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Old 02-17-2012, 12:24 AM   #1
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2011 NW National Park Loop

It took me a few month to finally get back to the pictures I took and the notes I made on the trip I took this August. Pics are uploaded, and notes will follow shortly.

The planning was underway for weeks. I had vague idea of what I want to do and where I want to go, the bike has proven itself on the July trip and I had an idea of the level of my own endurance.
Hard luggage that I ordered came in and got mounted on the bike. Dry bag – check. Camping equipment – check. The route?
The goal was to get out there and ride the northwest, make it to the largest National Parks, make a loop, and, mainly, stay off interstates as much as possible. I figured I could do about 300 miles a day.
So, I threw a quick and dirty route together in the HD planner tool and posted it to the alias for people to chime in. Over next week or so I was making corrections to the route daily. The feedback has proven to be invaluable – the route got simplified, changed from a sort of a figure eight into a straight loop, and, in retrospective, included a lot of interesting places I had no idea about.
Finally, export it all into GPX files, load of on the Garmin, pack everything, send an out-of-office heads-up at work, and… take off. Next few posts are going to be the largely unedited notes that I took while on the road… here we go.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:25 AM   #2
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Day 1

Very late start, although the bike was loaded and ready from the night before…
Checking tire pressure, tightening straps.. at the very last moment I figured that the headset
extension is not plugged in, so I had to unload the dry bag, pop the seat, connect the cable and
load and strap it down all back up again.
It was around 11:30 when I finally took off. Traffic was heavy up until Enumclaw, and manageable through the Rainier NP.
Passing a dozen or so cars, I finally managed to cross it and headed to Randle.
Stopping there, I had lunch consisting of a nondescript, but ok burger, stared at a whole bunch of bikers in flashy Harley leathers and their lady companions, and finally took left turn and headed for FS 25.
What fun!
From that turn on and until the very end of the day it was all turns, turns, turns…
The bike handles pretty well loaded up. I was worried about the reduced lean angle with the boxes, but, soon enough, I completely forgot that they are there, and attacked the curves as aggressively as I could. Boxes are non-issue; at least, my lean angle is smaller than theirs.
There were tons of bikes out there, which is not surprising as I guess whole motorcycling community
was impatiently waiting for FS 25 very late opening, which finally happened only a day ago.
Finishing FS25, I suddenly found myself in quite a different terrain – Columbia gorge.
Wonderful two-lane, high speed sweepers, almost no traffic, river on the right, cliffs on the left, few tunnels, and a train to complement the picture.
Soon enough, I turned right onto narrow, long and grated bridge, took deep breath and let the bike do its thing – stay upright despite unnerving, on reflex level, feel.
75 cents later I was in Oregon and started climbing the hills into the Mt Adams vicinity.
Gradually, civilization faded again and I was once more in the world of curves.
A few turns and the road narrowed and became something that I cannot think of better name for
than “paved doubletrack”. Narrow, very good smooth pavement, in a middle of nowhere with speed
limit of 55? Sun was pretty low though and crossing from lit segments into shade was difficult; you almost could not see anything, so, periodically, I had to slow down.
Despite starting late, I’ve done more than 300 miles by then, and, once clock turned 7:30 decided
to call next campground I see the day.
And, soon enough, I saw the sign on the side of the road – not even sure now what it is called.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:26 AM   #3
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Day 2

