January 2012 VHF Contest

The Olympic Peninsula is way off in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest and offers a huge area of remote, isolated and largely undeveloped wilderness. The peninsula has but one single main road, Highway 101, which gives access to the distant coastline. Although most of it is within a hundred miles of the densely populated greater Seattle area, the tall peaks in the Olympic Mountain range will block radio propagation from the coastline. And the winter weather blocked drivable access to ridges and peaks. All of this along with our recent severe local weather, makes it a challenge for the 2012 VHF Contest that we couldn’t resist.

Rod WE7X and Barry WA7KVC made a driving adventure to activate rare grid squares on the Olympic Peninsula coastline on January 21-22 during the ARRL January 2012 VHF Contest.

Our goal was to activate the remote lowland coastal grids in the state during the VHF contest. This is the dead of winter in the Pacific Northwest so other possible destinations that involved “hilltopping” or other parts of the state with mountainous inland grids were not considered, especially in light of our recent weather. The Seattle area was still digging out from snowfall, ice storms, downed trees, mudslides, widespread power outages and road closures. To set the stage, you should realize that Rod’s home had been without power for two days before, and his neighborhood was still dark when we returned. Barry’s house had power restored just the night before we left.

Our plan to target the “warmer” ocean coast turned out to be mostly successful – at least it didn’t rain all the time during our trip. Sometimes it snowed for awhile instead.

During the 650-mile drive, our constant companions were rain, cold, wind, squalls, snow and fog. But it was fabulously scenic. Thankfully the 4Runner’s broad liftgate provided shelter from the worst elements when we stopped and put up the 2-meter beam at the back of the truck. All we had to do is remember to park pointing into the wind.
Rod WE7X in the freezing rain at Sekiu

Route

We drove clockwise around the Olympic Peninsula, thinking that we should activate the single most difficult grid square (CN78 at Sekiu) on Sunday morning during the VHF weak-signal net. This turned out to be a Good Idea because it gave us a better chance of reaching the most capable VHF stations when we occupied the most remote grid square. It was difficult to make any contacts but we achieved a few by bouncing signals from Mt Baker.
Driving route map for January VHF Contest rover

Rover Highlights

The contest began Saturday morning, 11 am local time, and we set up in Ocean Shores. This is a thin slice of land that juts into CN76 with wide, flat open areas. In summertime, this is packed with tourists and beach lovers. In winter, it’s practically a ghost town. The local airport’s parking lot was empty except for shorebirds and offered unobstructed propagation toward Seattle.
Barry WA7KVC in (very!) brief sunshine at Ocean Shores Airport Barry WA7KVC starts operating at Ocean Shores when the contest begins.This view is looking east toward Seattle across the inland bay at the small local airport.

The town of Copalis is rich with character, some of which is designed to lure campers and tourists.

A golden sun spurting crepuscular rays across the heavens while it sets behind a cloud bank over the crashing surf is always a huge inspirational thrill, even in near-freezing temperatures.
Crepuscular sunset of cold Pacific beach near Forks, WA Winter sunset at beaches near Forks, WA

We discovered that our mobile 144 MHz stacked loops worked surprisingly well on 432 MHz. This is triple the resonant frequency so I suppose we shouldn’t be so surprised. The mobile mast carried loops for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 220 MHz. The little 220 MHz loops went unused as we didn’t carry a radio for that band.

We scouted the route to North Point (Kloshe Nanitch Lookout), a nice high 3,000’ ridge in the closer part of CN78. The road was totally blocked by recent snow to the extent that its forest path was unfindable.
Kloshe Nanitch Lookout road at North Point, Washington

Instead of North Point, we went to a spot near the Sekiu airport, a distant second choice in altitude and desirability, but it’s the best we could do in an area simply chock full of poor choices.
Sekiu Airport in the dead of winter

I love the banter you can use when calling from CN78: “CQ CQ, CQ Sekiu, CQ from Sekiu, CQ to Sekiu, and CQ everywhere else”. I think that all active hams should have a chance to visit a place that can help spread so much mind-boggling confusion.

