My friend Trevor has invited me to join him on a motorcycle road trip he has been taking for the past several years. For various reasons, I’ve not been able to take up the call until this year. I’ve been missing out.
Pullman to Wenatchee – 200 miles
Because the starting point was in Wenatchee on a Friday morning, we left Pullman on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, I had a full day of work, and wasn’t able to leave the office until about 5. We managed to be on the road by about 5:30 and took a reasonably sedate trip west to our staging point at his brother-in-law’s house. There’s really nothing much to say about this section. US-195 and WA-26 to Washtucna are well known to every WSU student from Western Washington. We know every intersection, every curve, and where the deer “should be.” I-90 from Ritzville to George is a pair of 2-lane ribbons of concrete with hardly a corner to break up the monotony. Between those boring roads is WA-261. 261 starts well, with some tight climbing corners, but after a scant number of miles, it turns into the roads that the central part of Washington are known for: straight, efficient, and boring.
Still, we were chasing the sun, which turned a vivid red while setting as we passed Moses Lake. By the time we got to Wenatchee, it was dark. It wasn’t a day for twisty roads, those would be coming soon enough.
Pullman to Nelson – 291 miles
The first 120 or so miles were as tedious as the day before. US-97 is a busy 2 lane road hugging the Columbia. While the bikes ahead of me had little trouble weaving through traffic, it seemed that every RV clogging the road had a timid vehicle behind it, creating a very effective rolling road block. For the most part, I kept up, but at one point near Omak, I completely lost the group. Fortunately, some had pulled off the highway and were watching out for me as I obliviously passed them by. Once the order of travel was re-established with familiar jackets in front of me, we continued at a healthy pace to breakfast.
Tonasket marked the transition from miserable highway to joyous road. After a lovely breakfast and a stop at a bathroom that ingeniously used a jug of water and some rope as a self-closing mechanism, it was time to continue. Quick splash of fuel, and we were off!
Or not. A mile later, I see Todd nursing a bike up the hill. I pull over to discover the issue. The bike isn’t running and the fuel pump is hot to the touch. Shortly after, Don comes back to us, making our group of 2 stragglers three. Fortunately, this is an older carbureted bike, so the pump isn’t integrated into the tank and is a simple affair to fix. $75 for a new universal 12V low pressure fuel pump, some clever work with some vent pipe as a hose adapter, and a couple wire splices over the next hour and we’re good to go. I send off an update to Trevor by text and we head off towards Nelson on WA-20, turning north near Waucunda. The rest of the group had gone to Molson for a look around, so with luck, we’d not be too far behind them.
A mile into the climb out of Tonasket, Todd stops again. I pull in behind, but the bike is running fine. Just a bee in the helmet. We’re off! For sure this time. Unfortunately, we get caught behind another RV. RV’s trapping me in the curves has already become a theme. It took a while, but I eventually pass and realize that as I expected before the trip started, as long as I can keep up to get to the curves, I can keep up in the curves. Washington 20 is a joy of a road. In the North Cascades, the mountains are stunning. Here, the scenery is less spectacular, but the road winds along tight canyons, more than making up for it.
Don has ideas. We’re going to take the 1-lane Forest Service Road north past Bonaparte Lake to Chesaw Road. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell Todd or I this, and when the road appeared suddenly on the left, he took it without a lot of warning. Todd missed the turn entirely and came to a sudden halt on the gravel side of WA-20 and was fortunate to not end up on his side. I made the turn, but my tires let me know that I was pushing it. What’s a little adrenaline on a road trip, anyway? Winding along, we find pot-holes, cows, and a road that rapidly narrows with forests on both sides. Fortunately, I have bikes with brake lights in front of me to let me know what’s coming; they have a lot more space in the single lane than I did.
At Cheesaw Road, we stop for a while and enjoy the nearby lake views, before heading on to Midway. At this point, we still assume we are behind the main group. At the border, we stop. There are two bikes ahead of us, nobody behind. While we wait, we hear a very distinctive sound of pipes behind us. Reunion at the border! After being processed by a friendly Canadian customs agent (“1 bottle of whisky. no firearms. No maam, I’m not carrying stuff for them”), we’re in. And off. Another RV, and I’m quickly dropped again. This section of Hwy 3 isn’t all that great anyway, so I don’t mind. We eventually regroup at the next gas stop, where the human scenery was slightly disturbing. Torn shorts might have looked good on a fit 20 year old, but were distinctly out of place where we saw them.
I got stuck in traffic again, so I was alone for the rest of the drive to Nelson. Fortunately, I was able to get into a zone as I travelled over Bonanza Pass. At 5036′, the Miata was surprisingly strong and happy. I knew I was never going to catch up before Nelson, so while I travelled at a rapid pace, I didn’t try to set any records. Just enjoy the road.
