Motorcycling with “Biker Bob”

A weekend motorcycle trip with a good friend.

We’d been talking about doing it since spring 2014: riding our motorcycles on the Cascades Loop. That’s a scenic drive on Routes 20 and 2 in Northern Washington State that goes through the Cascade Mountains. Here’s a great description from the Cascade Loop website:

Beginning just 28 miles north of Seattle, circle through the Cascade mountains, along the semi-arid Columbia River Valley, past glacier-fed Lake Chelan, through the wildlife-filled Methow Valley and North Cascades National Park, and into the Puget Sound. We are a path into nature, a road through friendly towns, and a rest stop at the end of your day with comfortable lodging and delicious Northwest cuisine. The Cascade Loop is the best road trip vacation in Washington State!

Cascade Loop
Here’s what the Cascade Loop looks like on a Google Maps image. Wenatchee is in the southeast corner.

Of course, you don’t have to start in Seattle. You can start anywhere on the loop. And since the loop goes right through Wenatchee, it makes sense for people who live in that area to start there.

The Back Story

Who’s “we”? My friend Bob and I. I met Bob back in the summer of 2013, during Century Aviation’s annual hangar party at the airport. It was a memorable party, mostly because (1) I was on crutches and (2) the cliffs up behind my future home were on fire and we could clearly watch pine trees exploding into flames from the airport only 4 miles away. Bob works for the local PUD as a quality control inspector at building sites. He’s been riding motorcycles his whole life. He prefers cruisers, like a typical Harley Davison, but these days he’s riding a sweet Moto Guzzi. He keeps his bikes — he always has a few of them — in pristine condition.

We talked about doing the ride, but never did it. That’s because it never got on my calendar. The summer ended and fall came briefly before it got very cold. Highway 20 closed for the season.

In the meantime, we traveled together to visit Bob’s friends Liz and Brad for Thanksgiving weekend. They live in Friday Harbor, which is on San Juan Island out in the Sound near Seattle. It was a long drive on Route 2 to the ferry. Bob drove his truck, which is only two-wheel-drive but had brand new tires. That was a good thing because my snow driving skills suck after years of living in Arizona and it snowed in Stephens pass on the way home that Saturday. So when we started talking about the Cascades Loop again in spring 2015, Liz and Brad’s house became a potential destination.

I told Bob that if it wasn’t on my calendar, it wasn’t going to happen. So in May 2015, we put it on my calendar for the last weekend in August. From that point forward, I scheduled everything around it to ensure it would happen. We made plans with Liz and Brad so they’d expect us for the weekend. I even made ferry reservations.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t going to let us do the trip as planned. She threw some lightning down near Twisp and Newhalem in mid August. That started a number of wildfires that soon got out of control. WADOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) closed down Route 20. We waited patiently for them to reopen it, but it didn’t look as if it would happen.

Keep in mind that the main goal of the trip was to ride the Cascade Loop — including Highway 20. I’d done part of it earlier in August with Kirk on a camping trip, but I really wanted to do it on my motorcycle with Bob. I’d already ridden the other half of the loop — Route 2 — multiple times. I was prepared to postpone the trip for another time. But Bob didn’t seem interested in postponing it. And since I looked forward to a motorcycle trip — my Yamaha had been gathering dust in the garage for almost a full year (!) — we did the trip.

The Ride Out

I brought my motorcycle to Bob’s place a week before the trip. He said he wanted to look it over for me and I had no problem with that. I think Bob really likes to tinker with motorcycles.

I’d been having a problem with a wobble in the front wheel since I had new tires put on in the spring of 2012. I’d bought good tires — Metzelers — but Bob seemed to think one of them was defective. He ordered a new tire for me. Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive in time to get it mounted, so I stuck with the tire I had. The wobble wasn’t really that bad anyway. (More on this in the Postscript below.)