Crossing grid lines is always exciting. Just when you think the bands died or the antenna fell off, you cross a grid line and suddenly become extremely popular again. All grid line crossings were like this, but when we entered CN97 above Issaquah Highlands on the plateau at 1,001-foot elevation, we enjoyed a real pile-up. Rod made 15 contacts in 10 minutes.
Rod WE7X working mobile radio in Issaquah Highlands

A blizzard at night driving from Forks to Port Angeles caused almost white-out conditions. Indeed, there was snow alongside the road on the entire route and snowplows were few and far between.
Curvy winter road signposted 15 mph near Port Angeles Winter travel from Forks to Port Angeles Wet winter conditions at Sekiu Airport, WA Winter snowplow on road to Kingston, WA

It was a new experience to send CW in conditions so cold that two-finger gloves are required.
Barry sends morse code in the cold with two-finger gloves

January is so far off the tourist season in Port Angeles that one of their best Fish-n-Chips restaurants closed early: 7pm Saturday!

We pulled into a Super-8 hotel in Port Angeles, and their entry overhang looked quite high. Imagine our surprise when we step out to discover the loops had just cleared it by an inch. If we’d parked a little to the left then it would’ve had a nasty dispute with a light fixture.
Rod WE7X looks up at close call in Super-8 motel

Testing New Gear

A large part of this trip’s purpose was to try out a wide variety of new equipment:

Winter setting sun at beaches near Forks, WA New Toyota 4Runner – a very capable truck that makes some unthinkable spots possible and some difficult conditions become easy. It has lots of storage room and good road manners at all speeds in all conditions.
Biggest problem: while operating at the back end, the rainwater pools in the liftgate and later, when you pull down the hatch, makes itself known. The icy water takes a diabolically unavoidable path down your arm and into your neck and armpit.
Second biggest problem: In spite of its advanced hill-climbing features, a new 4Runner still won’t let you climb a forest trail up to a 3,000’ ridge on a road that is so buried under snow that it’s unfindable.

Trailer hitch T-adapter for radio mast mountsNew trailer hitch T-adapter – this allows two versatile side mounting positions, where we could have two masts while not blocking the rear hatch access.
Biggest problem: Rod is keeping it for himself. So, just because he provided the entire idea, design, parts, labor, construction, painting, installation and testing, why does he think he can keep this dandy device?


Kenwood TM-D710 showing APRS information at Issaquah Highlands CN97New TM-D710 dual band mobile radio – integrates with Avmap G5 and supports APRS and displays your six-digit grid square with a handy continuous dashboard display.
Biggest problem: there were no APRS receiving stations around most of the Olympic Peninsula to bridge our position to the Internet.


Barry WA7KVC with M2 seven-element 2-meter beam on 15' mast at Sekiu, WAM2 seven-element 2-meter beam on a 15’ mast – terrific gain, f/b ratio, low SWR, portability and light weight. This let us bounce a signal from CN78 (Sekiu) off of Mt Baker and work a few stations in Seattle.
Biggest problem: you just don’t need these features for the other 90% of the contacts around the greater Seattle area. The horizontal loops on an 8′ mobile mast works just fine for a lot of quick contacts.

New deep-cycle storage battery – its huge 134 amp-hour capacity could probably have powered both VHF radios for the entire weekend.
Biggest problem: the battery went untested and unused since I forgot to connect it. We were a half hour late starting the contest in Ocean Shores (CN76) and rushed through setup and then never moved the power connections.

Results

The overall contest activity was very light. The recent ice and snow storms probably reduced the participation from everyone across the Pacific NW. There were no good 6-meter or 2-meter openings during the trip and we only made three Canadian contacts.

Band From CN76 From CN77 From CN78 From CN87 From CN88 From CN97 Total
 50 MHz 2 4 14 10 14 47
144 MHz 4 4 9 17 4 12 50
432 MHz 6 6
Total 6 8 9 31 14 35 103

This was my first two-person rover contest operation. It was highly enjoyable and a rather successful trip, activating six grids resulting in 103 contacts for an estimated score of 2,398 points.

Barry WA7KVC
Winter sunset with crepuscular rays at beaches near Forks, WA Winter rainbow near Port Angeles, WA

Salmon Run 2011

Sammamish to Pomeroy, WAHere is a photo essay of my ham radio expedition to Garfield County. The Washington State QSO Party (aka “Salmon Run”) is a two-day event with the goal of hams making contact to as many people as possible in Washington state. There is a big bonus for talking to as many counties in the state as possible. So I made this solo expedition to the least populated and most rare county in our state.

I am WA7KVC and new to ham radio contesting, having done almost no operating in the last thirty years. I hope that operating from a rare county will help make up for my lack of experience, and I’m looking forward to a little adventure.

As it turned out, just driving from Seattle to this remote corner of the state was an adventure.

