Return Motorcycle trip to Anacortes.

Dispatch 3

Minneapolis, Minnesota to Anacortes, WA. 

Sept 21, 2007


I took Highway 12 through Minnesota, South Dakota and a bit of Montana.

It poured rain in Minneapolis the night before I was to leave.  I got up early and checked the weather forecast and radar picture and found that most of the front had passed through with only a few residual build-ups to the west.  It was time to move on.  I kept the rain insert in my riding pants, but it was surprisingly warm, perhaps 70 degrees, so I packed the electric vest.   A light rain resumed as I said goodbye to Loren Aandahl. Freeway 394 out of Minneapolis still had a film of standing water, so I rode carefully and stayed in the tire tracks of the few cars moving at that early hour on a Saturday.  

After about ten miles the freeway became Hwy 12, which was my chosen route across Minnesota, South Dakota and the first 100 miles of Montana.  Within an hour, the road was drying out, although I was eyeing a large cell ahead of me that clearly was dumping a lot of rain.  It was gradually being blown to the north, and I experienced only a few minutes of light rain as I traveled west along its southern edge.  Hwy 12 would have been a fast road, except that for the first two hours I came to a farm community about every six or seven miles, each with it's conservative speed limit.  However, the further west I went, the farther apart were the farm communities, the trees became sparser, and the terrain was generally flatter.  Soon the only trees seemed to be wind-breaks planted around the farm houses.  I would soon understand the need for them.

I passed into South Dakota.  While Hwy 12 was two lane through much of Minnesota, in South Dakota it was an empty four lane much of the way.  I was riding under blue sky now and the temperature crept up to 85 degrees, not what I was expecting on a Fall day in the northern Midwest.  I sat down at the counter of a busy looking cafe in Aberdeen, South Dakota to have lunch.  This was the largest town I had passed or would pass on my travels through that state.  Soon others were coming into the cafe and a man in his coveralls sat down next to me at the counter.  "Hey Al, nice monkey suit.  Can I borrow it for Halloween?" the cheerful waitresses ribbed.  It soon became clear that I had just missed the high school's home coming parade and clearly Al had played a part in it.  I asked Al who the football team would be playing that night.  He mumbled something I could not catch, but I figured out was Lemmon, SD, as I rode through that town later.  I asked what the main cash crops were in Aberdeen.  "Wheat, ... 'n beans," was the mumbled response.  He wasn't unfriendly, he just talked with his mouth closed.


South Dakota farm.


As I traveled west, the farms got bigger and more of the land was cattle grazing land.  The homes became farther apart, and the four lanes eventually turned into two lanes, which was more than adequate for the occasional pick-ups trucks and few other vehicles.  I had been leaning into a left wind most of the day, but I began to watch a band of high cirrus clouds ahead which were being blown swiftly down from the north.  These clouds had swirls and wiggles in them which meant turbulence and which I would have avoided if I had been flying.  It was still very warm, but I wondered if those clouds, coming out of Canada, meant something else.  They did.  Soon I was leaning into a stiff wind from my right and the temperature dropped noticeably.  Within an hour the temperature went from 85 degrees to 45 degrees.  I stopped and pulled out my electric vest and put my turtle-neck sweater over it, and then my warm riding jacket.  The heated handgrips were soon turned on, and I was comfortable except for my feet, which became gradually cold-soaked.  

Rigging for cold weather.

Just north of the Badlands, the terrain became variegated.  

In Western South Dakota, there were no significant towns and even the gas stations were 60 to 80 miles apart.  I decided to ride to Miles City, Montana, which was a large enough town to have some motel options.  Highway 12 turned somewhat north and crossed into North Dakota.  I was perhaps 200 miles north of the area called, "The Badlands," and here the terrain became hilly with only small valleys separating the hills.  The grassy hills evolved into slate colored mounds a few hundred feet high.  Cattle grazed on the sparse grass between the mounds.  

It grew dusk and as the light grew dim, the deer grew bold.  Soon I was riding in a shooting gallery, with deer popping into view on both sides of the road.  Occasionally a pair would cross the road in front of me, fortunately never so near that it was a problem.  I slowed down and rode cautiously, peering past the swath cast by my high beam.   Night also brought colder temperatures and I was at the mercy of my vest and heated grips.  I was quite happy to eventually get onto Fwy 94 and ride the twenty minutes to Miles City.

