The West Coast Chicken Run 2007
By John R. Holt
Planning and fantasizing for this trip began many moons ago when John Lyons, on his latest trip east from Seattle to join me and my riding buddies for a "Chicken Run" suggested that we have a West Coast Chicken Run (WCCR). Much to John's surprise, I think, 3 of us jumped at the idea including me, Forrest Walls and David Sulser. Jay Tarry said he wanted to go and Neil Ayers was also a possibility since he now lived near Seattle. Jay opted out after changing jobs, and since Dave keeps a bike in Montana, it was up to Forrest and me to figure out how to get a bike there and back.
Many scenarios were discussed: We'd sell our bikes and fly to Seattle and take delivery of a new bike or used bike and then ride it back to VA. I spent much time on "Craig's List" and other places looking at used bikes for sale in the Seattle area. I called a Seattle BMW dealer sales person we met when we were there back in '05 and asked her to be on the lookout for a good used BMW. I thought once I had found the perfect bike for me, a K1200S that had been modified for "Sport Touring" duty by adding bar risers and a ST windscreen - a really beautiful bike, but alas, somebody bought it before I got hold of anybody at Ride West BMW. This is the bike I almost bought.
We - especially Forrest - thought about riding there and back. Finally, things started to gel when it came out that Jay Terry was going to sell his '96 K1100RS, a bike I've always liked and I actually owned a '94 version. About that time I finalized the sale of my R1100RT and bought Jay's bike for the same price, which had 40K fewer miles on it than my RT. I took a train to FL and rode it back. Forrest really didn't want to sell his, so, it now made sense to ship the bikes to Seattle. I was able to save about $250 in shipping by lowering the front of the bike enough to get it into a smaller shipping container. The picture shows my solution.
The one way plane ride to Seattle was pretty routine and on time, even though I ended up with the middle seat on the Atlanta-to-Seattle leg. It was not, however, without its benefits! As I waited for a 300 lb. man to plop down in the window seat, I saw an uncommonly beautiful woman coming down the aisle. "Oh please, let it be her!" I asked some unknown benefactor. It was her! She reminded me of "Fergy", the singer for "The Blackeyed Peas" The extra bonus was that we chatted a bit and she turned out to be very nice company for the 5-hour ride. I wish I had a picture of her, but every time I see Fergy on TV or the Internet I'll remember her.
John was at SEATAC to meet us and took us to his and Carol's home north of Seattle where a nice spread of cheese, dips, fruit, nuts and an uncommonly good red wine awaited us. Perfect!
We joked some about getting phase 3 done. Phase 1 was getting the bikes and all our gear crated and shipped to Seattle. Phase 2 was getting ourselves to Seattle. Phase 3 was today - getting the bikes in Seattle and getting them uncrated and on the road. We weren't even sure the bikes had arrived, though they were scheduled to be there 2 days ago. Right on cue, someone from Forward Air called John and told him he could come get the bikes now. It was a tense moment when we opened the containers, especially since the container with my bike inside had collided with something and the door wouldn't open, but everything looked OK. I did notice a small puddle of oil beneath the rear hub of the K-bike, however. I wiped the oil off and decided to ignore it for now and see if it continued to seep out after riding a bit. It took us awhile to get the K-bike put back together again but we finally got the front wheel back on, the battery re-connected, and a gallon of gas put in. Both bikes fired right up.
During my 25 years employed by the Boeing Company, I had traveled to Seattle many times, but I never thought I would be whizing up I-5 in the saddle of a motorcycle in view of this beautiful city. This is so cool! After we stopped for lunch on the way back to the Lyons' house, we spent a good part of the day re-packing everything in preparation for departure the next morning.
Preparations underway in the Lyons' garage
John then led us on a short ride to make sure everything was working. It was, and not a drop of oil came out of the hub vent. We surmised that the vibration from the truck caused some of the oil to somehow escape. I would keep an eye on it though. That evening we took the Lyons out to dinner at their neighborhood Mexican restaurant - a very good one I might add. I think I will sleep well tonight.