Long, long, long, and “productive”, mileage wise, day. Individual segments start to blur into one endless curvy road. If things go this way, I might have to start taking notes few times a day to capture all the details.
I slept light. Mummy bags simply don’t work for me. I need to suck it up and pack a rectangular one, even if it means an extra dry bag. That way, may be the chair will fit too. Anyway, I got up by 7:30; while water was heating up, I packed, and, soon enough (as in, by 9) – packing is a bitch, I was on the road.
Started very predictable – nice forested curves, some open stretches, small towns… it all changed when I reached Old McKenzie highway. Talk about some gnarly stuff! 15 mph curves, one after another, climbing up and up through dense forest, with heavy oncoming traffic – that would give you a workout… I certainly increased “my lean angle” over boxes lean angle on that stretch.
Once I reached the top of that roller coaster, everything changed again – no forest.
Alien looking, black, with broken up surface hills – lava. Lava, lava and more lava, and the road plowed through lava. I would say lava to the horizon, and it was through, as there were some craters in the distance if not for the snowy peaks of the three sisters. Pretty interesting terrain. After the “workout” on McKenzie and the volcanic stuff I stopped in Sisters, OR for some well deserved lunch.
From there on through Bend, Mt Bachelor area, and onto some VERY STRAIGHT ROADS. The Very Straight roads persisted up until the very Crater Lake NP.
At the entrance booth of the park I was eagerly welcomed by… giant mosquitos. Needless to say, I did my best to cut the transaction of buying the intraagency pass short and proceeded up.
Well, crater lake has been described many times. In one word – amazing. I literally could not resist an out loud (and amplified by the helmet headset) WOW once I rode into the first view point. The whole area,
not just the lake, is simply astonishing. I’m going back to spend some time there for sure. Passing many VERY SLOW tourist cars, I rode through half of the rim drive and headed further south.
And, there was the first gotcha of the trip – as I headed out of the park, I realized that I’m down to the last bar on the fuel gauge. Quick query to the Grmin showe that there’s a Shell some 26 miles
ahead, so, with a thought that I’d make it I proceeded. At some point, I realized that the station may not necessarily be on my route, I told GPS to reroute to the station. It happily obliged.
Somewhat relieved, but soon anxious again as the last bar of the guage started flashing (as in, fumes), I rode through GPS-appointed via point to realize that it was not the gas station destination, but
just yet another via point on my route. A glitch in proud Garmin. Situation was starting to become critical – I already drove about 15 miles on the “Red”, so the bike could quit at any moment. Looking at the listed stations again, I found some no-name station 8 miles away and headed there. Finally, and I was VERY happy to see it, I pulled into some convenience store with some circa 1950 pumps. The gas for at least 60 cents pricier than it should have been, but, naturally, I was quite happy to pay the margin
Relieved, I was on the road again. At this point, I headed firmly East. More curves, even more grasslands with countless cows (highway pegs come in handy here), I was making a very good mileage for the day
and started thinking about the camp. I rode through yet another nationl forest, and, knowing that there are more flats ahead, it was a good spot to look for a campsite. And, soon enough, I saw a sign
saying “something-something campground – 15 miles” – with an arrow pointing away from the road. 15 miles did not scare me in a least bit, on the contrary, I thought, “this is cool, some remote campground in the mountains”. So, I took the forest road, and headed for the promised campsite. It was a pretty fun drive too – fairly narrow, completely empty, but still high speed road. GPS went crazy of course, trying to put me stright and back on course by telling me to take every single gravel road down, until I shut it off. Anyway, at about 15 miles or so, I come to a T-intersection to even larger (logging) road, with no campground anywhere in the sight and no further signs. Sun is starting to set, and I turn the GPS back on and, this time, follow its general diections still avoiding the gravel. I was pretty pissed – no campsite, sun is going down, I’m in a middle of nowhere and loosing time. Doing some 55, (and I got a chance to polish my gravel skills too, as one stretch of the road was, indeed, gravel), I finally find the way back – and, it turns out, I backtracked some 20 miles.
So, I go in the same direction again, pass the damn sign, look for some other, more obvious campgrounds, find none, and head further east. By the time I reach Lakeview, a nondescript town, it’s twilight, and I call it a day at a random hotel.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:27 AM   #4
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Day 3

