Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The hard way home, part II.

Friday morning dawned cold on the lake. I watched the sun come up from the deck of the cabin, a steaming cup of good-morning coffee in hand. The fog was drifting lightly across the lake. These were playful misty nymphs. Once the sun was fully established in the sky, these creatures would scurry off to wherever they reside. There was no malice in this fog. I rather enjoyed the cool, refreshing, start to the day. Later in the day Elvira and I would endure temperatures predicted to be in the 90's. That prediction would be accurate, for once. On the one hand, I wanted to linger and just enjoy the cool morning. Part of me, though, wanted to be off early. It's always good to cover some ground before the heat sets in.

Lingering won out. Maybe it was just inertia. Or, perhaps, the fleshly desire to eat a good breakfast. Our cabin was next to the main lodge. Breakfast was part of the deal. Not just your regular continental breakfast, mind you. There were hot link sausages, scrambled eggs, perfectly cooked oatmeal, seasoned breakfast potatoes, yogurt, fruit, muffins, and a variety of bread items to toast and cover in sinful portions of peanut butter or jams. In contrast to most hotel coffee, the java was actually quite good. Perfect, in fact, to wash everything else down with. Sensual fulfillment commenced at 7 AM. I opted to delay my departure.

This gorgeous lake is always difficult to take one's leave from. While the lake is cold and beautiful, I had someone warm and loving waiting for me at home. I pulled myself away from the lakeshore with a sigh and donned my gear. Katie was a long ride away. The hands on my watch were nudging the 8 AM hour. Time to get going.

Elvira seemed happy to be let loose. She fired right up and ran strong. It was almost like a puppy let outside on a cold morning after being cooped up all night. I swear Elvira would have bounded on the grass if I let her. Her thermometer told us it was 48 degrees (f). Neither of us really noticed the chill. Elvira was making her own heat. An upward tug on the zipper of the 'Stich sealed out the last little bit of cold air.

Forty five miles of chilly cruising brought us to Coeur D'Alene. Elvira needed her tank topped off to stay with the plan I'd made. I have to say I love self-service in Washington and Idaho, something we don't have in Oregon. An attendant can hand a motorcyclist the pump but we still have to wait for them to get around to us.

Another hour saw us safely through and past Spokane. Riding the main highways was going to take us through a lot of flat, straight, and monotonous landscape. I briefly regretted my decision not to take the longer way home. Those sweet and glorious curvy roads that adorned my map had me salivating like Pavlov's dogs. I'd resisted because I had Saturday off. It would be nice to have as much of Friday night and Saturday as possible with Katie. That's what I consoled myself with, at least. I'd come to regret my decision even more in the not too distant future.

This is the Sprague Lake rest area on I-90 to the West of Spokane. I spent some time taking pictures from a lot of different angles, framed between different sets of trees, up close and farther away, and trying different settings on the Nikon. Elvira enjoyed the attention immensely. I swear she was almost posing for me. We roared out of the rest area with big, silly grins on our faces. That was the last we'd smile for a while.

After a few miles I saw what looked to be a series of miniature cyclones along both sides of the highway. "How extraordinary!", I was thinking. There were a couple of dozen on each side, lined up about six feet apart. As I got closer, I was wondering what kind of phenomenon was causing this event. I still thought it was the wind. Stupid rider!

Turns out, they were some kind of insect. Sort of like a Mayfly hatch. The swirling funnels were made up of thousands of these creatures. Realization set in about the same time Elvira and I found ourselves repeatedly assaulted by these imitation tornadoes. Poor Elvira took the brunt of it. I raised her windshield all the way up and hid behind it like a sissy. I owe her a bath. I took this picture when we got home. Most of the loose parts had blown off. Only the smears were left.

Elvira would soon get her revenge. That was when I met the pollen laden projectile.

My right eye didn't close shut right away. For a while it just felt like there was something in it that needed cleared. I tried blinking furiously to no avail. I even raised my visor back up and tried to gently brush whatever it was away with a gloved finger under my sunglasses. No luck. In fact, it probably made matters worse. I really should have pulled off to the side of the road sooner. For some strange reason Katie tells me I have quite the stubborn streak. Combined with the insanity of a motorcyclist that likes to see how much road surface can pass under his wheels, it's a dangerous combination. Instead of stopping I just kept rolling. Even when I could no longer see out of that eye I kept riding. Washington's really rural highways have a 70 mph speed limit. We were happily zipping along, ahem, somewhat faster than that, all by ourselves. The joy of the ride was greater than the inconvenience of only having one eye on duty. I mean, it wasn't like it was a mystery that had to be checked out. I knew bloody good and well what caused my condition. What not just keep riding?

