I scribbled this road report a week ago while camped on a lake west of Spokane. Just now got around to culling some photos to go with it. I haven’t shuffled the deck so skip down to the pics if you like and that’ll tell you whether you want to read the text as well.
Here I sit by a lake in the high desert of eastern Washington, bee stung and diaper rashed and with a hilarious raccoon tan from riding into the afternoon and evening sun for a week. And for the coupe of grace, pardone my French, my motorcycle motor is kaput. The twin cam 88 was dealt a blow by the heat of the Canadian prairie, or certainly by Idaho yesterday. When I say it’s been a wonderful ride, every last one of the 3,134 miles I logged on the road west, even those last miles when the motor was rackety rackety rackety, only a certain few among you will understand. Namely, you dumb asses. You know who you are, you absurd assembly of clowns up on two wheels and hurtling down the Wahoo Road. My People!
I was headed to Gig Harbor, WA, across Puget Sound from Seattle, to see my friend Jan Nelson. He was grievously injured when he rolled his bulldozer in the woods around Lake Cushman on the Olympic Peninsula. His wife, Connie, is teaching in South Korea for the next two years so his brother Jorge is helping him out at home. But I figured when Jorge can’t be around I can sub for him, haul Jan around to doctor’s appointments, mow the lawn, fry an egg, blah blah. So I came out here to help Jan but now he’s helping me. He’s sending Jorge out with a trailer so we can haul the heat-battered iron piggy the final 275 miles of the journey.
When I rode through Spokane yesterday, I started hearing tink… tink… Sounded like tiny stones hitting the underside of the front fender. When I got on Interstate 90 and up to speed I thought, Oh… okay… that’s my motor coming apart. Got off the highway and pulled into a gas stop. The motor was rapping badly then, marbles in a can.
A Harley rider from Oregon pulled up to the gas pump on a soft tail. He had been headed to Sturgis, South Dakota, decided to turn around in Missoula, Montana because he had cracked his transmission case and was leaking fluid. He had a great sound on that bike, a nicely built S&S rumbling through a Propipe. I made him feel better about his day, said listen to this, brother. Started up the motor, let it idle. TAP TAP TAP TAP… A diesel mechanic who was pumping gas walked over and took a knee. That’s a bearing, he said. It’s intermittent but it’s a bearing.
Maybe. But I don’t think so. Sounds like top end to me. Hard to know for sure without a stethoscope. I talked by phone with my friend Dub Cross in Langley, Oklahoma, a musician and Harley mechanic. I told him what I was hearing and where and how the noise started and progressed. He thought the heat had probably collapsed the exhaust lifter in the forward jug. Oil thins out, the front lifter is the last of the four to get oiled. Makes sense. I hope he’s right. If so, it’s an easy fix. At Jan’s I’ll replace all four lifters and might as well replace my cam-chain tensioners while I’ve got the gas tank and the rockers off, push rods out and the lifters off the cams. I’ve got 40,000 miles on this set of tensioners. Could get 10,000 more but now’s the easy time to go new.
Yesterday, before I got this encouraging long-distance diagnosis from Dub, I jawed with the S&S rider up on the highway for a while (his name is Geoff) then he headed for Oregon and I limped the iron piggy a few miles north to this campground on Silver Lake, at Ruby’s Bait & Tackle. So here I sit by a lake in the high desert of eastern Washington, as noted. I’m sitting in the shade and writing and watching people fishing off the dock and jetting around out on the water. I don’t have internet here but can post to FB by texting. Pam’s been calling and reading me the comments my friends have posted at the news of my marooning on Silver Lake.
The journey started Friday, July 29. I rode up through New York, stopped in Albany to have lunch with an old friend, Cathleen Crowley, and her husband, Greg. A terrific soaking rain blew in a little north of Glenn Falls and I rode it without rain gear. It felt good after riding through so much heat this summer. But then the rain didn’t stop. Wrong bet on the rain gear this time, Moe. Luck of the draw. You get wet fast but you dry fast, as long as the rain stops. This time it didn’t.
Visibility got bad and I was gaining elevation so it was getting chilly, too. I made a short day of it, pulled off at Lake Durant in the Adirondacks after 294 miles, set up my tent at a state campground there.
It’s a beautiful lake and a great campground, right on the divide between the St. Lawrence and Hudson watersheds. Durant drains into the Hudson River; a lake two miles to the north drains into the Seaway.
Saturday, July 30. My clothes were still soaked from the day before and it was cold enough that I had to pull on the goretex rain pants to keep the wind off me or my teeth would be chattering. If you want to be extra saddle sore, wear wet jeans under goretex for 500 miles. Diaper rash without the diaper. No wonder babies cry. But rash or no, I rode to Nairn Centre, Ontario and found a $15 campground on a gravel road. The night was dotted with lights everywhere. Many camps had Christmas lights up and fires blazing. Heard a lot of French. It was a poor-man’s camp, a skeetery place full of loud, fun-loving, friendly, boozy Franco-Canadians. I was faintly aware of the revelry and happy to listen to it as my head hit the pillow. And then I was gone and heard nothing, off into the dreamless oblivion of the rode-out motorman. I was up and out of there early. As I fired the iron piggy I imagined the revelers from the night before groaning in their tents and trailers and rolling over and scooching down deeper and pulling their sleeping bags up over their heads.
Rode 615 miles to Thunder Bay on Sunday, July 31. Stayed in a KOA there.
