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Back from the Palouse…

I got back an hour ago from my long weekend trip to the Palouse, or perhaps I should call it the Motorcycling Adventure From Hell? I ache all over and my right hand seems to refuse to want to straighten up. I’m pretty sure I’ve messed up my back all over again, negating the effects of the muscle relaxants I’ve been taking over the past couple of weeks. And I am tired as heck.

Let’s backtrack though to the beginning, especially to the part where was I was having jitters about riding again after a two week break. I was worried then that I was riding like a n00b all over again, and I stubbornly decided to follow through on my Palouse plans to prove myself wrong. Matter of fact, what I did was prove myself right in a big way.

The one thing that I realize now is that riding a bike isn’t about just planting your rear end on the seat, taking off, and steering. What it is is an intricate process, where every muscle in your body is participating and moving in response to stimuli from your environment, without your mind actually spelling out the actions required. When you go 80 mph with cross winds trying to blow you into a semi, your body sub-consciously hugs the machine close, so that you are one with the machine. When you are racing through the twisties at 5400 ft with an asshole in an F350 tailgating you, your mind learns to block our aforementioned asshole, and lets your past experience effortlessly guide you through the twists and turns without so much as breaking a sweat. When you need to make a sharp right-hand turn into a gas station, you subconsciously know when to slow down, how much to slow down, turn your head, lean into the turn, roll and smoothly pull up near the gas pump, without actually registering that you are performing several very distinct actions. Hindsight is 20/20 though, and I realized how rusty just two weeks of not riding had made me, everytime I had to deal with every one of these situations in the past three days.

As planned, I started out at about 8AM on Saturday morning. I had planned my route the previous evening, and it was roughly to be:
Leave Bellevue and get on I-90E
I-90E past Ellensburg to Vantage
26E to Othello
17S to junction with 260E
260E past Kahlotus to junction with 261E
261E to Starbuck (Destination Highway)
12E past Pomeroy to Clarkston and finally Lewiston in Idaho

Everything went well in the beginning. I spent what seemed like a lifetime on I-90, stopped briefly at Cle Elum for breakfast, and then continued past Ellensburg and Vantage. It was still early morning, so traffic was relatively light and within a couple of hours I was nearing my halfway point. When I got to Othello was when the horror of the journey began. I was a bit tired and decided to stop at an A&W for lunch. As I waited in the left turn lane for traffic to go past before turning left, I started feeling the bike slip away from me. Mind that I had recently had the bike raised and still wasn’t used to the new height. I could have either tried to stop it falling and pulled it back up, risking injury to several back muscles and possibly failing anyway, or to just let it go. I did the latter, but instead of letting it down gently, it slammed down. The frame sliders on the bike might have had something to do with my laziness, but this time they failed to work. When I got the bike back up (with the help of another girl who was stopped behind me) I realized that the tip of my gear shifter had completely snapped off. I think I was in complete shock and just stood there looking at it for a few minutes in a “I cannot believe I just let this happen.” kind of way. I pushed my bike into the parking lot and tried going through my options.

Okay, so part of me wanted to start bawling (I am such a BABY in certain situations) and hoping for divine help, but the rational part of me took over, and I called a friend to ask him what I could do and whether I should just go back home. He suggested I continue on my way and just shift gears by turning my foot inward toward the shifter (thankfully the entire shifter wasn’t broken – just the tip with the rubber grommet on it). He suggested I ride around a block and try it. Apparently this is a common mishap on the track and people just deal with it. A workaround that some racers use was to drill a hole through the tip of the shifter and run a bolt through it.

I decided to go get lunch and calm down, hoping things would make more sense after I wasn’t dizzy with hunger. After lunch, I tried riding it to the gas station and shifting the hard way, and it was like I thought it would be – pretty unnatural and difficult! I didn’t know if I could go any distance in either direction of my journey while riding that way. Oh, and I realized that the tip of my clutch lever had also broken off. Damn aluminium!! I filled up the tank, and walked back to the Scene Of The Crash to see something shiny still lying in the left turn lane. As expected, it was the broken end of the lever. Miraculously no one has run over it in the past half hour.

