OWD Roadshow: Vancouver to Ukiah and then Some

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p1010859It’s dark out on the fourth day of the trip and we’re still riding.  It’s all part of a hastened “push” to reach Ukiah, California, but still night riding has its own charms.

Everything changes at night; sight diminished you end up having to trust your bike more.  In fencing we called it the “seniment de feu”, the sense of the foil, and would turn out the lights and practice…

The point, excuse the pun, was to get a sense of the position of the other person’s blade by the sound and feel of when the weapons clash.  In riding, the bike is the foil and, all that “force” stuff aside, you’re reading the road.  Headlights help, but you’re still trusting the machine, it’s suspension, and your sense of the road.

Everything seems smoother and faster.  The engine sings and curves are lain down beneath your rear tire like smooth black ink from a fine pen.  It’s all very charming for the first hour or so, after that it just becomes a lot of work.  Plus there’s the all those signs portending the bouncing attack of deer and those shattered pieces of lumber strewn across three lanes a few sweepers back.  Pilot error in the night isn’t the only concern and I ease off the throttle a bit; I’ve been off a cliff once in the past year, no need to repeat the adventure.  Eventually, Kevin notices I’m lagging and slows off, I don’t seem to have his blind faith in poor light.  As a “push” goes I’d rather keep a slightly quick pace consistently and skip the coffee stops than a more sporadic run.

By other people’s standards this may not be much of a push, but we had planned to go to Portland from our stop on day three in Ocean Shores, Oregon.  It was pre-empted; Kevin’s ’85 V45 Magna was deemed to be “making an odd sound, a bit like a loose cam chain gnawing at an engine casing.”  My diagnostic abilities are limited, if it’s not a flat tire then it’s probably valve noise.  We decided to B-line south and make best time to our Rest and Repair stop in Ukiah, California where we planned to stay with Ed (long time friend and all-round tanned guy) before any mechanical failure occurred.

The pre-ride preparations had been plagued by mechanicals; 10:30 the night before we departed found Kevin and the owner of a local shop working on the Magna’s chokes which weren’t actuating properly after a carb rebuild.  It had been the last in a litany of events.  But finally on Friday April 9th at 3:30 we had set out southward.  Arriving at the border we were confronted with… a total absence of Easter throngs and were ushered through quickly and efficiently.  That first day we’d decided on a leisurely route, taking in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  The day ended with us cruising around Oak Bay on Whidbey Island in search of a hotel to wait out the morning ferry crossing to historic Port Townsend.

After quickly reviewing the choices of dodgy, dirty, and scary, we settled on the Coachman Inn, which had come hardly recommended by the sales girl at Radio Shack.  I’m unsure what standards she held for hotels in the area, but it was significantly better than the Motel 6 she made it out to be.  In the mental note category, add one regarding not taking hotel advice from the Radio Shack folks, the future may be just around the corner, but the solid hotel recommendations are a bit further off.  Accommodations, breakfast, and exercise room sorted we took an evening off to go see “HellBoy”.

Drivel.  Comic book movies are built to disappoint, and this one upheld the stereotype.  Sadly it seemed to be getting a lot of good reviews, which means there are a lot of weak-willed and minded reviewers out there.  A solid cast of villains and heroes who did things for… no discernible reason.  To purge ourselves of this disappointment we determined to find some good solid roads over the next few days.

Our second day saw us ferry across Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend in weather that had people acting like it was a summer’s day.  Approaching the ferry I caught a glimpse of a R1150GS in the rear-views, ridden two-up and betraying it’s origin by being the only leaning two-story building on the road.  During the crossing we had a chance to visit with rider and pillion, a couple from Langley, BC, on their way south to pick up a Gerbing heated jacket – on a summery day that required no such gear.

A quick stop in at the local Honda Dealership in Port Angeles found Kevin a new visor for his mushroom boy lid and recommendations from the shop’s owner regarding the local rides and policing tactics.  The coffee run of choice? Highway 112 along the coastline and then a spur run out to Neah Bay; it featured a significant number twisties and little fear of the local constabulary being present.  Why the worry about policing?  Because so far on this trip every time we’ve gone to whip it up a bit, even for passing the lowly mini-vans and slow moving bus-load of nuns, the local tax collector has come cruising around the corner.