Before: loading the car at home(1) Before: Packed and loaded for a one-man expedition to Pomeroy and Umatilla National Forest. I’ll be the talk of the county! (Mostly on 3.9 and 7.2 MHz) — at Sammamish, WA.


Cleaning up multi-car crash(2) Road crews are still cleaning up after a deadly multi-car crash on I-90 east of Ellensburg yesterday on 2011-09-15. There is not very much left of this vehicle, whatever it was.

A brush fire had been billowing black smoke across the road and some vehicles slowed down and some didn’t. A semi-tractor trailer was involved. Very sad. — east of Ellensburg, WA.

Columbia River and the city of Vantage from a scenic overlook on I-90(3) Continuing eastward, you gradually climb a long hill on I-90 up over Rye Grass then coast down a ten-mile grade to cross the mighty Columbia River at the city of Vantage. Here you see the backwaters from Wanapum Dam just off the picture to the left. This is a wonderful recreation area for boaters of all kinds, since the deep waters extend many miles off to the right.


Grape and apple farmland near Mattawa, WA(4) Turning south after crossing the mighty Columbia from r-to-l in the photo above, you drive through the skirts of Beverly (whoopee!) and Mattawa, then you’ll see fabulous grape and apple orchards. This is an incongruous land of lush green bordered by parched desert, but it’s highly productive farmland if you can just get water on it. — at Mattawa, WA.


Sherriff's office and outhouse in Washtucna(5) Such a cute little Sheriff’s office and outhouse! Sign says “Outhouse: Deluxe model, 2 holer seater and used well during the days.” Either they were close friends or people were smaller back then. — at Washtucna, WA.


Winding roads southeast of Washtucna(6) Here is a really fun part of the six-hour drive across the state from Seattle to Umatilla Nat Forest. Take it from me: a turbo-charged power wagon is highly recommended. The scenic sinuous roads south of Washtucna are super! (Yes these two roads are just one.) — Hwy 261 south of Washtucna, WA.


Pomeroy, WA(7) Welcome to the friendly city of Pomeroy! It’d better be friendly … it’s the only city in the county. Garfield County has total population 2,260 in 546 square miles, or an average density of 4 people/mile2. But actually much less, since half the county population is in Pomeroy. — at Pomeroy, WA.

I thought that Washtucna and Pomeroy were very comparable, but I just looked it up and it’s not even close. According to 2010 census, Pomeroy has 1,425 and Washtucna 208 people.

Vending machine in Pomeroy, WA(8) Vending machine in the men’s room at the one-and-only Pomeroy filling station. The descriptions are so over-the-top they make it sound like you don’t need anyone else. Oh right, this is Pomeroy, the only town in the #1 most unpopulated county in the state. — in Pomeroy, WA.


Wheat fields south of Pomeroy(9) Driving south from Pomeroy, you enter sweeping vistas of farmland. This is highly productive wheatland. However, many farmers live in town and drive out for their fieldwork. This leaves the general population density in the county below an estimated 1 person/mile2.

This is September and the wheat harvest is just finished. Some fields will lie fallow and absorb moisture for the winter. Other fields are plowed and planted with “winter wheat” which will grow an inch tall and be protected by a thin snow cover until spring.

These old windmills are not uncommon in eastern Washington. However, there are none in use any longer. The blades are turned 90-degrees to the tail vane, like this one.

The pavement detours from Pomeroy around road construction. My maps are useless. I try to follow the minimalist “Detour” signs but fail. So I watch my GPS instead, since it’s fully equipped with national forest service roads. (This turns out to be a Really Bad Idea.)

Primitive road(10) This is a very bad sign. I should not have turned onto this road. The road went downhill quickly from here. Seriously, don’t ever trust your GPS enough to drive past one of these signs. — south of Pomeroy, WA.


Really bad forest service road(11) Warning: To a GPS navigation system, all forest service roads are the same. They are just numbers in an array. It will route you through the Screaming Ravine of Death to save a few feet of driving distance.

This was horrible. I wish I had a shovel in case the car got high-centered. It almost happened. I inched along in first gear in my passenger car for an hour, while (in my ignorance) wide smooth dirt roads were nearby although a little bit longer. – somewhere in Umatilla National Forest

GPS coordinates of destination(12) Upon arrival at my campsite, where exactly was I? This tells you everything there is to know. 🙂 — at Teal Camp in Umatilla National Forest.