As luck would have it, someone had informed the local police about the incident, and a cop car pulled over next to me as I walked back to my bike. The cop asked me if I was okay, and whether anybody had hit me and made me crash. Nope, just my own stupidity. I asked him if he knew anyone in the area that could fix the lever, and he said he’d find out. He asked for my id and then started making some calls on his car radio(?). Finally, he hung up and told me of an auto mechanic called Doug and gave me directions to his shop. Nice cop!! I’ll never make donut jokes again!

I found the mechanic without any difficulty. He turned out to be this really sweet guy, covered with grease thereby increasing my confidence in him. He confided that he owned an old Goldwing although he didn’t get to ride it much. He rolled my bike into his shop (Doug’s Pit Stop, I later found out), and when I explained what I needed done, understood immediately. He drilled a hole through the shifter, found a bolt that was the perfect size, threaded it, wound it through the hole and sealed it with LocTite. He even took the rubber grommet off of the old shifter and slipped it onto the bolt! When he was done, it looked good as new! :) He said he couldn’t really do much with the broken clutch. I suggested that maybe we could try superglueing it back and then wrapping it with layers of duct tape. We tried this (with black tape) and it worked just fine!! While he was working, his kids were playing around the shop, and the little boy in particular kept talking to me, showing me his Superman backpack and telling me about his father’s motorcycle. Hehe… funny kid. I thought to myself about what a simple life they must lead, here in this one horse town in the middle of nowhere, that I just happened to chance through. And how charming and seemingly content they were. He charged me next to nothing for the excellent job he did too. Incidents like these are what make my motorcycling journeys so worthwhile. It’s a pity I had to meet these nice people because of my absurd idiocy from earlier on, but perhaps it was meant to be?

I left Othello with many good feelings. What I had thought to be a crippling first blow to my plans, was fixed in a matter of merely an hour, thanks to the kindness of a few good people in this “hick town” as what most of us snobs from the cities would call it.

From here on, I made my way toward Idaho like I had planned. So, during most of my journeys, “the road is the destination”, but in this case it turned out to be a destination that continued FOREVER. What I had envisioned when I had planned this journey was “rolling hills”, “a vast prairie” and “the endless greenery of the Palouse”. What I got was miles upon never ending miles of dry, arid desert, passing through brief little ghost towns to break the monotony. Even passing through two Destination Highways did nothing to make the road cheerier. Yes, the highways were wonderful with many twisties and the like, but it was stiflingly hot (a near constant 100 degrees throughout), I could barely breathe through the heat, I was low on water, and I was the only person on the road, which made me the tiniest bit paranoid after my unfortunate episode in Othello. Oh, and I kept thinking of horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Devil’s Rejects and imagining a madman with a chainsaw standing in the middle of the road around the next turn. When they say that deserts drive people nuts, they’re really not kidding.

I stopped briefly in Starbuck and went to the only cafe (no pun intended whatsover) I saw, to rest a little and get something to drink. The couple that ran it were surly and brusque. When I tried to make conversation with the man, he started talking about the forest fire that had been going on, and how the government was doing nothing to stop it, letting people’s properties go up in smoke. That was one angry man. Not loud, yelling angry, but quiet, festering angry, in the manner of someone who has a Grudge against life, and if he was one small man against the government, and couldn’t do anything to change anything, by gum, he was going to be angry and make sure every one of his customers knew it. I was glad to see the last of that dismal place, and made a mental note to ride around it on my return journey.

The rest of the ride toward Lewiston was more plod, plod, plod, and mile upon mile of dried, dead grass, and a haze of smoke enveloping the horizon. I longed for the occassional mountain lion or chainsaw wielding madman to wander into the path and break the monotony a little. Alas, to no avail, I was doomed to keep rolling, adding miles, and subtracting minutes, until I finally rolled into the twin towns of Clarkston and Lewiston.

