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The Longest Day

August 28, 2009
The GTS, loaded

Once again, the GTS is a beast of burden. (Orin O’Neill photos)

I’ve been in Portland almost a month. I wasn’t expecting to be here. I wasn’t expecting to be anywhere with a roof, quite honestly.

I got a storage space for the stuff I couldn’t get rid of, and left a few things with friends. Now that I have a place to lay my head, I found I needed those things. Since I don’t have a car, I took the GTS.

Wednesday night, I was looking at a road map and thinking about taking I-5 to Longview. It might save some time. And I’ve found I’m no longer uneasy about riding the GTS on freeways.

It’s about 50 miles from NE Portland to the exit that would connect with Westside Highway.

But during the morning commute (yes, people live in Longview and even Centralia and commute to Portland)?

I decide to take the Banfield (I-84) to I-5 and go as far north as Lombard Street. That’s the US 30 Bypass, which will go over the St. John’s Bridge and onto US 30.

Most of my trips on the Banfield have been during midday. Traffic is lighter, moving faster at that time. In the morning, you’re dealing with people who haven’t had their caffeine fix. A turn signal is interpreted as an invitation to pass.

After reminding myself several times I’m not going downtown, the Rose Garden comes into view. I’m doing the speed suggestion (Oregon has a “basic rule” speed law) and getting passed by everything in sight. So what else is new?

Lombard Street turns out to be a lot longer than I remember, so I’m northbound on US 30 a bit later than I’d hoped. Maybe I can make it up.

It’s full-on daylight as I cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge into Longview. While the World-Famous Scootin’ Old Skool map follows the southern loop of WA 411, I decide to cut through the middle of town on 15th and Washington Way. This should take several minutes off the trip.

If you don’t need gas, that is. But that’s okay, because I planned for a gas stop in Longview. I’m in Washington state, I can pump my own gas! Well, I usually can in Oregon; the attendants almost always hand over the nozzle and say, “you do it,” even though self-pumping is against the law.

Tank filled, Coke spilled on the floorboard, I’m back on the road. The last little bit of northbound 411 via Washington Way is a bit tricky. Though the signs may be counter-intuitive, follow them and you’ll be headed north on Westside Highway in no time.

In fact, the rest of the trip north was unremarkable. The route has become familiar, imprinted in my mind like all the other scooter trips I make. This time, however, the signs pointing to I-5 stand out. Hmmm, might I save some time? Probably not, since in nearly every case I-5 is far from where the sign is posted. Any time save on the freeway would be lost getting to/from the freeway.

But the trip is taking longer than I thought. I was supposed to meet our friend Chuck at noon, but at quarter ’til I’ve only made it as far as Tacoma. Can we meet at 1:00? Sure, he says, a bit of skepticism punctuating his answer. Whatever did we do without cell phones?

I’m on 99, but at the entrance to the Port of Tacoma, traffic is being controlled by a police officer who seems focused entirely on letting trucks in and out. Several long lights later, I’m still in Federal Way at 10 to 1:00. I call Chuck again. He has things to do, can we meet later? Not a problem, I have other things to do myself. Whatever did we do without cell phones?

It’s warm in Seattle, but it’s warmer in Portland. Portland doesn’t have a Puget Sound to moderate the temperature.

First stop, storage unit. Second stop, Mr. Robert’s Styling Studio. He was kind enough to hang onto my M65 parka, which I will soon need.

When I said I’d be returning to Portland in the evening, Mr. Robert said, “you’re crazy.” Repeatedly. Well, circumstances dictate that.

I wouldn’t dispute the crazy part, either.

Our friend Chuck's MP3

After a late lunch at Taco Time (which is a very different kind of restaurant in Portland), I meet our friend Chuck at his place. He has mounted the 47 liter topcase from his GTS onto his new Piaggio MP3-400. It’s way up there, almost at the level of his head. He will soon embark on a 3,000 mile road trip, part of which will take in southern Vancouver Island. Bobskoot will accompany him on that leg, on his new Suzuki V-Strom. Geez, all these people are getting new bikes. There are deals out there now, for sure. Especially from motorcycle/scooter shops that are closing. 😦

The GTS once again a beast of burden, I’m ready to head home back to Portland. Chuck is going to meet his wife, so we ride together on Elliott. I wish I had a video camera. Seeing the MP3 on the road is an even greater cognitive dissonance than contemplating it at rest (we both agree it resembles a praying mantis).