Scenic spit of land into valley far below(13) Once you arrive at Teal Camp, this bare exposed spit of land juts out into an immense valley below with a vast dropoff on three sides. It’s actually perfectly safe but it’s not a good place if you’re afraid of heights.


Teal Camp, Umatilla National Forest(14) Teal Camp is almost at 6,000′ on a big bluff overlooking a tremendous valley. Reminded me of the Grand Canyon only with trees. By sundown the first day I got my dipole up in the trees and the shack assembled. All the radio stuff goes in the tent and I sleep in the car. — Teal Camp at Umatilla National Forest.


Forest undergrowth is recovering from fire(15) The view behind my tent shows undergrowth recovering after a big forest fire swept through the area a few years ago. — at Umatilla National Forest.


View of tent and valley(16) The view out my shack window is this huge valley. One reason I like to go hilltopping is that, if the radio propagation is poor (it wasn’t), then at least I have this fabulous scenery to enjoy. — at Teal Camp in Umatilla National Forest.


Ham radio operating position at Teal Camp(17) What’s it like to operate ham radio for two days? Here is my position; in this photo I’m just starting set up.

If a band wasn’t too crowded I held one frequency for an hour or two at a time, running a steady stream of contacts. I never let my channel be quiet for more than five seconds — then it’s time to call CQ again. I was a rare station so I called CQ relentlessly. This is way more fun than it sounds. Everyone is so grateful to have a Garfield contact they thanked me sincerely. It’s as much fun as handing out candy! — at Teal Camp in Umatilla National Forest

Locked keys in car with engine running(18) This is what a car looks like after you lock the keys inside with the engine running. See that window that’s open almost one half inch? That’s not much to work with.

It would have taken a long time to get AAA on the scene, assuming I could even reach them without any cellphone service way out here.

Before today, I thought it was impossible to lock your keys in a Jetta. The car outsmarts the driver at every turn. I own two Jettas and found the driver MUST use the key fob button to lock the car. And then, in the most primitive wilderness area possible, I discovered the passenger side can lock everything and close the door. Imagine my surprise.

Back in the Jurrassic age it was easy, I’d just park my wheel by a bear cave for instant security. Nowadays I have to out-think this car in order to lock it at all; the Jettas are so determined to keep the driver from locking the keys inside that it frequently remains unlocked. Today’s Thievery Tip: Try the Jettas first!

I was awfully worried, even though one always has many methods to get into a locked car. But some methods are more expensive than others. I picked a method involving manipulating a rather thin twig to push the “window down” button. Whew! — at Umatilla National Forest.

Barry WA7KVC during Salmon Run(19) My 100-watt radio covered most of the United States in this two-day contest. The goal of the Washington State QSO Party is for everyone to contact all 39 counties in our state. I made this expedition to Garfield County so I’d be in the #1 least populated and most rare county. It worked — I was in big demand on the air. — at Umatilla National

The whole basis of my strategy was depending on having a rare county make up for my inexperience: First HF contest, first Salmon Run, first time using N1MM logging, first CW contact in 30- years, first HF expedition, first battery portable, first solar panel, first visit to Umatilla Nat Forest, first solo camping trip, first time I locked my keys in this car with the engine running.

Overlooking big valley from Teal Camp(20) A look just off the edge of the bluff I was camping on. Awesome. My 102-foot dipole antenna (a model known as G5RV named after its inventor) has one end attached to the top of the big dead snag on the right. — Teal Camp at Umatilla National Forest.


Cold operating position for Barry WA7KVC(21) What’s it like? Cold. The air was cold and windy all the time, and valley air whips over the bluff constantly. But on the air, it was warm and friendly. Everyone was polite and efficient and even helpful on 3.5 MHz and 7 MHz bands. The longer-distance band of 14 MHz was a brutal verbal fist-fight of no-holds barred transmitter competition. I stayed away from 14 MHz even though I could have gotten more multipliers by working more states and countries.

 

Barry looks at a cold can of chili(22) Don’t tell my wife that I had a Stag Party! Then again, it was not a very hot party. In fact, it was not a hot weekend at any moment — my propane burner didn’t work. No hot coffee, no hot meals all weekend.

Yeah really. But ya just make the best if what you’ve got. It would take hours to drive anywhere and back. The problem was my fault — I bought new little propane bottles but the fittings didn’t match my camping burner. I was well prepared and brought two of almost everything. I even had two little propane bottles. Of course they both didn’t fit, lol.

It’s a time-management problem. The whole trip is designed around being on the air for 23 hours in the weekend. There are lots of things I could do if I was willing to trade radio time for them. Not worth it, to me.