The place I had a reservation at – the Guest House Inn – was a dumpy little motel at the edge of town. It had obviously seen better days, but had since fallen into ruin for lack of patrons. The receptionist – who seemed to be Irish – was nice enough, and she cleared up a spot near the entrance for my bike, where it would be in sight of the night clerk. I went up to my room and just lay on the queen size bed with my eyes closed, wishing the tiredness to fall away from me. Even taking my gear off seemed to take a world of effort. The room was super-chilled by a noisy, ancient air-conditioning unit. The window looked out onto railroad tracks, and the Snake River, and what looked like a refinery in the distance, on the other side of the river. Depressing as that may sound though, it was oddly pleasing, and I imagined myself to be living an adventure again.

After cleaning up a bit and changing, I headed down to the motel lobby, which had an Irish pub attached to it. A stay at a rundown motel warranted a drink in the bar, I reasoned. And the thought of a pint of cold Guinness cheered me up considerably. In keeping with the rest of the day though, the bartended announced that he didn’t stock Guinness because nobody drank it, would never stock it again, and he would change the name of the pub from Mulligan’s to a good American name if only the management would let him. I sighed, ordered a Fat Tire, drank it up quickly and left when the locals started thronging the place for the night’s karaoke. A spot of dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street (mmm…. pesto+pizza+Guinness), and I was ready for bed.

When I woke up the next morning, I was still exhausted, and aching, and my body was crying for more sleep and rest, after the 8 hour ride of the previous day. I got breakfast (waffles that you had to make yourself, and some bad coffee), and checked out. I had originally planned to do a bunch of Destination Highway roads on the Washington side, like the ones from Pataha-Pullman, and Pullman-Rockford, not to mention the Spiral Highway in Idaho, and go south toward Walla Walla at the end of the day. I tried finding the Old Spiral Highway on the map, which showed some vague squiggles instead of a concrete path in the general direction of WA-12. What I did successfully accomplish was to get completely lost in what seemed like the increasingly hideous ghost town that was Clarkston. When I finally hit upon what I thought was the right way, I was conscious of a bad smell, not unlike human shit. My hunch was dead on, as within a few minutes I passed a Solid Waste Disposal Facility. What an excellent way to start a day of riding! A few more wrong turns later, I ended up on 12E. I was originally going to end up on this highway after having done a few runs of the Spiral Highway, but by this time I was so tired and annoyed that I just said screw it, and continued onward. What’s worse is, I didn’t have the energy to do any of the rides I had originally wanted to do. Once again, it was another day of 100+ degrees, not a soul on the road, scenery consisting of vast empty plains of dead, dried grass, and the roads weren’t even rated that highly in the book. What I did do was to just keep riding in the general direction of Walla Walla.

By the time I reached Dayton, the air was heavy and murky in the distance, and I could smell the smoke from the forest fire. I stopped at a rest stop and got a bottled frappuchino, and heard people talking about the fire. Apparently a high alert or something of the nature had been issued, on account of the fire, the high temperatures, and unstable climate conditions. Glad that I was riding away from the fire, I set off again. The ride to Walla Walla was pretty uneventful, but you probably already guessed that. I reached the motel absurdly early for what was supposed to have been a full day of riding. They let me check in, so I did, and went to sleep. I slept all afternoon.

This motel was even dumpier than the previous one, although you wouldn’t know it if you looked at their website, which was all I had to go on when I had made reservations. It was one of those places where you can park your vechicle outside your room. Unfortunately, it was also one of those places where the bathtub looked like it had inhabitants, the shower curtain stank, the water kept running so that you’d have to deal with the sound after having turned off the noisy air-conditioning, and the traffic sounds from the neighboring highway are loud and clear well into the night. In other words, quite charming. I woke up at about 5:30 PM. Too late to do any wine tasting like I had originally planned. I decided to ride to the downtown area anyway just to check it out, but it seemed like even the ghosts had taken the evening off. I managed to find one cafe with any sign of habitation, and settled down into a comfortable couch with a coffee, to plan my escape route back home the next day.

