A Motorcycle Trip to Pensacola

Dispatch 1

Anacortes, WA to Sommers, MT


My BMW K1100LT at Stevens Pass, WA.  This was my highest point on the traverse of the Cascade Mountains.

Sunday, May 6
It was just starting a misty drizzle as I pulled out of our driveway at 8:05 AM.  I knew from the weather map that a system was moving south out of Canada, so I figured that if I got moving I could pull away from it.  It happened exactly that way.  By the time I got off of Fidalgo Island, it was dry, and I never saw rain again.
It was 46 degrees out, but wearing the electric vest that I had just bid from ebay, and using the heated handgrips, it was totally comfortable.  I passed south through the withering tulips of Skagit Valley, and when I reached I-5 in Conway, I stopped to say goodbye to Lope Malaki who was waiting at the gas station.  He and I had conferred on the weather and already I had changed my plan to ride over the North Cascade Hwy, as temperatures in the teens and snow flurries made that a poor choice for a motorcycle.  Instead, I had opted to cross the Cascades on Hwy 2, which crosses at 3,000' elevation instead of 7,000'.
We said goodbye, and I rolled south on I-5 for the 30 mile trip the Hwy 2.  It was a chance to make sure that my tent, pad and sleeping bag bungeed to the back were secure.  Soon, I was heading east on Hwy 2.  This two lane road goes all the way to Lake Michigan in Wisconsin; I was going to take it to Sand Point, Idaho, and then take the slightly more scenic, Hwy 200 to Plains, MT, and then Hwy 28 through spectacular "big-sky" horse country to the Flathead Lake.
Heading east on Hwy 2, I passed through lowland towns that were once logging communities, and are now suburbs of Everett.  The I headed up the Cascades, young mountains with sharp jagged tops, covered with snow, looking like a child's fairy tale book.  Beside me, the Sammamish River was wide and fast. pushing hard against log-jams, and creating a bow-wave against occasional boulders.  The higher I got, the smaller but faster became the river.  I passed a group of white-water kayakers examining a group of rapids and evaluating their chances.
Soon the road steepend and the condition of the asphalt deteriorated.  It was the final climb to Stevens Pass, and an old, dirty snow-bank formed beside the road.  The summit was clearly defined; I was climbing hard and then descending steeply.  Right at the summit sits the Stevens Pass Ski Area, and I stopped in the parking lot to take a picture of my motorcycle beside the 10' snow banks. 
Then, it was all downhill with sweeping turns and eventually the rushing Wenatchee River on my right.  I rode through the town of Leavenworth, a town which years ago started replicating a Swiss alpine village.  All the buildings have a chalet architectural style and it has become a popular day-tripping and vacation site for the Seattle crowd who enjoy the ambiance and the many alpine recreation possibilities.

The Wenatchee River on the west side of the Cascades.

Not far past Leavenworth, the climate and topography changed quickly.  It was dry, warm and the pine studded mountains gave way to rounded, rolling hills covered in apple orchards.  Many of these trees were still in  blossom, and others were sporting their new, light green leaves.  The best apples in the world come from this region, and biting down on a fresh apple in season here will produce a crunch and juicy surprise that has to be experienced to be believed.

Apple country.  Approaching Wenatchee, WA.  

I descended into Wenatchee, a sizeable city and the start of the plateau country east of the Cascade Mountains.  Here I crossed the mighty Columbia River and followed Hwy 2 as it turned north and paralleled the river for 13 miles.  The river at this point is dammed into a lake and lies in a dry canyon.  Apple orchards and vineyards line its shore, while sandstone cliffs rise on each side of the canyon. 
Eventually, Hwy 2 climbed steeply out of the canyon and turned east.  Here I rode for perhaps 100 miles of wheat fields in gently rolling plateau.  Occasionally, I would descend into another canyon and climb back up onto plateau again. 
I knew that I was coming to Spokane when I passed the entrance of Fairchild AFB, a B-52 base just west of the city.  Spokane is in the foothills of the greater Rockies, and it has an attractive glacial topography of rolling hills with the Spokane River carved steeply through the center of town.  This city had been one of my favorite layovers back when I flew the B737, so I enjoyed seeing the Cavanaugh River Inn and a few of the restaurants that I frequented in days past. 

Plateau country in central Washington.

