Saturday, March 24th, 2012

This had been a hectic week. I needed a good, open-road ride to shake off the malaise of winter. The weather has finally warmed a bit and we’ve had several days of sunshine, blessed sunshine!

My original plans would have had me in Spokane this weekend. I have a motorcycle lift ordered through a distributor in Spokane. The shipping from Spokane is several hundred dollars more than it would cost for me to pick it up, so I had a plan in place to drive over to pick it up. The salesperson on the other end of the internet updated me with an arrival date in Spokane of Tuesday, March 26th. That meant my trip over the mountains would have to be postponed a week.

I had planned to attend Randy’s End of Winter ride. It’s a very large local gathering that Randy has started and organized, in which a couple hundred motorcyclists gather to ritualistically kick winter to the curb with a ride up the western approach to Mount St. Helens. There are people and bikes from all facets of the riding community. The ride starts in Castle Rock, about 200 miles of freeway from me. Getting up at 5 am on a Saturday morning, after putting in a shift on Friday night, was more than I was ready to do. I had a tough week at work and I didn’t want to brave the city traffic both directions.  I will do it one of these years but, since I had already cancelled my attendance in anticipation of a trip to Spokane, I decided to find something closer to home to do.

On Friday my friend Marv showed some interest in making some sort of ride Saturday. We decided to make a trip up Highway 20 to where the road is closed for the season. We met in Smokey Point at nine in the morning. I had a route of roads we frequent to the north, and then east.

The roads were in pretty good shape. The morning started out cool, around 37°. The roads were wide open for us. There was very little traffic. That’s a real bonus when riding with others. Passing when riding in tandem or with a group, always takes more time and consideration. It’s better to have no need to pass.

We made a stop for coffee and gas in Marblemount on the way east. The next section of highway between that stop and Newhalem was exquisite. The road was uncluttered. Its surface was smooth and dry. We glided over it with a gliding hum; our engines the only audible human activity.

Highway 20 runs east and west through the northern section of Washington. The western section that we were on goes through the Seattle City Light hydroelectric project. There are three major dams on the Skagit River. Newhalem is a small community where the employees that maintain the facilities live. The town is situated at the foot of the western-most dam.

We slowed down on the approach to Newhalem, as would anyone who’s ever rolled through the little hamlet. I was surprised at how still it was. Nothing moved. It only lacked the tumble weeds and perspiration to be the set from a post-apocalyptic, straight-to-cable “B-movie.”

The next section of highway between Newhalem and the road-closed gate was intermittently strewn with varying amounts of sand. About two miles before reaching the gate we discovered the road was covered with packed snow along a section that was in the shade of the cliff wall. Neither of us having any reason to see the gate, we decided to spin around and start the return ride.

We stopped in the middle of the eastern, short bridge across the turquoise Diablo Lake for the novelty of it. I’ve never been there at a time when that would be possible, and figured it was a good chance to take a couple of photos.

We weaved along the Skagit to the Highway 530 junction, and turned south toward Darrington. We took a short break in Darrington. I hadn’t had anything to eat all day so I kept coming back to the subject of food. Marv rooted around in his tail bag and presented a couple of granola bars. That would do the trick until I could get a proper meal. After looking at my back tire we came up with a plan.

It was still early in the day, so we went north up Highway 9. We followed some traffic skirting along Lake McMurray and Big Lake. From Sedro Woolley we took the F&S Grade road to Prairie Road, to Parsons Creek Road, finally making our way to my garage, home of my extra wheel.

We swapped out my rear wheel, and rode off for a meal. It was a good day of riding, and a great first Saturday of Spring.

Here is a link to my tracks.

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