Penny on a Motorcycle
Here’s Penny on the back of my motorcycle. This shot was taken right before we left on the ride home, but it shows the setup with my hard luggage and Penny’s crate atop the back seat.

On Friday morning, I arrived bright and early in my truck with Penny and my luggage. I’d packed a few changes of clothes and toiletries and a my journal in my big zipper tote bag, which would fit comfortably in one of my bike’s two Givi hard bags. I’d put the Givis on back in 1993, when the bike was new; it’s remarkable how much the bags have changed since then. I also had a smaller bag with snacks and food for Penny. Yes, Penny the Tiny Dog did come with us — she rides in a hard-sided dog kennel bungee-netted to the back of my bike. I also had the red waterproof shell I’d bought as an outer layer for cross-country skiing. (Mother Nature was being extremely uncooperative by throwing rain into the forecast for the weekend, too.)

We loaded up and I wore my leather motorcycling jacket for the first time in at least eight years. It fits a bit loosely now after my big 2012 weight loss, but is very comfortable and quite warm — even without the cold weather lining, which I’d left home. All I needed under it was a t-shirt. Bob wore his Harley boy leathers — t-shirt, leather vest, and leather jacket. He made fun of my hiking shoes — he wore worn cowboy boots — but I explained that I needed traction when I stopped and my cowboy boots didn’t cut it. He told me he wanted me to lead and to keep on the right side of the lane. We’d ride in a standard staggered formation and he promised not to crowd me. That was all fine to me. I was rusty and I knew it would be a while before I was back up to speed — literally and figuratively.

We stopped for gas in north Wenatchee before getting on Route 2 and heading west. I had a stop to make in Leavenworth — I needed to pay for the closet doors I’d ordered from a supplier there — and I took the opportunity to don my waterproof jacket and tuck some plastic around the outside of Penny’s crate. It was a good thing I did because we hit rain between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass. By the time we got there, however, I was feeling quite comfortable on the bike again — comfortable enough to pass all the cars in front of me so they wouldn’t spray me with road water.

The ride was uneventful and admittedly not very pleasant. Although I was mostly warm and dry within my layered jackets, with my full-face helmet keeping my head dry, my jeans were a bit wet and my hands were cold in my summer-weight gloves. Not the best riding conditions. But as we headed down the west side of the mountains, the rain cleared out and and it warmed up. I’d be dry soon enough.

Bob took the lead when we stopped for a light in Skykomish and guided us off the main road. It was around 10 AM at this point and I was hungry. I guess he was, too, because he stopped in front of the Cascadia Inn, which was still serving breakfast. There was a fenced-in yard beside the restaurant and after asking permission, I let Penny loose in there. She (predictably) sat by the gate, waiting for us to come back out. I had a nice bacon and eggs breakfast, saving a bit of it for Penny, who doesn’t eat well when we travel. She chowed it down when we came out forty-five minutes later. We took a short walk to stretch our legs, then mounted back up and continued on our way.

Because we were taking Route 2 rather than Route 20, we faced a choice on getting to Anacortes, which is where the ferry would take us from to Friday Harbor. We could either ride north on the I-5 corridor to Anacortes or ride slightly south to Mukilteo to catch a ferry to Whidbey Island and ride up the island to Anacortes. Neither of us wanted to take I-5, so we did the Whidbey Island route instead. I let Bob lead the way.

One of the great things about being on a motorcycle on Washington State’s ferry system is that you get to go right to the front of the line. Bob bypassed the dozens of cars lined up for the ferry and went right to the fee booth. He paid for two ferry tickets and took off. I was fumbling a bit with my headphones so I was about 20 seconds behind him. When I got around the bend to where I thought he’d be waiting, he was gone! The ferry had begun loading and they directed him right on board. I wasn’t so lucky. They made me wait. I was the last one on the boat before it set off.

We met up once we were underway and Bob scolded me for not staying closer to him. But who’d have thought the boat was there and ready to load right up? No worries. We joined back up just past the town on the other side.