I left the blinds closed (damn window faced outdoor hallway anyway), so the light did not wake me up – it was still around 8 though.
I washed most of my clothes ghetto style, in a sync, before going to bed, and they were drying out on the improvized drying rack (foldable luggage stand set on the bed – two bed room – in front of the A/C), so I was hoping they would be dry. The side facing the A/C was. I had spares anyway, and, it was time to test my “bike dryer” device – a meshed sack tied to the bike. Anyway, packing took long enough, and, grabbing some of the ”continental” breakfast the motel ws offering (as in, gas station quality rolls and OJ) I hit the road.
The first attraction of the day was Lake Albert – really very nice - the road curves in wide sweepers hugging the shore, cliffs almost overhang in some places from the other side, every turn
can be made at 60 or more – and almost no cars around… nice morning.
Once I passed the lake though, I entered BORELAND. As in, VERY STRAIGHT ROADS STRIKE BACK. At some point I folded out the highway pegs, leaned back, pretended I’m on the Harley and just opened the throttle. Miles and miles and miles of a road, as bullet flies. There’s certain kick in it, but a man can only take so much…
At some point, I started “varying speed” simply out of boredom and eventually hit 100 (indicated, and close to real, for a second or two). It was very tempting to just keep going that fast (the speed limit there should really be something like at least 80, instead of lousy 55), but I really did not feel like betting on police absence.
Today was pretty “high speed” day overall, even in curves. Anyway, the farmland pesisted pretty much all the way into Boise area, which, in retrospective, I should have just blown by via
Interstate – it was around 4, but the traffic looked like it’s rush hour. Eventually filtering through, I ended up on the mountain road climbing up with wide sweepers – that was fuuun. Interestingly, once I crossed into ID from OR, speed limit just bumped up 10 mph for the exact same conditions – kudos ID.
So, curves, speed limit is 65, most of the curves are marked 55, which means not even slowing down (from 75), or 40 or 45, which require some work. Things got even more interesting when I started downhill – there was this minivan with a roof top box, which actually managed to keep up with me the whole way down.
I get down into some small town, GPS tells me to take a right, and soon I end up on this road crammed into a narrow canyon - loose, deep gravel too. These tires suck on gravel, let me tell ya. I realize that I deliberatly planned this “detour” based on the shape of the road, but I did not realize it was THAT interesting… a couple of turns into it I realized that it goes forever, I have no idea what is the surface like further out, and I BARELY survive there – and, it’s 5. Taking “plan B” was a no brainer.
Somehow make a U-turn, track back, and before getting on the main road, stop and argue with the GPS that you did not really mean those 6 or 7 via points. I finally convinced it, and it directed me to a ”less adventurous” route (as it turned out, it was not a bad thing after all). The only caveat – before getting there I ended up getting stuck with a whole bunch of cars in construction zone on a one laner 1 mile before my turn off.
Once I made there though, it was pure fun onward – again, a road on one side of the canyon, river down below, cliffs above, 30-35 mph curves, and, plenty and plenty of campground sites – with such a luxury, vs previous day experience, I could pick and choose.
It was simple though – I decided I’m going to take the first one I see past 7:20, and just enjoy the ride.
So, here I am, on a side of a creek, typing away these notes.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:28 AM   #5
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Day 4

