Glacier National Park 2001 – Day 5: Let’s Show These Tucson Boys What Adventure Touring Is

June 2

  • Clarkston, WA to Burien, WA
  • 401 miles

After driving through clouds of bugs & bees along the Clearwater River as we descended from Lolo Pass and then getting blasted by a fierce dust storm coming into Lewiston at the end of day 4, my ST1100 is really disgusting. Instead of smooth, glossy black paint, it has a fuzzy, grey finish. So some of us take a pre-ride trip to the car wash after breakfast. 

Before leaving town, we take one more ride, up and down, on the delightful Spiral Highway of Death where we savor its many twists and turns while managing to not hit any cows. Perfect!

Our friend, Joe, is meeting up with us today so he can accompany us back to Seattle. We meet him West of Clarkston in Dayton and he suggests we pay a visit to his Sister and Brother-In-Law in Richland, WA to check the Cascades mountain pass conditions. (2017 observation: No smartphones yet.) I vouch for the superb hospitality we’ll find there and so off we go. We are warmly welcomed and a spontaneous party of good food, wine and great company beckons but wait, there’s a big catch. We know we are in for stormy weather in the Cascades to the West and every minute we spend here will just make road conditions tougher as temperatures fall while we sip fine Washington State red wine. Oh, come on you say. What’s the harm in a glass of wine and something scrumptious to nibble on while we engage in the lively art of conversation? Well, as a veteran guest of this lovely family, I’m here to tell you that such a moderate engagement is damn near impossible. Once the wine begins to flow and food is served, the merriment will carry on for hours and hours. I love a good party but I’m thinking if we don’t demonstrate some real discipline by graciously declining this offered hospitality and riding away, we’ll end up spending the night rather than face the mountain pass and the storm inebriated. We all have home and jobs to get back to so we consult the latest pass conditions via the Internet, decide on a route, say our fond goodbyes, promise to come again, and ride off into the West. 

Now while we exhibited good sense and narrowly averted the party, we more than make up for it by deciding what pass to take over the Cascades  I prudently suggest Snoqualmie Pass at 3,022 feet where we’ll encounter rain albeit with a fair amount of interstate traffic. Yes, it will be boring riding and somewhat treacherous with trucks, RVs and cars driving way too fast for the conditions but it will be rain, not snow. We did the stormy mountain pass in snow and hail thing last year, didn’t we? Nope, no takers. Okay then, what about White Pass at 4,501 feet? A nice two lane road with good twisties and little traffic, we might just get wet and nothing more. Nope, no takers. We’re going over Chinook Pass, the highest pass possible at 5,430 feet. So be it, adventure touring here we come!

We stop for espresso in Naches, Washington on the edge of the eastern Cascade foothills before heading up to Chinook Pass. At this point, we all suit up for rain as we fully expect to get a bath. We climb Highway 410 toward Chinook Pass and the rain begins. Higher up, the rain turns to falling snow on wet roads which then turns into falling snow on snow covered roads.

In the pass there is 3 inches of fresh snow on the road and we have to ride within the wheel ruts made by cars that passed through before us. It’s first gear all the way and no brakes as we negotiate the tight turns along deadly cliffs. Everyone makes it through without incident and as we drop down the west side, we emerge back into rain. (Whew!) After doing an impromptu course in traction control in the snow, some of us discover newly found confidence in our tires on merely wet roads.

I figure we’re going to need a hot cup of Starbuck’s espresso to chase away the chill and the recent memory of having ridden in 3 inches of snow on scary mountain roads. So I lead the crew into the parking lot at Wapati Woolies in Greenwater, a tiny town in the forest within sight of Mt. Rainier. Joe volunteers to take the essential last day group photo; we are soaked, chilled and somewhat dazed. We order coffee and share our thoughts about what we just accomplished. 

Our desert rats, Pork Chop and Pablo find this winter touring stuff very entertaining and enthusiastically inquire if we Washingtonians do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Ah, yeah, right, every chance we get. Vince, on the other hand, being a fair weather sport biker, is not amused. See, Joe and I had led him through rain and then hail the year before while crossing the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming with a storm front parked on top and we swore to never do something that hare brained ever again. Oops! On the plus side, we’ll be telling stories about this stunt for years to come. 

We emerge from the Cascade Mountains and half the crew heads for Tacoma while the rest of head back to Seattle. Over supper, Pablo, Pork Chop and I are already planning a return trip to Glacier National Park next year so we can ride that elusive Going-To-The-Sun road. — Scott Bruce Duncan */:-)

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