It was a little after 3am and the alarm began its attempt to raise me from my stream of unconsciousness to consider the prospects of leaving my current very cozy warm bed to begin a day that was planned with all sorts of adventure. For the week prior and following the completion of our in-state saddlesore 1,000 mile ride (See WA SS#1 for my prior ride report), my friend Jim Carroll and I plotted and schemed how we might do a 1,000 mile ride in Western Washington as part of the SPANK rally which would not cross itself and would avoid all of the issues surrounding travel in mountain passes. We planned various routes and shared them with each other. Each version got better and by a few days before the start of this fateful morning, we reached consensus on the route. We had reason to believe it was doable, but it would certainly be a stretch.
What made it a stretch was that we had to send a postcard from a post office near each of the “corners”. But we had lots of corners. Sixteen to be exact. That coupled with the 200 mile fuel range that Jim likes to ride within (the astute reader knows that the FJR 1300 clearly can go longer than 200 miles) added 5 fuel stops along with the sheer number of miles we would not be riding the interstate added to the intrigue.
But soon full consciousness arrived, and I slipped into my LDComfort undergear and then my riding gear including my Gerbing electric jacket liner and gloves. These would remain on for the duration of the ride. My ST1100 was already packed from the night before. Pretty much all I needed to do was roll it out of the garage and head off for our meeting place in Tukwila at the Post Office where we would deposit our first cards to mark the start of the ride. Of course, we also obtained a time-stamped receipt to officially mark the start of the ride. That, along with our SPOTWALLA track, would document the ride. And all of that indicated a 4:12am start on a chilly but dry October 25, 2012.
The first part of the ride took us up I-5 to north of Bellingham through some rain squalls north of Burlington to the little town of Custer where we deposited the first card of the day. I should mention that we both pre-made up and stamped the 18 cards we needed for the day with a blank on each for the time. That ride up in the dark was uneventful and fortunately we were ahead of the work day crowds. Departing Custer, we headed first east and then south along the Guide Meridian with its many roundabouts to the Pole Road roundabout where the 3rd exit spewed us out on an eastward path towards Everson, our second stop for the day. The smell of “eue de cow” was clearly in the morning air as this part of Washington is noted for its dairy industry.
In Western Washington state there are essentially two roads that lead north and south between Canada and the Seattle area: I-5 and WA9. So after riding north on I-5, our trip south was on WA9 which took us through the sleepy towns of Acme, Bike Lake, Sedro Wooley, and the like. Dawned tried to break through the heavy cloud cover, but for the most part the clouds were winning this battle. At Sedro Wooley we encountered the first traffic of the day in front of a school that was beginning its day. WA9 is moderate speed road that twists its way through rural eastern Skagit and Snohomish counties. With a 50mph speed limit, the ever present danger of wildlife, blind corners, darkness, and damp pavement, it’s hard and unsafe to wick up the speed very much. Soon we approached Arlington and headed east once again to ride another favorite backroad of mine, the Jordan Valley Road which took us down into Granite Falls where we refueled for the first time. Jim kept trying to remember why we were in Granite Falls until some miles later the realization came back to him: we needed the miles! Yes, it’s all about the plan and then ride the plan.
Granite Falls gave way to Monroe where postcard number 3 was deposited. Light was upon us now, but also there was much more traffic as we neared the metroplex of the Seattle-Bellevue area. As we approached Bellevue in 4 lanes of traffic to deposit the number 4 postcard, I thought to myself how crazy it was that we had already logged 250 or miles and it was still just a beginning of the day for most of these commuters. Leaving Bellevue we headed east on I-90 to Preston where we had the most enjoyable encounter with a Postal Clerk of this or even the prior trip. This clerk not only stamped our cards, but provided Halloween candy and an infectious smile. Talk about a real picker upper!
The ride east on I-90 and down WA18 to Auburn was uneventful except for the traffic. WA18 is a nice cutoff to get to Tacoma from the Snoqualmie Pass area, and both of us had been on it just one week earlier on our previous saddlesore ride. Only this time it was in the daylight and not raining! The post office in Auburn was a storefront which I didn’t immediately spot and I rode around the block looking for it. Finally I spotted it with Jim in front and it looked to be a contract office. We got our postcards stamped, and we were on our way. Six were done.
Morton was our next stop and the route took us down WA167 to WA512 down Meridian through the South Hill area. On this route was heavy 2 lanes of traffic each direction. We were in the left lane when suddenly a little grey import swung into my lane simultaneously with a signal. Jim later commented to me that I did a nice evasion and that the person’s turn signal must have been their steering wheel. I certainly had to resist honking or displaying other evidences of road rage. Some things you just have to let go of. This was one.
The postal clerk at Morton remembered us from a few weeks earlier and gladly stamped our cards and sent us off with a smile and pleasant good wishes. Westbound on US12 found us quickly at Ethel, WA where we tried to purchase fuel, but the card readers weren’t working. So we just deposited our cards and rode on west to Mary’s Corner where we refueled and took a bio break at the Chevron Station there.
Southbound once again on I-5, we were soon in Longview where the line in the post office was 20 deep, so the cards just got deposited which will probably mean a Portland, Oregon postmark. With the traffic on the Ocean Beach Highway generally heavy in Longview, our planned route took us on the truck route until a friendly traffic worker stopped us and indicated the road was closed ahead (a fully engulfed house fire was in progress of being controlled and Jim indicated that the traffic worker was actually a fireman who was very apologetic about turning us around and what impact it might have on our ride). We did this and were quickly on WA4 (Ocean Beach Highway) where we enjoyed the twisties and scenery along the Columbia River. Just think, Lewis & Clark (among others) were once here!
We deposited our cards to mark the next corner at Naselle (a perennial B level high school basketball championship city), turned north on US101 towards Raymond, but kept the speed down as the area was generally heavily patrolled. And we weren’t disappointed. This section all the way through Hoquiam had the heaviest concentration of law enforcement presence of anywhere else on our ride. Raymond received our next set of cards and our route then took us out to the coast on WA105 to Grayland and then back to the Aberdeen / Hoquiam area where we refueled again.
For me, one of the pleasures of distance riding is the ability to listen to music and particularly to XM satellite radio because of the variety of listening choices. On this leg of the trip I tuned into the World Series and listened to the entire Game 2 until Lake Quinault when the mountain blocked the final out of the 9th inning. The other part that I like about this route in particular is this leg. The Olympic National Park is a personal favorite local ride and particularly the western side of it. Our route took us up that western side through Forks (think Twilight – the very popular book and movie series about vampires and werewolves along with rain measured in feet and not inches – no lie!). Forks was really quiet on this now dark night. No vampires or werewolves were seen, although I did see Bella’s truck at the Chamber of Commerce office!
Beaver was our next corner marking stop and postcard number 12 found its way into the mailing receptacle. US101 then passes by Lake Crescent on a very twisty road with a reduced speed limit. Many years ago back in 1929, a couple was driving this road and was never seen again until a diver spotted their car in the depths of Lake Crescent in around 2005 and recovery of various artifacts began. We didn’t want that fate tonight, so we kept the speed down. Plus there was more construction to contend with.
Sequim was our northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, and it was documented with our postcards in the night deposit box. We also took the opportunity to refuel as it would be a long and desolate ride on the next section at times approaching midnight. US101 winds its way along the east shore of Hood Canal which is a major salt water inlet and frequently travelled by US Navy submarines to and from their base at Bangor Naval Station. Initially the view was clear but as we approached Brinnon and the south tip of the canal, gentle wisps of fog began their appearance. Was this a portend of things to come? We still had some 3 hours of riding yet ahead of us to be able to complete our ride in the 24 hour allotted time.
Heading west off of US101 just north of Shelton we passed by the Washington State Patrol Training Academy and the nearby Correctional Facility. The latter was well lit on this wispy and foggy night. There’s also a new major race track on the Shelton – Matlock Road and it, too, was fully lighted with its banks of high powered collections of bulbs. At Matlock the corner marker is a non-descript multi-purpose general store, but fortunately I’ve been there many times in the daylight and knew what to expect. This was all new to Jim plus I have some high powered auxiliary lighting, so after depositing our postcards, I led the ride for the next major chunk of the ride. It was a good thing as we saw about an hour later.
The Brady-Matlock road is pretty straight, but it’s really isolated. And in the dark, my auxiliary lighting really lighted up the road. Soon we were at WA8 where we turned west once again to head towards Montesano and Raymond. The 4 lanes of WA8 were a comfort to ride on with its lighting and more frequent traffic. But that lasted ever so short as we soon were on the cutoff road to US101. It was a dark windy road with the ever present critter threat. Fortunately they didn’t make an appearance and we navigated the twisty roads with little difficulty in the dark.
At the entrance to Raymond on this southbound leg, we made the first left turn heading east on Monohan Landing Road so that we wouldn’t cross the route that we had followed northbound some hours earlier. This little road in the middle of nowhere, or at least close to it, was a bit rough but it allowed us access to WA 6. But remember, it’s dark and suddenly I recognized something big walking into the road. No, not just big! It was REALLY big. As I brought the bike to a quick stop, I found myself not 10 feet from the biggest pair of elk I think I’ve seen. Sitting on the motorcycle, I couldn’t see over their backs and the auxiliary lighting shining on them made their hides shimmer with the hair looking like that found on some sort of hairy Sasquatch. Only there was much more of it! Jim later recounted to me from his vantage point that they looked as big as the proverbial barn door. Yes, they were really, really big. Fortunately they ambled off the road and allowed me to proceed. Before proceeding, I did a quick scan to my left to make sure I wasn’t heading into the middle of a herd that was crossing. My scan came up empty and I proceeded carefully forward and allowed my heart rate to stabilize. Dang, that was close. And no pictures were taken.
With that critter encounter behind us, we proceeded on up the road to connect with WA6. I came to an intersection and proceeded it through it. But when I checked my rear view mirror, Jim was not to be seen. So I turned around and headed back to where I last saw him and there was nothing to be seen. It’s dark, midnight, and my friend is nowhere to be found. What do I do? I mentally processed the options and decided that I would resume my course and expect that Jim with his GPS would be doing the same to head for the next bonus post office which was just a few miles away. So off I rode with all sorts of anxiety in my thoughts. Once again, a good set of helmet to helmet communication would have solved this issue easily.
As I approached the Menlo Post Office and our 15th corner marker, I could see Jim’s tail lights! Whew! My fears were certainly relieved. We deposited our postcards and Jim headed us east toward PeEll where he hoped to find fuel at this very late time of the day. At PeEll we found a 24/7 fuel station that took credit cards and Jim refueled. I had enough to make it to our endpoint so I used the time to eat a little and stretch myself. Jim then had me resume the lead because of my lighting.
I didn’t quite know what to think as we proceeded east towards Chehalis on this very dark and twisty road. I’m a comfortable rider in the dark, and my lighting was working very well. Am I the sacrificial lamb or the rabbit? It wasn’t long and the first two deer thought it was great for them to follow my lighting and they trotted alongside me and crossed the road behind me. Whew! That was close. There were few cars, but whenever they approached I had to dim my lights and turn off the auxiliary lighting which reduced my forward lighting to minimally acceptable levels. Plus there’s the transition time for my eyes to get used to the reduced lighting.
Once again an oncoming vehicle approached and I killed the high beam and the auxiliary lights. Just as the lighting transition occurred and the vehicle passed, I caught out something in my left peripheral vision. A deer quickly flashed from my left to right and the last vision I have of this deer is its rear end about 2-3 feet in front of my right mirror. That was about the closest deer encounter of my riding career. Jim’s view of the scene was that the deer ended up on the shoulder at the fog line; and as he encountered it, he was afraid that the deer come back up on the roadway in front of him. But it didn’t, and that was good. No, Very Good!
The rest of the eastward trip to Chehalis was free of animals and it was good to see the city lights. Near the post office we were stopped by a pair of trains. Our time clock was steadily ticking and standing still was frustrating. Ten minutes or so later it was good to see the crossing gates go up. We found the post office and deposited our cards in the last corner of the ride. Looking at the clock, we had about 2.5 hours to make it back to Tukwila and that was only projected to be about an hour and fifteen ride up I-5. But we knew there were multiple construction road closures along the I-5 corridor. We speculated about that and had a “bailout plan” at Federal Way in case we needed it. It would gain us about 15 minutes of time, and at this time of a long 24 ride, that seemed like a great deal of time.
Our ride up I-5 went smoothly and the work zones weren’t a problem at two in the morning. There were pretty much just a lot of trucks out on the interstate. We arrived at the finish point at the Tukwila Chevron station and refilled our gas tanks, and we obtained our receipts for their all so valuable time stamps. I had been running on a low fuel light for the past 10 miles or so, but I sort of knew that I had at least a 60 mile range once the light appeared. The problem was I was staring at an empty gas gauge and that is a bit unconcerting. When I completed refueling, only 6.1 gallons would go in so I had at least 1.1 more gallons or around 50 miles of additional range.
We proceeded on over to the post office, deposited our finish post cards and enjoyed a victorious moment. It was 3:06am and we had completed the plan. I found myself pretty alert and not sleepy although I had now been awake for 24 straight hours and 22 plus hours of that in the saddle. We rode the ride and it had been safe (in spite of the critters). Another successful saddlesore was in the books. But would we (or I) do it again? Time will tell. One thing I can tell you, riding 1,050 miles in 24 hours and doing 16 required stops on primarily secondary roads is considerably harder than doing the same ride on interstate highways with only a few stops. Doing over half of it in the pitch black dark adds another level of complexity and risk. But, oh, the satisfaction that comes from completing the challenge.
For those interested in the actual ride track, it’s shown below. Click on the map and you can zoom in/out to as much detail as you’d like about the ride.
Enjoy and stay tuned.