Orlando Or Bust Vegas or Bust! BUSTED!
When I started this "mini trip", I wasn't really even planning to blog it. I almost didn't take my laptop. I figured I'd keep track of my fuel and other receipts, and maybe write up a quick post once it was done, to record my thoughts on the ride.
To briefly recap where I was supposed to be going, I was planning to go to Orlando, Florida, to attend a "Dani Johnson's First Steps to Success" event. Dani's people are very involved with the Children's Home I helped to build this winter in Belize, so I thought it would be fun to go catch up with some of the people I'd met there, as well as learn some more people skills, which is always a good plan!
I left Wenatchee a couple days early, to avoid some bad weather that was coming in.
The first day, March 9th, 2013, was nice and sunny, but not very warm. It was about noon when I finally got on the road, mostly because I was waiting for it to warm up a bit! I had on my riding jacket and matching pants, both with the extra insulation liners installed, plus I was wearing thermal underwear. It really cooled off early in the evening, so I stayed in a Motel 6 that night.
My route, starting in Wenatchee, WA, was first to Quincy, WA on highway 28, then picked up I-90 at George, WA, following that to the Columbia River, at Vantage, WA, then took Highways 243, 24, and 240 to the Tri Cities of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, then south on 395 / I-82 until I got on I-84. Got all that? :)
Considering I didn't hit the road until after noon, I thought getting to Pendleton, Oregon, was a good start, and I didn't want to ride at night if I could help it. Figure a couple hundred miles or so. By the end of the day I was remembering I had't rode the motorcycle since last September, and I wasn't used to it anymore. I was cold and tired!
The second day I rode through the eastern side of Oregon, continuing on Interstate 84, through the southern half of Idaho, and camped south of Twin Falls, Idaho, near the Nevada border on highway 93. My plan was to "wild camp" as much as possible, no sense paying for a camp site, since I was sleeping in a tent. Once I blow up the air mattress, roll out the sleeping bag, and pitch the tent, what else is there? On this night, I chose some "range land", complete with sage brush, tumble weeds, and frozen cow patties. The sage smelled really nice, and frozen cow patties don't smell, so life was good. The stars were amazing, so I didn't even pitch the tent.
The third day, I got up early, and rode through to Las Vegas, staying on highway 93 still. Around noon on this day, about half way in the middle of no where, I started having a nagging feeling. Before I left my Dad's place in WA state, I had figured out how many miles it was to Orlando, picked my route to stay out of the mountains, away from snow and trama drama, and had a rough idea of how much it should cost, based on some loose guesses (and internet research even) for gas prices, mileage from my last trip, all kinds of good planning there.
Except I kind of forgot how much I actually had available, cash wise. I had just gotten my tax return, while I was in San Diego... and I sort of ran amuck there. I stayed a couple of extra days. I saw the sights. I bought a smart phone, and a tablet. Then when I got to Seattle, I traded off one of my big lens from my digital camera, and bougtht a nice little digital camera. And stayed in another too expensive hotel. So, there "was" a lot of money, but I was burning through it pretty fast. And I didn't have an exact tally anymore of how much I had left. Hmmmm. Before I got to Vegas, I'd already decided that I probably should turn toward home. I probably could still get TO Orlando, but not back again.
Yeah, I know, probably should have figured that out before I hit the road, right? Oops! Ok, moving on...
It was still fairly cool, until the last 2 hours from Vegas, at which point it finally warmed up. Then I felt like I was over dressed with all the layers. Taking everything off and repacking wasn't really practical, so I just focussed on enjoying not being cold anymore!
After stopping for gas at the outskirts of town, I used my smart phone to figure out where exactly Hoover Dam was, and then picked a Motel 6 that was on that side of town. There is camping in the Vegas area, but from what I was able to find on my phone, the Motel 6 was a better deal! Note to self, mid week rates are the way to go! While in Vegas I did find a close by casino that had a Mexican restaraunt, so I went for a good meal. I worked too long in a casino to even be tempted by all the flashing lights though!
