Shelly Harper, owner of the "destination shop" Scooter Stuff, tells me "Business is great." I've stopped by her solitary store on a quiet country road close to Whatcom Lake in Northwest Washington to see what it's all about. Oddly, though, there are no other scooters parked outside with my TN'G Verona 150, just a couple of vee-twin cruisers. And Shelly's merchandise consists mostly of leather and chrome items, bandannas and dark glasses. There's obviously some other meaning of "scooter" I'm not familiar with.
My first concern about touring western Washington by scooter is - what to wear? Safety is paramount of course but full leathers, armored boots and a GP replica helmet would look pretty silly on a small scooter. I check my back issues of RoadRUNNER and scan the scooter stories. Jeans, sneakers and a textile jacket seem appropriate; so that's what I choose. And a rainsuit. After all, Washington is the Evergreen State for a reason.
Second: Is a 150cc scooter suitable for a 500-mile tour? I grew up with scooters. My first motorized two-wheelers were a 125cc Moto Rumi Formichino and a Vespa 150. Although I'd taken the Vespa on rides of 50 miles or so, they were rarely free of incident: punctures, mechanical disasters, electrical gremlins. So how, I wondered, would the city-suited TN'G stand up to the rigors of the open road?
Day 1: Mainland Meandering
I collect the cheery red bike from TN'G importers CMSI in Preston, a tiny town on the I-90 corridor in the Cascade foothills, and Director of Sales Rob Gates goes over the controls with me. This takes about ten seconds. Twist to go, grab both handlebar levers to stop. Simple. That said, the first few times I slow down after leaving CMSI's parking lot, I find my right foot waving over an imaginary brake pedal, and the throttle response also takes some getting used to. Because the continuously variable transmission is designed to fully disengage at idle, it needs some revs before it picks up when pulling away from a stop. But this suits the willing engine perfectly, hitting it smack in the torque curve. Within minutes, I feel completely at home.
My first day's route will take me north along the western fringes of the Cascades, crossing the Snohomish and Skagit River Valleys to Bellingham, just 20 miles from the Canadian border. After riding locally famous Chuckanut Drive, I'll spin south through the fertile farmlands bordering Puget Sound and back to Seattle.
Monroe is my first destination, a small lumber town at the confluence of the Snoqualmie, Skykomish and Snohomish Rivers, and I find it has two distinct personalities. It's the first major town on SR 2 east of I-5 on the way to Stevens Pass and most travelers simply see a gas station, motel and fast-food corridor. But the small streets off the highway feature charming coffee shops and bistros, including the Fiddler's Bluff Coffee Company on West Main Street, where I stop to thaw out. In spite of it being June, the heavy overcast, spitting rain and swirling mountain mist have chilled me to the bone.
A quick check at a gas station tells me I need Woods Creek Road to Lake Stevens. A fellow with a mellifluous name, Salem Woods, settled here in 1860, became the region's first sheriff and gave his name to the creek. I'm climbing into the wispy clouds that drape the mountain forests on a narrow winding road. But the Verona's bodywork keeps my feet and legs dry, just as a scooter is supposed to. I find I have to be careful when braking: the right lever operates the front brake, and the left lever the rear brake, but the rear brake has far more "bite" than the front, and I occasionally find myself skidding to a halt. Most motorcycles, of course, focus their braking on the front wheel, so the Verona's unusual rear bias takes a little getting used to.
Lake Stevens appears out of the gloom as a glass-calm gray plane surrounded by boathouses and holiday homes. I need to take 92 to Granite Falls, then cross-country to Arlington. In Granite Falls, I find Burn Road off Jordan Road, and I'm soon winding through farmland toward the tall trees again. Arlington, like Monroe, feeds and waters travelers, this time on State Route 9, but it doesn't have Monroe's redeeming side streets. I gas up in a 7-11, then find to my dismay it has "no public restrooms." It seems rather irresponsible to me to promote 32-ounce sodas without providing a suitable post-ingestion repository.