Motorcycle Trip to the NW, Three national parks and an eclipse!

This year I saved my big road trip until August. Something special happened that month, and I wanted to do something special. Some colleagues of mine, including Paul and Becky, organized a campground near Bend, Oregon, so I went to join them. This trip was special. Emma joined me. It was her first motorcycle trip ever and my first trip taking a girlfriend with me. As you’ll see, we had a great time.

The trip was 3,400 miles all told, including side trips, and we went through 8 states.

I left Denver on the 18th of August and rode to Salt Lake City for the first night. My aunt, uncle, and cousins live there, so we had a nice evening eating pizza and catching up. I hope to see them again soon, without the 2 year break. The next morning I rode to Boise to stay with Brooks and Mallory. I had seen them at their wedding in May, but we had much more time to talk that day. Mallory made fantastic meals for us, that we enjoyed on the patio.

On the 20th, I left their place to pick up Emma at the airport. She brought some things with her, and I carried the rest, so we loaded up and headed out. That first stretch was approximately equal to the longest she’d ridden with me before, and now we were 1000 miles from home! Stopping near the Oregon border, we took the opportunity to talk that wasn’t available at the airport. She said the first stretch was good, and so we aimed west towards Bend. The road was just like Brooks had described. At first we were in a river valley, but eventually we climbed onto the high plains, where it got smoky from the nearby fires. This year has been especially bad for fires. On that stretch we rode past Burns, Oregon, where the Bundy clan took over a national forest office. The Dairy Queen in Burns was fine, and that’s where we realized that Oregon doesn’t have sales tax (but pumping your own gas is another story).

Our campground was south of Bend, and we found it without too much difficulty. We arrived early in the afternoon and had time to set up, only to learn that the seam on my new sleeping pad had given up the ghost. So we added another 50 miles onto the day to replace it in Bend. This also gave us the opportunity to try some Deschutes beer at the brewery. Yum. We had dinner with the group, made plans for the morning, and went to sleep. It was a long day for me, and Emma had to get up at 3 AM to fly from Denver, so she was even more tired than me. That night was chilly and taught us some lessons about how to stay warm (in mid August?) that we had to use later on the trip too.

We got up early in preparation for the eclipse. Traffic wasn’t bad, and we should have gotten to the predetermined spot with plenty of time to spare, but our navigators – who had already been there – failed, and we found ourselves on little more than a dirt trail with a low clearance Hyundai. We never did meet up with the rest of the group, but we did find a great spot overlooking a valley to watch the eclipse. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.

I took a series of photos as the moon moved in front of the sun and back out, and Emma snapped a beautiful photo during totality. It looks like sunset, but the sun is very high in the sky.

We fought horrendous traffic to get back to the campsite, all the while fighting an overheating car. We didn’t get back until nearly dark. After sharing a dinner with the group we dressed properly and went to bed. This night was even cooler, but the extra layers worked.

It was now Tuesday, and we had a long haul from the campsite south of Bend up to Spokane. Traffic was still bad going through Madras, and Emma was introduced to the superpowers that come with a motorcycle – namely some traffic can be ignored (we rode in the bicycle lane through town, probably saving 45 minutes off stop and go). Those motorcycle super powers came in handy many times on the trip, especially finding parking in the national parks. It’s hard to justify driving a car when you know how much easier you life can be on a motorcycle.

Much of the ride was in the high plains of Oregon, and I decided that I would never want to live there. No trees, frequently windy, even cows don’t do well there. No thanks. Finally we got to some really cool stuff, the Columbia River Gorge! Wow is that beautiful. We entered the gorge on the dry side of the mountains, but it was still an amazing place to see. Thanks to the tip of a local, we rode on the north side of the river, skipping all of the interstate traffic and riding a good bit above the speed limit. That was until I remembered that we had patched a flat tire that morning. A previous plug was leaking and had to be replaced. I trusted it enough to forgo getting a new tire, and the new plug is still holding, some 2,000 miles later.

We rode into Kennewick, Washington to meet a fellow biker and old friend, Machelle. She treated us to lunch, and we had a good time catching up. The last time we saw each other was in 2005, when I stayed with her and Jesse on my way back from Seattle. It was really good to see her again.

In the parking lot I lubed the bike’s chain and was cleaning up when a man approached us. He was friendly and recommended a hotel in Spokane, which we reserved. The rest of the ride through East Washington was tiring, and we looked forward to not sleeping on the ground – but there was a big surprise. The hotel was pretty fancy, and the room was sparse except for a king sized mirror as a headboard. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After a late dinner we got some rest. The next morning we took a walking tour through Spokane and saw some interesting items, including the worlds largest Radio Flyer wagon.

We rode that morning to Harrison, Id to see Steve and Ann. I visited them in the cabin two years ago, and they were kind enough to invite me back. It’s a stunning spot, and they are great hosts. I should have taken a picture of all of us! I’m a huge fan of North Idaho. It’s so beautiful that I want to go back often. Sadly, they sold the cabin on the lake right after Emma and I left, so we won’t be able to visit them there again, but they are welcome in Denver any time, and I’m sure we’ll catch up in Austin.

After the eclipse I was excited to go to Glacier National Park. Going there and to Harrison, Id added 800 miles to the trip, but it was absolutely worth the extra mileage. We left Steve and Ann to ride into Montana (the 6th state on the trip) and up to Glacier.

After buying Emma a fleece vest (she had been wearing mine to stay warm) we found a hotel in Whitefish called the Cheap Sleep motel, and it did not live up to it’s name. I guess hotels are just more expensive up there.

Glacier National Park is a fantastic place. I can’t do it justice with photos, so I recommend that everyone who reads this make the trip up there at least once in their lives. Don’t worry about the glaciers, they’re basically gone. The mountains and valleys are totally worth the trip on their own!

Thankfully we arrived on a day with little smoke. We parked the bike and shuttled to the Logan Pass visitor center where we ate our snacks and began the 12 mile hike back to the bike. Every part of this was stunning.

A view from the trail overlooking a big glacial valley and the “Going to the Sun Road.”

There are far too many beautiful parts to show here, so please have a look at the photo gallery. I’ll post the rest of the trip hopefully soon.

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