I had thought about at least going down to the Strip to get some quick pictures, but just didn't want to take the motorcycle back into traffic. Its great for the back roads and all, not so good in stop and go.
The morning of 4th day, I rode out to see Hoover Dam. If I'd spent a bit more time planning, I could have saved a few dollars, but it worked out ok. I ended up going throught the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which cost me $10 (I think...), which I could have skipped by going a different route. But I got some good pictures, and I could see going back to explore.
While I'm thinking of it, there is a Yearly Pass for the National Park Service, which is something to definitely check out. I didn't get it this time, but will very likely do it in the future. I think it was about $80, for a year, which then gives you access to ALL National Parks. Too bad it didn't also include State and County parks, but that would be too much to ask for! Canada also has a similar pass, which I should have gotten last year, when I was working so often in Jasper.
Anyway, when I got to Hoover, there was security check points, which I thought would be a problem, since my bike looks a bit, well, military. But they just smiled and waved me through. Cool! Further in, there was parking, at $7, for the tours. All I wanted to do was get a couple of quick pictures and be on my way, so I did a quick U turn and worked my way back out. A bit disappointed at this, there wasn't a really good place to take a picture. Hmmm, odd, but since there seemed to be a lot of traffic, considering it was a Tuesday, I didn't want to chance parking in a bad spot and getting a ticket, so I started to leave. Then I saw another sign, for a free parking lot, and a bridge. So I went there. This is the spot! Along Highway 93, there is a new walking bridge, which gives you a really good view of the whole Hoover Dam, including the generation houses, etc. I think the tour would be very cool to go see, but from what I could see from the outside, you'd not get a real good view of the dam it self from the tour. I could be wrong though.
What I thought was interesting, is Hoover Dam isn't a very wide dam, compared to some others I've seen. But it is very HIGH! They picked a very good place to put the dam, using a canyon with a very narrow section. Keep in mind my view point was from above the dam, from the bridge. I'm betting it looks huge from below, at the river.
Anyway, after Hoover Dam, I turned to the west, and rode through the desert toward Los Angeles.
There is a new video camera company, called RED, that has its main headquarters at Irvine, California. Earlier this month, when I was in San Diego, I planned for several days to take the train up to Irvine to see this new camera, and every day I found something else to do, and I never made it! This bothered me greatly, so I worked it into this trip instead!
As I was leaving Hoover Dam, I was kind of thinking I could make it to RED this day, but then I realized with traffic in LA, etc, I'd probably almost get there just as they were closing, so that was no good.
So, rather than hurrying, I decided to poke around a bit and explore. Instead of riding Interstate 15 with all the other lemmings, I took highway 93 from Hoover Dam, then highway 95 south to highway 164, the Joshua Tree Highway, which goes from Searchlight, Nevada, to where it joins with the other lemmings at Interstate 15 in California. It didn't take me much longer, but I did get to see some different desert at least, and got a couple pictures of the motorcycle parked next to a Joshua Tree.
That night I stayed in another Motel 6 at Victorville, CA. I really should see if I can get Motel 6 to sponsor my travels or something. I am really liking their newly upgraded rooms!
On the 5th day, I got off to a decent start, but some how didn't get to the RED headquarters until just after lunch time. I wont go into all the history of RED, or why its a big deal, or any of that. If you're into cameras and movie making stuff, you probably know all about it. If that's not your thing, well, that's ok too.
I will say, though, that before RED started making movie cameras, a digital cinema camera that was good enough for making a Hollywood Movie would cost you somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that's only been possible for the last few years. Before that you had to shoot film. Then RED came along, and created a camera that is being used for real movies, in the less than $50,000 range. The one I looked at, the Scarlet-X is in the $10K to $20K range, depending on options. So, its kind of a big deal.
As I walk in, I'm greated by a guy at reception.
Me: "Um, Hi, I'd like to check out a Scarlet camera?"
