Dirt riding in the Snoqualmie Falls area…

Click to see Route

I haven’t gone dirt riding since Memorial Day weekend when I went riding up in the Leavenworth area. This was almost five months ago, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to take the XT out on some dirt. The hard part is actually getting to the roads. Most of the really good ones are almost a couple of hundred miles away via freeways and riding the XT that far isn’t very much fun. This leaves the option of taking the bike there via truck/trailer which involves enough logistics that I never really tackled it. Which is why I was delighted when a couple of co-workers mentioned that there were several forest service roads in the Seattle area that we could get to via backroads. We decided to meet on Saturday morning at Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie Falls and set out from there.

I left home at 9:00AM (this used to be the norm back in the day when I rode all day every weekend, but is more of a rarity now). I took 520 and 202 towards Snoqualmie. As I passed Fall City, I started feeling the bike sputter and realized that I was on 120 miles and I wasn’t going to make it all the way to Snoqualmie. I’ve always wanted to find the exact range of this bike and I guess now I did. Either I don’t have a low fuel indicator or it doesn’t work. :P I knew there was a gas station in the neighborhood that I always fuel up at, but I couldn’t find it. All of a sudden I was out of fuel and coasting down the hill without power. I managed to turn left into a parking area and turned off the bike to think. I had passed a gas station half a mile before and I really should have stopped there instead of looking for the other one. Unfortunately it was uphill and pushing it all the way up was not going to be fun. And then I had the brilliant idea (:P) of checking to see if I had a reserve. The last two bikes I have owned didn’t have one, so it’s not something I’m used to thinking about anymore. Turns out that the XT did, so I rotated the knob to RES and it started right up. Yay! I rode back up the hill, found the 76 gas station and refueled. I mentally calculated that I had gone 120 miles in 1.8 gallons, meaning that I was getting a good 67 miles to the gallon on this bike. Not too shabby!

It had started to rain now, although it was Seattle rain, more like a light misting and drizzle which didn’t bother me too much. I got to the parking lot in Salish Lodge in ten minutes and found Dave and Nikolas waiting, the former with a Husqvarna and the latter with a DRZ450. I’ve never seen a Husky up close. Those are some fun looking machines! Of course, I am partial to red and black bikes. ;) Nikolas’ bike was neat looking too, looking more like a dirt bike that had been ridden unlike mine. He had a bunch of gadgets hooked up too, which I made a mental note to get for myself in the future.

Dave led us to the start of the forest service road. The entrance was full of loose gravel and I felt the bike starting to slide around alarmingly. As always, I had that feeling of “Why the hell am I here again?” and “There are people who do this for fun?”. After a little while, we emerged onto more packed road and the bike settled down. Nikolas passed me and they both sped on. I lingered and went slow. They waited for me at intersections, of which there weren’t very many, so for the most part it felt like I was out for a ride in the forest alone, which is a rather nice feeling. :) I think I kept a steady 25-30 mph pace, painfully slow for those roads, but more within my comfort zone. The route itself wasn’t very technical, but it was a good place to brush up on my (mostly non-existent) off-road riding skills. We stopped in a few places, tried one side road that was uphill, gnarly and to my relief, blocked by a landslide so that we had to turn around. We ended the ride at the end of 5700 where we parked, got off and walked a little and climbed onto a broken bridge to catch a glimpse of a waterfall. As with hiking or snowshoeing, I always do like to have a little “reward” at the end of a trek.

The ride back was mostly downhill and I found that going uphill was a lot easier than going downhill. It was here that I finally started standing on the footpegs and was amazed at how dramatically I felt so much more stable. No more sliding all over the place and veering around puddles and potholes. The bike’s suspension took everything the road could throw at it and I barely felt any of it. Theoretically of course I know that standing is better than sitting, but it still feels so unnatural to me that it takes a while before I can muster up the courage to do it. I also get tired and my legs cramp after a little while of standing. More reason to work out those quads!

We reached the end of the trail and Dave slowed down indicating an area off to the right, which I understand is usually closed off. It looked like a good place to go practice dirt riding skills. Unfortunately, it was sandy and I wasn’t going fast enough and I washed out. We got the bike up, but then it wouldn’t start!!! We tried and checked everything we could, with no luck. Press starter button -> nothing happens. No sound of even trying to turn over, indicating a faulty switch somewhere. It boggles my mind how a little tipover could cause something like that. Push starting didn’t help either. It made a sort of sound, but never fired. We think it could be a matter of a bad switch plus a fouled spark plug.

