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Pocatello to Napa and back [only 1 pic]


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Last year's riding season was pretty much taken up by preparation and execution of cataract surgery, but the outcome is much better eyesight and a new lease on [m/c] life. After getting through with the eye stuff, I did get in a two-week trip to the Northeast with a good buddy. We rode day trips out of a base in the Catskills, spent a weekend in the Adirondacks, and then zoomed all over Eastern Maine for a week. Great fun, but not what I'd become accustomed to in the way of a solo ride through the Great American West.


The first weekend in May, 2019, looked good weather-wise, so off I went towing the [new to me] R1200RT behind my V50. The weather held up for two days, but by the third morning it was crummy - all across Nebraska and Wyoming. The last few trips I've started riding at the first sign of western mountains, but this year I was delivering some of the goodies off the Bandit to a buyer in Pocatello, ID. Once delivery was accomplished, I headed off on the RT, headed for Salmon, ID.


It was not to be; a few miles up I-15, the wind picked up to gale force, followed too soon by driving rain and a drop in temperature to the thirties. All the trucks on the interstate made visibility a sometime thing, and my GT-Air was fogging up unless I kept the screen open, which allowed needles of driving rain to slash my eyes. After pausing twice to see if the weather would break, I finally gave up and stopped in Idaho Falls - also mindful of David Hough's advice about the signs of impending hypothermia.


Next morning was sunny and still cold, so with all the heated gear fired up I headed for Salmon on state route 28. It was a combination of Alpine valley and high desert, with snow threatening from the peaks and sometimes blowing down the valley. Salmon itself was a bit of a disappointment, compared to the gorgeous upper Salmon River valley around Stanley. A local recommended the Junk Yard Bistro, and it was well worth the reasonable prices. Next was 93 north to Missoula. Along the way I detoured out of Hamilton, Montana to hike a trail up onto a spur of the Bitterroots above Blodgett Canyon. The trailhead is up a three-mile dirt and rock track; again I was grateful to Hough and the off-road practice I'd put in around Spruce Knob in WV. Next time the hike will be up the canyon itself, when Glacier's Going to the Sun is open. Missoula itself is pretty cool - a place where five different valleys converge. Tamarack has a brewery up on Flathead Lake, with a very nice pub in Missoula. The main attraction of Missoula was Maverick Motorsports, which rents mostly Triumphs for the fly-and-rent crowd; they are the real deal, and I hope to fly back and use their service soon.   


Lolo Pass beckoned; I had ridden it W-to-E last time, so reversed course for a delightful run down to Orofino. This is the road [US 12] that has the sign advising curves for the next 99 miles. The pavement was good, and as before a meal at The Edge right on Clearwater River did not disappoint. I cruised through town to find a good source for "Maniac" gear; that's the nickname of the high school sports teams. From Orofino to Joseph, Oregon requires riding through Lewiston and Clarkston. The downtown route was far easier than the bypass - which I had taken last time. Eventually you leave the Snake River and head up Rt. 129 for the plateau and a nice ride through upland farms to the twisty descent down to the Grande Ronde.


Once in Oregon the road becomes Rt. 3, up to Enterprise, where you turn onto 82 to get to the town of Joseph.  The entire ride from Missoula to Joseph is one of my all-time favorites, and the destination did not disappoint. Overlooks on this route let you see right down into the Snake River Gorge. There are even wilder vistas to the east of Joseph, but those roads were still snow-covered. The town and lake are not to be missed; I'd like to take my wife here for a longer stay.


Bend was next, and with a windy forecast I skipped most of the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, the intended route. Instead I took  82 to La Grande, and then a short hop on I-84 to Hilgard, where I got on 244 to 395 just past Ukiah. It's hard to find a bad road in Eastern and Central Oregon. After lunch at the general store in Long Creek, I followed 402 to Spray and then 19 to US 26 and on in to Bend. There is quite a brewery scene downtown, and the whole place has a healthy, outdoorsy vibe that resonates with young people of all ages.


Down through the high desert on US 97, then right onto 138 for an arrow-straight run up to 230 and 62 - the only access to Crater Lake at this time of year. I was dressed in full cold-weather gear while parking in a lot next to seven feet of snow, but darned if there weren't lots of other tourists in shorts. One big guy fell into a soft spot and landed about six feet down; scrambling out he lost a flip-flop and dove back in headfirst to retrieve it. I was impressed. This is where my one good pic got taken, by a friendly German girl who is in grad school in Canada.



On down to Grants Pass on 62 and 234, I took a short hop on I-5 to catch US 199 for Crescent City, CA. All along this stretch I was stopping to shed layers of gear, but that changed in the last ten miles before the Coast. It got cold in a hurry. Plenty of twisties on the last stretch of 199, and then US 101 south was just splendid, with fog blowing off the ocean into tremendous stands of redwoods. The trunks of these trees actually jut out into the road, which is already engaging your full attention and giving back plenty of riding enjoyment. Eventually I got to Eureka, after seeing a few signs warning about tsunamis.