RED Guy: "Oh, sure, just a minute."
(Ok, so I don't usually write dialog...)
People are still coming back from lunch, so I get to talk to a few. One saw me arrive on my motorcycle. I'm still wearing my riding pants and Fox racing boots, but I put on a nice golf shirt, with a collar even, so I look slightly better than my normal Mad Max look. Told a few stories about the North Country, thousand miles of gravel, snow, that kind of stuff. Not the kind of tales they're used to in Southern California.
Eventually, they find a service tech who can talk to me. Turns out, the real Sales and Demo Center is in Hollywood. I'm at their headquarters, where they actually build the cameras, do the service stuff, etc. But even though I'm in sort of the wrong place, they still gave me 2 of their guys, for an hour or two, and they let me play with the camera, and showed me EVERYTHING about it.
Like, Oh... My... Gawd...
Again, I won't go into the technical details too much, because if you're reading this, its probably supposed to be a blog about my motorcycle adventures or something.
But, wow, I gotta get one of these!
When I was in Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, etc, last year, I had my really good Digital "SLR" camera, the Canon 1D. Its awesome. But its an older one, that doesn't shoot video. So then I also took along a couple little video cameras. But they're "consumer" cameras, not pro cameras, so the video looks... nice, but not Professional. There is kind of a law of science or something, that says you can't make BIG looking video, with a SMALL camera. It can be Nice, but it always looks different.
The RED Scarlet camera, on the other hand, can use professional lenses, it is actually used in Hollywood movies, it shoots a kind of video that can actually look good. Kind of hard to explain if you're not in that world. But lets just say if I shot something on it, technically, it would be acceptable to people like Discovery Channel. And since I have actually shot a documentary that was rejected by PBS, based on the technical merrits of the video, this is kind of a factor for me.
So, yeah, this is something on my list!
Even though I've read about this camera since before it existed, when it was just an idea, there is part of the experience where you really just have to see it in real life, and hold it in your hands. The weight, the balance, just how does it fit? And could I even consider taking it into the wild? Ok, it is heavy, its big, and I'd have to make some adjustments. I'm not sure if I'd ever take it on a motorcycle adventure, like I did last year. But it could happen.
After having my head crammed with so much delicious technical seduction, I just wanted to lay on a beach and veg out for a while, but I now had to get myself home. There was still a chance I wouldn't even have enough money left to get back to my Dad's place, but I thought I'd be pretty close.
On an earlier trip, I had found a useful trick for situations like this. I noticed that most of the gas stations don't post their sales to the credit card companies in real time, especially over the weekends. They seem to authorize your card for a set amount, to make sure its not already maxed out or reported stolen, but it might be a few days before they actually charge you. My new plan, then was to enjoy my trip home, but to get home as quickly as I could. My old plan, was to take my time going up the coast, and maybe get home in a week or two.
Oh, by the way, if you're familiar with the Southern California area, Irvine is where the big giant Air Ship Hangers are, you'd know them if you see them. The base, at Tustin, is now closed, but the hangers are historic landmarks. I got to go inside them when I was in the Navy, I went to a helicopter maintenance school there once.
Ok, so after leaving Irvine, I worked my way north, on I-5, then the 405, and eventually caught I-10 to Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. This has been on my list of things to do for YEARS. I mean, when I was in the Navy, I used to drive up I-5 from San Diego, to Wenatchee, WA to my Dad's house every year or two. I kept thinking, one of these days, I'm driving the coast instead. I-5 is so boring. But it is a whole lot faster!
Since it was mid afternoon by the time I left Irvine, and I have decided not to do much night riding on this trip, I stopped around Ventura, at the Hobson County Park, a campsite right on the beach. There, for only $28 dollars, cash or check, I could camp. Hmmm looking in my wallet, I only have $23 cash. Somewhere I have about $20 worth of change, but I can't find it. There is no camp attendant on duty, its a self register site. So I fill out the envelope, put in my $23, plus a Canadian $2 bill for good measure. I figure they'd be mad, but at least I'd made an effort to pay. That seemed smarter than not paying anything some how!