A suitably seedy motel advertised $30 rooms, to I decided to take my chances.  The cheerful proprietor had no legs and rolled out to the desk on a wheel chair, his catheter bag swinging from a hook.  I asked where the best food was to be had and he gave me the choice of a bar or the Chinese restaurant.  I got on my bike and rode to the latter.  It was nearly closing time, and their evening buffet had long since stuck firmly to the bottom of the steam trays, so I ordered something I can't remember from the menu.  Apparently it satisfied my considerable hunger.  I returned to my seedy motel and got comfortable at a 3 degree list on the mattress, clutching my blankets as the noisy, portable, antique, electric space heater struggled to compete against the Montana cold.

It was clear and cold, about 41 degrees,  when I got up and headed west toward Billings.  Open grazing land gave way to hills.  Prong horned antelope were in abundance grazing in the valleys.  It was hunting season here, as it had been in South Dakota, and as I sped by, I watched a couple of ranch hands site in a rifle with their home-made stand.  Soon after grabbing a fast food breakfast in Billings, I started seeing snow-capped mountains.  It wasn't clear to me if the passes were open, but with the sunny skies, I hoped that the roads were sufficiently dry for passage.  I stopped for a picture of the Yellowstone River, and a pickup truck pulled in behind me.  It was a rancher wondering how I was doing in the cold.  He too rode a motorcycle and offered me the hospitality of his house until the day warmed up a bit.  I explained that my vest and heated grips were doing the trick, and answered his questions about my vintage BMW.  

About 60 miles east of Bozeman I started climbing Bozeman Pass and was soon surrounded by snow.  The sun was out and the road was dry, but it was definitely a strange sensation to be riding a motorcycle in such surroundings.  I crossed the Pass at 7,900 feet and got a good look at the cloud shrouded Yellowstone park to the south and I made my descent into Bozeman.

I had lunch in Bozeman with Dave and Sigrid Chambers.  Dave and I both flew A-3's in the Navy and crossed paths over many years.  Dave studied at the Colorado School of Mines, and after leaving the Navy, did a career as an exploration geologist.  He and Sigrid are now green activists, challenging mines which take a casual approach to the environment.  They both love Bozeman, and they spend their free time in Yellowstone Park, hiking and following with interest the management of the bears, wolves and other animals.  Our lunch conversation went way too fast, and as I scrambled to catch the last hours of sun on my way to Kalispell, Sigrid gave me some chemical foot warmers to keep my boots warm along the way.  They worked wonderfully, and I soon bought more for the rest of the trip.


The Yellowstone River in South Central Montana, looking towards Yellowstone National Park. 

Snow on Bozeman Pass. 

I continued west on Fwy 90 and prior to getting to Butte I crossed the Continental Divide over Homestake Pass at an elevation of 6368 feet.  Once again I had snow on both sides of me.  The descent into Butte was a steep 10% grade and the freeway twisted in relatively tight turns.  The road itself was dry, and the traffic was moving quickly.  We were in a sweeping right turn and in the left lane I had just passed a car, when up ahead I saw a swath of water running across the road.  It could be ice, I didn't know, but I knew I couldn't chance it.  I dived deeper into my right turn and crossed into the right lane in front of the car I had passed.  I popped upright just before reaching the water, and as soon as I was past it, dropped back into a hard right turn.  By then I was moving back into the left lane, but I was able to match the road's radius of turn and keep the concrete center divider safely to my left.  There were no more surprises on the descent, but my protective shot of adrenalin kept me agitated and happy for some miles further.  It reminded me a bit of the 30 minutes of trembling following a night carrier landing in my Navy days.

After passing Butte, I was back on familiar road, with the beautiful Garnet Range to my right and the Clark Fork River to my left.  Ranches with cattle and occasionally Bison or Llamas took advantage of the rich pasture along the river.  The road was in gradual descent and eventually dropped down to Missoula.  Dusk was on me, but I knew this area, and turned north on Hwy 93 towards Flathead Lake.  Once again I rode through the Blackfoot Indian Reservation and traced the spectacular Hwy 93 as it ran up the west side of Flathead Lake.  The Swan Mountains on the east side of the lake were thirty miles away, but with their fresh coating of snow they seemed close enough to touch.  The sun was below the mountains when I once again pulled into Dick and Dianne Hamilton's cozy home on a hill above the Flathead Lake.  

