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June 1st, 2012

Leaving Home

The three days I spent resting and visiting with family and friends in Salt Lake were quite nice, although I did manage to come down with a 24 hour bug of some sort yesterday that had me worried about getting back on the road.  After much Imodium D, purging, and Gatoraid, toast and lots of rest, I was able to leave this morning.  The weather is showing clear, sunny and hot all the way to just before Seattle, and I was not looking forward to the long hot slog up I-84 which is the only way to get out of Utah and into Idaho.  I wore just a t-shirt, but it was actually cool enough that not more than a mile from my Mom's house I stopped and put on the light leather jacket and wore it all day.
I spent the morning on the Interstate system, I-15 North through Salt Lake, up past Ogden, and then West on I-84.  If I wanted to I could stay on this almost all the way to Washington and I'd be home tomorrow, but I won't.   The Interstate is not my idea of a road trip -- but unfortunately, like across Wyoming, there's no real alternative here.  But truth be told, the trip today wasn't all that bad.  Throughout the West, the Interstate has killed the old roads, quite literally, by being built on top of them.  It's fairly boring on the Interstate, even in scenic parts of the West.  You spend time watching the trucks go by, or passing the long string of a triple-trailer rigs that are allowed in parts of the West.  Sometimes you count the numbers of trucks from the major carriers -- Knight Transportation, CR England, Swift.   Then there's the U-hauls -- people moving their lives across country, to start something new, or run away from something old.  And the RV'ers -- folks in their Winnebagos, carrying their lives from place to place, and often dragging a car.  Getting away from it all but managing to take it all with them.  Everyone's heading the same direction, monotonously moving along, almost hypnotic in a way.   And every now and then everyone has to make a pit stop along the artery of the Interstate to fill up one tank or drain another.
My first pit stop was in Snowville, UT, a small town about 8 miles before the Idaho state line, and almost in the middle of nowhere.   It's essentially a truck stop town, with a large "Flying J".   The "Flying J" chain is all over the West, and an essential part of keeping the stream of commerce moving on the Interstate system.   They cater to the endless number of trucks and other travelers that ply the Interstate day and night.  Truckers and Moms in mini-vans mingling over the bins of DVD's and old Country and Western Cassettes and CDs.   I gassed up, used the restroom, had a bottle of water, and then merged myself back onto the Interstate.  Smelling the sagebrush and alfalfa fields and the miles and miles of empty space that is this part of the Intermountain West.

Fortunately I was able to bail off for a short little dog-leg of the old road, US-30.  Just like in Wyoming, for some reason Idaho has left a portion of the old road, as it winds through small towns along the Snake River, while the Interstate takes a big loop in a Northeasterly direction away from all the towns.   And surprisingly, the Interstate hasn't killed them.

After spending four hours on the Interstate, the contrast along the old road is immediate and overwhelming.  I'm not rushing along at 75 mph.  The bike and wind noise isn't deafening.  I'm not battling wind vortexes from trucks.  But more important, I am once again part of the world -- not drifting along like a leaf floating on the water.  The old road is slower, easy, relaxed.  I'm part of the world -- I can smell things like the water of the Snake River, the fresh cut hay, the manure being used as fertilizer, the smell of Idaho's "famous" potatoes cooking in the processing plants.   I can see things up close, like the watering systems used by the farmers, and feel the coolness their mists generate riding past.  And the giant wheels and maw of a farm combine, or the huge wind turbines turning in the west breeze generating electricity dwarfing me on the bike as I ride past. 
But alas, this ninety minute sojourn on the old highway comes to an end.  Ironically in a town named Bliss, Idaho.  This is hardly my idea of bliss, but I have no choice between here and Boise.   The old road just ends, and just like in Wyoming, turns into a freeway onramp and up onto I-84 I go.   Again, I'm reminded of the stark contrast between the old road and the new -- between the slow and the fast, between making good time and having a good time.
One can't even hold the camera still as I count down the miles to Boise and my home for the evening.  The only thing to attract the senses is a distant Union Pacific grain train heading northwest to Portland and Seattle.   Just like me.