Before its most recent bonanza [now over with legalization], Humboldt County hosted quite a few fortunes in timber and minerals. All those millionaires old and new seemed to be congregated in a few trendy [which in California means very pricey] spots near the shore, so I found a motel and brewery a few blocks back and enjoyed the local nightlife. Next day it was back down US 101 and more stands of redwood to Leggett, site of the "Drive-thru Tree" and the start of CA 1, the Coast Highway. Before reaching the coast, this narrow road features the gnarliest collection of switchbacks and tight, blind curves I've ever seen, and that includes lots of time spent in the Alps, Blue Ridge, Rockies, and Smokies.


Once on the oceanfront, there were more sweet vistas and the occasional one-lane detour for rockslides. In the midst of one of these detours came the trip's scariest moment, when an uneven dip in the pavement tossed the bike sideways towards a Jersey barrier. Fortunately traffic had slowed to about 25 mph, and there was just enough room to gather up some traction before slapping the concrete wall. At Fort Bragg I stopped to walk around the Noyo waterfront and sample some local oysters with the Mother's Day crowd.


Rt. 20 east through the Coast Range was almost as twisty as 1, but better paved and much wider, with frequent pullouts for slower vehicles. Once back on 101, I crossed a few more hills and then got off on 128 to head down the Napa Valley. This is the kind of place where one of the biggest problems is lack of affordable housing for working folks. The cheapest lodging is over $200 a night for one of those quaint old motels from the 1930's. Fortunately, I have some cousins there who were only too glad to put up a weary traveler and show him the sights: mostly vineyards and restaurants.


The cost of living here has to be seen to be believed: gasoline [premium for the RT] was almost $5 a gallon, and some of the restaurants featured dinner for two that would leave you with a few twenties out of a Cleveland bill - and you have to reserve a table months in advance. Farmland [read: vineyards] on the valley floor goes for $600,000 an acre and up. A fireman makes six figures, and in an area where floods and fires are frequent threats the people are glad to pay that amount. In my cousin's neighborhood there were blocks of houses that had been decimated by the '17 fire, and many vineyards had to replant after the fire as well. PG&E was found liable and went bankrupt shortly after. California is just a different kind of place. One cousin is politically active, so I was invited to sit in on a party executive committee meeting; unlike much of our country, Napa has a strong two-party system. There's just too much money here to trust one gang of politicians!


The bike got a week off due to wet weather and snow up in the Sierras. I busied myself doing chores around the house and resurrecting a BMW e36 that hadn't been used for a year - all in between private vineyard tastings and scrumptious meals three times a day.  Finally came a forecast of less than 40% POP around Truckee, so I saddled up - much rested and overfed - for a quick trip back across the nation to meet my son in Philly for the lacrosse Final Four.


One of the wonderful features of riding solo out West is the friendliness of the people. Total strangers come up to you and start talking about their bikes and families wherever you stop, and just about everyone is nice and helpful. At the last rest area before the summit on I-80, I got into conversation with a long haul owner-operator from Minnesota [there may be a few truckers who don't own bikes, but they are a small minority]; he coached me on what to expect up Donner way. Sure enough, it was raining well before the top, and that changed to snow above 6000'. Cal Trans had trucks at the ready with salt and blades, and over the last few miles the road was heavily salted. For the most part I stayed in the truck lane and putted along about 45 mph. The only problem came in crossing painted lines, which were very slick. The BMW's thermometer dropped into the low 30's; then, just past the summit, the snow stopped and the sun came out. I settled back for the drone of the next several hundred miles, playing with the electric windshield for amusement and comfort.


Having ridden US 93 from Wells, NV to Twin Falls on a previous trip, I stopped for lunch and watched a steady stream of trucks and RV's heading that way. Gearing up for more cold and rain, I continued to the next exit at Oasis, where NV 233 shoots northeast to become Utah 30. On earlier trips I used the "Rule of 100", riding so that no one other than LEO's ever went past. That got expensive after the last trip when our vehicle insurance premium doubled and then tripled. A few days into this trip we finally got back to economy class insurance-wise, so I resolved to be a good boy and ride to avoid tickets. Well, that all changed as I headed around the northwest reaches of the Great Salt Lake on an empty two-lane with sightlines miles long. The RT breezed through mile after 30-second mile with nary a wobble or sidestep. It felt so stable that even off-and-on showers couldn't slow our progress. As we approached Idaho, desert gave way to farmland; at Snowville I headed up to 38 at Holbrook and then over a final ridge to I-15 and Pocatello.


Next day the weather turned truly awful, as I towed through high winds, rain and snow all across Wyoming and into Nebraska. As on the way out, I avoided the Missouri River flooding by jumping over to US 36 in Kansas, although it's possible that route has gotten inundated since. The wind and rain didn't stop until east of Indy, less than a day from home. However, only the car's gas mileage suffered. Now all I have to do is convince my buddy to fly out to Missoula come September. Tomorrow we do a day run down the BRP and over into WV.



Edited by NoKick90
add dropped text
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