Monday, August 1, was hot. Not like the Ohio Valley in July, but hot by any measure. I was riding west through the emptiness of Ontario when I saw traffic stopped up ahead. A camper had caught fire, which I didn’t know yet because I couldn’t see it from the back of the line. I pulled up behind a couple on a Yahama cruiser. We stood in the road and yakkety yakked while police and fire did their thing. We rode together for a while, lost track of one another in a town where they went off to eat and I went off to look for premium gas. Then we happened to meet up again on the road so we rode together and split a campsite that evening just across the Manitoba line. So now I have friends in Prince Edward Island! Linda and Ron Dunne. She’s retired from accounting, he from firefighting. Ron was career military and later on went to Kosovo and Afghanistan on firefighting assignments. We rode to Winnipeg together in the morning, the eastern edge of the thousand-mile-wide Canadian prairie, then went our separate ways. They were headed to northern Saskatchewan, I was headed west.
One thing I noticed all the way across the Canadian heartland: There is many a sad-eyed First Nation maid working the fuel counters in these little towns on the Trans Canada. A young man on a motorcycle could ride out of town with any one of them holding on to him tight with all four limbs. No doubt many have.
That day, I watched the trees play out, tall conifers to hardwoods to shorter hardwoods to scrub and then the flatlands. I ended Tuesday, August 2 in a little hamlet called White City, just east of Regina, the provincial capital of Saskatchewan. Rode 454 miles that day. Met a nice couple here, too, Gwen and Brian. Yakkety yak. I like to meet new people on the road and chat them up, see what they know. It rained briefly while I was pitching my tent. There was a heavy dew in the morning. I got up and made oatmeal, said goodbye to Gwen and Brian and rode on.
On Wednesday, August 3, I stopped for coffee in Moose Jaw, my first coffee in five days. It was fuel-stop swill but tasted wonderful. Talked to people there about the weather up ahead. One man recommended a route through the mountains of British Columbia down through Bonner’s Ferry in Idaho and I decided to check it out. I stopped in Medicine Hat later and bought two burgers, the only meal I didn’t dig out of my saddlebags this week. Ducked off the Trans Canada in Medicine Hat and caught Route 3 West to Lethbridge. The plains end there and you start going uphill fast. Rode 512 miles that day to the foothills of the Rockies, camped at a state campground on the Oldman River, in Pincher Creek, Alberta. Beeves were lowing on the hill on one side of the valley. I saw a deer skylighted on the opposite ridgeline. Not too far away there was a big extended family camped on multiple sites and having a birthday party for someone they kept calling “grandma.” Their grandma, I deduced. They played their country music loud. A full-time RV couple walked by with an outgoing woman from Medicine Hat who must have been their daughter, she was a younger version of the older woman. The old guy tilted his head at the neighbors down the way and said, Are you a fan of country music? (I could tell he wasn’t.) I said, Well, I guess I am tonight, and he laughed. It was good country music as opposed to popular. No silly sing-song look-how-pretty-I-am Shania. And it was all new to me. Canadian artists, maybe. I enjoyed it.
There were no rangers posted at the camp, nobody to check in with, just pay by the honor system, put $20 in an envelope. Rangers had posted signs about bears in the area but I talked to folks who camp there often and they had never even seen one walking along the river let alone grunting up over the bank looking for camp grub. I’ll take the local intel over the official decree any day. I didn’t bother hanging my food store from a tree that night, left it aboard the iron piggy and bedded down a few feet away. No bears. Slept without dreaming.
Thursday, August 4, I put on three shirts, and the goretex rain pants to keep the wind out of my jeans. I expected a brisk ride over the Rockies at Crowsnest Pass. And it was. I took a few pics but it was too cold to ride without gloves. Crossed into British Columbia on the other side, put the camera away, pulled my gloves on and rode the bike. It would have been insanely dangerous to multitask while riding down those mountains. The iron piggy had never run better. And in crossing the Canadian Rockies she had officially been from sea to shining sea in that other country up north, Nova Scotia to British Columbia. We crossed back into the States at Eastport, Idaho, rode through some scenic country north of Bonner’s Ferry, then the day turned hot and I started peeling clothes and soon it was extremely hot and desert-like. Rode a good deal of US 2 in Idaho that afternoon, which I had ridden from Wisconsin to northwest Montana last September.
Followed US 2 down to Spokane and then tink tink tink… like tiny stones hitting the inside of the front fender. Then tink tink tink became TAP TAP TAP and you know the rest. With luck, it’ll turn out to be just a push rod banging around in there because the lifter under it couldn’t run on oil as hot and thin as mine had been of late. I won’t bother with repairs until I get set to leave so it’ll be weeks before I know what’s what. Will replace the lifters, start the motor and see what it sounds like.
Got a call from Jorge a moment ago. He’s on the road with the trailer this afternoon instead of starting out first thing tomorrow. Should be here around 8.
That dark band must be 75 miles wide. I rode under it for about an hour. It was cool there, a nice respite from the heat.
I feel more naked riding without gloves than without a helmet. Wanted the air up my sleeves, though, and all I had were gauntlets. On the downside, bees fly up there, too. My right arm was peppered with bee stings this run.
… and that’s ride off from it. Woodrow was talking about death but it works for rain, too.
Jan’s brother, Jorge, drove 275 miles to haul us to the Pacific. Jorge is back in the Seattle area after 26 years overseas, teaching at international schools in South Korea, Pakistan, Guam, Bali, Venezuela, Thailand, Mexico…