Thursday, July 8, 2010

Road Trip

"Road Trip" - one of the best phrases in the world. Two weeks ago, we saddled up the bikes and headed south across the US of A border, not knowing or really caring what the road held for us.

It's just under 3 hours to the Nighthawk border crossing (just west of the Osoyoos port) and we were in Tonasket, WA for lunch. From there we travelled east, arriving in Kettle Falls for the evening.

We met Deb & Stu Robinson, managers of the fine Kettle Valley Inn (see below)

who brought sympathy and cold beverages while we contemplated this (see below).

That, my friends, is an ailing Moto Guzzi V11 Bellabio. As we entered town and the signal light turned red, Bryan did a quick double downshift and found himself locked into second gear.

While he laid it on its side and waited for it to cool, I went down the street for some First Aid Frosty Malt Beverages. We sipped Coronas and Bryan got his hands greasy.

If you look at the photo again, you'll see a hacksaw in the grass. That's never a good sign in motorcycle mechanics - it was, in fact, in case an Allan wrench needed to be shortened.

Problem was not diagnosed, but Bryan managed to find third gear.

During the field medic process, some State employees returned to their rooms from a job somewhere in the area. Sipping their beers out by us, expressing sympathy and chitchat, we watched a big bitchin' bass boat cruise into the parking area. A major walleye tourney was to be held the following weekend and serious contenders were already moving into town. This rig was enormous, complete with custom trailer, gloss metal-flake paint and a 280hp Honda outboard. We watched without comment as he backed into the stall, and then one of the State guys quietly asked, "Just how fast can them fish swim?"

I wandered across the street to a small store where I purchased my road read, an almost-new copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. It's a big favorite of mine which disappeared from my stacks at home. My current read is Reading Lolita in Tehran, an engrossing book but far too 'heavy' for a road read (in fact, I'm reading it concurrently with Remembering Kate, a Katherine Hepburn bio that I've read several times, to tide me over the emotionally hard parts of Lolita).

Next morning, Deb gave stern instructions that if ANYTHING went wrong, she'd send out Stu with the pickup to fetch us. I'm happy to report that drastic measures were not required, and that half an hour south of town, headed for Walla Walla, Bryan inadvertently but gratefully found fourth gear.

It's easier to see the countryside when tootling along in fourth gear. This is looking back where we cross the river just before Davenport, our breakfast stop.

And below is the first of many WTF moments on this trip (the W being 'where' in this case, as opposed to 'what').

Made it to Walla Walla, Washington, marking the achievement of a small goal for me. I always liked the sound of 'Walla Walla' and as I've already been to Wawa (Ontario), it sorted of completed things (don't ask what things... just 'things'!). 800 km, more or less, so far.

Another early start and the enticing smell of Walla Walla sweet onions thick in the air. Yes, there are tremendously large onion fields. Further on was a herb farm with acres of what I thin was thyme. Heady odors.

As we travelled west into a serious headwind, I noticed hundreds of wind turbines on the ridges. Not a good sign. Wind turbines = big wind.

Finally found a place to escape the state highway at Cold Spring Canyon, and that's when the fun really started. Without any help, we discovered canyon country and spent that day and the next on some of the greatest motorcycling roads we've ever encountered.

We travelled through Heppner and stayed the night at Condon, Oregon. Midway, or actually just before Heppner, we came upon high dry rangeland. Time for an afternoon nap.

I laid back in the grass, basking in the first sunshine we'd seen in a month, listening to sounds from my childhood: meadowlarks, redtail hawks, killdeer and grasshoppers, the wind in the grass and finally the rattle of an old farm truck.

What you can't see in this photo is the tortured canyon country just at the edge, about the same sightline as the fencepost tops. Those blue hills in the back are on the other side.

Just before Condon, we stopped to consult the map and a rider who'd been behind us since Heppner stopped to visit. Another Brian, this one an engineer from Enterprise, OR on his way to Bend. He owns an RV campground up there and cordially invited us to come on by. Just might do that.

From Condon we travelled south to Fossil, and a wrong turn (both of us read the map wrong this time) took us farther west than we anticipated. Figured this out when we stopped to check out the scenery at the John Day Fossil Beds.

11 am breakfast at Madras, then a swing east to Prineville for fuel before continuing on to John Day. 30km out of Prineville and fate again played silly with us. The Guzzi dropped back into second gear.

