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Discover Washington

Wednesday, May 31, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Bill Wiegand #180584

Paul promised "a ride to remember." He described an area not far from his Seattle home with mountains, beaches and a rain forest, all within a couple hours of each other. We couldn't get there fast enough.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't care that we had plans, and she soaked the Seattle area with rain in the days leading to our arrival. In this wet climate, residents don't use ink when writing plans on their calendars.

"Have you guys ever fly fished?" Paul asked. With the resounding chorus of "No," it was settled. We were riding east. Paul Guillien knows Washington state. Depending upon the season and elevation, when he isn't working he's usually sailing or skiing with his family. With his day job as the CEO of Touratech USA, he's also an accomplished rider and president of the Backcountry Discovery Routes. No doubt, this would be a ride to remember.

A late start made interstate travel necessary, and rain was still pouring down as we merged onto I-90. The further we got from Seattle the lighter the rain fell, and by the time we made our first stop at Snoqualmie Falls, it was nothing more than an annoying mist. The 268-foot Snoqualmie Falls is about 30 miles outside of Seattle, tucked between the tiny towns of Snoqualmie and Fall City, Washington. Not only is the Falls one of the area's most popular area attractions for its beauty, it's also famous for its appearance on the 1980s series Twin Peaks along with the Salish Lodge, known in the series as "The Great Northern." A stop there was mandatory.

While most of the river is diverted to power plants, during the rainy season between November and March the falls take on a curtain form, with mist rising high above the lower river. Centuries ago, the Snoqualmie people living in the valley saw the falls as the place where their prayers were carried up to the Creator by the great mist rising from the falls connecting heaven and earth.

Today, Puget Sound Energy owns the property, and in 2009 the falls were formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places over their objections.

With daylight fading and our destination of Wymer, Washington, still 100 miles away, the interstate provided the best option. We droned away in the dark, still wet from the rain. It's a shame to ride through places you've never traveled to with nothing visible other than what your headlight illuminates, but we had a both a reservation and a schedule to keep.

"That was the worst part of the trip," Paul promised as we got off our bikes in the gravel lot in front of the Canyon River Ranch next to Red's Fly Shop.

Located along State Route 821 on the banks of the Yakima River, the history of Red's Fly Shop goes back more than 80 years to when it was known as The Lattice Inn. With a reputation for gambling and prostitution similar to Lolo, the seedy Missoula, Montana, bar from the movie A River Runs Through It, The Lattice Inn was destroyed by fire in the 1930s and never rebuilt. Over the next 60 years, the property saw many businesses come and go, including a drive-in restaurant, trailer parks, and a campground and RV park. It wasn't until the early 1960s, when Sharon and Red Blankenship began managing the property, that Red's became known to Yakima River anglers. Sharon and Red retired about 15 years ago, and today the property is owned and managed by a team passionate about fly fishing and devoted to offering clients a great experience.

Regardless of one's passion, whether it be with collecting antiques, restoring cars, fly fishing or riding BMW motorcycles, it can be a shock to the uninitiated to look at the cost of entry. Just as a trout fisherman may be shocked at the price of a BMW StreetGuard suit, a BMW rider is equally shocked at the $1,500 price tag of a fly rod. I'll stick to riding.

Following dinner, we returned to find our three-bed lodge meant one of us would sleep on the couch that night. I drew the short straw. A clear and cloudless blue sky smiled down on us the next morning, and as we leisurely gathered our gear and packed the bikes, fishing guide Steve Joyce came by to offer a quick fly fishing lesson.

To the unenlightened, fly fishing appears a simple exercise. Beyond the repeated whipping of a line into the water, fly fishing offers a spiritual essence none of us understood. Our conversation with Steve made it clear we were in way over our heads, yet we all agreed how cool it would be to pack a fly rod and reel in our panniers for the next time we found ourselves camping near a trout stream.

