Leaving San Francisco we rode one more time across the Golden Gate Bridge. It really is quite possibly the most beautiful bridge in the world. There was a lot more fog around today so we stopped to get a few ‘ghost’ shots of the bridge draped in veils of sea mist. At the car park we met a troupe of Portuguese guys riding rental Harleys. They were all little guys, dressed alike in ‘San Francisco’ hoodies and to a man looked like cloned leprechauns. At home they all rode BMW’s so the notion of renting Harleys to ride across the States, although it seemed a good idea at the time, had not gone down so well. Coast to coast in 2 weeks. They did not like the Harleys, which are a fairly crude and agricultural machine, and were running a competition to see whose bike had had the most parts fall off. I think one of the ‘Road Kings’ was winning. Riding north along Highway 1 we hit a fairly cold and freezing fog, not unlike the Garua we’d experienced in Northern Peru & Ecuador. It was really weird as it extended only a few miles inland and we spent a day or 2 thermal cycling from low teen centigrade temperatures on the coast to 30+ just a few miles inland.
Our first port of call on the run up to Canada was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. We persevered with the coast route to see the Giant Redwood National Park and after this left the cold fog behind for good. It got hotter and hotter as we rode inland crossing into Oregon. The heat was held at bay when we ascended up through the snowline to the 6,000 feet elevation where Crater Lake is to be found. Crater Lake started its life as a huge volcano – Mount Mazama, which erupted around 7,700 years ago. Inside the volcano was a huge magma chamber and as this emptied during the eruption the mountaintop became unstable to the point where the ceiling of the magma chamber collapsed to form a huge bowl or caldera. As it had no drainage to the outside, the bowl gradually filled with water and today we have the spectacular Crater Lake. Later volcanic activity produced a little mini-volcano cone – an island out in the lake called Wizard Island, so called as it looks like a wizard’s hat floating on the deep blue waters of the lake. Again, as with the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia, allow the statistics to impress. The lake is roughly 6 miles in diameter and is nearly 2,000 feet deep (the cause of its deep blue colour). It is rimmed by very sheer and dangerous cliffs with drops of up to 2000 feet in places. There is a road around the rim but only around 1/3 of this was open to traffic when we were there – the remainder was still snowed in. Crater Lake was quite simply one of the most staggeringly beautiful things we have ever laid eyes on. As we rode into Rim Village we glimpsed the lake but at first sight it looked like we were observing one huge rock wall. The lake walls are so steep that the water is sheltered and untroubled by wind so you get a perfect mirror image of the cliff walls making them look twice the size they really are. It is only on walking up to the rim edge you see the full picture of the 6-mile across lake viewed from a 2000 foot elevation. It was an utterly tranquil location, a place you could sit for hours and contemplate the world away. Crater Lake is a National Park and is effectively closed to all water traffic. We found a rocky perch and sat silently in the gentle breeze allowing our eyes to drink in and be mesmerized by the majestic scene below. There was a sulphurous yellow debris scattered across its surface contrasting vividly with the deep Prussian Blue of the lake water, which in turn clashed vividly with the yellow ochres and scorched siennas in the cliff walls. Contrast this with brilliant flashes of blinding white snow and midnight green splodges of pine trees dotted and clumped precariously on ledges, about to tumble into the bowl.
We rode through more thinning pine trees to Bend, Oregon where we had a short halt to do oil changes on the bikes. Here we managed to see a little of the World Cup. The time difference has meant that the tournament has been effectively unwatchable for us. The games are on mid morning & at lunchtime, times when we are generally in the saddle and moving, but today we saw Brazil beat Ghana 3:0 in a very entertaining game and France & Spain slog it out to 1:1 with France popping an extra 2 in during extra time to clinch it. Football commentary US style is something else too. Ghana had a promising start in their game against Brazil but at times their defence looked shaky. The commentator warned if they didn’t tighten up they get ‘scored on’. Then Brazils keeper Dido, made a fantastic line clearance – just getting an extended foot to the ball to keep it out of the net. This was reported as a ‘Stick Save’ – where the keeper just ‘sticks’ his foot out in desperation, hoping for the clearance! Imaginative commentary to say the least but not exactly ‘Match of the Day’.