Dave lived pretty close by, so he offered to come back with his trailer. Nikolas and I waited on the side of the road, getting soaked in the rain until he returned. I was relieved to get a ride back to Seattle and secretly a little frustrated at having yet another bike that didn’t start!! I have had the damndest luck this year. :|

So I guess I’m delighted that I could go out and play in the dirt, but really bummed about not ending the ride in a more satisfying way. :(

Back from the Cascades!

Vagabiker and I decided to take off towards the Cascade mountains for the long weekend after our initial plans to go dual-sporting in the Peninsula were ruined because of rain. The Cascades go from north to south through the center of Washington state and the weather to the east of the mountain range is usually warmer and drier because the mountains block the rain.

We were intending to leave around 10:00AM but we over-estimated and ended up leaving at a shocking 2:00PM. We both had issues on our bikes that we had to fix before we hit the road. Bad bikers fixing stuff right before a long ride! It’s a good thing nobody else was waiting on us. My Gerbing electric vest wasn’t getting charged from the XT. I couldn’t take the fuse out to see if it had blown, so I swapped it with the one on the SV and it worked. And Sterling’s GPS wasn’t getting charged from his mount anymore. He was unable to fix this and gave up and decided to reply on my GPS and mount. Fortunately we both use Zumos, so we decided to swap after one of them lost charge. It wasn’t ideal but it was the best we could do at such short notice.

We hit the road and headed north. We had plotted our route the previous night, which would roughly take us towards Sultan, then the Ben Howard Road towards Skykomish, on to Steven’s Pass, then off-road on a forest service road towards Lake Wenatchee, and finally another trail towards Lake Chelan, where we would stop for the night.

Day 1 - P1050278

Unfortunately we had such a late start that we made it to Skykomish at 4:30PM. By the time we went over the pass and reached the first forest service road, we found that it was completely blocked by snow. Bummer! It had also been steadily raining and we were cold from going over the pass and reaching 4000+ feet elevation. We decided to continue riding US-2 to Lake Wenatchee and find a campground so that we could set up camp and relax and eat a good meal while it was still light out.

This turned out to be a good plan. We found a really good campsite at Nason Creek campground – the first place we looked. Being back in nature with the familiar camping smells was so fantastic. :) We set up camp and Sterling went out to gather wood while I started fixing our dinner of shrimp pasta. We ate by the fire and then went for a long walk. We didn’t find Lake Wenatchee but we did end up in this woody forested area mottled with pretty flowers. As the light started to fail, we returned to camp and hung out around the fire, sipping wine and scotch.

Day 1 - P1030472

Day 2, we set out on the trail to Lake Chelan. We started on Chumstick Highway before getting on to the first FS road. It was a smooth, easy ride, even for a n00b like me, with lots of pretty views. There were a few spots that made me go *gulp* because of the height and drop-off, but I made it through them. Sterling was a fantastic guide and he kept a good pace that I could keep up with. At times he would take off into the distance, but I knew he would wait for me at the intersections so I kept my pace and went slow. I was probably excruciatingly slow but I wanted to finish the ride more than I wanted to go fast, and riding on dirt is still so unusual for me that I have to completely focus on it and take my time getting used to the feel of the bike on gravel, rocks and mud.

Day 2 - P1050291

Day 2 - P1050294

Day 2 - P1050298

Day 2 - P1030511

Day 2 - P1030500


Riding to Poulsbo…

This past weekend was lovely and quite unexpectedly so. I was planning on going up to Victoria, but changed my plans when I realized that I was riding up to Whistler the next weekend. I decided instead to go with Vagabiker to the “Fall Down” party in Poulsbo held every year by the sales manager of Southsound BMW. Since this meant going over to the Kitsap Peninsula, I figured I might as well make a day of it and bring the XT to go off-road.

Late Friday evening out meant waking up late Saturday morning and we still needed to get packed and ready for camping that night. We also tried to make a GPS route of the route we wanted to take between Lake Cushman and Quilcene. This meant getting a late start on our ride. One of the ferries to Bremerton wasn’t working so we were forced to take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and ride south towards Bremerton. For some reason this took forever. It was raining a lot at the start of the trip and I was a little wary about being rained on and miserable for the rest of the day. Once we got past Belfair though, the rain let up. The road between Belfair and Union was twisty and brilliant. We reached the start of the trail almost at 4PM. I guess we should have checked road conditions because quite a few roads dead ended and led to nowhere and we were unable to find a path that led north. Bummer!

