At a rest stop, a lovely young lady walked slowly, allowing her old dog to keep pace. The dog stopped in front of me, and she said, “He’s 118 in dog years. He’s gentle, you can pet him.”
Without thinking, I said, “One last road trip?” Her eyes welled with tears, and I turned my head so she wouldn’t see mine. I quickly said, “Hey, it looks like you two are having a great time.” She smiled and lifted the old guy into the well-padded backseat of her SUV. The sad part of owning dogs is, they don’t live long. Likewise, the only bad thing about being a motorcyclist is, we don’t last long enough to ride all of the roads out there. But, dadgummit, I’m gonna ride all of them that life will afford me.
The coronavirus pandemic be damned (while following safety guidelines), three lifelong friends in our sixties set out for parts of the country we’d never been on a 2008 BMW R 1200 GSA, 2002 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and 2017 Yamaha Super Ténéré. In a little more than 7,000 miles and 19 days, we covered 12 states, grew thoroughly tired of sharing a hotel room and rode some of the best passes in the world. From Arkansas, we crossed Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas to the resort town of Red River, New Mexico. Snow skiing is the main attraction, but summer fun includes hiking, mountain biking, riding the ski lift up and down the mountain, which we did, and horseback riding, which we did not. We like two wheels under us.
Our next destination was Dinosaur National Monument, located in both Colorado and Utah. U.S. Route 550 was the scenic route we took out of Durango. Anyone who has ridden 550 knows of the climb to more than 10,000 feet on Coal Bank Hill Pass and the descent to Silverton. The Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray includes the 11,075-foot Red Mountain Pass. Neither written words, nor brilliantly composed photos can do justice to the beauty along these roads. One must see it personally, from a motorcycle. Route 550 becomes U.S. Route 50 going north, where we caught Colorado State Highway 139 just north of Grand Junction and on to Dinosaur, Colorado. Dinosaur National Monument was open, and with various points of interest to ride to like the Josie Morris Cabin, it’s well worth a visit. However, due to COVID-19, the Quarry Exhibit Hall was closed. I suspect Covid killed the dinosaurs. We had Yellowstone National Park on our minds, and the lovely U.S. Route 191 north out of Vernal, Utah, took us there.
We arrived a couple of hours before sunset, traffic was sparse, and we saw Old Faithful blasting over the treetops as we topped a hill. Four-legged road hazards are everywhere, but the worst, and the one I almost nailed, was the two-legged kind standing in the middle of the road, gazing through a camera at a moose. As I got off the brakes and rode slowly around him, I said, “Dude, buy a postcard.” We found plenty of lodging in Gardner, Utah, just above Yellowstone, allowing us an entire day to explore the park, ride through herds of buffalo and to the summit of Beartooth Pass, where at 10,948 feet, snow remains well into the summer. We then rode back, west, and hooked up on Wyoming Highway 296 to Cody and to the southeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I highly recommend 296. The pavement is smooth and grippy with plenty of curves and vistas, and we joyfully experienced one of those rare golden rain showers in the sunshine. Motorcycle touring doesn’t get any better.
Montana lived up to its nickname, Big Sky Country, as we rode U.S. Route 89 on our way to Glacier National Park. We planned to go north to Saint Mary and take the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier Park. But, travelers strictly warned us, the Blackfoot Nation was serious about having no visitors and if we entered Saint Mary, we’d likely be arrested. Had we ridden so far only to face another COVID-19 disappointment? To make the most of it, we took U.S. Route 2 west along the bottom of the Park. This turned out to be an excellent motorcycle road, and we picked up the Going to the Sun Road at West Glacier. However, traffic was thick, and we were forced to turn around at Lake McDonald. I might be like that old dog, on his last tour, but I’m going to do my best to get back to Glacier Park.
Staying on Route 2, we crossed the northern panhandle of Idaho and spent the night in Spokane, Washington. I’ve always dreamt of riding in Washington State, and Mount Saint Helens was on our radar. Would we find it closed, with COVID-19 as an excuse, and what kind of weather would we find? It had been perfect so far, and the weather was no different as we crossed eastern Washington, which, to my surprise, is desert. Leavenworth was highly recommended as a good lunch stop. It must be good; it was so crowded we could not find a place to park our motorcycles. We left and took U.S. Route 97 south to U.S. Route 12 west. Quite soon we had to put on warmer gear as 12 took us into the heart of Washington’s forest. We could clearly see snowcapped mountains in the west and south; one of them was Mount Saint Helens.
