Vintage is relative. So is big. Or so I found out in the final days of my couch-surfing trek.
For those just joining us, up until this point I'd been meandering my way north from California for a week (as cheaply as possible) on my way to the big Chinook Pass opening ride by Seattle's Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts (VME) club. The VME host a number of vintage-themed events around the Puget Sound. Having been to one of its bike nights and been blown away by the quantity, number, and variety of super-cool old (and old-looking) bikes, I couldn't wait for my next VME event, and with a little coaxing from event-organizer Jeff Earle (i.e., a couch to crash on and a couple of home-cooked meals), I made the trek up.
A week of crashing at friends' houses, one night camping paid for by a riding buddy (thanks Bill!), and only one mooching failure (a rainy night at a Motel 6) culminated with a couple of nights on Jeff's couch just southeast of Seattle in Auburn, Washington. Jeff's bachelor pad featured quite plush couch-crashing. I took over the living room, commandeering several outlets, the coffee table, and making full use of his WiFi. Technically, this was only the second couch of the trip, the rest being guest beds, but one of the prime rules of couch surfing is to always, always accept the upgrade.
Early Saturday morning, Jeff pulled his '68 BSA B44 out of the garage, filled it with pricey racing fuel (because ethanol blends found at gas stations delaminate vintage fiberglass fuel tanks), and kicked it to life. He even had an old-school bedroll strapped to the back seat. I felt a little weird on a fully modern Triumph Rocket III Touring bike. I packed my kit into a pair of plastic saddlebags and a Saddlemen nylon rollybag, and was ready to go. My shame in my non-vintage-ness was over by the time we got to the gas station in Enumclaw.
For one thing, I'm guessing the kickstarting thing gets old pretty quickly. And following along behind the little single, which tops out at around 55 mph, made my old four-speed Sportster seem like a rocket ship. The roads between Auburn and Enumclaw were pretty scenic and hilly, with frequent glimpses of Mt. Rainier's snowy peak poking out of the low peaks around it, so the low speeds were perfectly fine. Green Valley Road, followed by WA-169, took us through forests and farm fields, and in and out of little valleys.
When I got to the meeting place, I finally got over my vintage envy. Our riding crew mostly consisted of '70s and '80s Japanese bikes, with a '90s Hayabusa thrown in for good measure. Granted, the Rocket was the only 21st century machine here, but it looked the part of a classic more than everything this side of the BSA.
Jeff (in his new role as the VME's PR officer) informed me that the VME does huge rides and bike nights throughout the year, but this was not one of them. For one thing, this was the club's first overnighter, and going a fairly good distance over a mountain pass, which might have intimidated some of the owners of more delicate machinery...or those who don't know how to roll a bedroll like Jeff does.
The ride itself was simple enough: WA-410 up and over Chinook Pass, which is one of the closer approaches to Mt. Rainier. It had only been opened a couple weeks before our June ride, so that meant lots of snow. To the jaded Southern Californian (me), the 5,400-foot pass doesn't seem all that high, but this far north, a mile high means frigid temps for much of the year.
The beginning of the ride was a little grim for me. WA-410 slowly climbs through timber farms for the first few miles before getting into the Rainier National Park and Wanatchee National Forest. Though I'm definitely no tree-hugger, the scars the clear-cutting left on the land stood out in stark contrast to the beauty of everything else around.