My first road trip - Summer '09
Last summer, I decided that a big motorcycle road trip seemed like a ton of fun. I decided that I would either: A) go across Canada or B) go south along the west coast and down into Mexico. Since Canada is so spread out, I thought it might be more fun to go with the latter since there would be more major cities I could hit and more sights to see. The only problem was I didn’t have a bike, a licence, or any riding experience. So in February, after a bunch of research, I picked up my first bike – a 2005 Suzuki GS500.
Now, I was on a tight student budget so I opted out of taking a riding course (generally a big no-no, I know). Since I had to get one of my friends to come out to my place to give me lessons and I had to work around his work schedule along with my school schedule, it took me a long time to get licensed. Finally in April, after having finished my exams, I took my Class 6 road test and after passing, I was finally ready to go.
In terms of gear I had my GS500, riding gear, $10 generic saddlebags from Craigslist, a two person tent, a sleeping bag, four days' worth of clothes, my passport, a camera, and a few other minor items. I packed up my things, said goodbye to my friends and – only a week after getting licensed – I headed for the border. I didn’t have any routes planned out, just a list of places I wanted to visit.
Day 1: Vancouver, BC to Olympia, WA (~327km)
Prior to this road trip, the farthest I had ridden was from downtown Vancouver to Port Moody and back (~60km). Thus, I had no idea how much riding I could actually handle in one day. After a short delay at the border and a few stops in Seattle (where I’d never been), I kept going along the I-5 until I hit a massive downpour. Not having a whole lot of fun, I decided to call it a day and stopped at the first motel I saw. I went inside dripping wet, only to realize that the motel was way out of my budget (which was pretty low for accommodation). The receptionist was nice enough to let me use their business centre to locate the nearest hostel – in Olympia. So, back out into the rain I went. After about an hour or so, I arrived at the hostel in Olympia and stayed there for the rest of the night.
Entering Seattle on the I-5
Last edited by Joris; 10-22-2013 at 04:32 PM.
Day 2: Olympia, WA to Madras, OR (~463km)
The night before, I had checked the weather forecast and it was supposed to rain for about 4 days. The next morning, however, I woke up to blue skies – sweet! I packed up my things and left the hostel. On this day I rode along the I-5 (with a stop at Mount St. Helens, which was still closed unfortunately) until I got to Portland and then turned east to go long the #30 so I could check out the Columbia River Gorge and also Mt. Hood. Turns out that it’s still pretty cold up at Mt. Hood around early May and after finally descending from the mountain, I was relieved to find myself in a big, desert-y First Nations reserve. Since I was still pretty cold from the mountain, I decided to stop at a casino on the reserve to use their hot tub and warm up. Afterwards, I kept heading south until I got to Madras where I stopped for dinner and found a campground to stay in.
The State Capitol building in Olympia
Mount St. Helens
Coldwater Lake near Mount St. Helens
Camping for the first night
Day 3: Madras, OR to Medford, OR (~415km)
I woke up after having camped for the first night to a dark, cloudy sky. Little did I know that this would be the worst ride of the entire trip. Foolishly, I had generally believed that the further south I went, the warmer it would get. Wrong. More than anything, elevation seems to be the deciding factor. Although it was chilly in Madras, I thought that I wasn’t too far from California and that it would only get better from there on out. I started riding south along the #97 and it began to rain. Then it rained some more. And some more. I had wanted to go to Crater Lake to check it out and, being as determined as I was, a little rain wasn’t going to stop me. After all, I was from Vancouver. I kept riding until I arrived in some small town, completely drenched and miserable. I got a nice, warm lunch in a restaurant there and another patron, seeing my condition, took pity on me and offered me a few HotHands hand warmers. Gratefully, I accepted. Before heading out I thought I’d try to dry my riding gear at the local laundromat and, since I didn’t have any rain gear, the lady there offered me a few garbage bags with which I tried to cover myself up as best I could. I may have looked like an idiot, but at least I would stay at least a little bit drier than before! Eventually, I was back on my way south. After turning off the #97 in Chiloquin and beginning to ascend the mountain, I realized that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. After a few thousand foot elevation gain, I began to see snow. Not old snow…new snow. On the road. Soon, it was a few inches deep. Still determined to see the lake and unwilling to turn back, I pushed forward. After dropping my bike twice in the snow and ripping one of my saddlebags, I learned that bikes are not designed for snow. Well, some might be, but definitely not my GS500 with street tires. I got to the tollbooth where the park ranger told me that the lake couldn’t even be seen due to heavy amounts of fog and that it’d be best if I turned around. With another 1000ft of elevation to go, a convincing park ranger, having dropped my bike twice already with some damage (broken clutch lever, bent handlebar, the saddlebags) and freezing, I decided to go down the mountain, albeit on the other side. After a few hours of slow riding due to the slippery roads, I finally made it to Medford and got a motel room. Initially I had planned for more camping and less motels/hostels/hotels, but I had to make an exception after such a rough day. I dried all of my things which were soaking wet, and packed it in for the night.
