In search of Washington's Coastal Mountains

In search of Washington's Coastal Mountains
At a Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group meeting the president looks over and says, "Robert's just back from an interesting trip."And perhaps a bit too smugly I begin to sketch the details of my recent tour of Washington's Olympic Peninsula; 700 miles in three days on my 1970 Bonneville. Other members begin to pipe up scornfully: Dan rode his 1952 Vincent to Tierra del Fuego; Ron completed the Vancouver-Daytona-Vancouver circuit on a '47 Knucklehead; and Steve piled up 12,000 miles round trip to Newfoundland on a 1974 Commando...Sheepishly, I reclaim my seat.

No matter the mileage, touring on older iron is challenging. While modern bikes barely get to operating temperature in 700 miles, the Bonnie is due for a valve adjustment and halfway to its scheduled oil change. So it's with some trepidation that I roll her out of the back of my van in Port Townsend, Washington. It's later than I'd planned. I missed my ferry connection, and it's almost 2:00 p.m. before we rumble out of town.

Named by Captain George Vancouver for his friend, the Marquis of Townsend, this charming town was built on logging and mining revenues, its one-time affluence evident in elegant Victorian houses. But in the 1890's, a planned link to the Northern Pacific Railroad in Tacoma was abandoned, precipitating decline. Overlooking the Puget Sound sea-lanes into Seattle, Port Townsend next gained strategic military importance, and nearby Fort Worden subsequently became the movie set for An Officer and a Gentleman.

Around the Sound

We slog uphill from the Port, engine burbling strongly and evenly in the fresh spring air, exhaust echoing off the trees. I'm soon rolling along a miraculous valley, emerald green with early-planted grain. Most of the traffic has turned east for Hood Canal Bridge and the Pugetropolis. The Olympics, just tens of miles east, lurk behind a ridge of dark green trees. Highway 101 soon joins the Hood Canal and follows its rambling shoreline around creeks and gullies, through cheerful beach resorts, still closed but painted and spruced for the holiday season. The perfect cruising road.

Left onto 106, I'm following the canal to its source near Belfair. The now busy two-lane swings along the water, tracking the numerous bays and coves. As I ride further east toward the Bremerton-Seattle ferry, the waterfront vacation homes become swanker and denser, until the Canal is completely obscured. I guess rich Seattleites don't like to share their views. At Belfair, a prosaic mill town sprawled along Highway 3, I turn north into Belfair State Park. North Shore Road (Highway 300), lined with unpretentious vacation homes, meanders west toward Tahuya. I miss my turning and end up on a dirt road that runs out at the Canal. I backtrack and find the sign to Dewato. Rattling over tarmac forest roads, empty of traffic, under tall evergreens, I'm a long push from Belfair, and though the Bonnie is running strongly, I wouldn't want to be in the forest overnight: this is bear and cougar country! The towns of Holly and Seabeck are disappointing given their evocative names. Seabeck is a neat, tidy resort, but the waterfront view is lost again behind ugly retirement condos and luxo-holiday homes with "private" and "no trespassing" signs. Great for the residents, but uninteresting for a tourist like me.

The Bonnie's speedometer has expired. The wildly gyrating needle finally snapped completely off. But the odometer keeps working. I hit Highway 3 in Silverdale and spin south through Bremerton's military-industrial portside sprawl. I think about snapping the silent gray hulks of destroyers washed pink by the setting sun, but after reading Troy Hendrick's experience attempting to photograph oil installations in Port Charles, Texas (RoadRUNNER, February '04), I think better of it.

No rest for the weary  -  awake in my bone-bare motel room there's one question on my mind: How come my fellow guests can afford gas to fast-idle their pickups for a half-hour at 5 a.m., yet their finances can't swing a single muffler between them?