Slept better this time – mummy bag seems to be growing on me. Umm, not really. I adapt some, yes, but I’m getting a rectangular one for the next trip.
Anyway, I felt like moving, so I decided to skip the morning oatmeal and packed. Very nice when morning begins with curves – I was right in the middle of a canyon. It only got better from there. Soon enough, I got into what’s called Sawtooth Recreation Area.
Man, absolutely stunning. Beatiful. Truly breathtaking. I had hard time focusing on the road, although road itself was something as well. I, literally, would live there. Lush, green meadows with streams running through, surrounded by equally green hills that make you want to climb them, and snowy, ragged peaks on the horizon. Recreational location pointer literally every mile or so. Absolutely fantastic.
Eventually I arrived into Sun Valley, a typical cute resort town, refueled, refueled the bike and pushed on.
Road widened, so did the curves, and I headed up the hills again, soon reaching the “Craters of the moon”. Lava, lava and lava, pretty cool, actually. I took a stroll on a narrow trail in a middle of a lava field – amusing, really – and pushed on.
Southern wind was picking up, with pretty gnarly gusts, and persisted throughout the rest of the day. Road straighened out, terrain flattened, and for next few hours I was droning through country side with the bike leaned to the right – to compensate for the gusts. This was interesting, but fairly tiring, and, above all, eventually very boring.
I was pushing on, and, to my excitement, subtle changes started to appear. A slight incline, decline, then again… road takes a turn; one more; another one…
Terrain got greener, and actually became “terrain” instead of a flat plane. Soon, snowclad peaks of the Tetons appeared on the horizon – a cheerful sight!
Few more miles, and I’m on the Teton pass. Soon, I arrived at the Teton NP entrance booth, anxiously asking about campsite availability – only two campsites were still open, and one of them was another 50 miles away – I made a bet to the other one, and rushed there. To my relief, it was open. Mosquitos are super angry though, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and retreat to the tent.
Tomorrow – Tetons, Yellowstone and Beartooth highway!
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:29 AM   #6
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Day 5

What. A. Day.
Well, it all started kinda… could be better. Didn’t sleep well. It’s decided – I need a different tent, a different sleeping bag and a different pillow. Campground itself kinda sucked, really – it was more like a motel for RVs – I felt outnumbered there with my 2 person backpacking tent. Anyway, I woke up by 8:30 or so, packed fairly quickly (I ate canned food the night before, not having to wash pots in a bear country rocks) – although, the whole setup procedure starts getting old. The main problem is the tent – it’s not freestanding, so I HAVE to drive the pegs in. All 8 of them. All for total savings of a pound.
Anyway, I was soon on the way. In 15 minutes or so I was in Grand Tetons. I do want to go back, “on foot”, and hike around, of course, as those peaks and surroundings are tasty – up close. Traffic started picking up – and this is really the “theme” of the day – or, at least, its first half. Riding further north, I crossed from Tetons into Yellowstone – and here is where the madness began.
Seriously, if you need some reassurance that most people are morons – take a drive through yellowstone. You’ll find everything here – absense of reason, absense of common sense, absense of respect, and last, but not least, the utter and absolute absense of giving any fuck at all about anything.
There are too many of them, to begin with. There should be permits handed out for Yellowstone, as there is for some of the wilderness areas. Going to Yellowstone now is like going to a ball game – or a concert. Cars, cars, cars, people, people, people, people. Cameras. Whatever is there as far as the nature, gets completely overpowered by mind boggling amount of people there. This is by far the most overrated part of this trip.
They’ll stop right in the middle of the road to snap a picture of something, and I’m not even talking bison. They’ll jump out of cars onto the road, RV’s will get stuck or cross yellow stripe. They’ll pull out onto road in front of you. They’ll go below speed limit – just because. No doubt, the most despicable image of a tourist can be formed by looking at what visitors of the big Y is doing.
I felt completely wasted by the time I was done with the core part of the park, and headed for the northeast entrance and beartooth. Fortunately, things started to pick up, there were significantly less cars, road opened up, and despite some large collection of cars stopped for bison, most of them were stopped on shoulders.
Everything got wider and greener, and, soon, I left Yellowstone for good and headed onto the Beartooth highway. In one line – that stretch (well, it cannot really be called “a stretch”) of the pavement is the most mind blowing road I have even ridden.
First, past couple of small resort style towns, all traces of civilization are swept clean. You start climbing up, soon finding yourself in a heart of green, lush, alpine meadow. Road is narrow, but fast, sweeping around the hills. Lakes, firs and patches of snow. Seriously – that place should be called “Evergreen” and “Emerald”…
You go up and up and away, and there are more and more rocks around, and snow, and curves become tighter. Air cools down. Wind picks up, you feel the ominous breath of the mountains – I cannot imagine how it is here in winter. Meanwhile, turns wind up tight into 20 mph spirals going up, with a low railing and a cliff beyond. Wind is pushing the bike around and you work hard to compensate… look left, hard, over the shoulder.. motor revs in second gear, bike is fully leaned over, barely not scraping the pavement… hairpin done… straighen the bike up.. windblast… compensate, and immediately throw the bike in the lean into the opposite direction, looking over hard again… climb up, almost into the sky, turn after turn, surrounded by this unreal rugged beauty – less and less things are above you, and more are left below.
I pull into the turnout right before the last hairpin on the way up – wind blows hard, and it feels like you’re on the roof of the world. I take my time, hesitant to leave – it feels great up here, with wind blowing so hard it’s sometimes difficult to breathe. I linger, absorbing the sky and the snow, and the peaks around me.
Finally, I press on. There are more curves on top, but faster… and then the road drops down – on the other side of the pass. Flora changes – it’s all firs around, and roads changes too – it’s all the way down, long switchbacks. Speed up to 50, then slow down for a 20mph hairpin. repeat 50 times. Interestingly, this, being supposedly more work than just droning at 20, doesn’t tire me a bit. I feel refreshed, sharp, alert. Daze of Yellowstone is gone. I’m finally down, but Montana does not even think of offering a flat road – high speed sweepers persist all the way; I keep leaning the machine into 70 mph curves carved into wide hills with tons of beef grazing.
It’s about 8, when I, barely made 300 miles today, decide to call it a day and crash at nearby Super 8.
Tomorrow, I’ll push to Glaciers.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:29 AM   #7
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Day 6