We pulled off a small siding just outside Ochoco National Park to ponder the situation. Bryan had a nap, and about then a VW station wagon stopped by. When praying for a angel to help us, I never envisioned one clad in denim coveralls and leather cap. Enter Hutch.

"Where y'all headed?" When we said John Day, "We'll that's where I live. I suppose you're going to the Guzzi rally? Tell you what. I'll go home, get my bike trailer hitched to the car and come get you."

It was 70 miles each way! (Yes'm, it's still miles in the US, and I got brain-weary sometimes trying to remember the translation.)

We didn't wait for Hutch but began our long limp east. It was very, very hot, and at 25 khm, at was also exhausting. We stopped several times to cool Bryan's bike, because the air cooling system doesn't do much at a snail crawl. We were within 20 miles of John Day when Hutch found us.

Photographic proof that at least once in it's life, the Guzzi was a Trailer Queen.

Hutch not only hauled the bike, he found us THE last available motel room in town. For a population of only 1800 souls, it's a very busy and popular place.

Wednesday morning found us at the County fairgrounds, looking for assistance. Lo and behold, one of the best Moto Guzzi mechanics in North America was already on site: Matt from New Mexico.

Matt and his partner Debbie were there with their 5th wheel, of which 2/3 is a mobile shop. He had everything to fix any and all MG's.....except the transmission spring for a 6 speed. He had two...back home. Brought ones for a 5 spd. Ah well.

Matt's two Great Danes, Diesel and T.

Matt was a remarkable guy. Knowing he'd been up to his eyeballs the next few days with bike repairs, and seeing as Bryan's was out of commission until at least Friday while we waited for a $6 part to arrive from Seattle, he offered the use of his Norge.

After an R&R day, it was time to see more country. We did a little there-and-back trip to Baker City. It was lovely countryside. We hit a brief but soggy T-storm, and then a very strange phenomena - a pollen storm. The rain released heavy loads of conifer pollen, which the storm's tailwinds then blew through the valley in a thick cloud. Being wet from the rain, the pollen covered everything in an eerie lime green coating.

Stopped at a lookout above Prairie City, OR. Matt's red MG Norge and my little Suzi.

Looking southwest to Prairie City, with John Day somewhere down the valley to the west of it.

By Friday, the rally was in full swing. It was the US National Moto Guzzi rally, and representative from across the US and a few Canadian locations were on hand. I think somewhere around 350 participants were registered.

Bryan's part still hadn't arrived, so I did a solo run to Burns, south of JD. OK but uneventful. Bryan met some fine fellows and had a social afternoon. One of the small group from Langley, BC turned out to be a fellow originally from Waitara! He immigrated to Canada in the late 70s. Another Kiwi from Dannevirk and one from Dunedin road over from Maine - long trip.

John Day is a great little town. In the 1860s, gold was discovered and 10,000 people lived there. Now it's ranching country with lots of tourists and travellers like us, government services and fall hunters. The food was great wherever we ate (avoiding the fast food places as always) and people were very nice. We discovered a new favorite snackie: deep fried dill pickles. I kid you not! They're great! They were made with a crumb batter. I'm going to try making them at home using panko crumbs.

Saturday morning and the part was due 'sometime', but I was out of time. I had to be back at work on Monday, and with around 950 km to ride home, I wasn't going to linger. Bryan and I agreed to keep in contact, and if he got the bike function in a reasonable time, he'd try to catch up to me. I shot up Hwy 395 from Mt. Vernon to Pendleton, then onto the Interstate through the Tri-Cities for a lunch break and onward to Moses Lake, arriving around 1:30 after a 420 km ride. Stopped for coffee and texted Bryan. He called right back, had the bike repaired with Matt's assistance and was just packing to leave. We decided I'd find a room and wait for him; he pulled in around 7pm, tired and hungry.

It was uneventful final 520 km the last day, other than Bryan taking a wrong turn at a critical junction not once but three times!!!! And the only bad weather was torrential rain between Kelowna and Vernon. Typical. But not bad for a trip of just over 3,000 km.

This is a very long post, and I haven't written half of what I scribbled down during the trip. I do want to say a big thank you to all our road angels: Debbie and Stuart, Hutch and Mrs. Hutch, Matt and Deb. And also highly recommend any motorcyclist, or prairie enthusiast, to visit the High Desert of east-central Oregon. I known we're going back!

We're having a breather while the sheets dry from the last in an on-going stream of visitors. I've got more to show and tell about that, but it can wait for another day.

Love you lots!

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