We spent the night at Randle, and then ventured south on Forest Road 25. The first thing one might notice is the “Rough Road” sign, and it is, but slow travel is necessary anyway if one wants to enjoy this rich rainforest of pine, cedar and fir trees. About 25 miles in, we took NT-99 into the clouds to Windy Ridge Viewpoint and just beyond to where the road ends. It’s at more than 4,000 feet but feels much higher. Mount Saint Helens had clothed herself in clouds, but once in a while, we’d get a glimpse of her hiding behind flowing curtains like a beautiful woman. Through the mist, we could just see Spirit Lake, still floating a huge number of logs put there by the blast in 1980. We had to — no — we got to ride out the same way we rode in, and it’s a stunning ride to I-5 where we turned north to the west entrance of the park.
Spirit Lake Highway (Washington Route 504) leads up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, so named in honor of David Johnston, the geological survey volcanologist who was killed by the blast while on duty at the Coldwater II observation point. Amazingly, so much of the forest has regrown that it’s hard for an untrained eye to recognize that 150,000 acres of timber were destroyed. Douglas fir, maple, and pine, as well as elk and deer, have returned. We stopped at the Mt. Saint Helens Learning Center, to find the center and restrooms closed, due to COVID-19. From the parking lot, we viewed the Toutle River Valley, where the biggest of the mudslides occurred in 1980. We rode on to find the road closed just beyond Coldwater Lake, due to the pandemic. Our next goal, Oregon.
I had no idea Oregon has some 60 volcanoes. We avoided downtown Portland on I-205, and then took Oregon Route 224 and OR 22 south to U.S. Route 97. We were again awed by the scenery and cool temperatures as we passed Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and the Three Sister volcanoes. From 97 we took OR 138 to the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, my favorite part of our ride. Crater Lake is in the mouth of Mt. Mazama volcano with the surface at 6,178 or so feet, and is the deepest (1,945 feet) lake in the U.S., ninth in the world. The caldera (outer rim) is as high as 8,000 feet and one must take care walking about and taking pictures on the loose soil. There are hiking trails around, but the 1.1-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only legal way to the water, where they say you can swim if you can handle the cold. Next, California and the Redwoods.
We made our way to the Redwood Highway (U.S. Route 199), and it seemed we were in the Redwoods before we realized it, then just as quickly, we exited the forest into Crescent City. Not a problem, because the next morning we were on U.S. Route 101 and in Del Norte Redwood State Park. We took our time, stopped and touched the forest giants, and hiked among them. We had lunch in Leggett at a food truck and, not knowing better, we missed Drive Through Tree Park, taking California Highway 1 toward the coast. No matter, as Highway 1, just off 101, was one of the best roads of the trip, and I don’t think the Pacific Coast has ever been so clear. We stayed on Highway 1 until just south of Jenner and took California Route 116 to CR 12. With my GPS set on motorcycle travel, and CR 88 as the waypoint, we were pretty well wasted by the time we reached Santa Rosa for the night. Our next destination, Lake Tahoe.
Carson Pass Highway (88) winds through mountainous pine forests with little traffic until it connects with U.S. Route 50, leading to Tahoe Valley, and CR 89 on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Just into Incline Village, Nevada, we took the Mt. Rose Highway (Nevada Route 431). I highly recommend this 24.5-mile route that winds its way up to nearly 9,000 feet, then down to Reno. The next morning, we rode NR 341 south to Virginia City, another twisty road, and took 79 to America’s Loneliest Road (U.S. Route 50). In Utah, parts of 50 and I-70 are much like riding through the Grand Canyon. Just east of Gunnison, Colorado, we rode south on Colorado Highway 149 through a pleasant little place called Lake City and over the 10,898-foot Spring Creek Pass to South Fork. From there, we were going home.
Kenneth, BR and I started riding together in the 1970s. We were furious competitors in motocross, enduros and hare scrambles, and, quite stupidly, on the street, too. It is a gift that the three of us are still healthy and able to do such a ride as this one. When I tell people about our trip, they say they’d love to do that, but just can’t find the time, or can’t afford it. I say, “Just pick a place, grab you credit card, and get on the motorcycle and ride. Because there is no promise of tomorrow.” That goes for all of us.