Out of Spokane, back on Hwy 2, and it immediately became wooded and increasingly mountainous.  Soon I was riding along the Priest River, a wide river which would become wider still over the next 200 miles due to dams along its course.  I got into Sand Point, Idaho in late afternoon and started considering where I would stay the night.  My motorcycle was making a clicking sound at high torque, and I was wondering what to do about that. 
I continued east, and left Hwy 2 just north of Sand Point, for Hwy 200 which I knew to be a spectacular ride along the dammed up waters of Priest Lake.  I rode through Pend Orielle, Idaho and 15 miles later came to the Sam Owen campground, a beautiful, wooded state park on the shores of Priest Lake.  I pitched my tent and rode another eight miles to Clark Fork, where I found a little cafe for dinner.  I was the only client in the restaurant that was not well known by everybody else, and I enjoyed the easy banter and gossip which permeated the small establishment. 

Priest Lake at the Sam Owen campground.

On the ride back to camp, my motorcycle was definitely making more noise and I knew that something was wrong.  I sat by the lake trying to enjoy the dusk, but pondering my motorcycle situation.  The transmission had recently been pulled to change some leaking seals, so with that extensive of maintenance, any number of things could be going wrong.  To ease my mind, I read my book in the last of the remaining light, a story of six bicyclists who rode completely across Russia, an expedition which made my ride child's play by comparison.  Tucked in my mummy bag, I was surprisingly warm and I went to sleep listening to flocks of geese squawking as they few just about the pine trees in the darkness.  I didn't know they did that.

May 7

I woke up at 6:40 and performed minimal ablutions at the cold-water only sink.  After breaking camp and packing my motorcycle, I went to the lake and watched the geese skimming the water as they flew to the safety of an off-shore island.  A couple of skinny mule deer grazed not far away, trying to fatten up after a long winter.
As I rode out of the campground, the noise in my motorcycle sounded more like a bad muffler than a clicking sound and I didn't like it.  I stopped by Hwy 2, spread out my tarp, and got down for a good look.  Soon the problem was obvious.  The nuts holding the exhaust manifold onto the #2 cylinder had backed off half an inch, so that cylinder was not being muffled at all.  Almost all the bolts on a BMW are hex keyed bolts, and my tool-kit consisted of hex wrenches, but these were standard metric nuts and I didn't have any sockets.  So I decided to risk riding back to Pend Orielle to find a mechanic.  The 20 minute ride went uneventfully.  The only motorcycle shop in town was closed on Monday, but I was directed to a boat dealer who had a mechanic.  In fifteen minutes he had the nuts cinched down with lock-tite, he checked the other nuts to be safe, and immediately my BMW had the quiet idle I was used to. 


Camping at the Sam Owen campground.

Although I had not eaten breakfast, I was anxious to put miles on and I spent the next hour moving swiftly down Hwy 2.  The motorcycle was purring like a kitten, and the sweeping turns put a smile on my face.  I was still following Priest River in a wide gorge sided by increasingly tall mountains.  This was big horn sheep country, and on previous drives to Kalispell I had seen them grazing by the road.  I didn't see any this time, but I did spot a couple of elk at the tree line on the far side of a sheep pasture.  I also saw a large owl sitting on the point of a dead pine, looking down at me with mostly apathy. 
I finally stopped at a roadside cafe and made the mistake of ordering oatmeal.  Real men in Montana don't order oatmeal, so after a delay for the cook to ascertain that their ancient tubs of Quakers were no longer palatable, I wisely switched my order to pancakes.  These perfectly cooked discs, stuffed with huckleberries, were definitely some of the best pancakes I have ever eaten, and even the coffee was good.  Once again, I was the only stranger in the place, and the waitress chatted with the neighbor in the next booth about the horse she had just bought and upcoming riding competitions.


Great pancakes.

I left Hwy 200 and the Priest River in Plains, Montana.  Hwy 28 took me northeast through beautiful, sweeping horse ranches set in big valleys between big mountains.  It was a setting straight out of the movie, "Horse Whisperer."  The speed limit was 75, and on this road devoid of traffic, my BMW moved happily and smoothly along at an easy 90. 
Soon, I was looking gently down on the Flathead Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi.  The sweeping grassland I was riding through came down on the west side of the lake.  On the east side was the north-south running range of the young, tall, pointed Swan Mountains, capped with snow.  These were part of the Rocky mountains.  50 miles north they would give way to the towering peaks of Glacier National Park.  I turned north on Hwy 93, which runs north along the west side of the lake.  Actually, Hwy 93 runs from Canada all the way south to Nevada
I rode about 20 miles to the small lakeside community of Somers, and then turned up onto the hill where my cousin, Dianne, her husband, Dick and my uncle Warren live in a quiet wooded development which has sweeping views of Flathead Lake and the entire Flathead Valley. 


Montana cattle ranch east of Plains, MT.

A small part of Flathead Lake.  The Swan Mountains in the background.

My cousin Dianne and Uncle Warren.

Dick Hamilton, overlooking the Flathead Valley.

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