USA The Ride: Part I

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The Great North-West

USA The Ride: Part I - Clapway
I can’t think of a better way to leave Canada than on the ferry from Sydney, on Vancouver Island, to Anacortes, WA.  The heavily laden behemoth slowly tugs through the very heart of the San Juan Islands, passing countless changing currents of the Puget Sound, and finally revealing the great, snow-capped, peak of Mt. Baker.

It was nice to have the opportunity to reflect on the difficulties I had faced, the wonderful people I had met, and the breathtaking things I had seen over the last 5000 miles. What could be more conducive to reflection than the rhythmic rumble of the engines; the cool salty breeze on the deck; the jumping fish, porpoises and whales, in denim colored water; bright, white sailboats lazily rising and falling with the swells; countless islands – inhabited or deserted, thickly covered with evergreens; and of course the majesty of the lonely mountain in the distance.

Though sore and tired, I was never the less excited to mount my steed when we landed in Anacortes. Down highway 20, 536 and interstate 5, on the northern outskirts of Seattle, live Jay and Dionne – fellow bikers, artists and hikers whom I met in Jasper national park in Alberta. This would be the first of many reunions I would have as I slowly made my way around the states and down to Mexico. I was looking forward to some rest, good food, great company, and provocative, politically charged, art.

After a few restful days, and nibbling on the grape vines in Jay’s backyard, I returned the call of the road and headed south to the Olympic peninsula. Fortunately, the disgusting traffic of Interstate 5 beheld me for only an hour, before I could cut across on HWY 16, over the Tacoma Narrows, and enter the peninsula. I followed the coast north, switched to HWY 3 and then HWY 104 over the Hood Canal Floating Bridge and finally connected to the famous Route 101 (El Camino Real). The road took me north around the peninsula, past towns with multiple churches on every block, Olympic National Park, and finally turned south along the Pacific coast.

Where 101 hugs the coast, it is difficult to ride: all progress becomes retarded by views of the endless sea, fog covered cliffs, and moss laden coastal high plain. Thankfully, El Camino Real veers often inland, which allowed me to coast, hugging the curvy road, for countless miles without ever feeling the boredom of a straightaway. I spent a couple of dreamy nights on the coast before taking a sharp turn east, toward Corvallis, OR, on the inspirationally curvy HWY 34 (out of Waldport).  Through mostly secondary and tertiary forest, 34 winds eastward with curves so tight you forget to breathe for what seems to be miles. Every once in a while a giant truck and trailer stacked with trees will ask to share this tiny road, and in those moments you simply pray there is no leaf to slip upon, no stray rock to make you tumble under any of the 18 wheels  flying a few feet past your face. The Magna sits pretty high for a cruiser, but with all my gear, and wont to take curves at 200% recommended speed limit, sparks were flying and adrenaline was pumping for most of the 65 miles from coast to town.

In Corvallis, I found refuge with the family of a good friend from New York. Their home was like a dream: with gardens, fountains, blackberry bushes, bee hives, and an absolute feeling of isolation from the world. It’s hard leaving a place you wish was your own home, but, as usual, I could stay for only a few days before returning that ceaseless call of the blacktop. Now that my wheels were pointing east, that feeling of urgency intensified as I saw every day bringing me closer to my mother’s home, and the end of the first stage of my journey.

Out of Corvallis I took HWY 20, through the Cascades and onto Bend for a reunion with Sarah. Our Adventures in Glacier bonded us for life, so I was eager to share some brews, and some mountain views, with her again. Bend, OR is one of those magical places replete with local breweries made delicious by mountain springs, views of those mountains, and easy access to them, but without all the crazy weather of mountains. I again spent just a few days in a place I would like to have remained for a long time.

I took HWY 97 out of Bend, which took me through the heart of Oregon Trail country, where settlers came 200 years ago with the thought of finding new, and rich, soil, but which in fact turned about to be a dry pocket in an otherwise fertile area. Regardless of the frightening and desolate expanses of dry tall grasses, I managed to find the best raspberry pie I’ve ever had on one of the few Main streets I passed before hitting the Columbia River Gorge.

Interstate 84, where it runs along the Columbia River, is one of the few exceptions to the general ugliness of interstates. Here, it curves with the river and offers spectacular views of what was once, before the extensive damming, one of the mightiest rivers in the world. I rode along, tossed to and fro by the powerful gusts of the river, and equally powerful ones from passing semis, until HWY 730, which brought me back into Washington State and quickly connected me to HWY 12. This magical road begins from the Columbia River Gorge, skirts the Snake River, passes Walla Walla wine country, traverses the magical expanse of the Palouse in the Colombia Basin, and continues through Idaho with stretches of 100 miles without a straightaway! This road is by far one of my favorites in the country, and one of the best motorcycle roads I have ever been on.

USA The Ride: Part I - Clapway

Highway 12 dropped me off in Missoula after 2 days, with a stop in Walla Walla, of excellent riding. The constant changes of scenery, from rolling hills (formed by the breaking of an ice dam during the Ice Age), to river valleys where you can visit campsites left by Lewis and Clark, to magnificent waterfalls, mountains, and enormous stretches of forest, left me in absolute awe. Arriving in Missoula, which is situated in the Rocky Mountain foothills, was no reprieve from the magnificence which kept bringing America the Beautiful into my mind.

But it was here, after 8000 miles of mechanically smooth riding, that I encountered my first trouble with the Magna. And it all started with a burger…

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