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Feed me a baked potato, stat!

September 12, 2009
Wind turbines and the GTS

Wind turbines near Goldendale, Wash. (Orin O'Neill)

The sun had not risen at 7:00 am. I rode past the groups of tweakers on NE 82nd, toward the airport. This would be the easiest place to get on I-205 and begin the journey to Spokane.

Traffic and the wind were light, and the merge onto WA 14 eastbound wasn’t tricky at all. But the road runs due east, so you face directly into the sun. Sun and wind. Wonderful.

Traffic all but disappeared east of Camas, and so far there was no wind. Where the trees didn’t block the sun, seeing the road was quite difficult. Luckily the painted lines were shiny and fairly easy to follow.

More luckily, the howling headwind I expected in the Gorge was sporadic and easy to deal with. The worst part was somewhere east of Hood River. There were whitecaps on the Columbia. I was thinking, oh, no. And it was a bit intense for a few minutes. But the road turned, and the wind disappeared.

I decided to take US 97 to Goldendale. There’s an observatory, and it’s often suggested as the best place to watch night-sky phenomena.

During the day, however, the wind turbines are the main attraction. There were dozens, evenly spaced on the ridges to the south and east.

The GTS climbed the hills with gusto, and before I knew it, we were in Goldendale. Such as it is. As I said, the sky is the attraction.

I filled the gas tank and asked the lady behind the counter about Bickleton Highway. Turns out it’s not a simple right turn, but a left, another left, and an acute left at the little sign that says “Bickleton.” Your journey to Bickleton begins with a sign that says “No Gas for 65 Miles.” Good thing I filled up.

Bickleton Highway is your quintessential farm road, following the rolling hills of ranches and farms. Oh, that twisty part on the map? Yeah, it is really that twisty, and includes a fairly steep descent and corresponding ascent from a small valley. Fun under some circumstances, but I’ve got a long way to go, and this is taking a lot longer than I thought.

But I could count the other cars I encountered on the route on the fingers of one hand. And a nice little coda occurs about 10 miles west of Mabton, where you crest a hill and find… the Yakima Valley!

However, another reality check occurred when the road ended. Yes, you must go either left or right, but I was expecting some signage saying, I dunno, WA 22, Yakima this way, Prosser that way.

I made the right turn and hoped for the best. Along the way, I asked three different people if I was going the right way, and not a one could tell me. One didn’t even know the name of the street in front of the place where she worked. Ladies, this is why guys don’t ask for directions! And this is why I would enroll my kids in a Mandarin immersion school. If I had kids, which I don’t.

Luckily, roads lead places, so I figured I’d either end up in Prosser or somewhere near I-82. I just kept going.

Sure enough, the road led to an intersection that included entry and exit to/from I-82. I’m running behind schedule. The SuperSlab is empty. What the hell.

The GTS’ speedometer shows 70 mph. The pavement is in decent shape and there’s nothing in my mirror. However, the non-round Sava front tire is transmitting a vibration that is downright uncomfortable. Since there is no traffic, and a whole other lane for people to pass, I drop my speed to 60.

Suddenly, a wave of traffic that seems to be almost all 18-wheelers descends upon me. The aero wash is frightening, and *whimper* I want off! Luckily, an exit for WA 224 appears, so I’m on it.

*Whew* I really wouldn’t have minded staying on I-82, since my original route through West Richland passes through your basic beige big-box suburban sprawl.

And I had to be back on a freeway in a few miles anyway, since you take I-182 to get to US 395. About 14 miles worth, in fact. Traffic, thankfully, is still light.

There’s the merge! And a new reality check. I thought 395 would be a main drag like Aurora Avenue or McLoughlin Boulevard. Nope. It’s a freeway.

The GTS needs gas, so I pull into a truck stop. I ask a guy driving a BNSF Ford Expedition how far it is to Ritzville. “An hour, hour and fifteen minutes tops,” he says. That sounds like 70 miles. Errr.

Well, there’s no other way to get where I’m going, so this is one of those times where I’ve just got to suck it up and do it.

I discover a new worst aero-wash source: car transporters. One blows by, which is bad, and pulls back to the right (as it should). The multiple vortexes from the vehicles being carried (including a Chevy Express with a ladder rack) pummel from all sides, jerking me to the right on a trajectory that leads to a big chunk of exploded truck tire that’s sitting on the painted stripe that defines the shoulder.

Luckily, the wash abated, the GTS’ heading once again straight, just missing the two-foot piece of tire tread. Another reason I avoid riding on freeways. Hit something like this, you’re toast.

Luckily, there are exits where I can pull off to catch my breath. And signs to provide the little psychological lifts. Spokane 100, Ritzville 40. Ritzville 30. Ritzville 13! Yeah!

Counting the mile markers as I go, I’m psychologically jumping up and down when “Ritzville, Next 2 Exits” appears. I made it! I’m alive!

Jake's Restaurant, Ritzville, Wash.

In town, there’s a diner called Jake’s. They advertise home-made pie. And I’m guessing their air conditioning is cranked. Time for a break.

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3 Comments
  1. September 13, 2009 11:10 am

    I do the trip through Spokane and up into Northen Idaho once a year. Between Richland and Ritzville is a straight and boring stretch. Be thankful for the wind gusts to break up the monotony!

    Seriously, I’m going to have to try it on a scooter at some point. It’s got to be a whole different experience than on a big sport tourer.

  2. September 15, 2009 1:12 pm

    Irondad, make sure you do your scooter trip on a scooter with a similar configuration to a big Vespa. A maxi (Burgman, Silver Wing) is longer, heavier and has a lower center of gravity. I imagine one of those would react differently.

    Our friend Chuck said Mother Nature was throwing everything she had at him in Canada and Montana, but his MP3 was totally unfazed by it. The extra front wheel makes a difference, for sure…

  3. September 15, 2009 8:04 pm

    Orin,

    Once when I was on 205 in Vancouver on my GTS there was a semi behind me, one in front of me, and one on the side. The turbulence made it seem like the front wheel came off the pavement and for a brief moment the steering was gone. When I told this to a motorcycle riding friend he said I probably did get a brief air lift. My plan B was to bail onto the shoulder but fortunately I didn’t have to do that.

    Ride safe.
    Mike

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