High Speed Montana. Low Speed Construction.
I covered most miles so far on this trip today – almost 600. The day started on an Interstate – probably the only substantial stretch of an interstate on the whole route – about 70 miles. Gotta love Montana speed limits. All day, it was 80-85, even beyond the freeway… Wide open roads, even if they are tiny and in a middle of nowhere. Just gobbling up miles, leaning into wide high speed turns.. fun.
Mountains got closer and closer and closer… the road climb higher and it was obvious that Glaciers is around the corner. Road tightened up, 10-20 miles of twisties, and I’m at the registration booth.
” – What are my chances of getting a campsite?”
“- Try the West Glacier, we’re booked up here”.
And, I proceed on Going to the Sun road… passing the lake, it starts climbing among towering peaks… Everything is very beautiful around, but the road takes up a lot of attention – lots of cars, lots of pedestrians… To some extent, same “national park syndrome” as in Yellowstone, but not that severe. I climb up to the Logan pass, and it’s a zoo there. I stop, snap couple of pics and move on.
Glaciers… what Glaciers? Glaciers are nonexistent. The place is still very, very beautiful, but, obviously, needs to be renamed.
Not long after the Logan traffic severely backs up. There’s some sort of major contruction going on and long stretches of the road are one lane – and dirt. Needless to say, a lot of the cagers are completely freaked out by this and, even when there is an opportunity to actually move, do that in an excrutiating crawl.
Couple of long stops came in handy though – I was able to dismount, get the camera out of the top case (I’m so getting bigger tank bag), snap couple of pics, etc.
The road itself is amazing – I’m not even sure that even if was completely normal and empty, I would “attack” it in technical way – it’s very, VERY narrow, and one edge of it is not even defined – there is no shoulder, the pavement simply ends and the rock wall begins – and that rock wall is not straight – it bites into the road with irregular edges. At some point it actually overhangs the road. Waterfalls spash off of it, at some places there are drains made in the pavement and in some places there are not, so the water just flows over the road. In a few places you actually get splashed – kinda cool – and refreshing!
The whole way the road clings to the mountain side makes the feeling of being in the heart of the mountains very powerful – I want to go back when they are done with construction.
Finally made through stucks ups, I rode through the rest of the park with the usual traffic – campsite signs kept saying “FULL”, so I pushed on. Soon, the park was over. The route started curving back south towards Missoula. It started getting late and I still did not come across any campground, so, I finally gave up and found a tiny cowboyish motel with 10 rooms or so and funny speaking man – I am, apparently, in Flathead Reservation.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:30 AM   #8
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Day 7