Riding north to Coeur d’Alene we had some fantastic volcanoes on our horizon – Mounts Hood, Jefferson and Adams all in the lower Cascades. Big snow capped pointy cones. At times the ride had a Patagonian feel to it and in the coming weeks we would sometimes sense a mirror effect of South America in as we rode further north. By mid morning we were scooting along the Columbia River along one of the most scenic freeways anywhere in this country. Big broad river valley with a good 4-lane highway cut alongside it flanked by reddish sandstone cliffs. A big open empty road, requiring little concentration and allowing us to sit back and drink in the views. We spent a day in Coeur d’Alene catching up on Internet stuff and doing some photo processing. Other than that we found the town a little disappointing. The food in the USA has been the worst of our entire trip. It is difficult to get away from monster portions of everything deep-fried unless you are prepared to pay well. Even then it is quite a search for decent eateries. And what is this bright orange stuff Americans call cheese? It looks and tastes like molten plastic and it comes melted on just about everything. The effects of this diet are only too obvious as everywhere there are obese people in obese quantities looking, as Bill Bryson once said, like baby elephants wearing children’s clothes. Service is suffering too as diners are struggling to retain staff. We were quite amazed at the numbers of jobs on offer – all in the service industry and we heard that places like MacDonalds and Starbucks are now closing up in some towns as they simply cannot staff their premises. In a diner in Coeur d’Alene we were shown our table by a very pretty blonde girl. It was one of those joints looked nice from the street. Inside it was a little gloomy and it took a while to figure out what was what. We sat in a little booth at a sticky table. The girl didn’t say much just a prompt “here” as she directed us to our place. We were given menus with food residues on them. Mags had that ‘what are we doing in here’ look on her face. Some people at the next table asked the young girl where she was from. Nope. Right over her head that one. “Are you from outta state?” they shouted in the time-honoured belief that if at first they don’t understand you, just speak louder. This elicited a smile and a blink or two from those pretty eyes. She just turned and walked away. An older lady who seemed to run the place came over and apologised. “Never mind her. She’s just Siberian. Walked in off the street looking for a job so we thought we’d try her out. Doesn’t speak a word of English. Real pretty too isn’t she?” The people at the table agreed. At this point a couple that had just came in before us got up and left. We looked at our sticky table. We sniffed the pall of deep-fried everything. We looked again at the menu with food residues on it. We pondered the delights of trying to order food from a Siberian waitress who doesn’t speak English. We left.
One more day of riding in the US took us on into Montana; a cracking sunny days ride chasing the twisty Coeur d’Alene river through awesome pine clad mountains and saw our first moose of the trip. We passed by Thompson Falls and the road then straightened out to run us down to the Flathead Lake, Kalispell and then on to West Glacier the gateway to Glacier National Park. Accommodation was scarce or expensive but we found that the KOA at St Marys had some little cabins (like we used in San Diego) so we called and made a reservation and then set out to end the days ride with an enthralling passage over the ‘Going to the Sun’ Highway that runs right through Glacier National Park. In the post depression days of the early 1930’s, Roosevelt implemented a series of public works schemes to basically create employment for masses of people. They involved major engineering feats building roads, dams, etc. One of their objectives was to open up the west and its National Parks to the increasingly motor driven public. The ‘Going to the Sun’ Highway was built under this scheme and it is an amazing piece of work. It runs for 50 miles skirting Lake McDonald and then climbs to 6,650 feet at Logan Pass from where it tumbles down and round St Mary Lake towards the border with Canada. Climbing the road in the late evening sun we sat aghast on our bikes wondering how on earth they got up here to these heights to excavate and build this road. The road hugs the mountainside with sheer drop offs on the outside extending to awesome vistas in the setting sun. We really felt we were going to the sun and hoped it would hold out for us in the weeks ahead as we run into Alaska.
We spent a few days in Glacier National Park being wowed once again by the splendour of geography on offer in North America. We took a day trip up to the Hidden Lake in what turned out to be one of the best hikes we ever did anywhere in the world. It is a popular trail but most of it was still under snow when we hiked it. Most people only bother walking the first half of the trail to the lake overlook but the best views were afforded beyond this where the trail was a lot quieter and we walked on down to the Hidden Lake itself. We were walking along the consequence of a clash of titans, where a huge fault rift lifted the seabed of an ancient ocean and thrust it high up into the sky. Known as the Lewis Overthrust Fault, it has produced some spectacular scenery in this part of the Rockies. We were also entreated to a wonderful wildlife spectacle during our picnic lunch when a beautiful white North American Mountain Goat and her kid wandered over and started to feed next to us. These animals have a pure white shaggy coat with short black horns and snowman coal eyes and nose. Their mouths seem fixed in a permanent Mona-Lisa smile and we wonder do we amuse them or are they laughing at some other secret? Whatever, they are beautiful animals – very serene and majestic, kings of their environment. We met more later and watched the kids at play – King of the Castle was the game – to see who would stay atop a small boulder, whilst his mates tried to knock him off and claim it for themselves. We had a grand day out on the Hidden Trail Hike and I don’t know what it is we enjoy about days like these so much but I found a quote from the Scotsman, John Muir who travelled extensively through the American West in the late 1800’s and I think it sums it up…
Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer… Climb the mountains to get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energies, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.