The word for today is Cascades. After saying goodbye to Carol, Danielle and David, we made a pretty good getaway, leaving John's driveway just after 8:00. The first couple of hours was spent escaping the incoming Seattle rush hour, but soon we were entering the Cascades National Park Highway. The road itself sorta reminded me of the Cherahola Skyway in TN and NC that I had traversed just last May coming back from FL, except it was longer and the mountains were way higher.
I didn't realize the Cascades were this spectacular. It reminded me of the Austrian Alps. The weather today was pretty close to perfect. Cool and overcast in the A.M., sunny and cool in the mountains, and a little warmer after we came out of the mountains. The terrain changed dramatically when we came down. Trees were smaller and scarcer and the fields were brown, almost desert-like. There were enormous boulders, many as big as a house, sitting out in the otherwise open fields. The farmers apparently just farmed around them. It was only recently that some scientist figured out the origins of this phenom. The boulders were deposited there as a result of a breach of a huge ice dam back in the Ice age. I remember seeing a PBS program about this. Very weird. We checked into the Coulee House Inn. We can see the Grand Coulee dam from the motel window. Wow!
Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt
After dinner we sat on a concrete bench across the street from the motel and watched a pretty cool laser light show projected on the dam itself and the white water cascading over the spillway in the center part of the dam. The show was mostly about the history of the Columbia river and the Grand Coulee project started in 1933. It was, and still is the largest concrete structure in the world. It had the largest power generation capacity in the world. It is the third longest river in the world but has the largest vertical drop of any river in the world.
Grand Coulee, WA
After breakfast we went to a viewpoint (that's "overlook" to us easterners) high above the dam and lake Roosevelt, from which the above picture was taken. Some of the electricity generated by the G.C. is used to pump water from Lake Roosevelt to another, higher elevation lake called Banks lake. This water is then used to irrigate a huge area of eastern WA to make farmland where there could not be farmland without the water. We rode on the road that followed the southern shore of this very pretty man-made lake.
The rest of the day was spent getting to Clarkston, WA. The roads were very nice and scenic and the weather was again close to perfect except for the strong winds. Sometimes I felt like the wind was trying to pick me up and deposit me in Banks lake, but I wasn't worried much. The wind would take Forrest and John long before it could lift me. Fighting the wind sapped a lot of energy out of us and by the time we got checked into the motel, we were too tired to go out to dinner. So I volunteered to go to the local supermarket and got some good crusty bread, some tasty cheese and some prepared fruit. Earlier John had stopped at a winery he was familiar with called "Lost River" and bought a couple bottles. We sat by the motel pool and had a very satisfying feast of wine and cheese and fruit. Maybe it was the weather, the company or the setting, but I'm gonna have to look into Lost River.
We didn't ride today, except to get to the marina. That's so we could catch a very powerful jet boat that took us some 100 miles up the Snake river into Hell's Canyon, and back.
Snake Dancer - "We're going where in that little boat?"
Again, unexpected. I didn't expect the Snake to be that big! After all, Evel Knieval tried to jump across it on a "motorcycle"! And, I didn't expect it to be flowing that fast - especially this time of year when everywhere outside of Texas is having a draught. Most of the upper 2/3 of the section we traveled on is fairly fast moving rapids. I also didn't expect the scenery to be that spectacular. Finally, I didn't expect the boat driver to be so knowledgeable about the history, Indian lore, geology, and wildlife associated with this part of the river. And we did see wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagles, blue heron, and many other kinds of birds.
Despite the odds, it appears this male Bighorn has made a selection!
Mostly fast rapids
Lunch break. Leave it to Lyons to be next to the redhead with cleavage!
This trip was a very nice break from the motorcycle riding.
