Monday, May 12, 2008

I finally got over my favorite passes here in Washington....Rainy pass and Washington Pass, both are on the North Cascades Highway, State road 20.

It opened a week ago, the snowblowers coming from east and west finally reached each other, and the snowpack was stable enough that it was opened to traffic.

Here is the Dept. of transportation webpage on SR20, some impressive pics and an idea of how big of an undertaking it is to open the road each spring.

I wouldn't mind some company, so I posted it as a ride on our local motorcyclist's forum....Pacific Northwest Riders.

The post...

Hey, I've been checking the weather, 30% chance of rain. Not bad odds.

It opened May 1, ten days is usually enough for the sand to runoff and the snowplow cuts to stabilize.

Kind of a rite of spring for me to go across and back asap after opening.

All are welcome, since there's really only one road there's no fear of getting lost or separated, plus impressive photo opportunities abound and we'll be stopping periodically. The road is a biker's dream, one of my all time favourites.

Dress warm, the top of the pass gets cold. We'll head to the sunny picturesque little eastside town of Winthrop for fuel and food at Winthrop Brewing company, a cool little pub/restaurant, then head back the same way we came.

Arlington to Winthrop is just less than 100 miles, so it'll be a 200 miler plus your travel time to Arlington. Seattle to Winthrop and back makes mine a 300 mile day.

I work nights, I was treated to a beautiful sunrise, sunbeams pouring in the window.

Got home, checked the website(it's blocked at work), noted a few responses. Especially the one stating it was currently raining in Everett.

I got geared up, posted that the ride would take place, rain or shine, and headed out to play in traffic.

Interstate 5 was it's normal chaotic self, people driving slowly in the fast lane, oblivious commuter lane blockers with a row of angry people behind them and a mile of empty space in front, three cars side by side going the exact same speed....etc. I enjoyed roughly ten minutes until I felt the first few drops hit my helmet visor. It rapidly turned to drizzle, where the road spray created a fog of mist that required me to turn my head to the side to allow the windblast to clear the faceshield. It turned into rain, with a few pockets of actual pouring heavy drop downpour.

I got to the meet point, my gloves were saturated, my fingers marinating inside. My leathers were uniformly damp, except the elastic panel at the small of my allowed a goodly amount of rain to penetrate, to the point of my butt being wet. Not pretty. I was considering cancelling, but I really had wanted to do this ride. My spirits were buoyed somewhat by the fact that I could see a swath of clear sky approaching, and that it had been sunny in Seattle. I fuelled the bike, then found an overhang where I could shelter and await any other brave/stupid riders.

I heard the unmistakeable sound of a literbike downshifting, a CBR 1000 turned in. Shortly after, a new GSXR 600 showed up. We talked about the route, the weather, and the bikes as we waited for the "kickstands up" time to roll around. We waited 15-20 more minutes, hoping the rain would let up, but no go.

So, we decided to part ways and I headed home. The end.

Nope. We went for it.

The rain had eased a bit, we rolled gingerly through the small towns as the rain continued. I'd recently replaced the rear tire with a Pilot Road rear, the sport-touring version, touted to give mileage at the expense of some grip. Problem was, I didn't know how much grip I'd be giving up.

The road continued to dry as we travelled through the tiny speed trap towns, beginning to open the bikes up as the weather and my confidence grew. I know these roads, I was enjoying the ride immensely despite the cold, wet fingers.

The two-lane out of Marblemount (last gas stop) takes an abrupt left to let you know the town is done, then follows a river as it winds slowly upward. New pavement, smooth, trees lining the gradually tightening sweepers to the point where we were often running through a tunnel of greenery. Smooth, fast, flowing lines.

Through the tiny strip of a "town" known as Newhalem, the road abruptly changes character to become tight, sharp curves, piled against each other as the river gorge we're following gets narrower and steeper. Constantly climbing now, we run through several tunnels, over several bridges and by numerous dams as the road clings to the rock face. Waterfalls everywhere, often right next to the road. Greenery abounds.

What few cars there were pulled over or were easily dispatched with a quick wrist flick ( I love the instant on power of my ninja), we banked through in unison. Grinning like a moron all the while.

The bikes just plain work out here. Fast enough to relieve your wrists, moving around on the seat, setting your lines, feeling the suspension compress and unload, the tires biting as you wind on the gas, over and over and over. This is why I ride.

In the groove, I often see with my minds eye the line I want to set almost laid out on the road ahead, braking points, apices, chicane sweeps, all just a line on the asphalt, all I have to do is follow it. The bike almost disappears beneath me, the physiological motions of controlling it all but forgotten, taken over by muscle memory. Think about slowing and it does, there's no," I'll squeeze the brake lever with this much force..."mental background chatter. In the groove.

We stop at the Lake Diablo Overlook (just to the right of the "20" in the Googleearth rendered pic above) and I'm laughing. I love this road. Even when the crosswinds pick up your bike and unsettle the chassis as you come around a turn. The boys are having fun, too. Neither had ever been on this road before.

Too cold to stay any length of time with the strong wind coming off the lake, we continue on, reaching the snow level. The road up here follows valleys and contours, the straightaways long, trees thinning, the turns long arcing sweepers. The roadside snow appears, first only 6 inches or so deep, thickening to overhead height within a few miles. Feels like a bobsled run. Nervous going over the rivulets crossing the pavement, wondering if they're ice or water. No worries, though.

Gearing down for a corner I know can be treacherous, I tapped my brakelight several times for the guys behind, then downsh....Hmmm. My previously saturated gloves were freezing, making it difficult to unclench my hands from the grips. Cold.

We were coming up to the top of the pass, at 5,477ft. The snow was blowing, I had some ice crystals stuck to my visor. Cold.

A pic from a similar ride last year, looking west at Washington Pass.

We stopped at the top. I asked if we should turn around, since my goal had been reached, or continue to the warm east side and eat, only to have to face the whole mountain again. We went on.

The only road pic of the entire trip... the bikes at the top...Brrr.

Dropped down the eastern valley, the road loses a lot of elevation quickly and the snow rapidly disappeared. More importantly, feeling came back to my hands. We rolled into the tiny postcard town of Winthrop, to refill the bikes and get a bite to eat.

The bikes were Filthy. The rain, snow, dust and silt all combined to coat them. Everywhere.

We left to face the return trip. I'd decided to turn up the speed a bit, both because we'd now been riding together for some time and no one had done anything dangerous or stupid, and I reasoned that less time in the frigid zone is a good thing, wind-chill be damned.

Wicked it up, letting my beast of a bike pull up the hills, carving up the long arcs, dispatching the slower cars with quick effortless passes. Road still dry, visibility great, we made great time. Why is the way back always shorter than the way there? 60 miles of hispeed joy.

Stopped for fuel in Marblemount again, having run across the passes again without ill effects, other than purple-stained hands from my wet gloves and a thick layer of road grime that I'll never completely vanquish.

Left Gixxerboy2 in Arlington, Dwschultzy and I jousted with I-5 traffic back toward Seattle. Got home, pulled off my left boot, went to pull the right, and CRAMP!! My right calf locked up into a solid ball for a minute or so while I dropped girlishly onto the sofa and discussed a variety of nsfw topics in a loud voice. Guess I was shifting around on the bike quite a bit after all.

Cramp subsiding, I gingerly got out of the rest of my leathers, and chilled on the couch for a bit, seeing undulating roads everytime I closed my eyes.

A great day.

Dwschultzy and Gixxerboy2, great riding with you, everyone else missed out.



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