Can you copy paste a road?
I reached Missoula pretty soon after I started out – largerish city,
scrambled through traffic a bit. After I was done with it, I headed up the Lolo pass – and this is
where expectations were so much more than reality. Is it that I got “spoiled” with all the wonderful places I’ve been riding though? The pass itself if ok, some fun curves, and when you descent you end up in the Clearwater national forest – the road, which completely consists of curves – one after another, stretches for almost 100 miles. What could be better, right – 100 miles of curves?
The reality is – it’s flat, crammed next to river at the bottom of the canyon and enclosed with hills and trees – so, first 20-30 miles are fun, and then you start feeling that you ride the same segment over and over again. It’s a nice cornering drill, but there are also cages there, which are, as usual, are freaked out about any turn that has a yellow sign before it. In the end, it’s not a cornering excercise, it’s a passing one.
By the time I was done with it, I was pretty dazed. Fortunately, things have gotten a little more fun, I changes one curvy road after another what looks like, countless times, and kept going northwest. Sun started to go down, and I started looking for a place to crash. I kept going through little towns with no accommodations whatsoever.
Eventually, almost in twilight, I ended up on a fantastic stretch of a road going through yet another NF which had wonderful curves, great pavement – and – no cages.I was literally alone there the whole time, throwing the bike from one turn into another at full speed. The only souls there were few cows right past the shoulder – yee haw, open range (with cattle guards on the road), and, on the downhill portion of it, a father and little daughter on bicycles rolling down – this was actually quite surprising and surreal. They looked like they started out of nowehere – or climbed the whole way up - in which case, kudos to the kid, who, by the size of the bike, should have been 5. Pink bike, pink helmet, pink clothes – at least it was highly visible
That last escapade was a very nice refreshment by the end of day, and, what’s cool is that at the end of it was this little cozy town with little decent looking motel where I happily crashed.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:30 AM   #9
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Day 8 (and final)

I realized that I did not take notes on the last day, so this is me reflecting on that day in a retrospective.
Day 8 and final. Originally I planned on 9 days, but it seems like I made good mileage.
I was practically “home” and was looking forward towards North Cascades NP. Reaching Twist and then Winthrop I had a flashback from my previous, rainy, escapade into this area. Next thing I know, I’m in the North Cascades NP – and in a middle of construction, big time.
Not again!!! This time, to keep it interesting – no asphalt. In a few miles I got adjusted to the gravel though, and things were fine. Except omnipresent endless flow of freaked out cars, of course. The gravel persisted thoughout the pass and well into the park.
Finally, I was out of it, back on tarmac, and taking a turn off of SR-20 to some smaller roads. I turned off the GPS – I was in the familiar territory now. It felt strange to be heading back, to know that tonight’s stop “will be it”. It got me in a strange mood – I was heading back, but mentally I was still back there, on the trip – or in the future – on the trip. The Next One. I knew what I needed to tweak on the bike, I was going through what whould I change in my camping setup, where would I go and what would I ride.
There’s no way around it. There is something special in being on the bike, eating up mileage, being out there under the sky, leaning through the corner in anticipation of what’s behind it.
I made 3300 miles in 8 days; it felt like I could keep going. I feel great exhilatation every time I recall the trip, and even greater when thinking about the future ones.
I’ll be back soon, for more.
The Route
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Old 02-17-2012, 05:41 AM   #10
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Great report I gotta get up to the great NW area, wow real beautiful!!

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Old 02-18-2012, 12:35 PM   #11
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Wow, what a great ride. I rode much of that route last summer, too. Just beautiful. Agree with you about Yellowstone. What a zoo. The amazing thing is, once you exit the park through Cooke City, the roads are practically deserted and the scenery is fucking jaw-dropping. Beartooth is... well, you described it perfectly. I know what you mean when you described the feeling you get when reflecting on a ride like this. It shakes your soul. Thanks for the report.
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