torrent, hurtling down the mountain like an angry lion. We got back on the bikes and the road immediately turned back on itself. It snaked up the side of the mountains, a wet serpentine ribbon of pavement that switched back and forth, climbing into the clouds. There were occasional rocks and pine cones in the road, and of course the continuing rainfall, so I once again took an easy pace.
We left the mountains and rain behind and instead were plagued with a hefty crosswind from the south. It blew across the open farmlands and hit us hard, having nothing to break its flow beforehand. We stopped in the little town of Fort Jones to check out the stores and to take a quick break. Then it was back on the road and on to the interstate. Finally the high winds were a blessing, as they created a good tailwind that pushed me along the highway, creating almost a vacuum of air that I rode in. The goal was to reach Eugene, giving us a relatively easy day on Monday to continue north. As we passed the miles the clouds gathered and began spitting on us. I could see an ominous black cloud ahead of us and I wondered if we’d reach it before we turned off the highway. As it turned out, we did, but just barely. As we cruised the surface streets of Eugene I could see the ravaged leaves in distinct shadows across the roads, and then noticed the piles of hail along the sidewalks. The drainage system had been overwhelmed and we found ourselves tooling through foot-deep puddles that spanned the entire road. But through all of this mess, we could not find the motel we were looking for. We gave up and got back on the highway, heading north once again, only to see the sign poking above the trees, taunting us with our mistake. There was no easy turn around so we kept going north.
Of course the storm was also heading north and we were moving faster than it was. The rain started gently enough, spattering across my visor, but then it soon beat a tempo on my helmet that reminded me of how a bag of popcorn sounds in the microwave. The rain came down so fast and hard that it didn’t have time to run off the highway and instead created rivers of water. Jersey barriers lined up to create lakes for oncoming traffic to hit and spray across to our side of the road. The cars and trucks around us slowed down in response to the reduced visibility and we, in turn, reduced our speed to match theirs. We puttered along in this pouring rain at 30mph with me exclaiming in dismay at the slowness of the cars while all the time rejoicing in the warm and dry comfort I was enjoying inside my gear. This was fun!
Doug pulled off about 20 miles later and asked my opinion if we should go on or stop. I figured that we already met and beat our goal of Eugene, so there was no point in pushing ourselves any further in this messy weather. We found that the only thing at this interchange was a Best Western/truck stop, which was more than what we needed. It felt good to get out of the wet gear (even though I was dry inside) and get a hot meal. I slept soundly that night and woke up in time for us to resume heading north so that Doug could avoid most of the commuter traffic on the 5 and still catch a ferry from Vancouver. There isn’t much to say about the ride from wherever it was we stopped and into Seattle. It was the same interstate we rode down a few days ago and little had changed. The rain continued to haunt our journey and traffic kept things interesting. At my exit we waved our good byes and while Doug continued to slog north, I turned off in the direction of a hot shower and hungry kitties.