Spent the weekend on a little moto-touring-camping adventure with a couple of friends. We were side-stands-up at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning. We rode the several miles from the rendezvous at our house to Washington State Route/Hwy (hereinafter "SR") 9. We took SR 9 north through Snohomish, Lake Stevens, and Arlington. After a gas stop in Arlington, we turned east towards Darrington. Check out those relic telephone booths in the background!
Tim's Ducati with the stock oil pressure sensor (more on that later):
There was nary a cloud in the sky as we rolled through the N. Fork Stillaguamish River valley, with Whitehorse Mtn. and Three Fingers Mtn. looming to our right. After turning left in Darrington, we continued to follow SR 530 north, soon joining the Sauk River. Along this stretch, Tim discovered that his Ducati was leaking oil. As he was always zooming ahead tortise & the hare style, we came upon him stopped at a wide part of the road. We pulled up along side to check things out. After a bit of poking around, we discovered his oil pressure sensor plug (kind of like a mini-spark plug) was the source of the leak. We examined the plug, trying to figure out how to stop the leak. We eventually decided on trying some tire plugging material, jammed up inside of the sensor orifice in the inside of the plug, to stop the flow of oil up through the orifice and out the top of the sensor. It seemed to work at idle on the side of the road, so on we rode.
We reached the Skagit River and SR 20 at Rockport. We turned right/east and headed up deeper in to the North Cascades, soon passing the last town for the next hundred or so miles, Marblemount. Shortly after Marblemount, we passed three National Park Service Rangers - the first law enforcement we'd seen so far, and the last law enforcement officers we'd see for the next 200 miles.
SR 20 soon plunges into the gorge carved by the Skagit River. Tim was racing ahead on his Ducati, but soon Brad and I once again found him on the side of the road. The oil leak had re-developed, and he was trying to dream up a solution that would prevent him from having to turn back. I had parked my bike along side his, and he started scanning my bike for a bolt or other threaded fitting of the right size and thread pitch that could be scavenged from mine to replace his leaking plug.
Almost immediately he started looking at an unused fixture on my bike that would have held the whip antenna had my bike had a police radio. The radio antenna mount is part of the rear crash bars, which were made in Ohio, USA and bolted on a bike made in Berlin, Germany. I was sure that a spare fitting from a U.S.-made fixture on a German-made motorcycle would never fit on an Italian motorcycle, but Tim's eyesight was perfect and it fit like it had been machined in Italy! It even came with an extra washer that further helped seal the leak. After tightening everything up, mopping up the oil splattered on the right side of the engine, and another idle test (like that's such a good predictor!) we were quickly once again underway. The problem was cured for the remainder of the trip! I'm still in disbelief that the fitting was a perfect fit for his sensor plug.
We began to climb up and around the two large dams on the Skagit River - first Diablo Dam (impounding Diablo Lake), and then Ross Dam (impounding Ross Lake). Tim rode on ahead while Brad and I stopped to take in the view at an overlook.
Back on the bikes, we soon reached 4400' Rainy Pass.
After a quick photo stop, we continued on to 5400' Washington Pass.
From here, we dropped down in to the Methow River valley and eventually reached the town of Winthrop, where we stopped for lunch at a great little burger joint along the Chewuch River, right in "downtown" Winthrop.
After lunch, we continued east on SR 20 through the town of Twisp. Soon SR 20 turned left and headed up and over and down Loup Loup Pass (summit 4020'). I'd never been on the stretch of SR 20 from Twisp to Omak, and it was a treat to explore it first on a high performance motorcycle on a perfect day. In Omak, we all topped off our tanks for the plunge in to the Colville Reservation and our exploration of the Columbia River Road. I knew nothing about the Columbia River Road except that it looked like an empty place on the map with great topography and a squiggly line to represent the road. My GPS mapping software showed the road as unpaved. I confirmed via Google Maps StreetView that the entire length of the road was indeed paved - and looked like lovely fast riding through open terrain.