It was brilliant getting to practice riding offroad though. After the initial few roads and hiccups, I even started standing on the footpegs and riding quite comfortably that way. My biggest fear was not being able to react or brake in time, but I think that that will come with practice.

After about an hour of trying to find the route and failing, we got back on 101 and decided to just follow it up north along the Hood Canal and then turn east at the tip across the Hood Canal Bridge to Poulsbo. It had started to get dark by then and the fog made everything look spooky and mysterious. I found myself wondering how it was that I was having way more fun throwing around my 250cc dirt bike around the corners compared to my 650cc sportsbike. :)

We reached Poulsbo at around 8PM and decided to stop at a grocery store to pick something up for the party. We had intended to just go eat dinner at the party, but by this time we were so tired and hungry that we made our way to the downtown area (which was very charming!) and went to a European restaurant that he had been to before. Tizzley’s was great if a bit expensive. He got Jaegershnitzel and I got Swedish meatballs, both of which were very good. Mmm… good food at the end of a good ride, and the night was just beginning.

By the time we got to the party, it was already underway. We set up camp in the dark and headed over to the main area. There were many new faces and a few old friends whom I was happy to see. Whiskey and beer seemed to be the order of the night, but the beer was all gone and we didn’t want to drink whiskey all night, so we ended up drinking the wine we had brought. :P After many good conversations and cuddling by the fire, the night ended with a block of an old Volkswagen engine case made of magnesium getting ignited in the fire. Amid shouts of – “Don’t look at it! Don’t breathe the fumes!”, we headed away from the fire and retired to the tent for a very sound night’s sleep.

The next morning I had a change to actually see where we were. Camping in a field full of motorcyclists is quite something and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. We lingered over breakfast and coffee and more conversation before saying our goodbyes.

It was a brilliant day out and we decided to ride north to Port Townsend and catch the ferry to Langley and then to Mukilteo before heading back to Seattle. As it turns out, we weren’t able to do quite this because we didn’t plan enough with the ferry schedules, and ended up riding back to the Bainbridge Island ferry, but we did get some good riding in. And hanging around Port Townsend is always lovely. We rambled around Fort Warden a little bit, took a look at some of the old war bunkers and checked out the lighthouse before heading to the downtown area for a good meal at an underground Victorian cafe (antipasto salad, black bean soup and roast beef sandwiches).

The day ended with taking the ferry back to Seattle and home. I was way more tired than I had expected, but that’s the sign of a good weekend, isn’t it? :)






Day 5… le fin

Day 5

Day 5 woke up somewhat early going by the past few days’ record. Got up, showered and went to Linda’s Restaurant again to get breakfast. Breakfast was a hotcakes shortstack and a side of eggs. The pancakes of course turned out to be so super-size that I could only manage to eat about a quarter of the serving.

I wanted to take the shortest path home that I could while still catching a couple of good roads on the way. I crossed back over into Washington, heading north towards Goldendale and then on a little backroad – Bickleton Highway – that would lead through Bickleton and end at Mabton, where I would get on 82W and then 90W home. The backroad was about 60 miles long and a little out of the way but it really paid off because it was completely remote and scenic. You know it’s a good ride when you’re not checking your speedo, but just going with the flow and responding automatically to the road without thinking about it. The towns that the road went through are hardly even deserving of that description, but it’s what you would expect going through rural America.

Hitting 88W was a reality check of the dreary freeway slabbing through miles of arid desert that lay ahead before I was finally home. I wanted this part to be over quickly. :| Got off at a little town called Buena to catch another supposedly scenic backroad to Moxie City. The road led through the Yakima wineries and I suppose it was pretty but the dry heat was getting to me and I was getting a little hungry by now.

Stopped at Moxie City and went to the grocery store to get supplies for lunch, then rode over to the local state park and sat in a shady grove of trees to eat a well deserved lunch and a bit of a nap.

From here on it was back to 82W where it had gotten really windy – almost as bad as it had been on the gorge. I slowed to a 60mph crawl in a 70mph speed limit zone, which sucked but I didn’t feel safe going any faster when the wind was trying to rip my head off every few minutes. :| Got off at Ellenburg and took Highway 10 to Cle Elum so that I could go a bit slower. It helped a bit with the wind because there was more tree cover.

