In the morning, Jeff and I head to the local coffee shop for some breakfast sandwiches. The coffee is great, (even by Seattle standards) the breakfast sandwiches are fantastic and the conversation is the best part of all. After breakfast we take a quick picture together and head back home.
Once back at the house, I quickly gear up. At this point in the day the weather has warmed up quite a bit, but it started snowing. Thankfully it’s the wet type of snow and the roads seem to be free of ice. I thank Jeff one more time for his hospitality and get on my way.
As I head down the road with new energy I realize I am going to need it – the visibility is poor, it’s cold out and worst of all, the weakest point of my gear, my boots, are already getting wet just thirty minutes into the ride. Apparently Frank Thomas, the company that makes my boots, has a skewed definition of ‘waterproof.’ I realize that I am not going to make it much further on my trip without remedying this problem.
After two hours of riding in the wet snow and the rain, I spot an REI as I ride through one of the towns. I decide to pay them a visit and see if there is anything they can do for me. I go inside and for the first time people are not looking at me like I am crazy. Instead, employees and customers alike are looking at me with understanding; whether the person has done or longs for the same type of adventure, he or she is of the same mindset and understand what drives me. I ask one of the employees for help and he instantly shoots back with an answer. He takes me back to the mountaineering department to grab some Smart Wool socks and some waterproofing spray. I have to say that as pricy as the socks were, ($23/pair) they are totally worth it for the comfort they provide – very warm, thick and at the same time supper breathable, which keeps your feet dry. The silicone spray helped a bit but as I would later find out, the boots are still not even close to waterproof.
I am back on the road and although my boots continue to be the weakest point of the gear, my feet are far drier and warmer than they were prior. Just in time too as I head over Lolo pass to get back into Idaho. As I approach the summit, I reach a mandatory chain checkpoint. If you have never been to one, it’s a checkpoint at which people without all-wheel-drive vehicles mount chains and some, as I found out, have a policeman checking that all cars have chains on. The only exception is people with all-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires.
I have no chains and of course my motorcycle is not all-wheel-drive and my tires are far from snow tires. As I approach the checkpoint, I know that turning around is going to cost me valuable time, because I will have to backtrack and then take the long way around. The policeman signals for me to pull over to the side and I comply. I dismount and take my gloves and helmet off.
“Good day,” the officer says, “are you aware of the conditions on the mountain?”
“Yes, sir” I reply.
“Well then, you understand that I can’t let any rear-wheel-drive cars pass without chains?”
“I understand sir, but I am not driving a car and I am pretty sure you can’t mount chains on a motorcycle,” I shoot back. As I later found out, chains for motorcycles do exist, but at the time I was oblivious to that fact.
The officer excused himself as he talked to someone on the radio. He came back a few minutes later and told me that if I can show him that my tires are all-season tires he would let me pass. Thankfully the Michelin Annakee tires I had on actually have a sun and cloud with rain picture on the sidewall. I showed it to the officer and he seemed to be satisfied with that.
“Alright, you may pass, but keep your speed down over the pass; I don’t want to have to come up there to get you.”
I nodded in agreement, put my helmet and gloves on and was on my way up the pass. Sure enough, about a half a mile up the hill the conditions were not ideal. In some spots, two feet of snow lined the side of the road. I made sure to keep the speeds down and to keep on the gas through the turns to ensure that the majority of the weight was transferred to the rear tire, to keep the front tire from slipping. Although the rear tire was spinning up through roughly thirty percent of the corners, I always felt in control and never felt I was in any significant danger of laying the bike down. Eventually I made it to the peak of Lolo pass – half the battle was done. Now came the hard part – the decent from the peak.
As I started my ride down, I knew that there was a real possibility of hitting ice on a steep downhill and not being able to slow down the bike. For this reason, I made slow progress, making sure to keep my speeds way down and my eyes open. Although I have never ridden in such icy conditions, I used to frequent “True Grit” rides, as we called them back in California. These were rides in the rainy fall and winter conditions that really taught the rider how to handle his or her machine at the limit of traction, or as was the case sometimes, when traction was completely absent. Local fast guy and mentor Gary J would lead the rides and I have to say that all those lessons he taught me, came back to me on that day. Thank you Gary! I made it down the hill without incident.
