It’s snowing, except looking at the dash display the temperature is +10C. A hard rain, or hail, or a hallucination? An effect of the “Eyes of God” Twisted Throttle Denali D2s white light, hitting the downpour’s drops? Fatigued, my mind scrambles for why Highway 1 heading into Hope, BC has turned white. I’m on the final leg of a 1225km ride from Eureka, CA to Sunshine Valley, just outside Vancouver, BC pitting KTM’s 990 Adventure R against a Google Navigation estimate. It’s a total of 1225 kms, or 760 miles, in one go. The hail covered road, well, that’s not to plan.
I open a visor, and my face is pelted by the sting of hail. Not quite convinced, I drag a foot on the road surface. It seems slick. I dab the rear brake to see how slick… quite it turns out. Departing the gas station in Eureka at 9:30AM this morning, I glanced at the Google Android phone jury rigged as a GPS, before heading northwest to the twisty goodness of the 199 from Crescent City to Grants Pass.
The Great Google says I’ll hit Grants Pass in 3 hours and 24 minutes, the big KTM and I do better than that though. With that an idea takes root; watching Goggle Navigation’s estimates update on screen, something goes a little wrong in my brain. It’s the same misfire that happens when I see one of the freeways signs outside San Francisco that state the expected time to a given destination, “18 minutes to Golden Gate Bridge? I can do better than that.”
The stakes and scale here are grander.
It’s 1:54 and counting, but my quick gas and go turns into lunch and linger. A conversation about the KTM in the Taco Bell parking lot, slow service, a few text messages, and suddenly, fast food isn’t. I’m not on the road again until nearly 2:30, but over lunch the idea of the challenge became less notional.
From Grants Pass, Google estimate 10 hours and 58 minutes, making for a 1:28AM arrival, it’s a temptingly achievable timeline, but for this to be a challenge there needs to be a grey area.
That grey area is the Android phone lashed with tape to the Twisted Throttle GPS mount and its Virgin US data plan whose service ends at the Canada/US border, along (potentially) with Google’s recalculations and the navigation. Regarding the estimated time thought, there’s more working against me than for.
Google Navigation and Maps accounts for traffic, but we can safely assume the makers of Android don’t account for human frailties like bathroom stops, the need to eat and rehydrate, and fatigue. So the Google ETA of 1:28AM isn’t accommodating a motorcyclist’s needs, nor the bikes. Range is a killer compared to a car too.
The KTM 990 Adventure R can safely go about 160miles (250km) before the fuel light comes on, which conservatively means I should top up every 130 miles. Or, maybe every 100 considering the seat. Along with that comes the hassle of helmet off, dig for the wallet, fuel the bike, zip everything back up, throw the helmet on, futz about with the gloves, wait for the fuel injection light to give the all clear, and go. Also near impossible for Google to calculate for, the bureaucracy of a border crossing.
To pull this off, I need a pace that is a high rolling average, rather than a flat out haul. A roadside stop talking to the local constabulary would slow things down considerably, so I set the pace to quick but not attention grabbing. That should help mitigate fatigue, which will be a factor as I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for the preceding few weeks consulting to a start up in San Francisco.
By Eugene, Oregon the Amex card stops working for pay at the pump, flagged by the credit card company as a suspected fraud. Filling up every 130 miles apparently is suspicious behavior, and leaves me rotating the remaining cards. There’s another time eater in Oregon that I didn’t consider, the cumbersome make-work “mini-service”, which requires an attendant to oversee the fueling of the bike. Suddenly you’ve a slow moving middle-man in the transaction that attempts to run your out of country card at the pump, before giving and telling you to go inside and get authorization at the till.
The I-5 is spat out by the 990 Adventure’s rear tire, a normally dull and grueling ride becomes a grueling ride burning with purpose. In my head it plays out like a Top Gear challenge, the shots storyboarding together into a 15 minute clip set to a score of chase music pumped through the remaining working speaker of my Scala Rider G4 Communicator. Interrupting the narrative flow is are crushing realities.
Exiting northern Portland, it occurs to me that Vancouver is only a 5 hour drive – well within range. Then, traffic on the I-5 stops dead, a drawbridge has been raised during evening rush hour. This is Oregon, and I’m stripped of California’s option of lane splitting by legality, the width of the Trax Luggage and a lack of cooperation from the vicious granolas known as Oregon Drivers. I concede temporary defeat and I take the nearest exit and stop for dinner.