Getting on I90 at Cle Elum turned out to be a nightmare because of a massive traffic gridlock. The view of the bumper to bumper traffic miles ahead made me worry that that’s how it was going to be all the way to Seattle. This turned out to be unfounded though as the freeway split up into more lanes and traffic finally started moving. I managed to get up to a comfortable 70-80mph pace for the rest of the ride. It was a relief and a delight to finally be riding back through typical Pacific Northwest foliage with the cool weather and the evergreens fringing the freeway. I had never quite noticed how pretty I90 was for an interstate. It was still a bit windy but exceedingly manageable. I pondered all the things I would do when I got home to figure out how I could beat the wind the next time – install my old windshield, try to get a closer fitting jacket so the wind wouldn’t billow around in it, see the suspension could be tweaked at all to make it handle better etc.

I got into Seattle at around 6:30PM – way later than I had hoped – but it was still sunny out. Rode into the parking lot, parked, unloaded. I was home. It wasn’t quite the ride I had had in my head when I had started out, but it had had its moments.

Photos coming soon.

Days 3 and 4

Day 3 saw me leaving Redmond and heading out west towards Sisters. It seemed like a charming little town which I unfortunately didn’t stop at. The weather continued to be marvellous and the route I picked to head towards Eugene – 126 and 20 west turned out to be neat little roads – remote, winding and twisty. There were a few Snow Zone signs which made me a bit nervous, not wanting a repeat of the previous day’s experience, but fortunately all the roads were wide open.

The best ride of all was a little winding backroad called Brush Creek Ln. that led south from Sweet Home to Springfield. It was a glorious lazy, winding road that ran through rural lands with little farmhouses and sloughs – my favorite kind of road. :)

From Springfield, I got on I5 and took the quickest path to Dexter, OR. It was great to see the old familiar faces of people I hadn’t seen in almost a year! I found a spot up on the hill to pitch my tent – happy to finally be using it.

The party was good and mellow. Nobody got shit-faced and fell in the ditch this year, but we did have the gigantic 10 foot bonfire and a live band.

Day 4

Day 4 – Sunday – saw me waking up later than expected (mostly on account of being woken up by loud, chirping birds – why on earth do they do that?! – and not being able to go back to sleep for  while). Got breakfast, said my goodbyes and took off, this time north on I-5 for the shortest path to Portland. I managed to ride 120 miles non-stop before I finally reached PDX.

Had lunch at my favorite Cuban restaurant – Pambiche – sugarcane juice, fried plantains and an appetizer plate of Cuban goodies. I managed to not have a siesta and got back on the bike to head to the Columbia River Gorge.

I was hoping to ride both sides of the river and spend the night at a friend’s place in Washougal. Alas, like the rest of this trip, fate had other plans for me.

The ride started off on the old Columbia River highway which was a cool, historic road that would have been rad to ride early in the morning some weekday, but was absolutely tourist hell on a late Sunday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend. After about 15 miles of crawling along at 20mph I finally got on I-84 which I rode about 100 miles through Hood River and The Dalles.

At The Dalles I crossed the bridge over into Washington to head east to see the mock Stonehenge monument. This is when what had been a glorious day slowly turned into hell with side winds that threatened to rip my head off every few minutes. It was scary enough that at one point I just stopped, feeling a little paralyzed with fear and wondering how to get the hell out of there. I finally wound up going 15 mile east to see the Stonehenge, took some pictures and then went off to find a campground. The closest one was full up though and I ended up crossing back into Oregon to find a motel in Wasco. I called my friend to tell him that I wasn’t going to make it to Washougal after all. :|

So here I am now, in Dinty’s Motor Inn (I kid you not). Dinner, a hot shower and a warm, soft bed has taken the edge off a bit and I’m feeling a little less bummed about my best laid plans all going to hell.

Ah well, win some, lose some, right? Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I want to find the shortest path back to Seattle so that I can get there by afternoon and chill out and enjoy the rest of the day in  my old familiar neighborhood. But I’m not holding my breath.

Day 1 of Memorial Day Ride…

I left home at around 2:30PM on Thursday evening to catch the 3:00 ferry to Bremerton. Made it there a few minutes before they started loading. Rode on, parked, went upstairs to the deck and took a few photos of the gorgeous skyline with the Space Needle in the distance.

The ferry ride was about an hour spent in silence and contemplation. Finally for a long ride by myself, I think. Alas, fate had other plans for me.