I was now over the pass and past the hardest part of the ride for that day. As I descended further into the forest, I came upon a hot springs trail and some local guys told me about another hot spring that is close to the road, about ten miles down. This was great news, since taking a break in a hot spring sounded great, but I did not have the time to do a full on hike. I headed down the road and found the parking lot that the locals described, but unfortunately, I never did find that spring. Instead, I took a small break for lunch and kept riding.
As I rolled through the beautiful turns of the twisty road, I was enjoying the sun and the beautiful views of the forest, the river and the white columns of steam created by the hot springs deep in the mountains. I rounded another corner and as I exit it, I notice that the last of the three cars approaching me, is a highway patrolman. I have been going at no faster than five miles per hour over the limit, so I don’t think much of it. I glance down at the speedometer and GPS as a matter of habit and confirm that I am indeed cruising at sixty miles per hour in a fifty five zone. I roll off the gas to drop my speed to the posted limit, again as a force of habit. As soon as I pass the Idaho Highway Patrol car, I see him turn on his lights and do an aggressive u-turn. “He can’t be coming for me, must have gotten a call in that direction,” I think to myself, as I take a turn-off to let him pass. I pull over and to my surprise the IDHP SUV pulls in behind me. I dismount and take my helmet off as the officer approaches me.
“Son, do you know how fast you were going?”
“I believe I was doing the speed limit, sir.”
“I clocked you going almost 70,” he replies.
At this point I am completely baffled. Most people, who know me well, know that on an average day I am a compulsive speeder, always going roughly 10 over the limit. (that’s what growing up in California does to you) On this trip, however, I decided that I would subscribe to my grandfather’s logic – “He who goes slower, goes farther,” he would always say; since leaving Seattle, I went no faster than five miles over the limit the whole trip…
The officer asks me for my license and registration and returns to his vehicle. As I stand there, I can’t believe that after four years of no tickets, I am getting a ticket for a speed that I wasn’t even doing… The small glimmer of hope, that I would just get a warning, is gone, as the officer approaches with a yellow piece of paper. He tells me that it’s for 69mph in a 55mph zone and asks me to sign. I sign and he tells me – “Son, ya gotta slow ‘er down.” As the officer turns around, and walks back to his vehicle, I realize that I might as well get something out of this…
“Sir, would you mind if I took a picture of my bike with your car in the background?” I ask.
“Like for a scrapbook or something?” he replies.
“Sure, like a digital scrapbook.”
“I guess that would be alright.”
“Oh, and could you turn on the emergency lights?” - I ask, having lost all sense of modesty.
“Sure” – he replies with a grin.
He gets in the car and the lights come on. I take a few pictures and feel a bit better – at least I got a cool shot, even if it cost me $86…
Since I lost so much time getting pulled over, it is now getting dark and I am still about a hundred miles from Boise, where my friends Kamilla and Polina are waiting for me. Riding through the canyon, the temperature quickly drops as it completely gets dark; soon my temperature gage is showing 2 degrees below freezing. Rain becomes snow and with it, visibility becomes very poor, so I am forced to slow down to a crawl. I take a turn onto highway 55 and pass the Bear Creek Lodge resort. I decide to stop and ask if the conditions are likely to get much worse as I continue on highway 55.
I enter the main lobby and find the hotel manager and a few guests in the back, by the fireplace. They look at me quizzically, as I ask them about conditions further down in the canyon. Belinda, the manager of the place, tells me that I would be crazy to go on. I insist that I have to get to Boise tonight. In retrospect, I must have been completely off my rocker that night – visibility was almost non-existent, the roads were very twisty with sharp turns, the temperature was dropping rapidly and ice was almost guaranteed and there was the ever present chance of striking a deer. Belinda suggested that I at least sit by the fireplace and warm up before continuing on. I agree, take my jacket off and sit down by the fire.
A few minutes later Belinda came back and insisted that I stay the night. Without going into details, I finally agreed and I am very happy I did. If it wasn’t for Belinda, the trip could have very well ended that night, with me in the hospital or worse. I thanked Belinda for her hospitality and headed to my room. Unloaded the bike, laid out my wet clothes in front of the fireplace (yes, the room had a fireplace) and quickly fell asleep in a bed that, after a long hard day on the road, felt like the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.