"Better pack a lunch," Steve joked, and about that time Ted thumbed the starter on his R 1200, and it was time to get back on the road. In the morning light we were back on the roads lost to darkness the night before. We came in on nondescript State Route 821; today we were riding the Yakima River Canyon Road, a beautiful stretch of pavement matching the gentle curves of the Yakima River.

Eventually this road to some distant paradise ended when we turned north onto Highway 97 and headed to Leavenworth, Washington, in time for lunch. As we rode into Leavenworth, something seemed out of order. Missing was the quaint, rustic charm so many small Washington towns founded during the logging or gold rush days displayed. Riding into Leavenworth was like riding into a German village.

Located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range in the upper reaches of the Wenatchee River Valley, Leavenworth sits on the valley floor surrounded by mountain peaks and valleys. In the late 1800s settlers came looking for gold, timber and furs; the area exploded with the arrival of a rail line. The city was booming until the logging and sawmill business went belly up and the railroad rerouted its rails, nearly leaving Leavenworth a ghost town.

In the 1960s, town leaders had the bright idea of changing Leavenworth's appearance to draw tourists. They believed if the gorgeous hills had no equal outside of Germany's Bavarian region, why not make their town look the part. Today, nearly every building and business evokes Germany. From the architecture all the way down to the German fonts used on city signage, Leavenworth offers tourists a complete German experience. The city calendar lists German-styled events including a Bavarian Ice Fest, Ale Fest, Maifest, Autumn Leaf Festival, and of course, Oktoberfest, all taking place around town in venues such as the Icicle Village Resort, Bavarian Ritz Hotel and Der Ritterhof. After a lunch of cured meats, hard cheeses and ciabatta bread on the patio of the Sulla Vita restaurant, we were back on the road and fighting post-lunch lethargy.

We headed north on the Chumstick Highway and our dual sport ride was about to hit the dirt again. Turning onto Eagle Creek Road, our elevation quickly began to climb as we got deeper into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. A few more miles and we left pavement altogether, taking two track into the mountain hovering above us. Following a trail beneath power lines, we continued onward along part of the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route.

Though the trail wasn't exceptionally technical or difficult, in a moment of lost focus, my front tire hit something large and the front end of the R 1200 GS jerked to the right. Down I went into a slow lowside. In a flash, I was sitting up and sliding along the gravel road, slowly rotating with the bike to look back at where I was. Seeing a cloud of dust, I remembered Ted was behind me and hoped he wasn't too close. Just as I slid to a stop Ted appeared and was going down as well. In that brief moment our falls seemed almost comical; it wasn't until I stood up and felt the throbbing of my left ankle that I knew it wasn't funny. I was bitten by my left pannier and my Sidi On-Road boots proved they were outmatched off-road.

My injured left ankle made standing on the pegs a punishing endeavor and shifting gears hellish. Growing up riding the fire roads of Wisconsin, I painfully realized my off-road skills weren't what they once were and a heavy GS was a lot less forgiving than a 250-pound dirt bike. Still, I was in heaven. It was a simple fall, but it delivered a valuable wakeup call.

Eventually, we made it to Plain, Washington, and our stop for the night. Dinner at the Old Mill Cafe, a couple of beers and a bag of ice for my swollen ankle was all I wanted. With a soft bed and some Advil, I slept deeply.

The first few steps out of bed the next morning reminded me of the lessons learned the day before, and slipping into my boots provided a new, painful experience. I soon learned that if I was going to twist an ankle, I had chosen the wrong day. Today's ride would be mostly dirt and include a big piece of the Washington BDR. Chelan, Washington, was our destination, and we'd take the hard way getting there. It was going to be a great, albeit aching day.

Leaving Plain, Paul wasted no time and led us straight into the mountains and onto a Butler Motorcycle Map level G1 road. Both Beaver Valley Road and the Chumstick Highway provided incredible views of the Cascades that grew better with every corner we turned. Soon we were quickly gaining elevation on two-track roads carved into the mountainsides. Climbing Chumstick Mountain offered spectacular views of the mountains surrounding us, and I had to constantly remind myself to look where I wanted to go or end up where I didn't. The focus required by the rocky trails made me forget about the pain in my ankle. Only dabbing a foot to maintain balance or stopping for photographs reminded me.