And yet, it is still good to get back on the bike and head for parts unknown. Another typical day awaits us - starting out rather chilly - in the 40s. Then the sun heats up the rather dry air very quickly. By noon I was shedding my "Cold Wave" jacket and using the mesh jacket for maximum cooling. We spent most of today following the mighty Columbia river, sometime from the WA side and some from the OR side. We stopped in Walla Walla at the L'Ecole 41 winery and bought some wine for dinner. I also bought a bottle of Ferguson - the very same wine John served us on our arrival in Seattle. I planned to give this to my cousin Jerry Miller, who has agreed to put us up for a couple of nights in southern Oregon. I have recently read that the Walla Walla region is making such good wine recently that it is predicted to be the next "name" region, like Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa Valley. Based on the wines we've had so far from L'Ecole and Lost River, I wouldn't doubt it. The roads today were not that exciting but the traffic was light and the scenery was often spectacular. We checked into another very nice Best Western John had arranged with a view of the Columbia right out the window. Could this get any better?!? Well, I guess it could! We topped off the evening by dining "al fresco" on the balcony of the restaurant while watching the wind surfers and sipping the wine we got at L'Ecole 41. This would be the best dining experience of the entire 5,600+ miles!
L'Ecole 41 winery (above) View of the Columbia with vineyards on the WA side
Hood River, OR
It's not often that I wake up in the pre-dawn light and see a Golden Eagle swoop down and pick a morsel from the mighty Columbia with Mount Hood looming in the background, but there it is. Today we head back up into the Cascades. Now this is more like it! Once west of Hood River, the landscape again changes abruptly. Eastward the terrain is almost desert-like with very few trees and brown hills, despite the occasional vineyard. To the west as we entered the Cascades we were suddenly in the forest. The roads were a lot more fun too! One of the roads we planned to take to get a close look at Mt. St. Helens was closed for repairs. While we were stopped to figure out what to do next, another biker stopped to talk about it. He was riding the new Kawasaki Conny 14! I kept asking questions and he finally invited me to sit on it. Aaaah! It felt perfect. It also sounded good when he took off. Maybe that bike is in my future? Maybe not. By this time we didn't have time to backtrack and go a different way. So, the recovery plan was to head for I-5 and ride up to Castle Rock, the main entry point to get to Mt St Helens. We did get a glimpse of the mountain as we headed toward I-5, but we decided to start fresh tomorrow. The Motel where we stayed not only had a 3-bed room (sort of…), but also had a large coin-operated laundry, so we spent the rest of the afternoon doing our first laundry.
Mt St Helens in the distance
Castle Rock, WA
Yeah, 9-11. Six years ago exactly Forrest and I and wives were on our way from Vermont to Maine, on the opposite side of the continent. The 51 miles from Castle Rock to the Mt St Helens observation area is a great motorcycle ride with sensational scenery, and we get to ride it both ways! About 25 miles before we even got to the observation area we saw a sign that read, "Entering the Blast Area" We would later learn just how enormous that blast really was at the visitor's center. I won't go into all the things we learned about the explosion, but the presentation and seeing the result of half a mountain missing, and the lava dome that is already starting to rebuild the mountain peak, was one of those things that make you at least say, "wow!"
That mound in the middle of the crater with the plume of smoke or maybe steam coming out of it is the start of the mountain beginning to rebuild itself. There used to be trees on the lower part of the mountain.
This is what the mountain used to look like.
Remnant of a tree that was torn from the ground by its roots by the blast.
Remnant of a tree that was torn from the ground by its roots by the blast.
Look who finally caught up with us wearing his new Aerosuit! As one can see, he was glad to see us.
That sure is a funny-looking water bottle!