That camp site was awesome, really. The surf was breaking less than 100 yards away, all night. It was almost too loud, but it was very nice. The only problem was it was misty the while time I was there, so I woke up damp in the morning.
On day 6, Thursday the 14th, I woke up around sunrise, and got the bike all loaded up. Just about the time I was ready to leave, the park ranger dude rolled onto the site, so I waited for him to come around to my camp site. By that time I'd found my bag of change, so I traded him a hand full of quarters and he gave me back the Canadian $2, and all was good. The last thing you want is an angry park ranger following you around, right?
From Ventura, I continued up highway 1 and 101, staying on the coast as much as possible. After a beautiful but cool day, I got up to the New Brighton State Beach park camp site, at Capitola, near Santa Cruz, just a little bit short of San Francisco. For the low down price of only $35... The beach was wonderful, the showers were nice and warm, and the site was beautiful.
Still, $35 for a tent camp site? I'd expect to pay that for full hook ups maybe. Or a hotel :)
Day 7 From Santa Cruz, CA, I continued up Highway 1, all the way into San Francisco, and then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Thinking back, now, I don't think I ever crossed it before. I've been to San Francisco a few times, but I think I always crossed the other bridges instead. So, one more thing off my list! Once across, I stopped at the park on the north end, and took a few quick pictures, and was on my way again.
North of San Francisco is the most amazing, windy, intense road I've ever ridden my motorcycle on. I mean, wow, its first and second gear for MILES. My bike is loaded pretty top heavy, and its not a Ninja, so I can't just slam it into the curves like I would have liked to. Still, it was fun, and ultimately exhausting! Spectacular scenery too. If you have time, I highly recommend this drive. Just plan on not getting very far, and do NOT take a big motorhome. It just won't be fun with a big rig.
By night fall, I was wiped out, and looking for a spot to camp. Since I'd spent so much at the last couple of camp sites, I was thinking free was a good idea. Eventually I saw a perfect little dead end road, and camped just off the side of the highway. The great thing about my motorcycle, is its almost camoflage, so even when parked in plain sight, it kind of is invisible. That's good for camping, maybe not so good if you're hoping not to get run over!
The goal for today was to experience the Red Woods. Again. My parents drove us through here once when I was a kid, can't really remember how old I was though. If I dig through all my old pictures, I could maybe figure it out.
Anyway, continuing along highway 1, and then Highway 101, on up the northern coast, I finally got into the Red Wood part of the forest. There was a while when I wasn't even sure I was on the right road, because I couldn't find a specific place on my GPS that said Red Woods. Which I thought was odd, but I figured I'd just stay along the coast and hope for the best. Eventually, Highway 1 ran out, into Highway 101, and the highway was called "Redwood Highway". That looked promising!
Basically, there are several 'groves' between about Garberville, CA, and Crescent City, CA that have the redwood trees. There are plenty of touristy stops, gifts and handywork places, and of course the place where you can drive through the tree. I had to do that. Just one of those things, right?
The Avenue of the Giants is a must see road, that parallels Highway 101. This little narrow 2 lane road winds around between the trees. Take your time, enjoy the drive, and stop to take pictures. Its amazing. From the south, look for a sign north of Garberville, and it will run to almost Rio Dell, with a few exits in between, so you're not committed to driving the whole stretch.
By evening, I was almost to the Oregon border, and it started to rain. This was my first rain for the whole trip, so I was starting to wonder if my luck would hold! A few days back, I'd looked at extended weather forcasts, and saw that the next day would be clear and sunny in Oregon, so I was kind of timing my arrival for that. Might have cut it a bit close!
As it was getting darker, the rain really got heavy, so I called it quits, and turned off the next side road I saw. At first I thought I'd picked a bad road, because there were a lot of houses, but I had a feeling, so kept driving. After a few switchbacks, I saw an opening, down along a power line access road, which turned out to be a great place to spend the night. The ground was mostly level, and the grass wasn't too deep. It rained until about midnight, but my tent was mostly leak free. Life was good!