I decided that I’d probably die of old age before getting home, if I went back the way I had come, and I had to go down some interesting roads to salvage this weekend. I-90W was definitely out. I figured I could go to bed early, and leave at about 7:00AM to get on the road to Pasco via 12W, which then went on to Yakima. There were some good rides in the Yakima region, and depending on my state of mind by the time I got there, I could decide which ones I wanted to do. There was one especially from Naches to Packwood which was highly recommended by the book – great engineering, good scenery, lots of twisties, remoteness, character, all the good stuff. From there, I could follow 123N to Enumclaw, take 169N to Renton, and finally good old 405N to Bellevue. In theory anyway, it sounded do-able.

I left the cafe with a plan in mind and decided to go scavenging for food. Some 10 year olds on bicycles passed by when I was unchaining my jacket from my bike, and an interchange followed:

One Kid: Hey, is that your crotch-rocket?
Self: Yup.
Aforementioned Kid: That’s bad-ass!
Another kid, not to be confused with aforementioned kid: No, it’s not!

Huh, he was just jealous.

Dinner turned out to be delicious takeout from McDonalds. Figuring I had reached the lowest point possible, I showered and watched some TV, just to re-assure myself that I wasn’t missing anything after having stopped watching it a year ago. American TV was still exactly as bad as I remembered. I did stumble upon Ella Enchanted, and just had to watch the whole thing through. After that, it took me a long time to fall asleep, although I did wake up at about 5 in the morning when I heard my bike make the sound it makes when someone “accidentally” touches it, displeasing my newly acquired Gorilla alarm, and giving a warning beep. Swearing under my breath, I got up and took a peek through the window to see my next door neighbor scrambling into his truck and driving off. Hmmm…?

I managed to fall asleep again, only to wake up at numerous intervals in the night by the sound of his truck revving and just running the engine for no apparent reason. You meet the strangest people in cheap motels.

I returned the favor in the morning when I left at 7:30 and let my bike’s engine run for a while. Just to warm it up before I got on the road, you know.

The journey to Pasco was….. exactly like the rest of my journey had been. I broke several speed limits and didn’t get caught, while other poor blokes got pulled over by various sheriffs from assorted counties. From thereon to Yakima, and then to Naches, and along the Destination Highway that was supposed to make it all better. Which it did, in a manner of speaking. It was much, much cooler because of the shade, the speed limit of 50 was most annoying and hence disregarded, but it seemed like the whole world and his uncle had decided to ride the route that day too, and I was constantly stuck in traffic. The ride up 169N was a bit disconcerting, to say the least, especially the steep, high, unbanked bits triggering off my severe vertigo, where one part of my brain was going, “Don’t look! Just don’t look! It’s high!” and another part was offering the sane counterpoint of, “You have to look! If you don’t look, you will go over, you know.”

And do you know that you have absolutely no idea what speed you are going when riding through a dark tunnel?

To cut an extremely long story short, I made it to Enumclaw, then to Renton, and then back home. Perhaps I should have gone north from Yakima, hit I-90 and then gone home. I hadn’t counted on going so slow on some of the roads I took, what with the traffic and the idiotic speed limits. But I did find some nice routes for a future date when I wouldn’t be so tired and suffering from just-want-to-get-home-itis.

So much for what was supposed to be a grand adventure. I suppose I had my good adventure with the Cascades earlier this year, and there has to be balance. What was supposed to have been a relaxing vacation turned out instead to be a seeming endurance training run for the Paris-Dakar rally. At least I’m in good shape for my trackday later this week.

I suppose there have to be lessons in here someplace, and after a good night’s sleep, I might be able to recite some of them. Or not. Hope everyone else had a good weekend.

Pictures? Imagine this picture multiplied by six trillion and you’ll have a near constant movie of the “sights” from the past three days.

View from the window in Lewiston…

Oh look, they landed the first SV on the moon.

To prove that I really was there, and this wasn’t the work of my feverished imagination.

I find that the nicest thing about towns in East Washington is that you can leave them forever.

And the rest of the pictures are located here if you are still possessed by a ghoulish curiousity: http://schmi.net/Photographs/Motorcycling/Palouse/. There aren’t very many. I was not in a picture-taking mood.