When we got back to Castle Rock and were about to go to lunch, Neil Ayers came around the corner! He finally caught up with us. Now we are 4. Dave Sulser was also scheduled to join us but he called earlier that his father had to have brain surgery. So, Dave didn't make it. As of this writing, Dave reports that his father is home and doing as well as could be expected. We had lunch and headed west. The temperature went from very hot, in the 90s, to downright cool, in the 60s as we neared the coast only a few miles away. I'm continually amazed at how quickly the micro-climates change out here. We went south down the 101 until we got to Astoria, OR, which is at the mouth of the Columbia. The above picture was taken near there where there used to be a ferry terminal before the bridge was built. We checked in to the Crest motel, one of John's favorites which sits high on a bluff overlooking the Columbia. Ocean going ships can be seen anchored below, all lit up like it was Christmas. Surely this will be the last we will see of the Columbia. Tomorrow we head on south down the coast. We decided to dine in, so Neil and I volunteered to make a "grocery" run. This wine and cheese and fruit thing could get to be a habit.
Bridge to Astoria
As part of the process of leaving Astoria, John took us on an unintentional (I think), rather round-about tour of the town. I think his GPS was having a bad day, but we ended up at Fort Clatsop, a significant part of the Lewis & Clark saga. These guys really got around! It seems every highway is part of the "Lewis & Clark Trail". I was struck by how small the fort was. And we sometimes think we're crowded in a Snowshoe condo! After a tour of Clatsop, we get back on 101, the "Pacific Coast highway". The view from the Oregon part of 101 is often spectacular.
It is not often on the east coast where you have the land mass abruptly end at a high cliff above the ocean. On the west coast, it seems to be the rule, at least on the northwest half of the continent. It was a good thing that the scenery was so great because the traffic was very heavy on 101. John said he didn't think it was this bad even in the summer. So, even though the ride wasn't that much fun, the scenery kept us from getting bored. Thanks to John's knowledge of the area, and his trusty GPS, he managed to lead us on some very interesting secondary roads that bypassed some of the congestion on 101. We stopped for the night just north of Florence, OR at a spectacular seaside 3 br condo. The whole front of the living room was solid windows showing the wide white beach and the Pacific ocean. So, there are exceptions to the cliff right to the water rule. What a view!
View from the condo
And I hated to leave that view, but leave we must. I told John that we absolutely had to be at cousin Jerry's by 5:00 P.M. He was cooking for us! John couldn't decide whether to take a short way, which would involve about 60 miles on I-5, the longer way, which would involve going pretty far south down the coast before going back northeast, or the original plan, which involved some questionable fire roads through some remote wilderness. Finally, I suggested that we see how traffic was moving down 101 and make the decision on the fly. Luckily, the traffic was relatively light and we decided to stick with the original plan. So, after awhile on 101 we stopped for coffee and everybody topped up and we took off. I say luckily, because the road we took was one of the highlights of the whole trip. Neil said this one road was worth the trip. I can't say I disagree. 70 some-odd miles of curve after curve over a 4,500' pass. I think we met maybe 5 cars the whole time. The only negative was that much of the road was in bad repair. In a couple of places a third of the road had caved in and slid down the mountain. There were potholes and severe frost heaves everywhere, but in a way it made the roads even more challenging, requiring intense concentration and heightened excitement.
At the pass on FR23. Why is this man lying?
What a ride! John's GPS led us right to cousin Jerry's rather remote road and Jerry was waiting for us with a delicious lasagna dinner. We arrived about 5:05. The end to another almost perfect day.
Today we took a much needed respite from riding, thanks to Jerry's hospitality. We did a little Zen and motorcycle maintenance. Not too much maintenance, just checking oil consumption and tire pressure. My 11 year old K-bike still didn't need any oil to be added, and there was still no oil seeping out of the hub vent. We used Jerry's washer and dryer, had lunch, took a walk around Jerry's property and just hung out with Jerry. That evening we took Jerry out to dinner and came back to hang out some more. This was a very restful day. Thanks, cuz.
