Completing 48 at 60 – Panhead Randy’s Bucket List
This “Bucket List” mission began over 42 years ago when I purchased Old Blue at the ripe young age of 18, shortly after graduating from high school along Florida’s east coast. Old Blue is a 1963 Harley-Davidson Panhead that has unselfishly transported me from one destination to another like a magic carpet, always willing to embark on the next adventure. In addition to the day-to-day local riding and fun, Old Blue carried me on several long road trips over the years. In 1975, she took me from the east coast of Florida to the Grand Canyon and back, and in 1984 from Tallahassee to Chicago. In 1990, she carried me from Chicago back to Florida by way of Detroit, Ontario, New York to Maine, and down the eastern seaboard back to Florida. In 2003, I rode her from Pinellas County to Milwaukee for the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Celebration. Then there was Sturgis in 2010, and Laconia in 2012, and a couple of Myrtle Beach trips sprinkled in-between. Sometime before the Sturgis trip, I acquired an embroidered patch of the United States, and began coloring-in those states that I had ridden Old Blue through. Shortly thereafter, it became a bucket list mission to ride her through all of the contiguous 48 states.
All that leads to this story: for the last few years, there was this large uncolored white area remaining in the American northwest area of the patch. In January of 2016, my wife Mary and I began planning for the Northwestern Panhead Adventure, to be undertaken shortly after I turned 60. The Adventure was to include those states that Old Blue had yet to traverse: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah. The following story chronicles the adventure that we undertook during the first three weeks in July 2016.
Since we only had three weeks off from work, we had Old Blue and Mary’s 2005 Deluxe shipped from St. Petersburg to Reno, Nevada. After we picked up our bikes form Chester’s Reno Harley-Davidson, we rode through the high desert, to historic Virginia City, and then Pyramid Lake, where we camped along that large lake in the desert. On our approach to this oasis in the desert, it appeared that there were three pyramids on an island in the middle of the lake, resembling the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. From Pyramid Lake, we headed for northern California. There we traversed through the high desert to Litchfield, Susanville, and then off to Lassen Volcanic National Park, which still had numerous pockets of snow on the volcanic peaks. From there we headed to Mount Shasta, another snow-covered volcanic peak, and stayed a couple of days in the nearby town of Mt. Shasta.
From Mt. Shasta, we headed to Yreka (pronounced “why reeka”). Once there, we gassed-up; at that time, I noticed that Old Blue’s generator light came on. We headed to an ATV motorsports shop (the only option in that small town), and I borrowed a meter to confirm what I already knew: the generator wasn’t doing its job. I took it apart, cleaned the commutator, and noticed that the splines on the armature were worn, allowing the gear to spin freely. Within minutes, a guy on a Sportster pulls up to go to the liquor store next to the bike shop, and Mary asks if he knows anybody in town that has any old Harley parts. He says “Yeah, Mr. _________ had a shop he closed down 30 years ago. He passed away, but his sons are building bikes from the parts.” He made a telephone call, explained the situation, and handed the phone to me. I spoke with Randy, who said he probably had a generator, but to call him back in 30 minutes so he could look for it. Twenty-nine minutes later, he drove up in an old truck and brought the generator to me! He wasn’t interested in selling it, so he loaned it to me for the trip! A true sign of old school brotherhood! “Just ship it back after you finish your trip.” Wow! I installed it, “flashed” the regulator, and we headed to Happy Camp where we camped for the night at the Bigfoot Campground.
The next morning we rode to Willow Creek, home of the world’s largest Bigfoot museum, and saw numerous plaster-casts of those big feet. From there we headed to Eureka, California where we went to Redwood Harley-Davidson, and checked into a hotel in Arcata near the Pacific coast.
After breakfast, we headed north to Lady Bird Johnson Grove for a walk through the California Redwoods, then rode the Redwood Highway to see thousands of those giant trees. Continuing north, we stopped to put our piggies in the Pacific Ocean, and landed in Crescent City for a good dinner and relaxing night’s sleep.
From Crescent City, we travelled along Highway 101 in the rain (go figure, it is a rain forest region!), and headed for Oregon. Old Blue was breaking up, running on one cylinder, as if one of the spark plugs was fouling. I pulled the plugs, but that wasn’t the problem – it was an ignition failure. We limped along to Coos Bay, and landed at Coos Cycle Supply where we diagnosed the problem with the help of a guy named Randy! The lack of antique parts did not allow resolution with the original equipment, so we decided on an Accel drop-in, but since it was Saturday, it couldn’t be ordered until Monday, for delivery on Tuesday. That plan would still allow completion of the mission.
