Global Enduro Harley-Davidson Tour: British Columbia & The Pacific Northwest
The young people at the skateboard park likely heard the 2013 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited 110th Anniversary Edition before they locked eyes on it. Once they did, it was skateboards, helmets, and hands up in the air for which I responded with a few cranks on the throttle, clutch in, to say howdy back.
So it was from small town to small town - past farmers and business people, fellow riders and vacationers as well, and road construction crews giving a nod, a smile, or an occasional wave.
The color and chrome of the bike, with a rider of leather, Lexan, and denim, caught the attention of most within earshot and eyesight, rewarding them with a memory for the day or maybe longer. The fuel tank sports a forged solid bronze Anniversary medallion that is plated with black nickel, and then distressed. A gold Cloisonne Harley-Davidson Bar and Shield makes this 110th anniversary even more special.
Hail skateboarding young folk, as you and your peers will be our next generation of riders.
Global Enduro of Great Britain has teamed up with Harley-Davidson to create what may rank as one of the greatest motorcycle trips in America. This story, of course, is just a small taste of Global Enduro's British Columbia & the Pacific Northwest Tour. The full Harley-Davidson Authorized Tour is a 14-day ride and part of the the Once In A Lifetime and the Beautiful Planet tour series.
Fully guided, the tour also travels down to the Oregon/California border, running next from August 3-16, 2013. Although a touring bike may be a natural choice, a wide range of new model Harely-Davidsons are available.
Global Enduro uses motorcycles as the transport of choice taking people to far-flung destinations and back, causing the needle on the thrill meter to redline as riders accelerate, turn, climb, race, and then bond at the end of the day swapping individuals recounts of occurrences that others that day may have missed.
Gazing west from Bellingham Bay in Washington State, the San Juan Islands in the distance stand out emerald green against the pure blue sky. Starting my Harley and then heading south on the winding Chuckanut Drive, I am somewhat surprised only a few vehicles are encountered as I drive through the fragrant August air.
With temperatures ranging in the mid 60s to upper 70s, the apparel chosen is most comfortable with vent opening zippers down on the leathers and face shield up for the first hour of the ride. Largely an agricultural area once past the homes and businesses of Bellingham, the large open fields allow for spectacular views left and right as only low hedgerows mark the separation of the fields.
Chuckanut Drive, or State Route 11 as it is also marked, eventually leads into the town of Edison - a good place to take the first break sitting elevated above the two lane main street at the coffee shop. La Conner is the next community a little further down the road, situated on the Swinomish Channel. Here, people moor their sailboats and power craft at the large marina for access to Skagit Bay to the south, Padilla Bay to the north, and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean, were they to venture far enough west.
Now eastbound on Route 534, busy Interstate 5 is crossed. I meet up with Route 9 at Lake McMurray, and then head north. More twisting roadway, with just enough straightaways allowing upshifting to top gear, have me zipping underneath a canopy of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees.
Winding on past Big Lake and Clear Lake, the tour turns right onto Skagit Highway, just shy of the town of Sedro Woolley. Not a single stop will interfere with the ride for the next 45 minutes or so. The road winds its way on the south side of the jade-colored Skagit River.
Again, all six gears are in play due to some rather tight turns. The road is narrow enough that the tops of long-stemmed grasses bend to slap at my leather pants until I reach North Cascades Highway. Wedged between steep mountains of the snow-capped Cascade Range, bright sunshine still reaches the highway with occasional dark shadows from looming fragrant evergreens.
A faster pace is possible with speed more constant as Diablo Dam is passed, then on to the summit of the North Cascades Highway, using the occasional passing lanes and cooperation of drivers using slow vehicle pullouts.
At an elevation of 5476 feet, Washington Pass offers limited parking, though enough to stop and play in the small snow pile left next to the road from the previous winter‚Äôs snowfall. An immediate descent, combined with a tight hairpin turn, opens up to one long straight stretch after another, allowing the miles to pass by quickly on the Electra Glide and to descend over 3000 feet in elevation in just a few miles into the Methow River Valley.
The first thing I noticed is the temperature jump to the mid-90s and the leathers started needing a few more vent openings. Once east of the Cascades, it is possible to look through the trees along the road, as opposed to looking to the edge of trees on the west side from where this ride began.
As rainfall-producing clouds are held back by the Cascades, the lack of thick forest floor foliage creates the drier, warmer environment I now find myself in. Following the Methow River as it hustles and tumbles along, I eventually arrive at the old cattle town of Winthrop, signaling the final 11 miles before my destination for the night - Sun Mountain Lodge.
Offering everything from a hydroptimale moisturizing facial in the spa to bird watching, as well as The Kitchen - a Washington Wine Grand Award-winning restaurant featuring local ingredients and a 5000-bottle wine cellar - the Sun Mountain Lodge is a tempting final stop. However, this Authorized Harley-Davidson Tour rightfully has other ideas.
After a good night's rest in the well-appointed lodge room, I am greeted by 70 degrees at 6:30 a.m. The air is dry and staying hydrated will be a priority. With these hot riding conditions, over time I feel like I'm taking a spin in a commercial clothes dryer.
Continuing on State Route 20 finds the road climbing back into a small range of mountains that lead to the communities of Okanogan and Omak, where US Route 97 is found running south to California. North into Canada is the direction I take with the tour. More small towns along the way give reason to stop when needed to get a bite to eat and a beverage at any of the many family-owned restaurants encountered.
