Friday, May 11, 2007

Just got back from one of my all time favourite rides... The North Cascade Highway.(State Road 20) Warning - LONG post.

Closed every winter, it opens when crews can finally chisel the snow and avalanches off the roadbed. This year it opened April 26. The D.O.T. even has a page dedicated to this road. Some impressive pics of the work required this year to open it to traffic are Here.

Awoke to the beginnings of a beautiful day. Geared up, met my riding bud at his place, where he was putting the finishing touches on his project sv650. Nice job.

Made our way up to a McDonald's lot near the start of the twisty bits. Bryant'd posted the ride on a few sites the night before, this was the gathering point. Also got us through the boring I-5 run and let us get a little bite. At one point a scooter pulled up, but the guy was going to school, not on our ride. Bellies full, we headed towards the mountains.

The foothills begin...

Almost at the small logging town of Darrington, a baby glacier...

The bikes.

We finally hit highway 20, after following a small river north from Darrington. Almost deserted, the road is a collection of long straight stretches interspersed with some fast sweepers. It was during this section I first noticed my bike was having some high-rpm missing issues. I finally caught up to the R1 at the stop sign, motioning I wanted to hit the nearby gas station. As I changed out my ignition module ( yeah, I carry the stock one on the bike - the dyna 3000 is known to have issues ), a silver haired old guy with an impressive beer belly came up. He let us know about the deer dangers, the two spots the police scope out on a regular basis, told us about his relations' motorcycle experiences, following us around as I finished buttoning up the bike, filled up. Thanking him, we continued on our way.

Cruised through the small towns, opening it up on the more desolate stretches. The sun was shining, the road surface perfect, little to no traffic. Life is good.

The highway gets serious once past the "blink" town of Newhalem. Climbing a rocky valley, tight turns and rapid direction changes as the pavement clings to the edge.
Most are posted 30-40mph turns. Get into the groove here, blast down the short straights, set up for the turn, brake deep, release the brakes while turning in, bend it over, apex, power out, weight shift, flowing beautifully.

The few cars/rv's we caught seemed to understand our joy, either pulling off, motioning us by, or slowing along the straights to allow us past. Got to the small area overlooking Diablo Lake, and paused for a few pics....

Got geared back up, started riding again. Only got a few miles before my bike started sputtering. This time it actually quit. I coasted to the roadside. Tried to restart, nothing. Noticed the fuel pump wasn't making it's distinctive clicking. Checked the fuse, checked the wiring, tried to directly connect to the battery, which caused a single click, but no go.

Removed a carb bowl drain screw to make sure, yep, out of fuel. With 9 gallons on board.

Tried tapping the pump itself, tried multiple battery induced clicks, changed fuses, Nothing.

Decided to coast back to the overlook, to at least get it off the road. Rolled back, actually having to use the brakes a few times. As I neared the turnoff, I thought about the campground down at the lakeside. All downhill, possibly a land line and tools. I kept coasting. Hit 70 on the way down, thought about how much it would suck to wreck on a bike that wasn't even running.

Got to the campground, I had a plan worked out in my head. I was going to convert it from a pump system to gravity, by cutting/splicing the fuel lines.

An hour later, some choice curses, a little gas on my arms, we had it buttoned back up. The drain screw showed the carbs were getting gas. I hit the starter.... Oh yes. Success.

Bryant lending a hand after a stubborn spring clamp "bit" me multiple times and I decided to take a "time out"....

The finished product. The brown thing is a wood plug, the fuel now goes from the tank, to the belly tank, back up what was the vent line, spliced into the carb banks.

Decided to abort and return to Seattle, as the North Cascades are a remote place to break down. Got back to the nearest gas station, checked the repair. Not even a drop or leak, every thing working perfectly. Reconsidered, had a conversation, and decided to go for it. We filled up, and headed back into the mountains.

Just before the twisties began again, the R1's turnsignal lit up. We stopped on the roadside. Bryant got off, and with an expansive Vanna White style gesture, offered a bike swap.

When I rode his bike before, it was on populated roads. Here, I could really check it out. Wow. I had thought the acceleration was good before, on par with my modded Valkyrie. But, the valk redlines at 8500 rpm. The R1's second powerband hit starts about 9500 rpm. My first thought was, " This thing's a missile".