Following the repair, and tweaking of the carburetor, we headed north along Highway 101 on Wednesday morning to view the rocky Oregon Coast on our way up to Newport. From Newport, we headed east through the mountains, and then into the high desert to Redman, where we spent the night.
After breakfast, we headed to Smith Rock State Park, to hike through parts of the dramatic landscape that is a magnet for rock climbers. From there, we headed north through the high desert to Yakima, Washington. During the last 20 miles before crossing the Columbia River gorge, we experienced very strong and shifting cross-winds that were being funneled through the canyons; it was quite an experience! Much of the route in Washington to Yakima traversed through the Yakima Nation, as this territory is the sovereign nation of the Yakima Tribe. We landed in town and spent the night.
The next morning, we travelled to Fort Simcoe State Park, an historic site containing structures and a museum dedicated to the U.S Cavalry and Native American experience in the American frontier during the 1850s. From there we headed east to Sacajawea State Park near Kennewick. The park celebrates the contribution of Sacajawea, the young Agaiduka Shoshoni woman who was the interpreter that accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. The park is situated at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, and has a museum that contains numerous artifacts associated with the expedition. We left the park and headed a few miles to Kennewick, and stayed the night in a hotel on a small island in the Columbia River, in the shadow of the Pasco-Kennewick Cable Bridge. The bridge style resembles the Sunshine Skyway, although it is much smaller in scale.
After breakfast, we continued heading east through Lewiston, Idaho and stopped at the Nez Perce National Historic Park. The Nez Perce Nation originally controlled the majority of, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, but signed successive treaties with the U.S. Government eventually conceding 90% of their original tribal lands. In the mid-afternoon, we stopped at a roadside steakhouse and had an amazing steak dinner. Following dinner, we rode through some of the most beautiful winter white sweet wheat fields down to Grangeville where we would spend the night.
The next day, we stopped by the local park in Grangeville to see a Mastodon exhibit, waited a long time for a pilot car to “guide” us through a short construction zone, and then about ten miles down the road we descended a steep, winding grade on our way to White Bird. Near the bottom was a truly breathtaking view of a vast plain that had been dissected by glaciers thousands of years ago. That was the beginning of my realization that Idaho is a spectacular State!
South of White Bird, we headed along the Salmon River through the mountains and valleys to Crouch, Idaho, where we were staying with family friends. When we told them of our plans to head to Boise the next day, they said “Boise, why would you want to go to Boise? If in Idaho, you need to see the Sawtooth Mountains!” So we altered our plans, and we are very pleased that we did. The Sawtooth range is a spectacular smaller-version of the Grand Teton range. We ate lunch in a saloon in Stanley (population 63), and headed to Arco, past Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, because it was late in the day. Craters includes 750,000 acres of lava fields and cinder cones, and the astronauts trained there in 1969 prior to their Lunar missions because it is the closest environment to that of the moon here on earth.
We spent the night in Arco, which is the first town on earth powered by nuclear energy (for one hour) in 1955. After breakfast, we headed 18 miles east to the EBR-I Atomic Museum, the National Historic landmark where the test nuclear reactor that powered Arco was located. Being there made us feel like we were part of a 1950s Sci-Fi movie! From there we headed back west to Craters, so that we could experience the volcanic region.
We left Craters, and headed for Twin Falls where we would spend the night. Twin Falls is on the south side of the Snake River Canyon. The Perrine Bridge and the gorge that it spans looked spectacular after travelling through the high desert. The next day we went to Shoshone Falls, walked to the site of Evel Knievel’s 1974 Snake River Canyon Sky Cycle jump site, and then travelled to Snake Harley-Davidson, before heading to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The trip to Salt Lake City was the least desirable part of the trip, largely because this segment could only be achieved via Interstate highway. We were spoiled by the two lane scenic highways that we had traversed throughout our adventure. The main problem was that the interstate speed limit was 80 miles per hour, and I was riding a 53-year-old 1200cc motorcycle. Add to that the construction lane shifts with mismatched asphalt elevation layers, grooved pavement, and tandem Semi trucks pulling three trailers whizzing by in adjacent lanes left and right, we felt like we were undergoing jet fighter training!
After a night in Salt Lake City, we headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where we went out to mile marker six, then back to the Salt Flats Café (the only diner around) and had some good Mexican food. We spent another night in Salt Lake City, and then went to Antelope Island Great Salt Lake State Park to see the wild buffalo. From there we headed north to the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory where the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad system forever changed the history of America, since it allowed coast-to-coast travel to be accomplished in weeks rather than months or years.
We had an incredibly enjoyable western adventure that spanned over 2,700 miles. Old Blue has truly been a major part of my life for over 42 years, and she has served me well! I’m excited about her next adventure. . . .