WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderNorth 3 - Tonasket, Washington
Date: Sun, 03 Jun 2001 22:08:17 -0700

    Only a motorcyclist would understand.
    When asked at the LDRiders lunch "Where are you going next?", I answered "Vancouver ..." (which is only 130 miles from Kirkland) "... but I'm going to take two days to get there." So here I am 350 miles east of Seattle, and tomorrow I actually turn toward Vancouver. The motorcyclists would nod in understanding.
    Ok, all you non-Washingtonians - the secret they've been keeping from us is found out! WA20 is one of the most scenic roads you'll find anywhere in the West. In several places it reminds me of Colorado, in other places it is Wyoming, and throughout all it is a nearly perfect road surface. I didn't even know there is a North Cascades National Park, but this goes right through it. And it makes quite clear where the name comes from. The mountains cascade down upon each other with nearly vertical faces right to the edge of the road or a river or a lake. These are as rugged as the spine of the Rockies, but just not at so high a base elevation. Underscoring this with subtle honesty, a sign at the entrance to the small town of Marblemount says "gateway to the American Alps".
    Wanderluck weather is holding. After two days of liquid sunshine while I was mostly stationary, the yellow dry version of sunshine was in the skies as I rolled into the North Cascades Scenic Highway. The clouds seemed to be caressing the ridgetops and the forests answered by giving up wisps of steam to merge in the mist. Where the sun warmed the pavement, trails of vapor danced into the air and jumped aside as I passed. The air felt alive and verdant. It was all quite sensual. Mornings, motorcycles, and mountains are a nice mix.

    Did Mormons originally settle Washington? Is there a main temple about 30 miles northwest of dead nowhere in the forest? Why in blazes are the streets in each small town along WA530 numbered 228th SE, 307th SE, 415th SE ... ? To what do they give homage? (and Why do these little things bother me?)
    This is not high country, but despite the calendar it is still only early spring in the vegetation. The wild flowers are not finished blooming in the deep valleys. Some fruit trees are still dropping blossoms. Winter isn't severe here, so it must be the lack of sun. But today is a brilliant sunny Sunday, and the little churches shine with overflowing lots of parked cars.
    About 20 miles past the sign "last services for 87 miles" I see what I consider a real 'test of faith'. A man and a woman are riding a tandem bicycle up an incline steep enough for me to consider downshifting to make it easier on the engine. Bicyclists amaze me in places like this. They should either be admired for determination or committed for insanity, but I wonder how good a relationship it takes for that couple to survive the ride. Bad enough to have to fight gravity up the hill, but to be tied that close for that long to every movement each rider must coordinate sounds like more than I could stand. (I downshift, and twist the grip.)
    Something else here tests *my* faith - faith in my willingness to believe what I see is not a threat. The Washington DOT has painted the highway guard rails an umber brown. To my long range danger scanning visual sweep, every rail looks like a possible deer in the bush. It is unnerving to have to stop scan and focus on every brown threat, but I just can't shake the need to be sure.

    Needing a rest, I stop for gas in the little town of Twisp and find the punderful Cinnamon Twisp bakery. Their specialty is a cinnamon twist with a lisp - a twisp of an extra loop. And I have to say the three young lovelies who bake the goods are as delicious looking as the pastry. Oh, what buns they have.
    Speaking of taste and food ... I passed a bumper sticker that had at least a triple entendre. Now I enjoy good wordplay, but is this an assertion of ability, an encouragement for cannibals, or a salacious enticement: Vegetarians Taste Better

    Since afternoon showers were forecast in the pass, I timed the morning to get me to the east slope early. Now what to do? Like reading entrails, I spread the map and wait for enlightenment. Oh, look at that. The Grand Coulee Dam is only what ... 100 miles away. Sure, why not. A motorcyclist would understand. Once there, a LDRider would say "nice pile of concrete, what's next?" It earned about 20 minutes of my attention before the call of the road shouted it down.
    Unexpected find of the day: the grave of (Nez Perce) Chief Joseph is in Nespelem.
    Unexpected incident of the day:

    The left turn.

    We motorcyclists have to deal with an awareness that most drivers don't know exist. We have to act as though we are both invisible and unavoidable at the same time. A good rider hopes to identify when a driver sees us but avoids recognizing us.
    It was a depression between two hills with about a half mile or more unobstructed view from either hill. At the bottom was a single side road intersecting on my right. The car and I were the only two vehicles on the road. I saw the car begin to slow as it came down its hill. Its slowing made me aware of the side road. Still slowing, the car put on its signal and came to a stop for the turn ... but what triggered the warning was my being still about 1,000 feet from the turn. The car had more than enough time to turn but was waiting. He must see me - but will he then decide I am still 'far enough' away? (Drivers often have difficulty estimating the speed of a single approaching light.) If I slow, it will encourage him to move. So I prepared for evasive moves.
    Sure enough ... when I was about 250 feet out (about 3 seconds at 60 mph), he started his turn - then saw me upon him and quickly stopped dead in the middle of my lane. A rider not paying attention often panic breaks, and there would have been no time to stop. Swerving to the right works only if you are dead certain he will not change his mind again and 'get out of your way'. If you are not dead certain you could certainly be dead.
    Having already checked and prepared, I swerved left as though passing a car. The woman in the passenger seat was waving her hands and shouting at him ... I couldn't quite make out her words, but the message was clear.

355 miles
Kirkland I405 I5 WA530 WA20 WA153 US97 WA173 WA17 WA174 WA155 US97 Tonasket
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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