Got off the ferry a little before 4:00PM, rode off and promptly missed the turn to 403 and got hopelessly lost. Google Maps stopped working so my GPS fob was useless. Finally made it back on the freeway in 15 minutes, thinking – “Away I go! To freedom! The open road! The wind on my face!”

And got stuck in a bumper to bumper traffic for the next 1.5 hours in 80 degree weather and a rapidly overheating bike, not to mention a slowly cooking me.

Apparently the Hood Canal bridge closing up north was forcing a lot of people to take a detour south and head back north via the route I was on. To think that the only reason I hadn’t taken it was because I wanted to avoid the gridlock in Tacoma. :|

At one point the heat got so unbearable that I pulled off the side of the road. I saw another bike stopped a little ways ahead and rode up to her to see if she was okay. She was, we chatted a little, then got back on the road and rode side by side for a little while. Her name was Dina and she rode a Harley Sportster. She was a typical Harley rider in leather jacket, chaps and a half helmet – the kind I never dreamt I’d be chatting up, but bad traffic makes for strange bedfellows. She was pretty cool too so I invited her to stop with me at the next rest stop where I planned to wait until traffic got better.

Finally we reached Belfair and I saw a McDonalds which appeared to be an oasis (a clear first indication of a heat stroke), I turned off the main road and went in to get ice cream and a long drink of cold water.

We waited in there and chatted about our biking adventures. She had had an interesting life – she had lived in England, New Mexico, and all over Washington state. She rode and camped a lot.

We sat there for about an hour by which time the traffic had subsided. I was beginning to have doubts about ever reaching Astoria before 10:00PM (when the hostel said they would be closing) especially with the Memorial Day traffic heading down 101 towards the coast. The heat had sapped a little bit of my strength and I wasn’t looking forward to riding another 200 miles before dark.

I decided to ride with her to Olympia and then south towards Kelso, where I’d decide to either head south to Portland or west to Astoria.

It was dark by the time I got to Kelso, so Portland it was! Portland, and Sarah, and a pint and a soft, warm bed for the night.

And so here I am, getting ready to load up the bike again and head on south to the Deschutes area in central Oregon. They say there is an obsidian flow that you can walk through. More on that tomorrow.

Off soon….

It’s almost the long weekend!! A few more hours before I skip town. I am taking the day off tomorrow and WFH today so that I can leave early and ride down to Astoria. I’ll spend all of Friday wandering down the Oregon coast, enjoying one of the most scenic rides in the United States. On Saturday I need to be in Eugene, OR for a party in the evening (same biker party I went to last year), so depending on where I spend Friday night, I’ll have to find some cool roads to explore during the day.

The party should be great. I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of people that I made friends with last year and haven’t seen in a while. Last year they had a HUGE bonfire and flaming tetherball, which was good times. ;) Sarah’s riding down from Portland too and between the two of us, you can bet there will be trouble.

Whenever I am ready to get out on Sunday morning, I’ll hit the road again and head up north to ride the roads around the Columbia River Gorge both on the Oregon and Washington side. I’m not sure if I can do both banks on the same day or if I’ll have to split it up to the next day, but I intend to spend the night at a friend’s place in Washougal chatting again about bikes and his big adventure ride from last year. Monday morning I’ll be seeking to find the fastest way home and get back to Seattle mid-afternoon so I can relax and maybe catch a SIFF film.

It strikes me that this is the first time since the summer of 2007 that I will be doing a somewhat long solo ride! While I have ridden a lot between then and now, it has always been with other people – a little strange for a loner like me.

All my bags are packed  and waiting to be hitched to the bike. I’m bringing my tent and sleeping bag as I intend to camp for at least a couple of nights (solo camping! eek! yay!). I’m bringing my netbook and of course my camera and attempt blogging while on the road. Basically I’m trying as much as possible to simulate my upcoming X-country ride on a smaller scale to work out all the kinks and get a better idea of what I need to bring along and what to leave at home.

A few more hours!! Can’t wait… can’t wait!! :D

Bonehead Enduro 2009



Rolling hills, pouring rains, hailstorms, flaming tetherballs… oh my!

Rolled back into town a couple of hours ago. Too late to do a writeup, but I did manage to upload photographs. The highlights are posted under the cut. Try and connect the dots. :)

This is my favorite one out of the best ride I’ve done in Oregon.

All photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/000redbaroness000/MemorialDay2008. And some under the cut.