We do a quick stop for lunch and meet up with a group of riders from Seattle.  Their selection of machines are varied, the one standing out in the crowd is a Cagiva Canyon.  We end up chatting bikes and Remus pipes, at this point I should be receiving a commission and business cards to hand out on the ride.  VFR’s seem a rare breed around here, with bags rarer still, and the new cans seem a hit.  We pass along the warnings about the local cops cracking down on two-wheelers and the Neah Bay suggestion before slurping back some amazingly bland Thai food.

The Neah Bay run proved a good antidote for such bland fare.  The road serpentines along the cragged, bolder-strewn coastline and as was suggested by the bike shop’s owner, much of it has been freshly re-paved.  It also offers a spectacular view of the south-western side of Vancouver Island.  Given it’s proximity to our home I’m shocked we’ve not been on this road before.  For a rollicking ride or just sightseeing, this out-and-back detour offers 26 miles of pure joy reminiscent of portions of the PCH further south.  After exercising a little throttle logic, we head southwards again on the 101.

Being on a less than direct route, out of curiosity we take another in-and-out spur run to the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park.  The road is a bit rough, but does it’s best impersonation of the Avenue of the Giants in California in places.  Majestic Cedars, hung with vivid green moss, tower over the lush green undergrowth as the blacktop winds its way through the stands of forests, all the while the sun’s rays stream through the canopy.  Then you round the corner and it’s a field of stumps.  It spoils the moment when you realize that most of this forest is second growth and unlike most National Parks this one has been ravaged.  It’s called Hoh for a reason, the rainforest here has been pimped out… often.  At least in British Columbia we have the good sense not to run the clear-cut logging right to the roadside, we’re a little craftier in our raping and pillaging, hiding it just out of view in order to maintain plausible deniability.

Running through the forest, alternating between stands of trees and fields of stumps you get your first taste of slippage.  It’s not my term, it’s a Stephen King-ism, but it fits.  Slippage is the feeling of things having been let go, civilities have been put aside and upkeep let slip; it’s the taste of decline and I have the feeling that before our trip is over we may become a bit more familiar with it.

The in-and-out of the Hoh forest finished we head southward again on the 101, courting the speed limit in an attempt to avoid speed tariffs and taxes.  Interminably long straight stretches and pine forest leach the stockpiled joy of running the curves from us, but eventually we hit Ocean City.  If Stephen King ever needs to set a novel on the West Coast featuring a community in slippage, this my friends would be it.  Stray dogs seem to outnumber children, and closed businesses outnumber the dogs.  The only place booming is the local tavern, which looks rougher than the flavour of cheap tequila.  We briefly toy with the idea of staying at a local resort, and detour along a rundown paved road out to a Motel by the Sea…  very Bates’esque.  It carried with it the feeling of owners who felt upkeep was no longer needed as the business was now based in equal parts on those new to the areas and desperate for accommodations and those easily mislead by travel brochures.  We pressed on southwards, but only after watching with vague disbelief as a possum fed up with being a neighbour to the hotel in question attempted suicide under the tires of an elderly couple’s Buick LeSabre.  Amazingly it survived, equally amazing Buick seems to have worked out ABS capable of stopping a land-yacht.

A short distance down the 101 was the entrance to a Casino, the Biggest on the Coast was the tag line.  The biggest on the swamp more likely.  The road going in was freshly paved, deliciously twisting, and unfortunately marked as 20mph and playing host to a number of possibly intoxicated loser-bus drivers, and suicidal possums – no antics were to be had here.  The Casino, after the slippage of Ocean City, was incongruous – whatever life force and energy had been maintaining the area the had been mainlined into the creation of this overpriced, loud, glitzy, blinging, blinking and beeping aberration.  Which is to say it is all things that a casino should be except placed in the middle of nowhere.  A quick enquiry as to the rates and we depart quickly, faster even than the bored desk clerk can get back to ignoring other potential guests.