It was a nice ride though the hills of Whidbey Island. I’d been there only once before: with my wasband and his cousin at least 15 years before on a trip to Seattle. I didn’t remember much about the trip except stopping at some sort of farm and at Deception Pass.

Ironically, I think we stopped at the same farm that Friday. It looked familiar, although there weren’t nearly as many vegetables and flowers as I remembered from that trip long ago. We walked around a bit in search of ice cream and settled on pie with ice cream at an outdoor cafe. Penny, on her leash, sat with us and tried hard to reach a duck that wandered through the fenced-in area.

Deception Pass Bridge
The bridge at Deception Pass. I think I took the same photo — but from the other side of the bridge — the last time I was there; I really like the symmetry of the bridge at this angle.

We also stopped at Deception Pass. That’s where we took a short walk — probably a mile round trip — and I took some photos. Bob’s not much of a hiker and he did look a bit funny walking on the trail in his leather motorcycling clothes. I guess I did, too.

Dinner at Anthony's
The obligatory dinner photo.

Our ferry reservations were for 8:20 PM. It was about 4 PM when we finished at Deception Pass. There was another ferry at 4:45 and I was game to try to go standby on it. But Bob didn’t want to hurry. Instead, we rode into Anacortes, stopped at a supermarket to pick up a bottle of Jaegermeister (which Bob apparently likes), and zeroed in on Anthony’s. Although it’s a chain, it’s one of my favorite places to get a nice seafood dinner. (I always grab a meal or at least dessert at their SeaTac location when I pass through.) Because there was a wait for a table, we sat at the food prep bar. They had a really great deal on a four-course meal and we each ordered that. My salmon with shrimp was amazing and the “burnt cream” for dessert was perfect.

Another stop at Safeway and then on to the ferry terminal. We paid for our tickets and rolled up, as directed, to the beginning of the line. There was another motorcyclist there who wasn’t very friendly. He told us that the ferry was delayed 30 minutes. Soon afterward, it began to rain — a light drizzle that kept up for the entire hour we waited. It wasn’t heavy enough to seek shelter, but it wasn’t light enough to ignore. By the time we got on the ferry — first on! — we were wet and chilled.

Waiting for the Ferry
Our bikes parked at the front of the line, waiting for the ferry. Can you see Penny?

I fell asleep on the ferry. There’s ample seating there and Bob had led the way to a pair of facing benches. He stretched out and, after a while, I did the same. Penny stayed in her box on the back of the motorcycle; dogs aren’t allowed in the passenger area unless they’re crated and I wasn’t about to take her crate off the bike.

In the Ferry
180° panoramic view of the inside of the ferry. Bob was already asleep on the bench when I shot this.

I heard the pitch of the engine change and woke up with a start. Bob was already awake. It was about 10:15 PM. We went back down to the bikes. I made the mistake of not starting mine up right away. I forgot that it needs to warm up. The result was repeated stalling to the point where I was holding up traffic. Then some issues with the throttle control. Not fun when you’re half awake and the pavement is wet. But I finally got things sorted out and followed Bob the last three miles or so to Liz and Brad’s house. Bob opened the door to their barn and we rolled in as we’d been instructed. Liz came out to meet us. When we went inside, the various discomforts of the trip were quickly forgotten.

At Friday Harbor

The next day started rainy, cleared up, and then got rainy again.

Bob and Penny
Bob grabbed Penny and sheltered her from the wind while we sat atop Mount Young and took in the view.

We had a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs, then headed out while the weather was dry, for a hike up Mount Young. It’s about a mile each way, with a 600-foot climb on the way out. We took our time on the climb up, stopping at one viewpoint along the way. Penny was a champ, very well behaved off-leash and obviously having the time of her life as she ran circles around us. At the top, the wind was absolutely howling, with gusts that must have topped 50 mph. (Indeed, wind storms knocked out power to thousands and killed two people in the Seattle area that day.) I took some photos of the view, as well as this great photo of Bob holding Penny. I also had a close call when I slipped on some wet moss and fell, twisting my knee and ankle pretty badly. Fortunately, I was able to walk normally within a few minutes. (Must remember to be more careful.)

