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Departing the City of Roses

April 5, 2007

Union Station, PortlandMonday morning was overcast and chilly. It was time to go home.

Safety Ed had suggested renting a truck to haul the PX home, but given his condition (and, well, mine) getting it into a pickup or a van was simply not a possibility. No, I said, let’s put you on a train, and I’ll ride home.

When Safety Ed and I first talked about this trip, I had floated the idea of leaving Sunday afternoon after the ride was over, and going north until it got dark. The “STP route” runs through lots of little towns with (presumably) cheap motels, so it could’ve been economical.

However, as I begin the trek north on Yeon Avenue (I’d love to know who—or what—it’s named after) I conclude it was a much better idea to wait until Monday. Late Sunday afternoon, there’s a lot of traffic… people are getting home from activities and day trips, they’re tired, they may be cranky and they’re thinking about the beginning of a new work week.

But traffic is light after 9:00 am, and I’ll be on a 4-lane segment of US 30 until St. Helens. It’s always best to travel with a buddy if you’re going to be riding on well-traveled highways, but I think I’ll be okay. The cars I raced in my SCCA days were low-powered devices like Datsun 510s, VW Rabbits and Mazda Miatas. Since such cars were often grouped with faster ones due to SCCA Regional Racing’s class structure (think of the six-and-under division of any suburban sporting activity: everybody gets a blue ribbon), one’s survival depended on watching one’s mirrors as much as watching what’s ahead.

I’m more concerned about rain. The weather forecast said rainfall would most likely happen before lunchtime in Portland, but there could be afternoon showers in points north. Because of the way some rural roads are paved, little slick spots can develop when the pavement gets wet, a bit of a concern when you are riding flat-out (and flat-out is 45 mph).

When the road narrows down, I’m pleased to see there are wide, hard shoulders; I can pull off and let faster vehicles pass without endangering myself. People seem to have mellowed out considerably. Nobody flips the bird… in fact, there are friendly waves from truckers.

Before I know it, I’m in Longview. The hard part is done, but I’m a bit wrung out. There’s a Starbucks on the Washington side of the Lewis & Clark Bridge, so I stop to use the facilities and order up a Grande mocha. While I’m wearing long underwear and multiple layers, I feel chilly, so a hot something will hit the spot (and warm my hands).

North of Kelso, the skies darken and little droplets appear on my face shield. Okay, whatever, I think. But the droplets stop, and there’s a bit of blue sky. I hesitate to put on the rain gear, because I’ve found if you wear rain gear when it’s not raining, your clothes get almost as wet as they would have if you’d gotten rained on. Same deal, only worse, if you put rain gear on wet clothing, especially if the sun comes out. You can get steamed like broccoli.

Still no road rage, thankfully. I’m usually able to find a place to pull over without seriously inconveniencing those behind me.

Mmmm, I reach Vader and turn right on Toledo-Vader Road. Toledo means Jackson Highway is just up the hill. Jackson Highway, good. Forty mph speed limit, very good.

About halfway to Toledo, more droplets. More urgent droplets. I look at the gas gauge and see there’s about a quarter of a tank left. The 76 station that was my landmark going to Portland will be a good place to stop. Especially since I must, once again, use the facilities.

However, the sign on the door of the 76 station’s mini-mart says, “No Public Restrooms.” At least the gas pumps are under a canopy, I think as the droplets turn to full-fledged rain. There’s a burger shack across the street called Betty’s. The clerk in the mini-mart says yes, Betty’s has a restroom. It’s about quarter to one, so I’m due for a lunch break. Betty’s it is.

Some people I’m guessing are Betty’s regulars make conversation, asking where I’m coming from. Strangely, no one exclaims, “you rode all the way from Portland/Seattle/wherever on that thing?!” The questions were more like “does it go 60” (nope, 45) and “is that a moped” (nope, it goes 45).

By the time I finish my chiliburger and blackberry shake, it’s not only stopped raining, the sun is out, the sky is blue and there are lots of fluffy white clouds. The PX’s seat is even dry. Onward!

In spite of the suburbanization of the area along Jackson Highway, the smell of manure, pungent going down, is even more so following the rain. Chehalis, then Centralia pass as SR 507 winds north. By this time the traffic has picked up, and with it the number of drivers who seemed not to know what to make of the strange black 2-wheeler in front of them.

A blue Mustang had pulled up behind me, and I caught glimpses of other cars behind it. In Washington, the law requires you to pull over if five or more vehicles are stacked up behind you. Luckily, there was a railroad crossing ahead; the crossings on SR 507 expand to two lanes in each direction for about 50 yards on each side of the tracks. Perfect pullover spot, right?

I pull into the right lane, but the Mustang and a metallic red car behind him have followed me! No, you idiots! You were supposed to pass me!! Fortunately, the hard shoulder was wide, so I was able to stop and wave the group by. Turns out there were a lot more than five cars.

Other parts of 507 are wide enough that you can pull to the far right and give vehicles behind you plenty of room to pass. Most of the time, they figure it out. Of course, there are some drivers, like the young woman in the blue Corolla, who don’t. She followed me really closely (like about three feet off my license plate) for a considerable distance, so I figured when the road widened and the solid yellow lines became a single dashed line, she’d be around and gone in a flash.

I pulled to the right and slowed down slightly, something the majority of drivers will take as an invitation to pass. But Corolla Girl slowed down with me. Arrghh! I motioned frantically with my Glo-Glov‘ed hand, but she remained stuck to my license plate until about 50 feet before the dashed line turned to double solids, when she finally took the hint and whipped around.

Pacific Avenue was a welcome sight. I had decided to take the Vashon Island ferry from Pt. Defiance to Talequah, and then from Vashon to Fauntleroy, which meant going through downtown Tacoma.

“The City of Destiny,” as Tacoma is known, has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years, with the construction of several museums and the renovation of many old buildings. Downtown Tacoma is not a place where any real business or retail activity takes place, and hasn’t for years. The hope seems to be that people will buy pricey condos near the museums and entertainment, and have Sound Transit’s Tacoma Link streetcar to take them to commuter trains or buses.

Washington State Ferries gives priority to bicycles, motorcycles and scooters at ferry docks… you get to jump the queue and board first, even if you show up just as the boat is docking. I board the Rhododendron at Pt. Defiance with a guy on a Harley. He’s off into the distance at Talequah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Sito Plus pipe and upjet.

On group rides, we usually travel at a mad pace to make sure we catch the ferry at Vashon. I’m thinking, since I’m not in any particular hurry, I’d take a leisurely ride. But I get a bit of a rude awakening.

Oh, the speed limit on Vashon Highway is 50 mph. And where did all this traffic come from? I’m on an island, for gosh sakes. There are hard shoulders, and some newly-posted 25 mph zones, so that helps.

I come down the hill to the Vashon dock to find the Tillikum just pulling in. I park next to an old blue Honda Elite, a scooter that probably got dug out of a pile of junk in a garage when gas first hit three bucks. I leave the PX’s engine running, since cars started pulling off the Tillikum as soon as I parked.

On board, behind cars that got on at Southworth, I button up the bike and head upstairs. This will be a nice little break. I’m pooped. Favicon

One Comment
  1. April 5, 2007 5:32 pm

    As a postscript, I got off the ferry at Fauntleroy and took my usual route back from West Seattle via Spokane Street and East Marginal Way. I got to Safeco Field just as the Mariners game let out. It took about an hour to get from the south cruise ship terminal to my place.

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