I believe Jerry genuinely enjoyed having me and my 3 buddies swoop in and change his daily routine - though I doubt he has any more of a daily routine than I do. It was a bit emotional for me to say goodbye to my favorite cousin because who knows when I will see him again. He promised to try to come to VA again when his daughter gets better. I hope he does. Knowing people like Jerry and also Forrest, both in their 70s still plugging away and enjoying life and exploring the world is an inspiration to me, since I'll join them in another year-and-a-half. John, Forrest and I said our goodbyes and headed out to hwy 199 towards CA. Neil stayed behind and headed back to WA via Crater Lake. Something about the wife being in town. It may be the WCCR, but now it's the same 3 people that started the original CR back in '79 who are still riding. 199 is a gorgeous road, especially after we crossed into CA. The road got more squiggly and we started seeing redwood trees by the side of the road. I believe it was Kurt Vonnegut that said, "Everyone should get to live in northern California for some part of their life." I can't disagree with that either. Some people forget that there is a huge portion of California that is north of San Francisco. I absolutely love it here!
The north CA shore
Soon we were back on 101-south. This section is dubbed "The Redwood Highway". We began seeing more and more of these magnificent giants. They are the kings of the plant world - growing to be taller than any living thing on our planet. As we were riding through the "valley of the giants" I felt like I was returning to see an old friend. Two years ago when I was here I wrote, "I felt like I was in a cathedral. I'm not one to take seriously anything that I can't see, feel, hear, taste or smell. But when I stood next to this magnificent being, touching it's trunk, I almost got a feeling of communication, of intelligence, like trying to communicate with an alien from another galaxy. I felt childlike in the presence of this tallest of living things. My life is but a moment compared to the centuries and centuries it has been standing there waiting - for what, I wonder. At the same time I felt a little sorry for these relics of ages past. Many of them are wounded by fire, lightening, disease, other plants, draught and especially us humans."
A hug from an old friend
I now feel even more this way. Who knows why. The scenes of the Pacific coast was also very spectacular, but tomorrow they will be even better. It's our day on the famous CA-1. I can't wait. We checked into another Best Western in Garberville. What is it with Best Western? Does Lyons own some BW stock? Might be a good idea though. Every BW Forrest and I checked after that was booked!
We have come almost 2,000 miles and Forrest & I still haven't turned left to head for home. We have one more leg to complete though before we do that. In '05 I wrote, "Some time before the end of your and my days, we have to somehow get to northern CA and somehow get a fast motorcycle and ride CA-1 - preferably north to south. Imagine the best roads you've ever ridden, then stretch them together for 200 miles, then add the magnificent grandeur of the No. CA coastline and you might get an idea of what CA-1 is like. We have to do it!” This ride was without a doubt the most satisfying motorcycle ride of my life so far! At the end of the 44 mile section I told Forrest & John that they could roll out the pine box. I can die now. It just can't get any better than that. Everything was perfect. First the time and weather were perfect. It was early on a Sunday morning so there was no commercial or tourist traffic. In the entire ride until I got within 4 miles of Ft. Bragg, I did not overtake a single vehicle, and only met 4 or 5. And I was going all out. John allowed me to take off on my own - not that he would have held me back, but being completely alone, just me and the road, only enhanced my concentration. Also, this contributed to me getting into "the zone". Those of you who ride motorcycles know exactly what I mean. Those who don't, well, I won't waste space here trying to explain it. As for the weather, I've been on the west coast enough to know that early morning fog is more the rule than the exception - especially in northern CA. See the below picture for a hint of how perfect the weather was. The temperature was also perfect - cool but not uncomfortable. The road surface was perfect. No gravel anywhere, no tar snakes, no slick spots. I thought once I should stop and take a picture, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. After going over at least two mountain passes, the road snakes along the edge of the Pacific where I did manage to stop and wait for John and Forrest.
You can't see it, but the road is chipped into those cliffs as it snakes along the shore. As I said, guys. Your motorcycle riding career is not over until you have ridden this road under these conditions. You can't die until you have done it. We stopped at a Starbucks in Ft. Bragg and agreed that the WCCR was over. John's wife was a little under the weather and John himself wasn't feeling that well. Forrest and I felt like we better head for home. So, the original Chicken Run trio declared the end of the WCCR. I hope it's not the last WCCR. We still need to finish CA-1 on down to SFO.