On Memorial Day, 2013, I took a 200 mile trip on my motorcycle to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Before that, my longest trip was 70 miles – round trip. The 2007 Ducati Monster 696 I had the time punished me for it, but I loved every minute. I had started thinking about something bigger.
I remember returning from that trip with a new view on life and motorcycling. I fell in love with discovering new places on a motorcycle. I remember almost immediately looking for a new bike. The Monster (her name was Donna) was a wonderful bike. It was my first motorcycle, and I wanted something that reflected my own taste. I didn’t really care that it wasn’t the best fit for my 6’2 frame. It looked like a cafe racer, was all black, and she sounded fantastic. After the long trip, though, I knew I needed something else to tackle longer distances.
I started looking at bikes. We’ll call this paragraph “regret.” After doing some research, I wanted some sort of hybrid motorcycle that was sporty but more capable of long tours. I ended up with a brand-new Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200, a 130-hp supermotard. Again, this section is called regret. The bike was extremely comfortable. It didn’t ask me to stretch out over the tank like Donna did, but this bike was maniacal. In “Sport” mode, the bike was almost unrideable, but I was able to make it work for me. As I started thinking about another trip, I started falling out of love with the Dorsoduro. The electrical problems I had with the bike (which had it in the shop for three months) were the last nail in the coffin. I couldn’t trust the bike anymore. It was time to go.
I still wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I had been off of the bike for about four months. I was itching to start planning something. It suddenly came to me: Alaska. I started doing the research. Being in the California Bay Area, it seemed to make sense – the timing would work out (it takes about five weeks to complete the trip), and I would be able to visit a bunch of the cities in the PNW that I hadn’t been to before (Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver). It’s a trip that many adventure riders complete, so there were plenty of resources on how to complete the journey safely. I was sold.
My family members still ask for Christmas lists. I’m a grown man. I never know what to ask for. Christmas 2013 was different. I had created a list of all of the things I’d need for the trip (camping gear, mostly) and was fortunate enough to get the majority of the items I needed as gifts. At the same time, I had also started looking at how to get an adventure bike more suited for the trip, as my time with the Aprilia was definitely up.
I have to acknowledge the Bay Area Riders Forum for their advice on a new bike. Originally, I thought I needed something capable of offroading, but the truth of the matter was that the road to Alaska was (mostly) paved and that an offroad bike was completely unnecessary. Oh, and I have zero offroad experience. A trip to Alaska is probably not the safest way to learn. Knowing this, I was able to start looking for a touring bike that could handle the luggage necessary for a five-week trip.
The best option seemed to be the Triumph Tiger 800. It was priced just right and could do everything that I needed it to do. I’m not a speed demon or a wheelie expert – I just love riding. I remember taking the Tiger out for a test ride (after the Dorso fiasco, I insisted), and while it was a well-built bike, it was just… Boring. Perhaps it was the trackmonster that was the Dorso that left me wanting more from it, but I left the test drive wondering if I missed something. I still felt like it was a good match for the trip.
Well, it turns out we couldn’t come to terms on the Tiger. I walked away from it because I didn’t really love it anyway. It was a bike that would get me to Alaska and back. It was back to the drawing board. Around the same time, a few people had recommended that I look at the Multistrada from Ducati. I was familiar with them, but I was more interested in Monsters and Panigales. The Multistrada looked so “forced”, as if Ducati was required to make a touring bike, and this is what they had come up with. Nevertheless, I was convinced that I should give one a shot, and there just happened to be a used one in Sacramento. It was black (the only color that exists in my motorcycle world), had hardsided luggage, and low miles. I setup an appointment.
I still remember the test ride. This bike was bad. It was the complete opposite of the Tiger. I mean, this bike had personality. Electronic suspension, ride-by-wire, ABS, traction control, a ridiculous engine. I was convinced after about five minutes that this bike was it. This was the bike that I could take to Alaska in full adventure gear or to a downtown cafe in denim. We engineered a deal to trade the Aprilia and get the Ducati in my hands, and the rest is history.
At about the same time, I was told I was being promoted. Of course, I was ecstatic, but I knew it would be much harder to take off five weeks with a new team. I started thinking about what I could do in two-three weeks, knowing I could always plan an Alaska trip for another time. I knew Portland, Seattle, Vancouver were definites, but after that, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to see. Looking at the major cities that I haven’t been to, I decided that I could go from Vancouver back down to Salt Lake City, spend some time there, and dart back to California in two and a half weeks.
The final schedule: Santa Clara, CA > Sacramento, CA > Lake Tahoe, CA > Crater Lake, OR > Portland, OR > Seattle, WA > Vancouver, BC, Canada > Spokane, WA > Butte, MT > Idaho Falls, ID > Salt Lake City, UT > Santa Clara, CA.
To get ready for the trip, I needed to start taking some longer rides. Luckily, there’s some great rides within a short distance. I took on Las Vegas, Yosemite (Tioga Pass), and Hearst Castle to get a feel for the bike and the distance. Each trip averaged about 400 miles per day.
The trips definitely tested my endurance. Based on the trip schedule, I had about two and a half weeks to complete the entire loop, with some days being much longer than others. I tried to keep totals around 350 miles a day with time for days off.
With the route planning out of the way, it was time to take off. First leg was Santa Clara to Sacramento, a fairly easy 90 mile trip.