Hitting 150 on the short straights where I'd usually be at 110-120, I was glad the brakes matched the performance. I was still riding it like the valk, though, hanging off too much and keeping the bike too upright. Ridiculous power. The valk is a grunty bike, but it's geared and designed to run under 100.

I rolled to a stop at the same point where we did the repair, grinning and shaking my head at the same time. We discussed the differences between the bikes for a bit, then continued on.

Climbed steadily toward the summit of the pass, the air getting colder, the snow beginning to appear roadside, then growing thicker...

Ears started popping here...

Over the top of Rainy Pass, looking down the other side...

Sunny, not too cold, only a few rivulets of meltwater crossing the road, not much silt. Nice. Pulled to a stop to take some pics alongside some snowboarders, who were looking up...

She looked good, but bit it hard on the landing (P.S. click and make the pic above big, she's wearing a white jacket so she's doubly hard to see)

An over the shoulder shot. Think he's happy?...
Shirtless dude, almost at the top of the pass. Gave him a big thumbs up... got to be in serious shape to climb up here.

Now that we were over the top, the temp rose steadily. Approaching the tiny town of Winthrop, with it's main street styled to look like an old-time mining town, false fronts and all, we were both getting hungry and thirsty. Stopped at a tiny brew pub, ordered some good beer and some burgers, and talked about the ride.

Discussed the sticky issue of biker compatability, which runs back into the saying, " everyone driving slower than you is a moron, everyone faster is a maniac." It's tough to find a rider who rides appropriate to you. For example, I ride slowly in town, usually at or even under the limit, as speeding here either buys you a ticket or an ambulance ride, and there's no emotional reward. Not fun. I ride briskly on country roads, enjoying the pace, yet able to react to the driver coming out of a hidden driveway, a deer in the road, gravel in a decreasing radius turn. Flowing. I step it up when I get to a remote area, with challenging terrain, where the only person I'm likely to hurt is me and completing a perfect line makes you grin in your helmet.

I don't want to poke along a challenging road, but I'd rather that than have to pull somebody who was riding over his head out of the ditch. It's a fine line. This trip, we were pretty well matched.

Looked up, as I suddenly smelled mint. There was a guy next door raking, stirring up some wild mint. The bartender came by, saying it smelled like catnip. When Bryant told here where the scent was coming from, she went outside, got a few leaves, and gave us some. As we chewed, I mentioned I'd never been able to perfect a mojito in my home bar. She immediately ran back outside and grabbed more, taking it behind the bar. Asking me the recipe, I tried to help as she muddled and poured. Got close, but still not right.

Briefly considered heading south to the next pass, but on the advice of the bartender and a look at the watch we headed back the way we came, into the setting sun.

Scanning for the omnipresent deer, we cruised through the valleys leading back up to the pass, the terrain characteristically eastern Washington...

Shadows in the valleys, the temp was dropping. I was concerned about those rivulets icing over, but no problem.

Random shot I like for some reason....
I think he was doing the "YMCA" dance to keep warm....

Over the top, began opening it up, that sensation of flow, everything working together, bike moving under you, hitting all your apexes, the road curving endlessly down the mountain. Only caveat was the sun... you'd round a corner into the blinding setting sun occasionally.

Stopped for a tripod shot showing there's still some snow near the top...

Got back to the tiny Newhalem town, braking down to the 30mph limit as a trooper likes to lurk right past the sign. After an hour of playing at around 100 mph, 30 feels like you could get off and walk.

Took the long road back to Darrington. It was deserted. I've never held my bike wide open for as long as I have on this section. tucked in, speedo buried, the R1 somewhere up ahead. Slowing for the curves, only crack the throttle open to the stop and hold it there again. No carbon left in this motor.

Caught up as we neared the town, back into cruise mode. Noticed three oncoming cars in the distance, travelling slow.... yep. last one was a police car. Whew. What does a 3X the limit ticket look like? How much is bus fare? Bryant did a little dance of joy as we passed without incident.

Got home through the typical I-5 south traffic, just before dark. What a day.

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