My thought is to hit the Viaduct southbound to West Seattle, and take the ferry to Vashon. In theory, I could make the trip entirely on the full tank of gas I got before going to Chuck’s.

On Western, traffic is clogged to the Viaduct onramp. That usually means the Viaduct is also clogged. The radiator fans are cycling on and off. Okay, I can take the waterfront.

The reduction in temperature is scant compensation for looking over at the Viaduct and seeing traffic zooming along at speed limit+.

But when I get to the Fauntleroy ferry dock, the boat is seconds from the slip. There’s just enough time to get a ticket. There’s a bicyclist and three motorcycles in addition to the GTS and me. The best thing about riding Washington State Ferries with a 2-wheeler. In fact, one of the motorcyclists is telling a woman in a Honda Accord, “you need to get a bike!”

Mount Rainier

I’m not consciously making a mad dash across the island, though not knowing when I’ll be riding Vashon Highway again is in the back of my mind. I arrived at Talequah to find the M/V Rhododendron waiting in the slip. Such timing!

Ruston Way is pleasantly cool as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s a little after 8:00 pm. *Sigh!* Fall will soon arrive, and sunset will soon be shortly after 4:00 pm. I find that incredibly depressing.

But in the here and now a new dimension will come into play as I head south: darkness. I’ve ridden this route in cloudy weather and even rain, but never when the sun was down.

The little turnouts on WA 507’s railroad crossings are still handy, as pulling to the short right lane lets people behind me pass. Except for one Mitsubishi Eclipse, everybody gets what I’m doing.

I stop in Centralia, not for gas, but to give my glutes a break. I’ve lost about 80 lbs. in the last year or so, and there’s no more padding on my bum. The GTS’s seat, which I still think is well-shaped, now feels a bit lacking in the padding department. Chuck took his MP3 to Rich’s for seat customization; I might have to give that some thought.

Back on the road, it’s totally dark, save for the light of a half moon. Which is not much. No street lights in the sticks. I have to use the high beam. A lot.

But even the high beam doesn’t offer much light on a freshly paved stretch of Jackson Highway. There are some widely-spaced reflective yellow tape things dividing the road, and no fog line at all. It’s like riding on… nothing. The half moon is obscured by clouds. Unfortunately, camera won’t take pictures of such things.

The fuel gauge is showing fewer bars than I’d like, but the lack of traffic makes a 35-40 mph pace possible. The signs pointing to I-5 are even more prominent. But I still think I’m better off in the sticks. We’ll see how things go.

Oh, boy! The left turn to Toledo! Toledo is a town that’s in bed by 10:30, all the lights out and no activity save for a group of little kids playing in someone’s yard. On a school night?

Heading south from Vader, there’s more traffic, so I need to turn the high beams off fairly frequently. Going around one curve, I turn them off and turn them back on again.

A deer appears in the road, as if by magic.

Luckily, I’m going slowly enough to avoid a collision. And laying on the horn gets the deer on its way. I wouldn’t want to take out Bambi’s mom, but I’d be just as likely to be taken out, being on a scooter.

It’s really, really dark. Where I can’t use the high beams, the old endurance racer’s trick of using other vehicles’ lights to find your way is very useful.

Oh, snap! I come to the torn-up part of Westside Highway. In daylight, there was a detour around the gravel and mud. Not at night, however.

There’s no other traffic, so I go slowly around the “Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution” sign, looking for a mud path through the rather large chunks of gravel. I’m scared to death of a puncture. Not here, not now, PLEASE!

Emerging onto pavement, I realize Longview is not far. And while US 30 is unpleasant during the day, there should be little or no traffic at… 11:30 pm?!