Heading northwest on State Route 7 past pristine Whitestone, Spectacle, and Palmer Lakes, the road testifies to its little use by having some grasses and weeds wave at my passing from the pavement cracks in the middle of the road as the border nears.
Approaching the Canadian border on Simil-kameen Road, it was first thought that crossing at the little-used Chopaka port of entry would be a wise bet, but it is necessary that I wait. This is not such bad thing, as it slows the pace of the trip for a short time and allows the fantastic scenery to be appreciated.
There is much variation of vivid earth tones in the valleys between the ridges that run up to the tops of the mountains, then set against the backdrop of that beautiful deep blue sky. Birds of prey drifting on unseen updrafts up and over ridges are certainly able to see me with their keen eyesight.
After more than a few minutes waiting on 115-degree pavement, the Canadian crossing guard allows me to pass after the usual question-and-answer session.
British Columbia Highway 3 - aka Crowsnest Highway - is fast paced. Today's destination is Ashcroft, a good day's ride into the province.
Lunch beckons at the Crowsnest Vineyards in Similkameen Valley near Cawston. Run by the Heinecke Family, the property is a winery, restaurant and hotel, as well as very biker friendly. The Wine Route Riders is a charitable group of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts who meet there for socializing.
After passing through large agricultural valleys, the town of Princeton gives a chance to change to Highway 5A. The Princton-Kamloops Highway will test your riding skills as you negotiate one mountain road turn after another, before arriving at Merritt, home of the widely attended Merritt Mountain Music Festival.
The 2013 Electra Glide Ultra Limited is more than up to the tough task. The four-piston Brembo calipers slow down the half-ton full-dresser (with me aboard) thanks to twin front discs and grippy Dunlop tires. Should they lose grip during braking, ABS will brazenly assist.
Cornering clearance is good on the Electra Glide and the air-adjustable rear shocks allow me to adjust ride height, though I was satisfied with the performance in the stock setting. The wide touring bars give me all the leverage I need to work my way through the snaking road.
More twisty turns are enjoyed along Nicola Highway, as pine trees, rock slides, granite walls, and waterfalls push to within yards of the asphalt. These roads are in good condition, particularly the Trans-Canada Highway, which I joined at Spences Bridge. Once on Highway 1, the traffic becomes sparse and the roads reasonably straight, allowing for use of higher revs in overdrive. No longer a ride, this has become a flight as even light aircraft are capable of slower speeds.
A particular enjoyment while passing through some of the communities is to take notice of the imaginative industrial metal art near the main street. Oil drums, muffler pipes, chains, discarded water tanks, and so much more, are welded together to make a never-to-be-duplicated statement by the artist.
Arriving near sunset at the tour's Ashcroft destination‚ Sundance Guest Ranch, no time is wasted in getting a cold beverage, a welcome shower, and then a fine charcoal-grilled steak dinner.
Afterwards a quiet moment is enjoyed watching the three dozen or so of the ranch's 100 horses head out to their nighttime grazing areas in the pasture as the light fades to darkness.
Looking up, the stars have come out and so many are visible thanks to few interfering man-made lights in this relatively remote area of British Columbia. Thank you, Canada.
No need for sugarplum dreams, I thought as I dozed off, knowing I would ride The Glide through more spectacular scenery the next day.
The horses are silent as they move across the dark green pasture, slightly obscured by the morning ground fog; it is like an artist's masterpiece in motion. Although light has entered this valley, the sun is still behind the rising mountain peaks in the distance. At an elevation of 1700 feet this far north, it is cool, but promises to warm up before long as the skies once again are clear.
The first rays of sunshine for the day light up the foliage, rocks, and distant canyons at a low angle, giving the scenery a yellow tint. Backtracking a few miles to the community of Ashcroft, the sparkling Thompson River is crossed. Highway speed is quickly attained as I head north on the Highland Valley Road to meet the Trans-Canada Highway for a brief sprint to Highway 97. With fewer turns to negotiate, my speed climbs as I zip past agricultural fields and livestock pastures before I slow to turn left onto Highway 99.
Known as the Duffey Lake Road, quite simply put, it is the start of the most spectacular section of the tour, thanks to the scenery, elevation change, sharp curves, smooth pavement, and the occasional dropping straightaway.
Numerous lakes large and small (fishing gear a must next trip) are passed, as well as frequent waterfalls descending to the road edge. Once Seton Lake is reached, the elevation change has my boot doing the shift lever dance, keeping the husky Twin Cam 103 motor happy. Within a few miles, I climb from 750 to 2300 feet in elevation with twisting turns in abundance.
Along this section of Highway 99, it takes on a more fitting name - The Sea-To-Sky Highway - as it moves on towards the saltwater straits and inlets of the Pacific Ocean. Passing Duffey Lake, Highway 99 climbs to over 4000 feet before starting its descent. For those who dare to take their eyes off the challenging design of the path cut into the broken granite mountainside, frequent views are available down steep canyon walls to the white water streams far below.
Arriving at the town of Pemberton and slowing for the city speed limit, the heat catches up in a hurry, with less air movement and a mid-day sun shining down. It is nice to have so many establishments along the way to stop whenever the need arises.
Once refreshed and back on the road, the miles pass more quickly. I am entering the home stretch, passing beautiful Green Lake before arriving at my final destination - the British Columbian ski resort town of Whistler.
Tempted to take one last look in the direction of this extraordinary adventure in an attempt to commit all that had been seen to memory, I do not look back. I know I will see it in the near future, and again ride through some of the most spectacular motorcycle territory on the continent.
For additional information on Harley Authorized Tours, click here.
Photography by Riles & Nelson