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[ST] Four Corners Report, Part 4 - long

>From July 29:

Where was I? Or, more importantly, where am I? Does anybody really
know what time it is? I'm so confused these days.

Well, it's been a few days since I was in Michigan and I've come a
long way. I've been through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North
Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and am now in Portland, OR. One
day just seems to blend into the next, although the scenery was really
different every day.

When I woke up on Monday in Newberry, MI (which is in the Eastern part
of the Upper Peninsula), it was rainy and cool. the temperature was
only 59 degrees. I bundled up, put on my rain gear, got gas for the
bike, and got on the road. I really wanted to make some big miles
today. I was finally off the interstates and wasn't sure what kind of
time I'd be able to make on the two lanes. Since I had my rain gear
on, the rain stopped almost as soon as I started. It seemed the best
thing to do was to keep going until I got to my usual break, about 90
minutes in. When I stopped, it was still cool, but I ditched the rain
gear, took a couple of pictures, and kept going. The scenery through
the day was pretty remarkable. Northern Michigan is heavily forested.
When i got to Wisconsin, there were rolling hils and I could see a bit
farther to the horizon. At some points, with trees lining the road, I
felt as though the trees were a curtain and if I could only raise the
road a bit, I'd be able to see forever. Eastern Minnesota was much the
same, but I could tell the land was starting to flatten out. A sign in
Western Minnesota pretty well summed it up for that part of the state.
It said "Welcome to Minnesota's Prairie Land". Yep, the landscape was
flattening out into farm country.

Along the way today, I picked up an hour by crossing into the Central
Time Zone. I used the hour to keep riding and made it all the way to
Grand Forks, ND. Grand Forks is on the border between Minnesota and
North Dakota. I was pretty beat by the time I got here, so found a
hotel and called it a night. I took some time to clean up the bike,
lubricate the chain, and then I was done. Total for the day was 621
miles, and I felt it.

The trip really caught up to me on Tuesday. When I woke up, I didn't
want to get on the bike or go anywhere. I was really feeling being a
long way from home by myself. Maybe it was the landscape, or the
weather, or just the nature of the trip, but I was feeling very small
and alone. I forced myself to get on the bike and get going. First
thing was to pick up some oil at the local auto parts store. The guy
at the store was very helpful and, while I was adding oil to the bike,
came outside and gave me a good sized jar of cashew nuts, just
because. Nothing special, but a really nice gesture from a stranger on
the road.

Once I got on the road, it was clear right away what kind of day it
was going to be. The road was long and mostly straight, only curving
because of property rights. At least that's the sense I got of it. I
can't believe the road designers would put the random curves in just
to try to make things interesting, but I guess that's a possibility. I
could see to the horizon. Farmers plant trees as wind breaks around
the farm buildings. I could see a clump of trees around a nearby farm
and then, off in the distance, a small dot that was still recognizable
as trees. And these folks would be neighbors. After coming from the
overbuilt, densely populated East Coast, it was mind-boggling to be
able to see so far. I could also see the weather. Off in the distance,
I could see the dark clouds of a rain shower. I could see where the
rain was falling by the translucent gray curtain hanging from the
clouds. I could also see that I was going to miss the rain and was
heading for clearer skies. Again, not something we're much used to
doing at home.

I was feeling better about being on the road, but it still wasn't a
good day. I was a bit off or out of synch and I couldn't figure out
what to do to fix it. Everything I tried ended up backfiring on me.
Nothing disastrous, just not making the day any better. I wasn't sure
how far I was going to be able to go, but I figured some mile were
better than no miles, and kept on plugging.

The last 100 miles of North Dakota took forever. There was road
construction for well over half of the distance. Nothing to stop
traffic, but still an aggravating slowing to my progress. I had
decided I would go at least as far as Malta, MT and then decide if I
had it in me to go another 150 miles to get to Havre. This
construction was not helping my cause at all.

As I finally moved into Montana, I picked up another hour and a chance
ot make some more miles. I was pushing on to Havre. As I did,
mountains began to come into view on the horizon. This was a very cool
experience. At first, they appeared as dark blue paper cut out
silhouettes. After a while, as I got closer, the color began to change
from blue to dark brown or green. Closer yet, and I could make out the
shadows and folds in the hills. At one point, I could see a line of
mountains and they went from being close enough for me to see good
definition of the shadows and folds through the entire range back to
the silhouettes on the horizon. It was a good way to end the day as I
pulled into Havre, having gone 645 miles on the day. I was glad this
day was over.