Then the left eye started getting blurry. Ok. Time to pull over. There was a water bottle wrapped in a towel nestled into the right saddlebag. Here's a tip. Stuff that doesn't get accessed during the ride stays in the left bag. Stuff you might need more lives in the right. That's because the sidestand's on the left. Opening the left bag can make things roll out to meet you. Items in the right bag, however, tend to stay put. The more the bike leans, the more this applies.

I looked in the mirror and saw orange pollen covering the bridge of my nose. There were bug parts strewn about. Cleaning up and flushing my left eye as well as I could, I pondered my situation. Katie had slipped some of that non-drowsy Claritin into my tank bag. From time to time things like windblown grass seed dust send me into sneezing fits. The aforementioned stubborn trait keeps me from giving in. Since the little white pills were there anyway, I took one. Hoping for the best, Elvira and I were soon back up to speed.

Riding with vision in only one eye is a little strange. It didn't take long to adjust to the different depth perception. The road was flat and pretty much straight. Being on a two lane highway, there were occasional cars that demanded to be passed. The closer we got to Kennewick, the more lane changing happened. It wasn't long until my neck muscles were a little sore. Performing a "head check" to the right required turning my head until my left eye could see the right lane over my shoulder.

The swelling in my right eye eventually subsided until I could open it now and then to take a peek. It still felt better closed but was coming back under my control more and more. The ride down the Columbia River Gorge was more of the same. Flat and straight.

You can get a sense of it from this picture at a viewpoint.

Things were perking along nicely again. Except for the headwind, that is. The Gorge is well known for wind. That's why Hood River on the Gorge is so popular for windsurfers. Well, I wasn't on a sail board and wasn't appreciating the wind. This wasn't just a steady kind of wind. Gusts were slamming into us from about the 10 and 2 o'clock positions. Now I sort of know how it would have felt to be in the boxing ring with Rocky Balboa! This would be the part of the trip where Elvira got the worst fuel mileage. She went from the low 40's to mid 30's.

Speaking of Hood River, trouble wasn't through with us.

Eight miles out of town, traffic came nearly to a standstill. After 7 miles of stop and go riding I finally got a clue as to what was happening. Interstate 84 was closed due to a fire that had jumped clear to the edge of the highway. Traffic was being diverted over the steel grated bridge at Hood River onto the Washington side. The temperature was now 92 degrees. Elvira's clutch is plenty stiff. There'd be much more crawling along, both for the detour, and the fact that I'd hit Portland right in the middle of Friday evening rush hour. Something I'd been dearly trying to avoid in the first place. My left hand was pretty much fried by the time everything was said and done. With no air flow, the sweat was running under the jacket. My hand would be fried and my body boiled in its own moisture. I stopped for fuel at a handy station at the base of the bridge. It would be the last time I was off the bike for three hours.

I won't bore you with the details of the detour except for a few brief, notable events.

Stevenson, Washington is a town where the highway traffic gets knotted up. The speed limit here is 25 mph. It's a narrow, but long town. I saw a guy standing by a crosswalk and wearing a bright orange vest. A woman in a small car coming from the opposite direction was signalling and waiting to make a left turn. Since I was almost stopped anyway I let her go in front of me, The man turned toward me and yelled "Thank you!" I thought he was a school crossing guard. Now I could see he was actually a county cop. It's sad that an act of traffic courtesy would be so rare it prompts a cop to thank you!

Speaking of cops, there were several at the West end of town. There was a Harley bagger lying on its side in a ditch. Judging by the marks on the bike and the roadway, it looks to have low-sided and slid. Since traffic was stopped I engaged one of the officers in conversation. I told him I was an instructor for Oregon's program and inquired of the circumstances. He said the rider wasn't paying attention to the slowing traffic and went down when he finally noticed. Fortunately the injuries were minor. Jeez, I wish everyone who threw a leg over a bike also took the responsibility to actually develop good riding skills!