Day 9 - The Last Day!
I was up around daybreak again, and had the bike loaded up and moving pretty early. Since I'm mostly on vacation mode, I wasn't too worried about the actual time anyway! But I noticed, compared to the Alaska trip, I'm getting much earlier starts, mostly because I don't have midnight sun anymore!
The Oregon coastal highway is pretty much as spectacular as that in California. Lots of twists and turns, surf breaking, spectacular views. This is a must see drive.
If you're interested in lighthouses, they are all up and down the coast, so look for the signs. A few years back, I got to do wedding photography for a friend of mine at a lighthouse in Oregon, so I made sure to stop at that one again, just to get a few more pictures.
Around 5:30pm, I got to Astoria, Oregon, and crossed the Columbia River, into Washington state. That bridge has to be the highest, steepest, freakiest bridge I've ever crossed. From the Oregon side, it climbs up pretty steeply, to make room for the freight ships, then drops down steeply again, where it looks like its a floating span the rest of the way across. The total span, according to Google Maps, is about 3 1/2 miles!
Once across the Columbia River, I stopped at a rest stop, and checked out my options. I had been thinking of riding along the Columbia River back inland, and then going north into Wenatchee, but I totally forgot about how much the Columbia turns to the north before it goes out to sea. I was pretty far north of Portland already, so, since I didn't want to back track anymore, the other option was over the mountain passes. Both of them.
Checked the WA State Pass Reports website, and saw that both Snoqualmie pass, and Blewett, had snow reported for that night. And the next day. And the next night. And by this point, I figured I was almost out of money, so I really had to get over the pass. But current conditions were bare and wet, with temperatures above freezing. Barely.
I figured if I hurried, I could beat the storm.
It was about 300 miles to home, so my choices were, 1, to camp out another night, then be snowed in, and have to deal with snow another day. Or 2, I could go for it.
I bought gas in Fife, then took the highway 18 "short cut" over to I-90. I was in the rain already, so I knew the snow might be getting close. A few miles from the top of Snoqualmie pass, I started seeing snow falling, and hit a few areas of slush. That's almost like loose gravel on a motorcycle, so it kind of got my attention. Then the last mile from the summit I slowed way down, and signaled my way over to the slow lane. By that time visibility was getting bad, and since my motorcycle is mostly black, and military camoflage green, I decided to leave my signal light flashing, to keep from getting run over.
I was a bit concerned, but hopeful, because I could see the sign for 1/2 mile from the West Summit. I almost started to breath easier, except every time I tried to breath, my helmet visor frosted up and I couldn't see! Then the bike misfired, backfired, and stalled out. Oh oh. I was already going slow, so barely had enough speed to coast over to the edge of the road, right by the snow bank.
I'd had something like this happen back in the Northwest Territories, last year. Also on a steep hill, the bike acted like it had run out of gas. So I played with the fuel shut off petcock a few times, off, on, reserve, then smacked the tank for good measure. Tried to start it, got a couple back fires, but that was all. Hmmm.
Now the snow is really coming down. Dang, I'm so close to the top! Grrr. Ok, try a few more times, bike still isn't starting. I suspect I have a spark plug issue. On this bike, changing the spark plug is a bit of a job. I have to take the gas tank off, because the extended gas tank I put on drapes further down over the engine, so the spark plug can't be reached. I think even the stock tank blocked the spark plug, actually. Plus I have to take the seat off, and all the bags that are hanging off of the gas tank have to be removed. That would be a time consuming job in the day light, on a level surface, but not something I was willing to take on, in the dark, on a hill, next to a snow bank, in a snow storm!
So I called CAA / AAA. Calling for help isn't my first choice, but tonight it seemed like a smart move.
