Saturday, April 15, 2006

Road trip. ( Part 2 )

Things had gone well on the job. Of course, as in all things when people are frustrated, the guy running the job thought I should stay and help him fix all his problems. After determining that the problems resulted from his own blundering, and not really caring for his attitude, I declined.
Needless to say, I just wanted to get on the road.

It's now around 12:30. Time for the commute home, so to speak. Let's see. Go back the same, straight, beautiful, but boring way I came? Or find a more interesting route? The interesting way will also have to be longer. What would you do? Fifteen minutes and a few miles later I'm sitting on a bench in front of a Subway looking at my map. Notice I'm also nicely away from the job site?

Dropping back down into Oregon is one option. There's some great rural roads with interesting curves and sights. The only problem is the predicted storm. The Weather Gods aren't willing to let go of Winter just yet. The snow level is dropping quickly. An Oregon route would put me on Santiam Pass in the early evening. The predictions indicate 4 to 12 inches of snow at 3000 feet with as much as three feet up higher. Santiam Pass is at 4850 feet.

I'm only about 80 miles South of Yakima, my old stomping grounds. From there I can head West on 12 and traverse the mountains via White Pass. This pass is somewhere around 4500 feet but I figure to hit it sooner in the day. Besides, there's awesome scenery, good motorcycle roads, and beautiful high mountain lakes. I end up taking pictures but my camera will meet an untimely end on this leg of the trip.

With a roast beef on Italian Herb and Cheese bread in the saddlebag I head for Yakima. One thing I've found really useful in long distance riding is to spread out the eating. Rather than sit down and eat a whole sandwich, for instance, I will take it along. At my stops I eat a little at a time. Seems to keep me more alert. There's a couple of Nalgene bottles full of ice water in a saddlebag to go with the sandwich.

There's a few choices for the route to Yakima. I choose an alternate based on the motor cop's advise. Normally I would run up 82 about 40 miles to Sunnyside and then take the Hwy 241 loop through the Black Rock Valley. The loop's 50 miles or so and decidedly not the direct route. Hey, I'm commuting on a bike, folks! The cop's told me there's construction on the first part of the loop. Plan B is to hit 240 and travel through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Maybe my Hi-Viz Aerostich jacket will be even brighter when I'm done. At the North end of Hanford you can hang a left on 24 through Cold Creek and hit the Black Rock Valley loop at its Eastern point. Then a run through a place called Moxee City and on to Yakima! Wouldn't you love to live in a place called "Moxee City"?

Someone asks if you have "moxee". Tell 'em they named the town after you!

I know this is a lot of detail for roadways. All these numbers usually bore me when I read about rides in the magazines. At least you can look at a map and have some idea of the ride.

Just to be aware I stop at the Washington State Patrol office in Yakima and ask about the pass. I'm told there's snow up there but the road is fairly clear. Good enough for me. This really isn't the best time of year for someone new to riding or not comfortable with adverse conditions to hit these kind of roads. One of the biggest problems is the amount of lava rock on the road right now. Negotiating a downhill curve can be interesting with all the rock. It was also below freezing. According to the officer I talked with, the temperature was 29 degrees. What a contrast to Yakima which was at 56!

The ride was pretty but a lot of the places to pull out were snowed over. I figured it was just too treacherous for the loaded-down ST. My kingdom for a KLR with knobbies! There was one spot where I finally pulled in. Just before the summit is Clear Creek Dam on the Tieton River. Snow or no snow, I was going in for a picture. The body of water is long enough to offer some options for a picture. I found a spot where a stone wall curves around then angles to the ground. Perfect. I put the bike at the spot with no wall and set the camera on the wall opposite. The plan was to frame the picture, go set the timer on the Kodak, and then get into the picture with the bike. The picture snapped. I stood by the bike looking around before going to check how the picture turned out. As I started toward the camera I heard a loud, high-pitched disturbance. Two big blue squirrels seemed to be engaged in combat and were alternately chasing and being chased along the top of the wall.

My camera became a victim to squirrel violence. It got knocked off the wall. Of course, it didn't fall toward the parking lot. It went off the back side. Did I tell you that on the back side of the wall was a hundred foot drop down a steep bank? I was not prepared to rappel down after it. I gave it last rites and left it to history.

We soon dropped down to warmer temperatures. At somewhere around 30 miles down off the pass, the road runs alongside the Cowlitz River for a while. Not right beside it, but you can see the river off to the left ( South ). As I was looking around at the scenery, there was a heavy impact on the side of my visor. Another soon followed. The impacts became regular but random. As I looked ahead in the air I saw these small black dots. The air was full of bumblebees. Further away they looked like when you first see a C-130 cargo plane approaching. Low in the air, ponderous with their burden. As the bees got closer they suddenly seemed to gain speed. They hit more like F/A-18 Hornets, no pun intended. I started counting how many were hitting the bike and I. I hadn't counted the first few but I guessed it had been around 8. In half a mile I had been hit 27 times. I'm lucky not to have gotten one or more down my jacket.

Had that happen with a small black wasp, once. The thing got inside my shirt and stung its way around my thorax while I was trying to safely pull over and deal with it. The beggar got me 11 times.

The source of the bees came into view. There was several large orchards of small trees with pink blossoms. The trees looked like they had all been cut to be flat on top. A sign identified them as "Sweet Chemes" trees. I'm not sure what that is, but I think it may be some sort of cherry. If you know, please enlighten us.

By the way, I hadn't realized it, but I could have gotten a good water picture at Mayfield County Lake. It was warmer with no snow. Probably not as dramatic, though. I can't help but think the squirrels would be more sedate than their Mountain Man Squirrel counterparts.

All too soon, I came to Interstate 5 and started the two hour freeway slog home. Fittingly, I came under the black clouds I'd seen looming for a while. It rained most of the time I was on the freeway. Oh well, still beats a cage.

So that was my long commute to work. How many folks in a cage would have had so much fun? How many would have purposely added miles to the journey home? What always amazes me is how something that seems like work in a car is an invitation to play on a bike.

I'm truly thankful that being a daily bike commuter put me in a position to live more fully on this work day. By the way, did I mention that the company paid for the fuel?

1 comment:

Laurence said...

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