Washington State:

Text: Charles Peterson • Photography: Charles Peterson

Bonnie and the others invited along for a week of laid-back motorcycling - cruising Washington's beautiful Mount Rainier and the Cascades - had commitments at home in New Jersey. As for me, I was as free as Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson in the 60's classic Easy Rider. Free to soar on a Harley-Davidson plucked from Cruise America's fleet in Everett.

Cruise America paid the $ 34 taxi fare from the Seattle airport to their shop where I strapped 55 pounds of gear to the back of a new Heritage Classic. It was a dry time of year for the Seattle area and the weather ideal for riding. The warmer, eastern side of Mt. Rainier further fueled my enthusiasm to drive 150 miles southeast, through Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), to camp the first night at Yakima Sportsman State Park.

Decked out in a new tee shirt from Owens Harley-Davidson of Yakima, I headed west on the following day to Mt. Rainier National Park, via White Pass (Hwy 12), and had lunch at the park's rustic yet luxurious, log-constructed Paradise Inn. This being July, it was a surprise to find children playing out front in last winter's residual snow. Mt. Rainier was shrouded in a cloud, a common occurence, and the only alternative for closer views here is a strenuous hike to the summit.

Just west of Paradise on Hwy 706 is Narada Falls. Here the Paradise River drops 168 feet. It is a short walk from the parking area to the base of the falls and a wonderful rainbow is visible in the fall's prevailing mist. Sunrise Visitor Center, north of Mt. Rainier's summit off Hwy 410, is the highest point in the park accessible by vehicles. Sunrise has fewer visitors and with favorable weather, the views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades are better here than at Paradise.

My return to Yakima Sportman State Park for a second night brought an end to a full day. My thanks to the powers that be for nature's nocturnal, summer sounds and Coleman's inflatable mat. Before leaving the area, take the trolley ride on the historic Yakima Electric Railway. The 90-minute trip runs a route established in 1907 "...through city streets, past orchards, and along the Naches River and the shoulder of Yakima Ridge through Selah Gap." After breaking camp and loading everything on the motorcycle, I rode through Blewett Pass (Hwy 97) to Leavenworth, Washington's "Bavarian village," where alpine chalets with scrolled, wood balustraded balconies and merchants dressed in traditional lederhosen are the picturesque norm.

West of Stevens Pass (Hwy 2) there is an unmarked trailhead for a two-mile trek up the mountain to Scenic Hot Springs. In Hiking Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest, author Evie Litton describes the site as "A short but stiff day hike to a well-named gem, near the Cascade crest and... naked bodies are welcome." Having noticed the lack of attire on some individuals using the hot spring and without a swimsuit in hand, I joined in the bathing ritual. Feeling refreshed, I rode Forest Road 65 to make camp on the banks of the Skykomish River at remote Jack's Pass. Jack's Pass, unmarked on the Washington State map, is the midway point of a partially graveled 27-mile loop between the hamlets of Skykomish and Index.

Shooting pool at the Index Tavern, a haven for bikers, rock climbers and whitewater boaters ("river rats") created an appetite for a nice dinner at Index's quaint Bush House Country Inn. It was a good day. In times gone by, I too shot a decent game of pool and paddled some of the nation's mighty whitewater rivers. Before leaving town to stay a second night at Jack's Pass, I purchased a stack of seasoned firewood and lashed it to the passenger seat on the Heritage. Wild foxglove and lupine were blooming everywhere. The sound of the crackling campfire and the Skykomish River's rapids lulled me to sleep.

I drove the less-traveled Mountain Loop Highway, a gravel road north through Barlow Pass, en route to the Rockport State Park campground where tent sites are situated among 300-foot tall, old growth fir trees and a lush undergrowth of ferns. A nice respite along the way to the park is a nature hike among the rocks, flora, and fauna of Mount Pilchuck, only four miles roundtrip. Lace on good walking shoes and venture to Pilchuck's spectacular summit near the Verlot Public Service Center. On a clear day, the Olympic Mountains are visible to the west and views east include the Cascades' Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.

Having made camp at Rockport, I traveled east to Winthrop to eat, by means of the popular, twisty North Cascades Scenic Highway through Washington and Rainy Passes (Hwy 20). The route, quite cold at higher elevations, has turnouts with magnificent panoramic vistas along the way. Visitors may take the Diablo Lake cruise on a motor launch and tour Seattle City Light's hydroelectric facilities. The tour also includes a trip on an incline railway up Sourdough Mountain.

Winthrop's architecture is a reproduction of a 100-year-old cattle town located on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. The ranchers on the western side of the Cascade Divide are reluctant to buy hay from Winthrop because rattlesnakes are found in the bales trucked from the drier, warmer Winthrop area. I was careful where I stepped for several days after hearing this serpent tale.

Close to Rockport State Park, ten miles up a gravel mountain road and then at the end of a 2.1-mile hike, is the peak of Mt. Sauk. As Eric Molvar writes in the Falcon Series guidebook, Best Easy Day Hikes North Cascades, the "Views are surprisingly inspiring from here, encompassing Mount Baker and Puget Sound as well as the glacier-carved peaks of the Cascades." Nine miles up the mountain, one mile before leaving the motorcycle at the trailhead, I discovered the road had been taken out by a snow slide. Boulders, downed trees, and snow covered my intended route. Disappointed by not reaching Mt. Sauk's peak, I found some solace in Concrete at "...the state's longest single plank bar," where I leaned against the old 50-foot long, single piece of lumber, bar top and nursed a beer.

Adorned in a new Skagit Harley-Davidson tee shirt purchased in Burlington, I toured Bellingham's affluent and scenic Chuckanut Drive, a meandering coastal route overlooking some of Puget Sound's islands (Hwy 11). I then motored on for a fresh, seafood meal at one of the many waterfront restaurants in the fishing village of La Conner off Hwy 20. Stopping further south on Hwy 20 at Oak Harbor's steel cantilevered Deception Pass Bridge, connecting Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, I discovered a trailhead and took a pleasant, short walk down the bluff to the water's edge.

My evening was spent sorting and packing clothes at Freeland's Harbor Inn Motel and the local laundromat. The next morning I drove ten miles to Clinton's ferry, sailed the short passage across Possession Sound to Mukilteo, and returned the Harley in Everett.

I doubt I would have enjoyed this trip much more had Peter, Dennis, and Jack been along. But the fun didn't stop there. After rendezvousing with Bonnie at the Seattle Airport, we flew to Montana for a week of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding in Glacier National Park - and a chance encounter with the spirit of Grizzly Adams.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the Winter 2002 back issue.