Whatever blues I'd been feeling the day before were gone and I was
excited about riding on Wednesday. I was going to go to Glacier
National Park and ride Going to the Sun Road. This is much like the
Blue Ridge Parkway, as the road was carved out of the side of the
mountain. the difference is that these mountains are much more
dramatic and imposing than the Blue Ridge. I also was going to cross
the Continental Divide. As a matter of fact, at one point in the park,
the difference of a hand's width will determine of a rain drop will go
to the Mississippi River, the Columbia River, or to Hudson Bay. Cool,

The road on the way to the park was the first truly curvy road I'd
ridden since I left home nearly 2 weeks earlier. I was very tentative
at first, as I tried to remember how to turn the motorcycle. It was
fun, and it got more fun as I began to feel more comfortable in the
twisty bits. The road after the park wasn't nearly as exciting, but it
was getting me where I needed to be. Besides, all that twisty stuff
had tired me out.

After Glacier, I decided I would head for Sandpoint, ID. There wasn't
much drama, especially after the drama of Glacier, but I made it to
Sandpoint in one piece, 451 miles from where I'd started the day.

Thursday was the day I'd get to Blaine and corner number 3. Looking at
the map, I knew it would take me awhile as the road was going to go
through several national forests and over several mountain passes. I
was up early and on the road. Fairly soon after I'd started, I saw the
dreaded orange road sign "Road Construction Ahead". "Great," I
thought, "just what I need." Another sign - "Motorcyclists Use Extreme
Caution". Ack! What could this be? The next sign told me--"Fresh Oil.
Loose Gravel." Not words that make a motorcyclist ride easy, that's
for sure. I slowed down, got in a tire track where the gravel had been
ground down into the road more completely, and hung on to make it
through. this first section was 33 miles long. As if that wasn't bad
enough, it was followed quickly by sections that were 19 miles and 10
miles long. Whew! I was tired after that, and decided I better stop
for a break.

The rest of the day was great riding, with lots of mountain roads, but
also stretched where I could make some time. When I was riding through
the high desert, I saw a forest fire. Riding into the town of Omak,
there was a strange almost orange tint to the cloud that was hanging
over town. It filtered the sunlight, too, which gave everything this
weird color. After lunch, I left town and, after riding through yet
another construction zone, I looked up and saw a huge column of whit
smoke billowing off the top of a nearby mountain. It was very dramatic
and, although it wasn't impacting my travel, made me think about what
it must be like to live there, so close to something so potentially
destructive. Here's a link if you'd like to see it:

Pretty soon, i was back in the mountaqins and the roads were twising
all over the place. At one point, while riding through the North
Cascades National Forest, I didn't go straight for almost 75 miles. I
was almost always leaning either left or right. With the truly
spectacular scenery, it's a miracle I didn't ride right off the road.
At one point, I lost sight of all the normal cues I use to make a turn
because of the shape of the road and all I could see was the scenery
beyond the turn. I could feel my brain working overtime trying to
figure out what to do, so I slowed down, made the turn, and continued
on. Still, a rather more exciting moment than I had planned for the

I was coming back into civilization, now. The traffic was getting
heavier and the towns were getting bigger and closer together. I was
even back on the interstate. I took I-5 north to Bellingham, WA, only
20 miles from Blaine, but with lots of hotel options. After 454 miles,
I was tired and pretty much done for the day, so I found a room, had a
very nice Thai dinner at a restaurant across the street from the
hotel, and called it a night. Blaine, and corner number three, could
wait until the morning.

Friday morning was cloudy, windy, and cool. I didn't think it would be
too tough a day, so I slept in a little, took my time packing and
getting breakfast, and finally headed out to Blaine. Took my picture,
got my gas, and mailed everything off to verify I'd been to corner
number three. Now, I just had to get to Portland, OR. This would be an
interstate blast down I-5 for about 5 hours or so. I hadn't counted on
the amount of traffic. The ride was pretty terrible, as rides go. It
was very windy, so I getting batted around a bit. It was cloudy and
cool, so I was getting cold. And the traffic was horrendous. From
Everett to Seattle to Olympia and Chehalis it was just awful. I left
Blaine at 10:00 and didn't get to Portland, 330 miles later, until
4:00. The good news was I was staying with my brother-in-law and his
family, which is always great, and it was my sister-in-law's birthday
and they were having a party. Since my bike was going into the shop on
saturday for an oil change and new tires, I got to enjoy the party AND
sleep in on Saturday.

So here I am. Three corners down and only one to go. I still have to
get home after that, but that can be a different, more relaxed, kind
of ride than the one to get out here. I'm over halfway to reaching the
goal of the trip and I'm over halfway in total trip mileage. While I"m
heading south now, I know I'll be on the last leg when I finally get
on a road heading east.

Until the next time.

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