Last Night On The Road

I left Seattle on May 14th.  It's now June 1. That's 20 days.   Almost as long as the Corner to Corner ride Tony and I took in 2008 from Key West, FL to Cape Flattery, WA, though not nearly as many miles.   My emotions are mixed.  In a way, I'm very ready to be home, but in a way, I'm gonna miss the routine of the road, and the wonder of what I will see up ahead.   I'm enjoying the road as I always do -- the scenery, the smells, the people.  But I'm anxious for my house and my own bed.  I alternate between loving it and wishing it wouldn't end, and trying hard not to count down the miles to home.  That's why I really pushed today and did a mile over 500 -- the longest day on the road of this trip. 
I had three options leaving Boise this morning, where it was sunny and 70 as I pulled out a little before 9am.  I could go into Oregon and up the John Day River canyon, or I could take two routes up into the Idaho high country that merged at McCall, and then cut into Washington at Lewiston.  I've done all of them in the past, but I decided on the latter, which I hadn't done since 2007 -- taking off up ID-55 along the Payette River.   While it was warm in Boise, it quickly got cool as the road climbed steadily higher as it went North.  There's still a fair amount of snow on the peaks, and the Payette River was running full.   The road tops out and then cruises through the appropriately named Long Valley, which runs for about 50 miles and is a beautiful high-mountain valley.  
Towards the end of the valley as you head North you pass over the 45th Parallel -- the point half-way between the Equator and the North Pole.   It gives you a sense of just how big this world is, and how small we all are.   So I drive on, pushing North and alternating between loving the mountain air, and feeling like a horse heading home to the barn.  
The road drops steeply at the end of the valley and into the canyon of the Salmon River and skirting the edge of the Hells Canyon Recreation area of the Snake River.   It quickly changes from lush green forest to desert in the matter of a few miles.  Then just as quickly it climbs back up out of the canyon and into the Camas Prairie of Idaho.  This route  -- Idaho 55 and US 95 North from Boise has to rate as one of the most scenic roads ever, and wonderful on a motorcycle, with six changes in climate zones and  endless changes of scenery.   Camas Prairie is a beautiful flat prairie at a high altitude, and is green and lush with rolling hills as far as you can see.  In many ways it reminded me of the Borders of Scotland (or perhaps it was the Scottish music on my i-Pod, I'm not sure).
I had lunch in Granger, Idaho, and spent a half hour fiddling with a jammed zipper on my lightweight leather jacket.  I finally gave up and just pulled it on and off like a sweater.  With that many changes in elevation and climate today, the jacket was either just right, or too cold, or too hot.  I finally was able to ditch it after I dropped through the Nez Pearce Indian Reservation and crossed the Snake River at Lewiston and landed in Clarkston, Washington.

It's very obvious I was back in my home state, aside from the Washington plates on the cars.  Gas was well over $4.00 a gallon.  The most I paid on this trip.   Indeed, my second fill up in Washington just outside Walla Walla was at $4.59 a gallon for Premium.  I had paid $3.77 in Boise this morning.  There is seriously something funny going on here for gas to be that much more expensive.

Between Clarkston and Walla Walla lies the Palouse -- a vast region of rolling hills and endless wheat fields.   Its a very pretty part of the state, and I've always loved riding through here.  It was quite different this time, as it was green -- very very green.  Usually I've ridden through here later in the summer when the wheat is golden and yellow, but now it's new and fresh and about two feet high and very very green.  It's a whole different look for the Palouse and it's always captivating.
Walla Walla used to be known as the home of the Washington State Prison -- and it still is, but now it's also the heart of Washington's wine country, and the wheat fields turn into vineyards and wineries by the dozen, rivaling the Sonoma Valley of California.   I could have stayed in the Tri-Cities tonight, but it was only 6p when I rolled in and Yakima was an even 100 miles further up the road, and 100 miles closer to home, so I pushed it.   It was nice riding in the t-shirt and it was well over 70 even at 8p when I pulled into my hotel.  

But I'm worn out, and ready to hit the hay.   It's 150 miles to home, and I should be there before lunch time tomorrow.   I've saved one of my favorite roads for last -- Yakima Canyon, and one of my least favorite -- I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass.  It will be a bittersweet ending to this adventure.  All rides have to end at some point.   This one ends tomorrow.  It was almost prophetic that the last song to come up on my i-Pod was Norah Jones, "The Long Day Is Over".   Just about.  Just about.

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