Finally we locate a hotel at “the Sands by the Sea”, a resort in Ocean Shores.  Slippage is at work here too, but it’s not so far gone.  Ocean Shores is recoverable, and even if it isn’t at $40.00 for a room the town’s psycho-social make up isn’t to concerning.  Aside from that over diner Kevin has revealed that the Magna is making a rattle-y cam-chain-eating-into-the-engine-head type sound at times.  A bit of investigation will be required the next day.

The results of the morning’s investigation are breakfast at a 50’s-style greasy spoon/fallout bunker, Mr. B’s, which is mysteriously located in a mall and completely devoid of windows, and the conclusion that we should skip Portland and head south quickly before the Magna’s engine does something tragic, like say consume itself.  With a bit of quick figuring we conclude we can reach Florence by nightfall and set out at a solid pace.  Our speed karma holds and the moment we attempt to pick up the pace the local enforcement appears, we hold to 10 or less in the straights but get the groove on in the corners.

Pipelining along the 101 we hit the best part of the Oregon Coast by mid afternoon in all it’s scenic, sweeping and cheese laden glory… we past by the Tillamook cheese factory after all.  Regardless of the bike I’ve ridden this stretch on, it’s always offered special pleasures.  In fall the leaves changing and crisp snap to the air, in spring the fog, mist and roiling ocean, except today…  Today spring masquerades as summer with it’s dreamy warm carving of the road.  In the back of my mind Groove Armada provides a soundtrack as they sing on about “if you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there…”  I conclude I am, I shut off the iPod and let the song loop in my mind.

In Seaside the clouds start to settle in, and summer cools to early spring with amazing rapidity.  We stop to eat at a Pizza Hut and remind ourselves why we only eat there every five years or so.  Fortunately the food was slightly better than the neglect that passed for service… but only slightly.  We take the opportunity to suit up, electric vests, long johns and waffle-weave tops.  As the barometer and temperature start to slip.

The weather only begins to threaten rain just north of Lincoln City, but by this point we’re already wearing rain gear for warmth and to cut the moisture in the air.  It’s getting cold.  Proper motorcycle cold, where it bites into you with a moist cut, and I’m wishing we’d never returned the Widder Electric Vest and Arm Chaps we were lent for review earlier last month.  By the time we pull into Florence our minds are set on a Hotel with a hot shower and a bite to eat.

Our digs for the evening are not going to turn up in Conde Naste any time soon, but it was clean, affordable, and smelled of renovation, new carpet, glue and more disturbingly hamster urine.  Given the number of posted rules and warnings of undeclared pets being charged at a rate of $50.00 per night I can only guess that the Hamster got it’s money’s worth and partied like a rock star.

The next morning featured drizzle, and the realization that Kevin’s heated grips were failing to honour the heating part of their raison d’etre.  Another hour with the volt meter and it was sorted.

The oddest point of the day?  Meeting up with Kevin’s parents just north of Eureka on the snowbird migratory return trip for the spring.  Riding in lead I see that a conspicuous red truck with massive fifth wheel in tow was flashing it’s high beams and sounding off the horn.  We looped at the next exit and caught up with them at Clam Beach.  The punch line is that Kevin’s Father, not remembering what the VFR looked like, had been giving pretty much all the motorcycling duos along the way the same treatment, possibly spreading confusion in his wake.  The visit was brief as we needed to push on to Ukiah, we wanted to minimize our night riding after all…  but you already know all about that.

Epilogue:
The next day we began our Rest and Repair cycle with a visit to Ukiah Motorsport.  The service manager took the Magna out for a diagnostic spin.  It wasn’t a cam-chain rattle after all, that would have been present at all RPMs in the range.  No, the cause was much more benign and somewhat relieving; bolts that attached the new engine guard Kevin had installed pre-trip had stripped and the guard was rattling against the engine and frame. Bad sound, but no risk. Still it’s given us some time to visit with our friend Ed, bring in fresh tires and prepare for the next segment of our journey.  A group ride from San Francisco to Las Vegas via Death Valley with the Top of the Hill Club.

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