From Mount Young
The view from the top of Mount Young looking out toward Vancouver Island on that blustery summer day.

Afterwards, we ran some errands in town — including getting me a pair of rain pants for the trip home. We stopped at the farmer’s market, which was smaller than usual because of the weather, and the market, where we picked up some groceries. Then back to the house where we snacked for lunch.

And then, because the day was so rainy and gray, we all napped. I slept for a full three hours!

When I woke up, Bob and Liz were making peach cobbler. Football was on the schedule for the evening — a preseason game between Seattle and San Diego. Liz and Brad’s son and grandson came over. We had pizza and watched the game, fast forwarding through the commercials via DVR and Brad’s skill with the remote. The Seahawks won.

The peach cobbler was amazing.

The Trip Home

We were up early the next morning. We needed to leave for the ferry terminal by 7:15 for an 8 AM boat back to Anacortes.

Group Photo
Bob, Liz, Penny, and I, waiting for the ferry at Friday Harbor. The weather was just beginning to break there when we left.

Bob and I got to the head of the line right on time and shut down for the wait. I took Penny for a walk to grab a cup of coffee. When I got back, Brad and Liz were waiting with Bob. Liz would be taking the boat over with her son and his family; they’d all go to a birthday party somewhere on the mainland. Brad took this photo of the four of us (including Penny); I look like a wreck with my four layers of clothing and helmet hair!

We all sat together for the 90-minute ferry ride back to Annacortes. It was beautiful outside with the bright sky and low clouds.

Friday Harbor
I shot this photo of Friday Harbor as the ferry pulled away from the terminal. It was going to be a gorgeous day there.

I had some trouble getting my bike started (again) when we got off the ferry, but not bad. I was determined to drop it off for maintenance later in the week.

We’d decided to head east on Route 20, which was due to reopen at noon. But with rainy weather forecasted, neither of us wanted to take that longer route home. Instead, we’d head south on Route 9 from Sedro-Woolley to Route 2. Of course, that plan went astray with detours for a bridge repair near Big Lake. We got a chance to see all the damage caused by the previous day’s heavy wind as we used Google Maps on my iPhone to navigate around the area, skillfully avoiding I-5. It was a pleasant ride, despite the navigational challenges, and it stayed dry the whole way.

Stuff Yer Belly
This might explain why obesity is such a problem in America.

Back on Route 2, we stopped at a cafe in Gold Bar for lunch. It was just about noon and we had a short wait for a table. I had breakfast food — I do so love chicken fried steak and eggs — and, again, saved some for Penny. While we were inside, the sky opened up and it absolutely poured. But by the time we came out, it had cleared up again. We took Penny for a walk and donned our rain gear. Well, I did. Bob was all in leather again — he’s a real hard core biker guy. I know I looked ridiculous in the yellow rubber pants and my bright red jacket, but I also knew I’d be seen no matter how bad the weather got.

By the time we started the climb up to Stevens Pass, I was glad I’d suited up. It was raining pretty hard and got downright cold. (Hard to believe just a few weeks befofe it was pushing 100°F every day.) Just when I started cursing myself for not buying warmer gloves, we reached the pass and started down. At 3000 feet elevation, the rain stopped and it started getting warmer. The sun was peeking through the clouds by the time we reached Leavenworth. And it was actually warm by the time we crossed the bridge into East Wenatchee.

We rolled into Bob’s driveway as Bob’s girlfriend, Alison stepped out the door. It was a very pleasant surprise for him. I hope she hadn’t been waiting long. I think it was about 3 PM when we got there.