 I took a day off with my cousin and her husband and my Uncle Warren.  We drove to Ashley Lake, about 15 miles west of Kalispell.  Of the 40 or so lakes that are an easy drive from Kalispell, this is certainly one of the most beautiful, a miniature Lake Tahoe, without the crowds, and with a limestone lake-bed which gives the crystal clear water a turquoise hue. We explored Kalispell a bit, had lunch, and I listened to Uncle Warren's astonishing stories of World War II.   

The Flathead Lake, just a tiny portion of this 40 mile long body of water.


Bitterroot Mountains in September.


Ashley Lake, about 15 miles west of Kalispell. 
My cousin Dianne and her husband Dick.


It was 38 degrees as I donned my gear and left Somers, Montana on September 24.  Fog lay across Flathead Lake, and I was a bit concerned that there might be ice on the passes.  With my electric gear and chemical pads in my boots, it was do-able, although comfortable may be stretching the truth.  I rode back south along the lake, then turned west on Hwy 28.  I crossed a couple of passes before reaching the Clark Fork River, but the roads were mostly dry and I had no problems.  I made my way back to Fwy 90 with the intent to violate my preference for two lane roads in the interest of speed.  I had 600 miles to go, and with a storm approaching the West Coast, I needed to cross the Cascades before the snow hit.  For four hours I rode through the Lolo National Forest in what were really the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, although these were mountains, not hills.  I rode through Mullan Pass, Idaho, and eventually Couer 'd Alene, with its majestic lake.  Here I emerged from the Rocky Mountains and crossed into Washington.  

I passed quickly through Spokane, a beautiful, hilly city, and stayed on Fwy 90 through the relatively flat and rich farm country of eastern Washington.  Many miles went by, but I passed through Moses Lake and watched Air Force B17s and new Boeing airliners make training approaches at the Moses Lake Airport.  I continued on through Ellensburg and Cle Elum, great apple country.  Soon I was climbing along the Yakima River between the towering wooded Cascade Mountains until I reached Snoqualmie Pass, and started my descent towards Seattle.  I stopped in Issaquah for gas, and found myself surrounded by Mercedes and Lexus and other yuppie names in this close suburb to the Microsoft campus.  

I was close to home now, just 90 more miles.  It was rush hour in Seattle, but fortunately, I could use the HOV lane, so I moved steadily onward.  I crawled through Everett, sped up past Marysville and soon dropped over the ridge toward the Skagit Valley.  I could see the hills of the San Juan Islands rising above the flat Skagit Delta.  And then it started to rain.  I had left home in rain four months earlier.  It was only appropriate that I return in similar conditions.  I had crossed the Cascades before the snow hit.  Rain was good.

Fog on Highway 28, west of the Flathead Lake.


The Clark Fork River, north of Highway 90.


Details Anacortes, WA to

Pensacola, FL

Total Miles Round Trip 7278
Average Miles per Gallon 44.1
Gallons used for trip 165
Cost for fuel $496.78
Longest day of riding,

Minneapolis, MN to 

Miles City, MT.

730 miles,   13 hours.
Maintenance done Tightened exhaust bolts.

Changed oil.

New rear tire.

Motorcycle Model BMW K1100LT,  1993

My goal was to tour the country on my motorcycle while visiting friends along the way.  The Navy reunion in Florida provided an excuse and time-line in which to do it.  I could not be more pleased with the way so many of you welcomed me and allowed me to come into your homes and lives.  I will reflect on those visits for some time to come.  

The return trip came just three weeks after the death of our son, Brian.  Some of you may wonder how I could do the trip under those conditions, and now I wonder that myself.  The shock of that situation was more than could be absorbed all at once, and I think that the warmth and support that so many of you provided was very helpful.  I was very concerned about my wife, Pat, and had planned to cancel the trip, but Pat encouraged me to do it.  She felt that she really wanted the time alone to be able to mourn without distraction.  That is exactly what she did.  

After arriving home, I sat down and read the many sympathy cards and emails that had come in.  I was now ready to deal with the situation.  I will plan write more about that process in our Christmas Letter (won't that be cheerful.)

And, so ends the story of my Pensacola Ride.

Don Webster 


The End



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