I opt for the safely innocuous cuisine of Elmer’s. On the cell I make the appropriate sounds to Kevin who’s acting as “control” on the other end, “Yes, I’ll grab a hotel room if I get really tired. No, I just want to push a little further.”
Apparently I’m not convincing, what comes through in my voice is, “I could make it. I could beat the Google estimate and be ‘home’ tonight.” That’s an entire extra day to spend with family and friends for Canadian Turkey Day.
I’m faltering a little though, my internal clock is starting to slip, I’m craving breakfast for dinner. I order blueberry pancakes – blueberries are full of anti-accidents – with a side order of sausages balancing the carbohydrates with protein to prevent a massive sugar crash.
By the time I make it back out onto the I-5 it’s approximately 7:15PM, and while 5 hours might take me home to Vancouver, Google estimates around 6 hours and 3 minutes to Sunshine Valley. I lay into the throttle.
Between Portland and Seattle I can feel myself slipping into the “null-time” of fatigue, goal achievement and white-line fever. Each town or city and gas stop becomes a milestone, a step closer, but I’m wearing down. 10:30PM and I’m thundering through Seattle’s underbelly, standing on the 990 Adventure R’s pegs. Exiting on the northern end the glowing golden pool of each streetlight sees my shadow jump ahead of the bike, then sweep into nonexistence behind me in a hypnotic metronome of progress.
At Conway, I fill up. Everything has become about time, so I grab a 5-hour energy drink to fight the road weariness that is growing stronger with every tick. Then the weather hits. High tail winds and lashings of torrential downburst rains. I slow the pace off and feel the cold and wet start to seep into my gear and body.
Bellingham, and the big KTM and I swing North-East, the rain easing off to a drizzle and the Canadian border crossing within striking distance. Water had gotten into the phone’s power connection, and it’s been turning on and off, so I do my best to memorize the series of turns Google Navigation has laid out; the 542, to the 9 to the border. The route seems so simple and yet, tired, it’s a slippery theorem my brain refuses to hold.
On the 9 I’m confronted with a series of 25 mph marked corners, 90-degrees apiece. For the first time since my days as a new rider, I slow to the suggested speed, and crawl through the turns. Fatigue is starting to hammer away at years worth of road experience; my brain’s core chemistry is upset by cumulative sleep deprivation and the constant demands of concentration placed on it by the ride. Operationally I am likely considered an impaired driver. Reactions slowed, my only fallback is predictive and deliberate riding and slowing off. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to corner. After ages, the Sumas border crossing crawls into view. Mercifully there is only a short line up of five cars, unfortunately the Border Guard is the diligent type.
Cars crawl through ahead of me it’s a full 20 minutes before I’m up for grilling, and I’m thankful for the breather, but I’m tired, anxious and chilled. And the clock, well, that is ticking.
“Anything to declare?”
“No parts for the bike?”
“No, not this trip.”
There’s that moments pause, the tipping point between a trip into the office and a few hours delay and hassle, or freedom.
“Ok.” I exhale, fumble with my helmet and gloves, and the R and I are off again. Back in familiar territory, which is good because the phone’s signal has just died and with it the navigation.
We push through what my brain interprets as hail, hardly approaching what’s normally a grindingly slow 100kph speed limit. The precipitation, the lights of the other vehicles on the road, and general fatigue have nearly sapped my concentration. Reaching the town of Hope it’s time for one last gas stop, then the 19km run up the hill to Sunshine Valley, and the trip’s destination. None of the credit cards work, and I’m sliding US funds through the pay window – Tempus fugit.
The KTM and I snarl past the police station, holding the 50kph speed limit before finally reaching Highway 3. Normally, the run up the hill is 10-minutes of lightly patrolled joy, tonight it’s through a molasses of fatigue as I fight to concentrate. I should go for it, I should hurry, but I can’t risk it. Mistakes are starting to accumulate, I need to stay safe, challenge be damned.
A peeling billboard advertising a faded recreational community, lit in golden glow signals the pull off to Sunshine Valley; a beautiful beacon. One last minor leg, up the hill, onto the community’s dirt road. The KTM is on familiar footing here, the change of surface feels incredible and we cavort though the neighborhood.
Minutes to spare, or minutes past? I can’t say I honestly care. Friends inside the house greet me, Kevin pours me a drink, another puts food into the microwave. The clock? 1:35, if only I’d not stopped for gas, or to take my boots off, or if the border had been a little faster. If only I’d glanced at the clock when I parked up in the driveway.
The KTM and I will get you next time Google. Next time.