I unpacked my bike and loaded the truck. I didn’t stick around to mess up Bob’s homecoming. Penny and I made a quick stop at the supermarket and headed home. We were back by 5 PM.

It was a beautiful day.

View From Home
I relaxed on the deck, taking in this view for a while after getting home. Honestly, it’s so beautiful here that I don’t know why I leave.


I headed out of town on Tuesday for yet another trip — this time to Portland with Kirk. On the way, I dropped off my motorcycle at the local Yamaha dealer to check into the wobble and throttle problems.

The shop manager called Friday to tell me what they’d done: balance the front wheel and give it a tune-up. He asked if it had old gas in the tank. I admitted that it had some but that I’d topped off the tank three times in the past week. He told me — at least three times — that I needed to ride the bike more. “What it needs,” he said, “is to be ridden.”

Message received. I’m planning my next trip now.

Heck, I’m due to attend a weekend-long mushroom seminar at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center early next month. Maybe I could get that Route 20 ride out of my system then?

5 thoughts on “Motorcycling with “Biker Bob”

  1. I think I’ll start with one of them ‘stuff yer belly’ omelettes followed by a chicken fried steak, please. Easy on the gravy. (Is it true that a chicken fried steak is the condemned man’s favourite last meal, in the US?)
    Ah, the joys of biking in the rain! No matter how slow or fast you go you end-up with a little pond of water blowing back off the tank and onto and under your seat. Bet Biker Bob’s leathers took some drying-out….

    Good for Penny, that’s some dog you’ve got.

    • I can’t figure the leather thing. I know that in a light rain, leather is fine. But in a downpour? It HAS to get soaked through. Ick.

      Don’t know if that’s true about chicken fried steak. I know I enjoy it with a good gravy and mashed potatoes — if it’s not greasy. When I make it — which is rarely — I pan-fry it. I don’t deep fry ANYTHING at home.

      And Penny…yes, she rocks. She’d rather ride in a tiny box on the back of a motorcycle in the rain than be left behind.

  2. Well, you’re right of course, leathers are awfully icky when wet, or if it is humid-hot, but they might save some nasty gravel-rash if you come off at any speed.
    I’m a sensible biker but get grounded by idiot car drivers roughly once very three years. So far, just painful lower-legs and knees plus the tedium of the insurance claim.
    But without Biker Bob-type strong boots and some leathers I would probably have needed surgery on at least two occasions. Denim under waterproofs will keep a person dry but not safe, if it goes arse over apex.
    The only time I would never get on my bike is if there is any ice. Even Wayne Rainey would lose it in an icy corner. Cold dry temperatures are fine, just wear more layers.
    As for CFS, I agree, pan-fried is the way to go.

    • I have and wore a leather jacket, but I no longer wear leather pants. It’s mostly a practicality issue. I do wear heavy duty denim and I do think that in most cases it will offer up enough protection if needed. I’ve been writing all of it off for about 25 years now on all kinds of paved roads, as well as short distances on gravel roads. The only times I’ve ever been down on my bike was on gravel roads at very low speeds.

      What really amazes me is how many people will ride motorcycles in shorts and T-shirts, sometimes with flip-flops on their feet. What are these people thinking? Answer: they’re not.

  3. The shorts, flip-flop and T-shirt brigade are bonkers. That is suicidal. The uniform of the low-mileage idiot.
    Each year, drunken Brit holiday-makers go to the Med. resorts in Spain and Greece, hire a (hopefully, low power) bike then drive-off into the sunset. Six beers later, they kill their girlfriends, who slide off the pillion (helmetless) in a tight bend, then the idiot guy hobbles back to mummy on crutches, with a broken ankle in plaster, some deep thigh scars, no skin on his elbows, and a temporarily bruised ego.

    Have you read “The Perfect Vehicle ” (1997) by Melissa Pierson?
    It is an (almost existential) exploration of the joys of biking with lots of mentions of Moto Guzzis. Biker Bob knows it, I bet?

What do you think?