There are only three bars on the fuel readout, but that’s okay. Longview is a perfect place for a last, legal self-serve fillup.

The Lewis & Clark Bridge appears eerie and ghostlike as I approach. Must be the white paint. The GTS and I have the bridge to ourselves.

“Welcome to Oregon.” Looping south, it’s dark in Rainier, Ore. There’s no traffic. And no visibility without the high beam. A 40-mph pace will conserve gas. I’m getting tired. My butt hurts.

The GTS in Scappoose

So much so that I need to stop in Scappoose. I sip on a Cherry Coke and contemplate the trip. Something like 400 miles in 18 hours. The GTS has shown itself to be every bit the trouper the PX was, though with more of an electric-motor character than a hummingbird heart. While I love riding it, I hope I don’t have to make a trip like this again.

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7 Comments
  1. August 28, 2009 8:52 pm

    Orin:

    wow, I was on the edge of my seat wondering if you made it home safely. Chuck’s topcase looks like the empire state top box, it does look to be very high. You don’t have to remind us of 4pm sunsets during Winter. There’s still one month of summer left to enjoy.

    in your photo, you should have placed your GTS in the foreground. with Chuck’s MP3-400 in the front it looks huge as compared to yours. From a safety standpoint that top box adds to visibility. I can paste some reflective tape on it when Chuck gets here next week.

    bob
    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  2. August 29, 2009 2:58 am

    Glad you made it back in one piece, Orin!
    Love the new marquee!
    When did Chuck upgrade to this MP3-wheeler?!
    Is he keeping the red GTS?
    That humongous top case could use some LED’s, I think.

    _Lorenzo

  3. August 29, 2009 6:29 am

    Praying Mantis, indeed! In truth I was both excited and intrigued by the concept of the MP3 when Piaggio first introduced it a couple years ago. The look of the scooter, however, was a huge stumbling block to me. But, a great price from the Bellingham dealer closing its doors, the lure of greater stability on the highway and a little more power all conspired to tip me over the edge this past July. I’ve not been disappointed with my purchase. Nevertheless, I’m still not wild about the look of the beast though I guess I hope it will grow on me.

    Riding back roads in the dark is not my idea of fun. Like Mr. Robert said, “you’re crazy”. However, when circumstances dictate certain behavior there’s not much alternative. I’m glad to hear you made it back to Portland safely and without incident, Orin.

    Chuck

  4. August 29, 2009 10:00 am

    Just a little input from a law enforcement point of view regarding the “basic rule”. Not many folks know it, but that no longer applies in Oregon. It just got too subjective. Somebody would get pulled over and argue that they were driving or riding within the limitations of the road, weather, and their vehicle. How is the cop to know if the car has a great suspension or a piece of crap underneath it, for example? What was within limits for one person might not be for another.

    Now the ruling is “posted speed limit” only.

    To Chuck: I would practice swerves on the MP-3. We’ve had a few come through our skills clinics. Riders have a hard time judging where the front end is. They end up taking out the cones. Which means the outside wheel will hit the obstacle. For what it’s worth.

  5. August 29, 2009 1:18 pm

    Haven’t been keeping up with your travels until today. I was surprised to find you are living on Portland. I want to complement your on a nice piece of writing. I was hooked by the narrative of your trip to Seattle and then a return in one day. BTW, losing 80lbs in a year…I doubt I would recognize you if I saw you again. Congrats

  6. Macavite permalink
    August 31, 2009 4:29 pm

    A minor point really, but in Oregon motorcyclists and Scooter riders are allowed to pump their own gas. That ammendment was signed into law in 2001. Details here:

    http://oregonmotorcyclist.com/misc_page.php?page=pumpgas

    And good thing too, as many attendents don’t know how to, and will just jam the nozzle into the tank and set it to “autofill”. A new rider I know thought her bike was broken because it suddenly stopped working. It seemed like she was out of gas but she had just had it filled!

  7. August 31, 2009 4:41 pm

    Macavite, thanks for the info. It seems there are still lots of gas stations in Portland (or attendants, anyway) that haven’t gotten the word…

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