At the end of the trail, Cooper's General Store in the tiny town of Ardenvoir provided a place to refuel both ourselves and the bikes and provided an interesting taste of the local culture. Sadly, we were a day early for karaoke night.

Now out of the mountains, we were back on pavement and 42 miles from Chelan, Washington, our next destination. Riding through canyons named Morical, Dissmore, Dinkelman and Asher brought us to Entiat, Washington, along the banks of the Columbia River.

Though I wouldn't admit it to the guys, by that time I'd had my fill of riding in the dirt and would have been perfectly content riding pavement the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the vote was 3-1 and throbbing ankle be damned, we were back on a trail with a surprise ahead that Paul kept to himself.

Bear Mountain Ranch Road took us back up into the mountains until we rounded a corner to see a spectacularly jaw-dropping view of Lake Chelan beneath us. As we rode into the charming, lakeside town of Chelan, I realized a little ankle pain was worth the view. Chelan, Washington, is a resort community of about 4,000 residents. It sits on the edge of the Cascade Mountains and on the southeast tip of Lake Chelan where the lake flows into the Chelan River. Campbell's Resort, adjacent to the bridge leading to a quaint downtown, provided our home for the evening and another chance to ice my ankle.

Beyond my ankle pain, we all fought the melancholy that comes with knowing the adventure was coming to a close and our brief escape from the reality would soon be over. We still had one more day and needed to make the most of it. Our ride to Winthrop, Washington, the next morning was broken up by a stop at the Sun Mountain Lodge just outside of town. A former mountain bike racer, Paul had fond memories of the area, and it was easy to see why.

Surrounded by rolling hills, Sun Mountain Lodge sits in the foothills of the North Cascade mountain range in the Methow Valley and offers year-round recreation opportunities. Our stop there took us to the stable where Paul wanted to do some scouting for a trip he was planning with his family. It was there we met Debra Schrock (better known as Red) and her horse Buttermilk. While Sterling and I declined her invitation for a quick ride, city slickers Paul and Ted couldn't refuse. Somehow during our conversion someone made the perceptive observation that just as horses were the adventure vehicles of years ago, adventure motorcycles provide that function today. With that in mind, we figured the only practical thing to do would be to roll a bike into a pasture and photograph it with the horses.

Photo session behind us, we were soon waving goodbye to Red and back on the pavement, making our way to Winthrop. Another unique Washington town, Winthrop is surrounded by the pristine forest of the North Cascades National Park. Just as Leavenworth remade itself with its German flair, Winthrop did the same but chose a wild west theme.

Winthrop is a snow sports enthusiast's mecca; once the snow melts, visitors enjoy a balloon festival, rodeo, vintage car show and more. Sadly, we were only there long enough to enjoy lunch at the Duck Brand Hotel and Cantina, where a western omelet seemed like the perfect thing to order.

Fighting off another food coma and the depression of our last day of riding, we began the final leg of our adventure: heading back to Seattle along the North Cascades Highway. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, we made our way through valleys where elevation changes delivered chilling temperatures.

The road offered spectacular views of the Cascades, and before long we were back where we started our journey days before. With handshakes and the promise to ride again someday, we were heading home. As I rode away I realized the gift Paul gave us by sharing this ride and leading us on some of his favorite roads. It was some of the best riding, both on road and off, that Washington offers.

Whenever I come home from a trip like this I wonder why I've chosen to live where I do, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, where intersections offer the only opportunity to turn my handlebars. I've never been able to come up with a good answer to that nagging question and have come to the conclusion that living in the flatlands of central Illinois gives me a greater appreciation for places so different from where I live.

I pray I never tire of discovering.

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