West Coast Swing
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
5,000 miles in 16 days, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, from the Bay Area to Puget Sound, and back again
This solo road trip was planned to last or 16 days and cover more than 5,000 miles of interstates and scenic byways, and I was able to hit that target with no major problems (though plenty of minor ones). It was an excellent opportunity to drop in on friends and family, as well as explore areas of the country I have only ever flown over. And yes, there was plenty of self reflection. Whether it's the geography, the strangers you meet, or just the thoughts whirling around in your own head, a trip like this really holds a mirror up to who you believe yourself to be, as well as where you see yourself going as you ride into the future. The information below is just a summary of my experiences. Click on any of the locations on the map above for a step-by-step walk through the issues, adventures, and experiences I had during the course of my trip.
1st Leg: Minneapolis, MN to San Francisco, CA -- 2,300 miles (3,700 km) As "Iron" Mike Tyson famously said: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." My plan this first day was (I thought) a relatively simple one: ride from Minneapolis to Lincoln, Nebraska, with a stop in Brookings, South Dakota to attend a funeral and another stop in Yankton, South Dakota to pick up a packet of genealogy information from the local historical society, all in about 6-7 hours. A broken shifter knob and a severe thunderstorm essentially doubled the time I had expected my first day to take. The second day went much closer to plan, with a straight shot from Lincoln, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado. A whole new day, a whole new set of problems. A snapped speedometer/odometer cable, getting hypnotized by the road (forcing an extended rest stop), and losing (then recovering) my smartphone on the interstate was already making this trip more of an adventure than I originally thought it would be. Day 3 started out more or less going according to plan. I got out on time and rode the first of my planned scenic routes as I headed north out of Denver, then cut west to Salt Lake City. The wind tearing through the canyons along I-80 through Wyoming made for some hair-raising moments, but it was well worth it for the chance to carve my way down through the canyons below Utah's Echo Reservoir and into Salt Lake City. With the final jump from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, I finally got my travel legs under me. Riding 740 miles in 13 hours sounds like a bear, especially on a naked bike, but it really wasn't a problem. I-80 west of Salt Lake City is a dream to ride, and the 100-mile stretch between Reno, Nevada and Colfax, California is a canyon carver's dream.
I-80 (Echo Canyon to Salt Lake City)
I-80 (Reno, NV to Colfax, CA)
City Explorer: San Francisco
I spent several days with friends in the town of Pinole, about 45 minutes east of the Bay bridge and San Francisco proper. It happened to be the 4th of July holiday and we had a birthday to celebrate, so everyone was all about partying. True, this ate into the time I expected to have to explore the Bay Area, but who cares when there are good times to be had? This isn't to say that I didn't do any riding in the area. A motorcycle shop in downtown San Francisco had the part I needed to repair my shifter, and I had a chance to talk shop and hang out with some moto enthusiasts at a local collective on Treasure Island. There is so much more to learn about the Bay Area moto culture. I'll definitely be back to soak up as much of it as I can.
2nd Leg: San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA -- 970 miles (1,560 km)
Day one of this leg of the trip was much more leisurely than the first. Rather than bombing my way along 600 miles of interstate every day, this 300-mile leg was mostly made up of coastal roads and scenic drives. I took Hwy. 101 coming out of San Francisco, then jogged west at Pentaluma to hook up with the Pacific Coast Highway. The 130 mile stretch along the coast from Bodega Bay to Hardy totally lived up to the hype; it really is one of the great rides on the continent.
Once the PCH cuts inland, you go from rugged coastline to primordial old-growth forests. Hwy. 101 is a joy; I've driven it before in a car with my family. I have to say, though, that riding a motorcycle along the Avenue of the Gods (Hwy. 254) scenic byway through Humboldt Redwoods State Park was close to being a religious experience. By the time I pulled into Eureka for an overnight stay, I was a believer: this state was made for motorcycles. Day two was meant to be my chance to try out the legendary California Highway 36, with its 1,811 curves over 140 miles. Unfortunately, it had rained overnight and I pulled out of Eureka in a light drizzle. I trust my bike, my tires, and my skills, but I modified my route rather than taking any unnecessary risks on an unfamiliar stretch of road. As a result, I decided to stick with Hwy. 101 and ride a bit further north along the coast before turning inland and riding through Crater Lake National Park on my way to Bend, OR and a couple of days hanging out with friends.
My fourth day out from San Francisco was a relaxing ride north from Bend, Oregon to the Columbia River Gorge, then cruising along a stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway from the Dalles and into the Portland area. I had a chance to stay overnight with friends and catch up, then I was off to the Seattle area. This time around, I spent a couple of days with friends checking out the local sights both on the Olympic Peninsula and within the Seattle metro area proper. Riding in this area is fantastic. The back roads on the Olympic Peninsula consist mainly of rolling, forested hills while Seattle is a very interesting urban area to ride around in. Highlights:
San Francisco, CA to Eureka, CA
Eureka, CA to Bend, OR
Bend, OR to Portland, OR
Portland, OR to Seattle, WA
3rd Leg: Seattle, WA to Minneapolis, MN -- 1,730 miles (2,780 km)
The day before I started out, I was pretty sure I would be cutting it a bit close if I went ahead and tried for the Lolo Pass, but the more I looked at the route, and more I felt that I just couldn't stay away. I had a very cold 54ºF (12°C) start to the day, but it was over 100ºF (38°C) by the time I made it to the Idaho entrance of the Nez Perce Forest and the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. The detour added about two hours and 100 miles to my ride, but it was worth it. The scenery through the canyons and over the Continental Divide into Helena, Montana is spectacular. My second-to-last day on the road was set to be a fast one; Montana is (in)famous for its relaxed approach to speed limits. I still wanted to avoid the Interstate and visit a few historical markers, so I started the day heading north to Great Falls, Montana before turning east for the long ride to Bismark, North Dakota. I was very thankful that I did. The canyons along I-5 as it follows the Missouri River between Helena and Great Falls were spectacular. My route from Great Falls east to the Glendive junction with I-94 turned out to be a perfect, nearly-deserted ribbon of two-lane blacktop slicing through 350 miles of rolling hills and open prairie. This was my last detour or highway change. From Glendive, I-94 would take me to my last overnight in Bismarck, North Dakota, then home the next day.
The 400-mile ride from Bismarck to Minneapolis felt as though it took much less time than it seemed. Each of my planned days to and from the coast had meant putting down a minimum of 600 every day. With my customary morning departure time, I was back home by the middle of the afternoon on the final day of the trip. Pulling into the garage and walking into the house was almost anticlimactic after such an epic adventure.
County Roads 200 & 200S (Grass Range, MT to Glendive, MT)