Google didn't lie. We simply flew through spectacular scenery, passing high above saline Omak Lake (the lake has no outlet, so the water is aquamarine in color) and then down towards the Columbia River through amazing sweeping curves along the side of a hill (mountain to those east of the Rockies).
We spent much of this section of the ride at triple-digit speeds as we could see the curving road extend miles out ahead of us, there was zero traffic, and there was no law enforcement. One rider who shall remain unnamed claimed to have spent over five minutes in excess of 100 mph along a long stretch. Eventually the Columbia River Road climbed up through a fun stretch of windy and narrow switchbacks to join SR 155 near the tiny town of Nespalem.
From Nespalem we followed SR 155 south to the town of Coulee Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam. After snapping the required pictures at the base of the dam, we climbed up and over the dam to the towns of Grand Coulee and Electric City, and then enjoyed the scenic ride along Banks Lake to our evening's campsite at Steamboat Rock State Park.
The geology around the area is magnificent. 10,000 years ago a giant ice dam blocked the Columbia River at the site of the current Grand Coulee Dam. When the impounded water rose above the ridge behind the town of Grand Coulee, it spilled over and carved out the Grand Coulee. The release of water moving through at 65 mph scoured out the basalt plateaus and left behind amazing formations and topography. After sweeping down through what became Grand Coulee, the redirected Columbia River fell over what is now called Dry Falls, creating a waterfall ten times the size of Niagra Falls and what was the largest waterfall in the world at the time.
After setting up camp, we rode back to Grand Coulee in an attempt to find a place to eat dinner. Virtually ever storefront was boarded up. At the Safeway grocery store, we inquired with a local who recommended a restaurant in the town of Coulee Dam, back down below the dam where we had done our photo op. Dinner at Melody's Restaurant was delicious and just what we were looking for - good small town family restaurant non-chain yummy food and friendly service that didn't mind a trio of dirty and smelly riders with all their gear taking over a six-top. The restaurant has a great view of the dam from every table. After dinner, we stopped off at the Safeway and grabbed six pack for the evening back at the campsite as well as a few items to snack on first thing in the morning. Back at camp, we built a camp fire, drank a few beers, passed a couple of flasks around, and enjoyed a clear starlit evening.
A couple of times during the night we were awoken by the sound of rain on our tents, which wasn't in the forecast and not forseeable by the clear and calm conditions when we had turned in. By dawn, the rain clouds had moved on, leaving behind broken clouds. We packed up our camp and were on the road by 8:20 Sunday morning. After leaving the state park, we rejoined SR 155, this time turning right for the first time and heading south towards US 2 along the east shore of Banks Lake. There was no other traffic here, and we simply flew alongside the lake. It was a great way to wake up in the morning.
In the small town of Coulee City, we joined US 2 and began the long trek west towards home. US 2 between Coulee City and Orondo is a series of long straight deserted stretches of highway making a beeline west among massive farms, and exciting descents down in to and climbs up out of more massive coulees carved out by the Ice Age floods 10,000 years ago. 75 miles ago, Tim said he had about 50 miles left in his tank, so we stopped in the small town of Waterville for gas. It was fun watching him actually go the speed limit to get better economy and thus stretch out his range. After refueling, we quickly reached the edge of the Columbia Plateau and began the long and enjoyable descent down to the tiny town of Orondo, right on the east shore of the Columbia River. We then followed the Columbia River to Wenatchee, crossing the river and finding a pancake house in downtown Wenatchee (Smitty's) that hit the spot for breakfast.
After leaving Wenatchee, we continued west on US 2. After passing through Leavenworth, we entered the Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee River. The river was at full capacity due to snow melt, and the sounds and smells of the rapids as the road followed the river was intoxicating. Massive hanging waterfalls contributed to the torrent and provided eye candy that distracted riders from riding as they gawked up at the spectacle.
Soon we crossed 4100' Stevens Pass and descended back in to the civilization of the Seattle-area and the end of our weekend adventure.
Our route was 515 miles long and over that distance we gained a total of 29996 vertical feet: