I’ve been riding about an hour. First merciless fog, and now the cold. I’m looking at the FJR’s temp gauge and it’s saying 34 degrees. I’ve got the Gerbings pumping but didn’t put on the electric socks. I have to pee. I’m thinking, “What the @#$ am I doing. Go home!” And then I thought, “And do what instead?” It was at that point that I committed to the ride.
After the summer that forgot to arrive, the Seattle weather gods have finally strung together a couple of days of blue sky and the FJR has been calling from the garage below. November 1 marks the beginning of the end for many of the mountain passes, all of which are controlled from that date on, many of which become closed. It has snowed up in the heights a week or so ago, but the news was clear and dry. So go dammit!
There are a couple of ways to do it, but the general idea is to cross the North Cascades in some combination at Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass, or the Northern Cascade Loop . . . the last being the must. Depending on the route, you can do a bail out and turn a 450-mile ride into a 200-mile ride. Thus the concept of commitment.
I was committed, having chosen to cross, up North. Past Darrington the fog had cleared, the roads were clear, my bladder had recently been cleared, and I was clear . . . 450 miles all in.
No traffic as I gained altitude. I briefly pondered what I remembered about the recent magazine comparo that put the FJR second to the mighty Kawasaki Councours. Was it really a better bike? Does it matter? Whatever. Just ride. Besides, everyone knows that blue is a faster color than burgundy or whatever the hell the 2007 bike is, and black is even faster. Besides, anything more than 100 hp on the street is just extra. Concentrate!
Gaining altitude now. No dreaded throttle surge or deadness or whatever the recall calls for. I’ve got a two layers of REI underwear , Gerbings, goretex, and motoport on. I look like I’m ready for deep space. It feels like deep space. Still freezing but smiling and riding.
Holy @$#, what’s that! Sand. Bike loose. Stay loose and wait for the traction to return. Sand. Shit. The only good lines are about ten inches in from the centerline, and even then not always. Eyes WIDE open, looking far and close. What can I see? Where’s the sand? Where’s the line. Simo on the throttle and brake to stay smooth. Get your ass off the bike. Keep the bike upright as you can. If there’s gong to be a low side, be ready. Smooooth.
The curves that were in the sun are one thing. They’re dry. The ones in the shade are spooky as the temp is right above freezing. Speeds low. No cagers dancing at me from the other direction. Manage the traction. Manage the traction. So far so good.
Twice the road disappears under a sheet of white ice. Good sense and the riding Gods are with me. I’m near the peak and riding at 3/10s. In both cases I see it before it sees me. Bike is upright, I’m balls on my feet and light in the saddle. Keep it straight. Keep it upright. Keep it smooth. Easy.
Coming down the east side of the Cascades, the world and the roads open up. The temperature climbs to a balmy 38 finally topping out on the floor below in the mid forties. The road is dry. Traffic isn’t to be found. I open up the FJR. My mind wanders. It’s not the bike, it’s the ride. It’s not the ride, it’s the rider. The rider is the bike. The rider is the ride. This is the Zen of sitting on a bike for 8 hours. This is why we ride.
The tourist trap that is Winthrop is deserted. Normally it’s over run with Harleys and Gold Wings and SUVs. A bakery calls. A bowl of soup and a cup of Joe deliver. The core is warm, the extremities are less so. The sun is out. It’s time to ride again.
I follow the Methow river and soon the edge of lake Chelan down to Wenatchee. This is apple country. The fruit is in, the trees stand, still with leaves, tired and ready to sleep. The entire valley feels that way. It’s quiet. Not much traffic. The laborers have all gone someplace else. The produce trucks are parked. The tourists are home watching TV. I’ve always loved the fall, but today I love it more.
The FJR urges forward. I do a little strafing but mostly keep my speeds well in hand. No performance awards please. Four dead deer in the space of an hour are a potent reminder of how little we can take for granted when we ride . . . as if the sand and black ice hadn’t been enough.
Climbing up the Blewettt pass, the fall colors are still present and accounted for. The peak has passed, but only a snob would care. I’m 90 minutes from home and starting to feel it calling. Up ahead are HWY 90, 70 mph speed limit, and the climb up and over Snoqualmie. I have to concentrate not to get ahead of myself . . . bike leaned over, carving a posted 45mph turn at close to 80. Hang on there chief, what’s the hurry?
Hwy 90 over the pass might be one of the great chunks of slab in the country. The road churns, turns, and heaves its way up and over two humps. FJRs are built for this run (and no worries about the silly baro thing as I’m using plenty of throttle). Pay attention now. Plenty of cagers thinking about everything other than the road. Fourth gear, right in the middle of the torque curve. Climb baby climb.
The final miles home are through traffic. All the gear that felt so good on the open road now feels confining. The layers, the wires, the bulk . . . ugh. And then I’m home. I can’t remember the cold. I barely remember the fog. I’m sore, tired, and happy. 450 miles over four mountain passes in just under 8 hours. If it’s the last big ride of the year, it was a good one.
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