From there, it was off to Lake Tahoe, another 90 mile trip.
After two nights there, I was off to Crater Lake. It would be an all-day ride at 332 miles.
On the way there, California’s Finest pulled me over – I was going way too fast on a two-lane road. On these longer trips, it is very easy to go on autopilot, which is extremely dangerous. Luckily, I just received a ticket. I’d get to Crater Lake a few hours later.
People ask me about the tent constantly – it was great, but WAY too big for one person!
I had a hard time sleeping the first night in camp. It was pretty hot and uncomfortable. The yoga pad I decided to bring along didn’t really help much. At some point in the night, disaster struck. I heard the bike tip over. I wasn’t sure what caused it (BEARS), but I quickly picked up my hatchet and headlamp to see what was going on. I popped my head out of the tent to see the Multistrada lights reflecting back to me. It was on the ground. I took a quick look around and didn’t see (or hear) anything. I walked over and was able to get the bike back up on the stand. It had actually fallen very slowly – the kickstand just kept falling into to the dirt until it eventually came over. I used the hatchet to chop a sliver of wood to put under the kickstand. This distributes the weight evenly so the kickstand wouldn’t dig in. There was some damage to the bike, but there was nothing I could do about it in the middle of the night. I tried to get back to sleep.
Let’s call this section “Why you need a Leatherman.”
So in the morning, I noticed that the handguard had been cracked (on the Multi it houses the turn indicators). It had completely snapped off, but the brake on that side and everything else seemed to be ok. Luckily, thanks to some zip-ties and popsicle sticks, I was able to stabilize the mirror. My Leatherman, one of the last things I purchased for the trip, was clutch. With everything sorted out and the bike starting, I needed to head to the nearest town (Bend, OR) to get a more permanent fix.
But first, I had to see the lake.
Good morning, Oregon! It has been a rough 24 hours. First, I zoned out and received a well deserved speeding ticket from California's finest. Then, last night, the bike fell over when the dirt under the kickstand have way. Luckily, not a catastrophic fall, but will have to get the bike serviced tomorrow in Portland. 530 miles in.
After the lake, it was time to head out to Bend to get some fixes for the bike. I’d try to make it to Portland that day, but fixing the bike was a priority.
Camped out, night five on the road. After Crater, it was a rush to get to Bend, Oregon, about 100 miles away. The handguard, pictured left, broke off when the bike went down overnight. I made it to a mechanic in Bend by securing the handguard with a Popsicle stick and three zip ties. The guys at M-Tech were able to fix the broken plastic with a couple of screws and some epoxy, buying me some time to get the bike to Portland where I can order a replacement. Did I mention they did it for a couple of IPAs? Amazing. http://www.mtechmotorcycles.com
Thanks to MTech, I was on my way. I couldn’t make it to Portland, so I decided to camp in The Dalles, OR, right along the river.
After a lovely camp there, it was time to head into Portland.
Even saw my dream bike at MotoCorsa while waiting for my bike to be repaired!
After two wonderful days of eating and touring Portland, it was time to head to Washington. I decided to go the long way from Portland, through Astoria, up to Seattle.
The wetlands along the coast were phenomenal. It was very easily some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen before. The weather had finally cooled off (it had been over 90 every day to that point), and the roads were empty. Just gorgeous. I arrived in Seattle later that night.
Much like Portland, I pretty much ate my way through Seattle. After a few days there, it was off to Canada for a day in Vancouver.
What a wonderful city. Next time I go back, I’ll definitely stay longer. The next day was Vancouver to Spokane, WA. Didn’t get a ton of pictures because it was raining almost the entire morning. Then, I managed to get lost (don’t use your iPhone for navigation, people) and added another four hours to my trip. I left Vancouver at 10AM and didn’t get into Spokane until 10PM.
The next few days were mostly highway riding down to Salt Lake City. I originally planned to get there in three days, but thanks to some gratuitous speed limits, I was able to get to SLC in two days. I ended up camping through a thunderstorm in Butte, MT, where I met up with some other bikers going in the opposite direction. In 98 degree heat, I arrived in SLC shortly after.
It was basically too hot in Salt Lake City to do anything. I had wanted to visit Zion and Bonneville, but the heat was just miserable. Being in full touring gear didn’t help. I basically rested up for the two days that I was there. I got on the bike to explore the city at night when it had cooled down. After two days, I decided to make the very, very early trip to Sacramento, leaving at 5AM before it got too hot. I hit the Salt Flats at Sunrise.
It was stunning.
After that, it was a whole lot of desert until Reno, where I stopped for lunch before the final push into Sacramento. I arrived in Sacramento that afternoon, managing to cover over 500 miles. Besides the trip back to the Bay Area, I was done, exactly two weeks after my departure date.
This trip changed my life.
I saw some of the most beautiful parts of the world that I hadn’t seen before. I met some of the nicest and most sincere travelers on my way, and they didn’t hesitate to make me feel like I was a part of their family. It was extremely difficult at times, and my body was telling me to stop more than once. But it was worth it, and I can’t wait to do it again. What’s next? I’m not sure. I loved so much of Canada that I’d love to ride more of it. Perhaps a trip to Calgary? Who knows. It might be time to finally go to Alaska.