We crossed back into Oregon over the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks. It's a weird feeling to be stopped in traffic in the middle of this steel grated bridge. Looking down, all I could see was the river far, far, below. It was kind of like being suspended in mid-air over the water. This is where eastbound traffic was being diverted to the Washington side. This meant that big trucks were coming at us from the Oregon side, too. Each would make the bridge shake and tremble. Not the most secure feeling in the world, let me tell you! I remember my prominent thought at the time being the fervent hope that the two quarters clutched in my gloved hand for the toll bridge didn't fall through the grating. Strange how a heat addled mind works, isn't it?

Home, hearth, and Katie were finally reached, albeit way later than intended. I felt like I'd done battle.

On Monday I talked with my boss on the phone. He asked me about the trip home. After giving hin the highlights I stated that I really wasn't complaining. After all, I was the one who had chosen to ride. Then the boss made a couple of comments that pretty much summed things up.

"Give me a big windshield, a cushy seat, and air conditioning, thank you. On the other hand, the ride was an adventure you wouldn't have had in a car."

That statement says a lot about the two different attitudes, doesn't it? We're a strange lot, us motorcylists, aren't we?

Miles and smiles,



Charlie6 said...


given your experience with that bee in the gotta wonder how the guys who don't bother with helmets with visors get by? Perhaps because they don't ride enough to be hit by bugs as they travel between bars perhaps.

Bryce said...

Great posting.
Maybe you've found a destination for you and Katie to escape to at some future date.
Those of us who live close to or on the edge of large bodies of water are so darn lucky. I live at the northwestern end of Lake Ontario,
not Hamilton Ontario rather Burlington. The lake is an easy twenty minute walk from home and when you realize how small Lake Ontario is compared to lake Superior, you appreciate the water even more.

Even on small cottage lakes, the water is the reason you're there, in most cases. Others who read this blog are near the shores of the Great Lakes so they can attest to the feeling about water in a lake.

As to the insect attack photo, at least you took the photo beside Sophie. Maybe wash and clean both machines? And if you can afford to keep Sophie for now and maybe come the spring make a decision about disposal. How many miles on her?

fasthair said...

HI Dan,

I know all too well about bumble bees and bikes. Back when I first got my street bike in 1979 I caught a bee inside my helmet. You remember the full face helmet of the day. There was no such thing as a flip up visor thingy. This bee blasted me on my right cheek strung me then fell down in my shirt and stung me again! Needless to say it didn't take me long to get to the side of the road and do a dance trying get that bumble bee out! Growing up on the farm I have been stung many times. But it never feels any better none the less.

Well it is bike night here so it’s time to hop on Whiskey and go have a few tacos.

Great story, thanks for the great read.

Ride safe and have fun,

Conchscooter said...

Let's see. 31 mpg instead of 41 mpg. How fast over the limit did you say you were going?
If you lived in Florida and had a chance to take a winding road, let me tell you, you'd take it- wife or no wife.

Kano said...

Battling wind, bugs, bees, shaking lofty bridges and the temporary diversion of the perfect cup of java on a placid lake that makes us motorcyclists warriors at heart.

David said...

Bee in the face, OUCH! Sorry you didn't get to ride down through the Palouse country. Those are some seriously sweet roads. However, I understand that homing instinct better than most. It's amazing how hard you can push (And how long you can go without a bathroom stop) when you're heading home after a long absence. Pend O'Reille is a great lake, one of the most beautiful spots in a beautiful area. I'd love to spend a week up there in a nice lodge in late summer.

Did you know the US Navy has a submarine base up there? They test scale model submarines since that lake is one that has no thermocline, i.e. is the same temp from top to bottom. The subs are autonomous electric models (1/8 to 1/4 scale, so still pretty big) that are programmed to make runs at night when there is less activity on the lake. I had a friend who was an electrician up there. He had great stories. :)

Glad you made it home in one piece.

Dave T.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Beautiful scenery you have out there. Nice pictures.
Glad there wasn't a worse problem w/ the eye. I bet he would have stung, if he'd had time to think about it.

Hey, Bryce -
Once you can't see the other side, lakes are all the same size. ::grin::
Kinda like once you can't touch the bottom, depth doesn't matter... unless you're scuba diving. Then only the first 130' matter.