Solar panels at my remote outpost(23) Imagine free energy falling from the sky all day long! This 45-watt solar panel array kept a big 12v storage battery charged for all my operating needs. It’s a wonderfully silent system — too bad someone was playing their “radio” so loudly all day long. — at Umatilla National Forest.


Barry WA7KVC operating Salmon Run(24) The laptop runs N1MM contest logging software (my first time). It’s great! I only enter a callsign and their 3-letter county. Very efficient.

However, I had trouble keeping the laptop battery charged. A full charge takes three hours, it has to be plugged into a DC inverter in the car, and I can’t operate while it’s charging because it generates lots of radio noise. Bummer. Next year I’d like to have two laptop batteries and swap them from time to time.

I also had a lot of trouble with radio noise emitted from the USB cable between laptop and radio. The radio would chirp and squeal in sync with the polling interval, twice a second. So I manually entered frequency and mode whenever I changed bands or turned knobs. Next year I must find a “radio quiet” link. I think it is just a matter of routing the interconnecting cable to stay away from the radio. — at Umatilla National Forest.

Solar panel charging system(25) The solar panels can easily keep the storage battery topped off in bright sun, even while transmitting in the contest at full bore. Too bad it was overcast most of the time, but it would still charge through the clouds. — at Umatilla National Forest.


Tortured blackened trees at Teal Camp in Umatilla National Forest(26) Tortured trees bear witness to a forest fire a few years ago. I think this one melted. — at Umatilla National Forest.


Captain Solar!(27) Captain Solar, Commander of the Airwaves!


2-meter beam on 20-foot mast at Teal Camp(28) This 144 Mhz beam on a 20′ mast pointed north-east gave me another band that reached Seattle and also Sunnyside OR. So … what did YOU do at sunrise last Sunday? — at Umatilla National Forest.


Loading the car in the dark(29) After: Contest is all done, time to break camp and skedaddle. Say what? All this stuff needs to fit into there? Oh no.

But it was finally loaded successfully by flashlight. And then it was time for a six-hour drive home in the dark. I arrived home safely and got to bed at 3am and instantly fell asleep for twelve hours. Yes, this trip was an adventure.

Results

14CW7530028

Band Mode QSOs Pts Mlt
3.5 CW 42 168 2
3.5 LSB 42 84 6
7 CW 56 224 15
7 LSB 104 208 20
14 USB 20 40 8
Total Both 339 1024 79
Score: 81,396
Plus: 1,000 for working W7DX
Total: 82,396
Counties: Worked 36 of 39 WA counties
(missing Adams, Lincoln, Pend O’reille)
States: Worked 40 of 50 US states
Provinces: Worked 3 of 8 Canadian provinces
Countries: Worked 3 countries (US, Canada, Great Britain)

Cost in gas: 26 cents per QSO. Activating a rare county: Priceless.

Standings

This years overall results will not be tabulated for everyone until late October 2011. However, 86,000 points is a very good score by any measure!

If I compare my score to last year’s standings then I would be:

  • 32nd of 112 in-state contestants
  • 26th of 94 single-operator stations
  • 16th of 60 single-op low-power stations
  • 10th of 24 single-op low-power mixed-mode stations
  • 5th of 16 portable expeditions
  • 4th of 12 portable expeditions, single-op and low power
  • 3rd of 7 portable expeditions, single-op and low power and mixed-mode
  • 1st of all operators in Garfield county!

Day 33: Last Leg Home

My last day on the road. After 7,575 miles coast-to-coast, today I make my victory ride from Pullman to Sammamish. It feels like I’ve been gone a very long time!

Day 33 Pullman WA to Sammamish WAThis is a route that I’ve driven hundreds of times since June of 1973. It feels so familiar and my mind’s eye compares it to all my other traversals. My first trip was taken as a high school senior with my buddy Dave Neir, when we borrowed my dad’s 1966 Volvo for a college scouting trip to WSU. What an adventure for an 18 year old taking his first long drive.

I liked what I saw at WSU and I made many more Seattle-Pullman trips over the next five years while earning my BS EE degree. This was so much fun that I spent two more years to get a Master’s degree, which again meant many more trips along this route.

IMG_4675Can I ride under a big farm machine? I’ve seen lots of machinery on my trip, as a consequence of being off the interstate freeway system. I thought I was done with them now that I’m almost home, but not quite. Here, near a wheat elevator west of Colfax, I see one more giant tractor. It almost seems like I could simply ride under it. Wouldn’t he be surprised! But it would be too close for comfort so I choose a wide path around it and pass when it’s safe.

In 1978, I married a Pullman girl and since then we drive there a couple times every year to visit. I have many fond memories (with a few not-so-fond snowstorms) of driving along wheat fields and over the mountains to Seattle. If we had perhaps taken pictures of each trip, we’d have a photo essay of our adult life and growing family.

Now, at last, I’m home again after 6 weeks and 8,000 miles, right where I want to be, in the best place in the whole country. Now it’s time to collapse!

IMG_4713

Day 32: Montana Mountains to Pullman

Shawna made a(nother) fabulous breakfast and had to leave the B&B in the morning. I had a leisurely time packing the motorcycle. It doesn’t seem like all my stuff could fit, but it does! And there is room to stash, for example, the riding pants after it warms up by strapping them onto the back seat.
IMG_4649     IMG_4650

Day 32 Darby MT to Pullman WAI got to “enjoy” the highway (de)construction that they’re still working on, just north of Darby near the city of Hamilton. They have the same few miles of dirt roads that I “enjoyed” a month ago when I arrived. At least now there are some concrete curbs built, a sure sign that road surface will follow soon.

I love riding the Lewis&Clark valleys up to Lolo Pass, and then down the long winding road to Lewiston. And when I say long, I mean 100 miles of twisty canyons along the Leschi River, followed by 70 miles of gentle canyons for the Clearwater River. Is there such a thing as “too many twisties”? Well, maybe, but only after you’ve ridden the same stretch a few times, lol.

IMG_4667River levels are astounding. All the rivers since the Missouri River (seen in St Louis) are obviously at very high levels. Today’s rivers in Montana and Idaho are astonishingly full of spring snow run-off, and trees and sandbars are covered or washed away. These shrubs are normally high and dry.

I didn’t take many pictures today since I rode this route once already a month ago. Today’s trip is rather a blur since all I wanted was to reach Pullman on my way home.

Day 31: Back to Darby’s B&B

This is Thursday 6/9 and I’m itching all over to get home. Here’s my plan … ride today to that wonderful River Run Retreat B&B in Darby, then tomorrow to Pullman, then at last to home! There are just two problems. First, it’s raining and temperatures are in the upper 40s. Day 31 Broadus MT to Darby MTSecond, it’s over 500 miles to Darby, Montana.

Is today’s ride even possible? My rain gear is good, but nothing will keep you really warm and dry at freeway speeds in these conditions. As much as I’d like to be home, safety is more important. If I get cold, wet or tired then I’m going to pull off and rest.

I woke up at 6am feeling quite refreshed. The fleabag’s bed was soft and comfortable, and I never heard any traffic. Which is a bit surprising, since the motel is exactly at the town’s only stop sign. Every car, truck and semi screeches to a stop and accelerates away, right outside my door.

It’s raining quite steadily; it’s a good thing the bike is parked so close to my motel room’s door. To save time, I load everything into the Starship Enterprise and scoot off without coffee or breakfast. When you have a long drive ahead, it’s good to do some miles before eating breakfast.

On the way out of Broadus, the radar trap police car is still parked in the same place, carefully monitoring and reporting speeds of incoming traffic. On second glance, the same police office is sitting in the same way in the driver’s seat. Did he sit there all night, unmoving? Yes! They staffed this car with a mannequin. I circle back for a picture. It would be more correct to call it a womannequin! And to think that Peter almost went over to ask her for directions yesterday, lol.
IMG_4562     IMG_4564

Officer Larry Rose came by Shawna’s house. He’s the one that wrote a speeding ticket to David Letterman.

Day 30: A BMW in a Harley-Davidson Town

Day 30 Buffalo Gap SD to Sturgis to Broadus MTThe plan for today, Wednesday June 8th, is to travel two hours north to the BMW dealer in Sturgis, SD, and install a new mirror. Then proceed westward on a route and hopefully reach Broadus, MT. Here’s how it went…

Today is cold, about 54 – 58 degrees and overcast. I dress warmer than usual but it still isn’t enough. I stop to put on my armored pants for warmth. I stop again in Rapid City for my first cup of Starbucks coffee in a month just so I can wrap my hands around a hot paper cup. I put on a warmer shirt. It helps, but I will remain chilly for the rest of the day. However, I can’t complain about the cold weather after complaining so much about the heat since leaving Virginia.

The new mirror shroud is ready when I arrive. I’m pretty relieved. This is the main broken part of my four-part mirror assembly. They let me use a guest table upstairs to transfer the other three old parts onto the new one. Good news is I brought the BMW service manual. Bad news is that mirror re-assembly is not covered. Good news is that I find a web page using my iPhone that describes it. Bad news is that it requires a special pry bar tool. Good news is that I’m at a BMW dealer with a full shop. Bad news is they don’t lend tools. Good news is that a gruff old parts guy says “hand me that!” and proceeds to pop out the mirror himself. Cool. I can re-assemble everything and mount it on the bike. It works fine but it’s not perfect – there was hidden minor damage to two parts, so I will replace them when I get home.

IMG_4510This BMW dealer has the fabulous new K1600 on his showroom floor! This is the replacement for my K1200, and comes with all sorts of incredible technology. It has a six-cylinder engine with 165hp, an electronic cockpit control system, and a gyroscopically-stabilized headlight that stays level and looks into a turn. Fantastic. I don’t dare take it for a test drive, even though they offered. I really want one but I just don’t see motorcycling as a long-term hobby above all the other fun things I would rather do. I’m actually thinking about selling my beloved K1200 after I get home. (Want to buy? Send me a message!)

“Sturgis” is synonymous with “Harley-Davidson” and their huge annual rally. What’s it like with a BMW bike here? I asked the dealership staff about it. This dealer carries Yamaha, Harley-Davidson and BMW motorcycles. He said the H-D marketing is awesome. But its sales are carried by styling and brand loyalty. If a Harley rider takes a test drive on a BMW, they usually switch brands!

IMG_4526I ride through town and park my Starship Enterprise in the big H-D parking lot. I go inside the store wearing my Spaceman Sam outfit (BMW-issue body armor made of ballistic nylon with Kevlar inserts) just to piss them off. Every other customer is wearing black leather, tattoos and a do-rag. Nobody makes eye contact. Their parts department guy is helpful and friendly, and happily sells me a kickstand plate bearing the H-D brand name. I don’t tell him how much I like the symbolism of parking my high-tech bike on their logo and grinding it into the dirt. I guess it’s true that it’s a Harley town for two weeks of the year and just another agricultural backwater the rest of the time.

I ride westward again on I-90 and Hwy 212 from South Dakota, across a thin corner of Wyoming and on into Montana. Life is great! Riding is easy, she hums along happily at 75 mph just keeping up with traffic. This is wide green grassland with occasional cattle. The overcast skies somehow make the grass brilliantly eye-searing vibrantly green. Beautiful.

IMG_4529As I near a small town, I’m catching up to a truck hauling a 4-horse trailer. Something looks strange… As I get closer, I see that all four horses have their heads out the windows, bobbing their heads and opening their mouth wide to catch the wind. It looks like some of them let their big horsey lips flap in the breeze. They look as happy as a puppy dog with his head out the window.

I reached Broadus Montana at 5pm, about as expected. I’m cold and hungry and the bike is thirsty. I see two young bikers at the Conoco station. We talk, and I find they’re travelling the country on the cheap, starting in Waterloo Iowa and riding to Bozeman to stay with a friend. They’re on day three of a ten-day trip. IMG_4538Their rule is to “never pay for a place to sleep” so they pick secluded spots away from main roads to pitch their tents. Wow, I thought I was being daring by “camping” at KOA most nights. Peter is just out of college, and Derek just finished teaching his first year of high-school algebra and geometry. Nice guys and I buy them dinner at Cashman’s Cafe.

The clerk at Conoco recommended a motel for me. She said they’re all old but very clean around here. I check in, unload the bike, and walk around town for photos. I update my blog, and write these words, and these, and these, and these, and these…

Day 29: Blow Me Down in South Dakota

I checked out of the fleabag motel in Alliance, Nebraska this morning. Sunny skies and 68 degrees, perfect. Well, almost …

The plan was ride west and a bit north, along famous Highway 20 through Casper Wyoming and hopefully to Idaho Falls. It was to be scenic county roads and state highways, including the “Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway”. But alas, it was not to be.

Day 29 Alliance NE to Hot Springs SDHere is my actual route for the day. After the accident, I backtracked in order to head toward the BMW motorcycle dealer in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Just west of Crawford NE is some wonderful country that looks like the Badlands nearby. This ison Hwy 20 that connects from Yellowstone all the way across the country. Today’s weather was nice, not too hot for a change, although the wind had been picking up all along. I pulled off to a scenic overlook to snap a few photos of my sleek motorcycle against the primitive countryside. The winds were strong so I checked the parking position carefully. Yes, lots of weight on the kickstand, and yes, it felt quite stable. But it ended up literally “against the primitive countryside.”

Rubber side out shiny side downThen I took ten steps away and raised the camera to watch a sudden gust send my baby flat onto her side. Don’t believe the usual descriptions where people say that horrible things happen in slow motion; it happened so suddenly and she was instantly down, with the rubber parts straight out sideways and lots of shiny things straight down.

How was I ever going to raise the 800-pound (plus gas and luggage!) bike upright against that strong unrelenting wind?

There was nothing else to do but unload all the gear I could reach so as to lighten the task. Further, everything must be put somewhere that the wind couldn’t carry everything away.

So I carefully unload everything I can, placing them in the lee of the wind and stacking heavy things on top of light things. When I’m half done, a Roadtrek camper van pulls up. I make the universal shrug “shit happens” and after a minute an old couple climb out and offers to help. Jack begins looking for solid lift points, while his wife Rae suggests moving their van to provide shelter from the wind. Brilliant idea! With their big van blocking the wind, this suddenly looks doable.

Jack and Rae are a full-time camper van couple. They were married five years ago and travel the country. On this trip, they started near San Francisco and are headed generally east visit relatives. They’re in no hurry; they’ve allowed a month for what could take a week.

Calling the BMW dealerAlthough my bike was laying flat-out horizontal, it was easy to rock it onto the side support panels to a 45-degree position. From there, Jack (whom I suddenly feel is my best friend ever) and I are able to lift back upright onto the kickstand. I hop on; the engine fires up and I jockey it around to face into the wind (although it’s too late now, duh) assuming the camper van wasn’t blocking it.

I was expecting lots of body damage because it fell onto curb stones, but only one mirror was broken. The scuff pads were scuffed but all the plastic panels are in perfect condition. Thank the FSM!

I tried calling the nearest BMW dealer to ask about parts. They are in Sturgis SD but my AT&T phone fails to connect. Jack tries his phone and he can’t reach them either. Must be in a dead zone.

Jack and Rae followed me for the next 40 miles to be sure I was fine. The bike and I were great, but the wind was not done yet.

I want to go due north to Sturgis. The wind wants to go due east. (“A motorcycle leaves Chadron at 10 o’clock going north at 60 mph. A gale leaves Wyoming at 8 o’clock going east at 30-50 mph. How long can the motorcycle remain upright?”) The ponds have whitecaps. The wind flattens field grass with a million fingers galloping over hillocks. IMG_4482My motorcycle is leaning hard left to keep a straight line, until a vehicle passes the other direction and I’m suddenly slapped first left then right. The picture shows my average lean angle to maintain lane position on the straight road. My helmet is pushed to the right and I get a crick in my neck; it’s as if someone attached a string to the top of my helmet, looped it over a pulley and suspended a weight on it. There is some relief if I lay forward onto the gas tank to hide behind the windscreen, but then it’s harder to steer and other muscles ache. It feels so bizarre to negotiate a sweeping curve to the right while still leaning left. This is the most difficult white-knuckle ride of my trip.

I stop for gas in Buffalo Gap near the stomach-turning touristy Hot Springs, SD. The wind is so strong it rocks and twists the huge canopy roof above the Shell station gas pumps. I can see the huge steel upright roof posts flex and pull against their giant mounting bolts. The wind rips open a pump-side towel dispenser and for a moment the air is full of fluttering paper towels. The cloud of towels are gone in an instant of upward fluttering snowflakes. Some other bikers tell me the police have told the truckers (mostly cattle-haulers) to park for the remainder of the day.

IMG_4488I pause for a snack in the lee of the Shell station and via text messaging Juanita confirms the BMW dealer’s number. We talk and they can expedite a new chrome mirror into their shop by tomorrow afternoon. Good thing I called!

I reluctantly start on the road northward to Sturgis again, and immediately spot a KOA kampground. Okay, that’s it, I can take a hint, I’m done for the day. I’ll rest here and finish the ride tomorrow.

Day 28: Carhenge

(catch-up work in progress)
I rode today from St. Louis, Illinois to Alliance, Nebraska. Yet another really hot day of riding.

Behold, what’s this? I spy with my little eye a red dot on the map labeled Carhenge. I must go see!

Barry's Ham Radio and Motorcycle Hobbies