At Nelson, I couldn’t find parking for a while. I eventually found a set of “commuter” meters that allowed 12 hour parking (for $5 a day, using canadian coins). I had no such coins, so I had to drive back to the center of town, take advantage of parking where the meters were covered, go to a bank to get cash, then go to a salon to get the $20 note converted to loonies and toonies, then go back to the edge of town again so I could finally park. Trevor, who was waiting for me at the Hotel was look very nervous by the time I re-appeared with my bag of clothes and a bottle of Whisky. He gave me the choice of bunk, so I made him sleep up top.
Nelson to Vernon – 220 miles
Nelson holds a car show every year, and the trip is timed to take advantage of it. We walked the street for an hour or so, looking at the classics and a few modern cars as well. There were MGs, the 60s muscle car era was well represented, many hot rods from even earlier. There were fords with Chevy 350s in them, some E-type Jags, even a tiny pre-war Morris sedan of some sort. As we walked along, a Citroen DS drove past, nearly silently and floating on its air suspension.
After getting our car fix, it was time to go. The direct route to Vernon is to go back the way we came along the Crowsnest highway, then go north through Kelowna. That’s the direct route, so of course we went north-east to Kaslo.
Shortly after leaving Nelson, I saw a 60s Ferrari going the other way. I figured it was late to the car show. Soon after arriving in Kaslo for breakfast, I saw an E-type drive by. Then a GT350 Mustang. Another E-type. Porsche 356. They all had round stickers on the side. “Going to the Sun Rally 2018”. They all were coming from the West. Highway 31A
The reason this drive goes to Kaslo is Highway 31A. Trevor has been talking up this road for the past two days, so my expectations were high. Those expectations were surpassed. The road surface is very good (there were a few frost heaves, but not much). The corners are well banked and well marked. It may be the most spectacular 30 miles of road I’ve ever driven. Aside from a solitary RAV4, there was no traffic to pass and open road in front of me. There wasn’t a lot of oncoming traffic either, and what there was just added to the joy. Millions of dollars in cars drove past me, and they weren’t static displays. These cars were in the wild, being driven.
From New Denver to the ferry crossing at Fauquier, the road straightened and lost some charm, but the day wasn’t done yet. After Fauquier, I once again was dropped by most of the group. I managed to keep up with Don as we traversed corners marked at 20kph, as we passed road signs that invitingly read “narrow winding road, next 4 km”, and as we climb up and down some rather inviting mountains. Eventually he pulls over to put on warmer clothes and I blast ahead, now alone. 30 miles or so from Vernon, the road opens up and traffic flow increases such that the fun is mostly over.
I eventually arrive at the Tiki, where the group is gathered. Interesting place, the Tiki. It’s a block from the homeless mission and clearly in a seedy part of town. By next year, it may be gone. There were tents under the nearby creek bridge. I was panhandled as I parked. But the company was good, and the beer flowed. No regrets.
Vernon to Pullman – 352 miles
Trevor and I had already decided that we would be going directly home to Pullman rather than go back to Wenatchee on Sunday. Dave would be joining us, but head to the Tri-Cities instead. The idea of Hwy 97 again didn’t thrill us and the idea of sleeping in our own beds was very appealing. We’d stay together as a group through Kelowna, then take Hwy 33 to Rock Creek together, before splitting and going separate ways.
Until a badly timed stop light in Kelowna held me back, I was keeping up. Unfortunately, after that light, I never saw our group again until reaching Rock Creek. I had to rely on Carplay and my fortunate choice in wireless carriers to get me there, as I really didn’t know which turns to take. Apple didn’t lead me wrong. It was cold, but I was wearing a jacket and gloves. The heat worked. The road was twisty, the deer stayed away, and I took advantage of the mostly empty road.
Eventually, I reached the intersection with the Crowsnest highway, where the group had been apparently waiting for me for “some time.” It was the only time I really felt like my 4 wheeled transportation really slowed them down.
Trevor and I headed to Midway, crossed, and headed south. Just a the Canadian border agent held up Canada’s friendly reputation, the US agent was as surly as we expected. Back on US soil, the three of us headed south on WA-21 to Republic for fuel (both for bikes and for us). One massive breakfast later and off to Wilbur.
Between Republic and the Keller ferry, WA-21 winds along a narrow canyon-like valley with high cliff walls and beautiful flora. This is very fortunate, because we had plenty of time to look at it—the entire length of the road was recently chip-sealed and our speed was limited.
After Keller, the road climbs up using several tight switchbacks before straightening and diving due south to Wilber. I was really looking forward to this bit of road, but unfortunate timing meant I was stuck behind a Hyundai for the climb. The Hyundai made a go of it, so it could have been worse, but the end result was still a disappointment.
From there it was goodbyes to Dave and US-2, WA-23, and US-195 to home. Green Hollow Road, a small winding road that parallels US-195 between Tekoa and Colfax called out to me, but by that point I was tired enough that the siren-song of that particular road wasn’t quite loud enough.
If the chance is offered, I’d do this trip again in a heartbeat. But perhaps next time, I’ll remember to put on the sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy and 48°.