Blewett Pass gets heavy local motorcycle traffic due to its cool breezes, quality pavement and deep forest views.
Jack's Saloon is the second-best place to get food in Winthrop.
Author and wife pause in the forest.
Viewpoints abound at the Mount St. Helens National Monument.
If the road doesn't thrill you, the North Cascades National Park has views that will long linger in your memory.
Some roads deserve your utmost attention. Especially heading toward Mount St. Helens on Forest Road 25.
The view from this rest stop on Highway 14 makes the mighty Columbia River appear peaceful. Don't be fooled. Often a biker can find 30- to 40-mph winds.
The massive mountain faces show evidence of gigantic geological forces twisting the rocks into knots.
Gas up before heading through the North Cascades National Park.
It may not look hot, but the heat hovered in the triple digits. When traveling Central Washington State, prepare for heat.
Some bikers journey through the National Park, turn around and do it again.
After taking the quick run up to the Sun Mountain Lodge, look back to admire the view.
Sunset paints the hills a rosy, golden color. Don't miss this sight.
What is an escape? Bikers know the answer: It's a road trip. All the realities of home and work are left forgotten for the highway, sky and wind on the seat of a powerful bike.
Here are the rules that my riding buddies, Eric and Tad, and I use: Avoid interstates, crowds (sorry, Sturgis) and the ordinary. We want the feeling of flying over remote, beautiful highways and freedom-becoming part of nature and apart from the ordinary. Luckily, we live in the Pacific Northwest-which has more fabulous biking venues than a Harley showroom has chrome.
For the last nine years, we have ridden our own ride together as we discovered the special places that fit our rules. This trip would be different, because we were taking the wives. Since Eric's and Tad's wives had never been on a long, multiday ride, we would take a gentle approach to this trip. Our simple male logic went something like this: If the ladies like to ride, we get more motorcycle trips and happy ladies.
Would this mean we would need to break our rules? Could the ladies enjoy a trip where we leaned the bike into steep turns, accelerated madly past lumbering RVs and rode hundreds of miles each day? I knew my wife, Sharon, would, but what of the others?
It's all in the planning. We would travel roads we knew for certain would capture our passengers' interest with world-class scenery and destinations. We would also get some gear to make the trip more enjoyable.
We picked up some BlueAnt Bluetooth wireless headsets for rider/ passenger communication. These installed in five minutes in our Shoei TZ-R helmets and provided five hours of clear talk time each day. Since the installation required no modification of the helmet, the unit could be pulled out of Sharon's helmet and used for riderto-rider communications with someone else's lid.
I also took my tankbag (Givi T426). It holds 26 liters worth of stuff and did not scuff the tank. I know most people do not want to put big, ugly, black magnetic bags on their perfect gas tanks, but it's hard enough to pack my bike when I'm by myself. This way, when the bike is so tightly packed that not even an extra Band-Aid would fit, Sharon can bring her athletic shoes or I can toss in my favorite anvil, and they fit.
We left on a clear summer morning from Portland, Oregon, and followed one of my favorite roads: State Highway 14 up the stunning Columbia River Gorge. Interstate 84 on the Oregon side of the river is faster, but remember our rule against interstate highways.
After about 90 miles, we turned off WA-14 to State Highway 142 toward Klickitat. Local bikers know about this perfect motorcycle road through the Klickitat River Canyon, but few visitors seem to take the turn. The remote beauty of the Klickitat River fighting its way through the super-hard basalt cliffs gave us all a thrill. Motorcycling is fun; smiles all around.
From Klickitat, we followed the signs to Goldendale and U.S. Highway 97. I think US-97 is worth a trip in itself, but the section from Goldendale to Toppenish cuts through the Horse Heaven Hills and the Yakima Indian Reservation. Terrific!
We pulled into Toppenish after 180 miles on the GPS, riders and passengers tired and hot. We grabbed rooms at the friendly, clean Best Western motel and walked to Taqueria Mexicana for dinner. This restaurant seemed full of locals, has great food and is impossibly clean.
That night, the guys talked about the next day's ride. We would take the fabulous road through the Yakima River Canyon (WA-821). This special place has basalt cliffs rising 2,000 feet above the sparkling green waters of the Yakima River. The rock faces shelter the densest population of hawks, eagles and falcons in the whole state. Bikers love it for the water-smooth pavement surges and twists. Ahh. Forty-five minutes of perfection.
After the canyon, we rejoined US-97 as we motored north to Winthrop. The deep forest of this highway near Blewett Pass (4,102 feet) refreshed us when the day started to heat up. Looking at a map, you see the 97 split into US-97 and US-97 Alt; take the Alt (alternate highway). Remember the rule about avoiding the ordinary.
We stopped in Chelan for lunch. We'd gone 170 miles, and the heat seemed to be rising up out of the ground. Some of us had pressurized water bottles (www.MistyMate.com). If your passenger sprays your neck, arms and hands while the bike slices through the spicy-hot, dry air of Central Washington, it can cool the air by 30 degrees. This will allow you to enjoy the scenery of Lake Entiat, Lake Chelan and the WA-153 as it winds up the Methow Valley toward Winthrop.
Finally: Winthrop. Misty Mate or not, the heat wilted all six of us. The temperature lay in triple digits, and we realized that 245 miles in one day turned our new riders from enthusiastic to numb. Despite the perfect scenery and roads, despite sticking to our rules, we had overdone it. Would Eric's and Tad's wives ever agree to another trip? We pondered this as we checked into our motel.
I recommend the Hotel Rio Vista (1-800-398-0911) as a clean, comfortable stop that allows you to explore the town on foot and walk to restaurants. The best food in town can be found at the Duck Brand Restaurant.
Washington State has a holy ride that makes a circuit from the west. Riders take WA-20 through the North Cascades National Park, stop in Winthrop, then drop down US-97 to US-2 for the return journey. As a result, tiny, Western-themed Winthrop often has dozens of bikes lined up along the false-fronted buildings. Grab an ice cream cone and settle down to watch bikes.
Never heard of North Cascades National Park? Bikers should know about this unbelievable ride. This is a must-ride highway. It's far grander than the Klickitat wonders, more stunning than the Yakima Canyon and the most remote of nearly any ride in the whole Pacific Northwest. The mountains are so vast and rugged that a path through did not exist until 1972.
Lucky for all of us, the next day, the heat abated for our ride home. We retraced our path except for the final 100 miles. That part we took through the striking territory belonging to Mount St. Helens. The terrible beauty left by the violence of the 1980 eruption gave us a still feeling as we gazed at the mountain fitfully resting amongst the destruction it wrought.
If you decide to travel National Forest Road 25 south from Randle to see the mountain, go slow. Go slow to enjoy the forest, go slow to avoid the appallingly bad pavement quality and go slow to avoid the packs of adrenaline-addled sportbike riders who might attempt to pass you on a blind curve.
We rolled into our hometown with happy passengers who realized there are some journeys that must be taken on a bike to be a true escape. As we pulled up in the driveway, the realities of home and work seemed smaller after riding the spectacular Washington State highways.
Bruce Hansen is the author of Motorcycle Journeys Through the Pacific Northwest, Whitehorse Press.