After a few minutes talking to the first service rep, we figured out that my membership wasn't renewed. I told my Mom not to do it, it was a Christmas gift, I knew she was saving for retirement, and I was out of the country anyway, so wouldn't need it. And of course I'd forgotten all about that!
Fortunately, the very nice lady in billing decided they could bill my card for the membership, and have it go through immediately, since I had been a previous member. Hmmm, I have no idea how much money I have left in my credit card, every time for the last 3 days when I bought gas, I was happily surprised when it worked! Deep breath... ok, give her the number... Ok, great, she transfers me back to a WA state rep. who will coordinate me with the tow truck company.
About an hour later the flatdeck truck arrived.
We managed to tip the bike over, half way up the ramp. The tow truck guy had thought maybe my load was too high to be stable, but we decided to go ahead and try it,because I didn't really want to unload everything. Turns out he was right. It is always a smart idea to shut up and listen when you have professional help available. Just saying!
So I got to unload the bike, so we could stand it up. Always a challenge to find all the tie down straps when its laying on its side. I've had some experience with tip overs in the past, but this was the first time in the dark, in the snow, with cold fingers and black straps!
Got a good laugh when the Washington State Patrol officer drove up, to aid in marking our location with all his lights flashing, you know, for safety. I walked back to see if he needed any of my information, and he was laughing, said he just drove up to see if there really was a guy on a motorcycle at the top of the pass, in the snow storm. I smiled, and pointed at my Alberta license plates, and said this didn't count as snow, or a mountain, where I'm from. With that, I walked back to the tow truck to start loading all my gear into the cab. He seemed to think that was funny, too.
After we got the bike loaded up, we drove the rest of the way to my Dad's house with out incident. The snow stopped a few miles further down the road. The next pass, Blewett, was bare and dry all the way over, although I did notice a little bit of frost in places.
I think I could have made it!
The annoying part, to me, is that when the bike died, I was so close to the top I could taste it. I still had fantastic traction, although it was getting a bit slippery. Visibility was getting bad, but I hadn't gotten to the point where I wanted to quit. But who's to say I wouldn't have gotten unlucky, hit some ice, and did the big bonk? Never look a gift tow truck in the mouth. Shut up, and be happy for the ride in the heated cab!
By the time we got home, and the bike unloaded, it was about 2am. I rested the next day, and then the day after that, I worked on the bike. Took the seat off, all the tank bags off, the gas tank off, and finally got to look at the spark plug. I was surprised to see it actually looked pretty good. No fouling, nice color, no signs of oil soaking or burning. But still, since I was there, I put in one of my spare plugs. The bike started right up.
Success! Small happy dance. Put the bike back together, go take a break. Life is good!
I'm pretty sure this is the original factory spark plug, which lasted over 24,000 KM (about 15,000 miles). So I rode the bike from Edmonton, up past the Arctic Circle, then down to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, all the way back up the coast, plus all the other riding I did in the last year, and finally had a problem with a spark plug.
Its a single cylinder bike. So that one spark plug is it.
At highway speed, I'm running about 4500 rpm... so that's 4500 sparks per mile, for 15,000 miles... 67,500,000 sparks. The replacement cost me $4.75. That's a heck of a bargain, I'd say!
Aside from flat tires, this is the only problem I've had with the bike.
I'd say this is a pretty reliable bike! Ready for world exploration :)
Oh, and I do have 4 spare plugs with me, just in case I need them. I bought them last year, so on the side of the road, in the snow, I knew I had everything I needed to fix this. It just would have been a pain!
Its nice to be as prepared as possible.
And that includes having the cell phone fully charged, so I could stay on the line with the auto club people while they worked through my membership issues. That in itself took 39 minutes and 54 seconds.
And it includes having proper gear on. I had good gloves, the riding gear, the boots. While I was waiting for the tow truck, I was sitting in the snow bank, quite comfortable and enjoying watching all the cars driving by. I could have easily stayed out all night. Plus I could have unloaded the tent and sleeping bag, and really been toasty.
So, the real question is, how am I going to top this? :)