Near Chiloquin where I met another rider from BC while wearing my garbage bag suit
Getting close to Crater Lake
After having dropped my bike
Last edited by Joris; 09-14-2013 at 03:55 PM.
The trip so far
Last edited by Joris; 05-02-2011 at 08:54 AM.
Day 7: San Francisco to Modesto (~212km)
The next morning I woke up, checked out a few more things in San Francisco including Cung Le’s gym and American Kickboxing Academy (I’m a big MMA fan), and started heading for Stockton where there was another MMA gym that I wanted to check out. I got a little lost, and after stopping in Modesto for gas and trying to get back on the highway, my chain popped off the sprocket. Thinking that my bike had simply popped back into neutral, I tried shifting down to first and tried accelerating again. Big mistake. After coming to a complete stop since I couldn’t accelerate, I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to figure out what was going on. A homeless guy who was nearby came running over and told me that my chain had popped off, and promptly began trying to get it back on. Since I had 0 mechanical knowledge of my bike, I was very happy that he offered to help me out. He got the chain back on but pointed out that it was bent, and that I’d need to replace it as soon as possible. I gave him some money for his help, and headed for the closest phone booth so I could find a shop. So much for the gym in Stockton. As it was past business hours, I had to stop at yet another motel which stretched my budget even more.
Alcatraz from Fisherman’s Wharf
American Kickboxing Academy – UFC Fighters Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, and Mike Swick on the right
The homeless guy who put the chain back on my bike in Modesto
Last edited by Joris; 05-02-2011 at 08:55 AM.
Day 8: Modesto to Yosemite National Park (~200km)
The next morning I took my bike to the shop where they replaced the chain, educated me about having to regularly lube the chain, and sent me on my way. With a new chain, a can of chain lube, down another few hundred bucks, I was finally on my way. The ride out to Yosemite was boring for the most part, but as I got closer to the park I found a great mountainous road with a bunch of tight twisties. At the beginning of the road there was a guy getting ready on his R1. We decided to cruise together, but after the first few corners I lost track of him. At the top of the mountain, after going through all of the twisties, I finally caught up with him in a parking lot. I chatted with him for a bit and then kept going. After I got to Yosemite, I was informed that all of the campgrounds were full, and that there was no way that I could stay in the park. I decided to play it by ear and went to check out a few of the viewpoints. As it was beginning to get dark, I found an old service road which led me to the top of a hill where there was something like a radio tower. As there was no one around, I decided that it’d be a good place to try to camp, although I really wasn’t supposed to be there. I set up camp and dozed off. About an hour later I woke up because I thought I had heard something near my tent. Realizing that I had seen a bear only a few hours earlier and that this was a part of the country where there were cougars, I decided that my isolation perhaps wasn’t such a good idea. I packed up my stuff and went to the nearest building that I could find – a hotel near the entrance of the park. Having already paid for more bike repairs and motels than I could really afford, I decided to try to find a place in the hotel where I could sleep for a few hours without being found. I snuck around the back of the hotel and found that the bathrooms they had weren’t in the individual rooms, but that they had common bathrooms. I grabbed my bags from my bike and headed for one of the shower stalls. I draped a shirt over the shower door to give the impression that someone was in there, curled up into a ball on the floor, and passed out. Every time someone came into the bathroom, I would change the shirt on the shower door so that it wouldn’t seem so suspicious if it was the same person coming back in. Pretty good, right?
Getting a new chain put on
Yosemite National Park
Last edited by Joris; 05-02-2011 at 08:56 AM.