Dual Sport / Adventure Ride to Mt Rainier
We are accustomed to seeing groups of similar bikes riding together and reading articles testing comparably equipped bikes, but what happens when you mix bikes that are on opposite ends of each of their respective class. Well, that’s what we did when my buddy John and I took two of his bikes, a small Honda CRF250 dual sport, and a large Adventure Bike, Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro on a multi-day adventure in the Pacific Northwest. There really is no sense comparing these bikes based on weight, power, or handling. So, I’m only going to grade one category, Fun! And their ability to be ridden well together. …Spoiler alert, they’re both winners.
Day one was a warmup, riding locally around downtown Seattle and ferrying out to explore neighboring islands. Getting us used to the bikes and the good fortune of stumbling upon a biker café.
Day two, had us heading north for a 600-mile loop, riding into the mountains that would have us staying overnight. We worked our way through Seattle traffic and onto RT 20 the North Cascades Hwy, a route that is impassable in the winter months. This road is well worth putting up with the Seattle traffic. It’s very remote, lots of elevation gain, stunning lush mountain views and an abundance of corners to carve, all make for an exhilarating ride. Just when you think it can’t get more scenic it’s time for a rest stop at Diablo Lake. This glacier fed turquoise colored lake is wrapped by densely forested mountains with hiking trails on both sides of the lake.
Back on the bikes, the distance between gas stations on the North Cascades Hwy did prove to be a challenge for the small gas tank on the Honda. Fortunately, I ran out of gas after cresting the last peak and was able to coast my way into a gas station in Mazama. From there we rode into the town of Winthrop, an “Old West” town where the architecture of most of the businesses has been preserved as it was in the early 1900’s. This was a great place to stop for a beer and a snack and walk the wooded-planked sidewalks like we had just stepped into a western movie.
Next, we were off southeast riding out of the mountains toward the Columbia River. We followed the river south on Alt 97 for great views of Lake Chelan before heading east on RT 2 to our stop for the evening in Leavenworth. This town is a true Bavarian Village with authentic architecture, an abundance of brightly colored flowers lining the streets and is host to a variety of German festivals throughout the year, making the town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Finding great food, hospitality, and a comfortable place to stay was no problem and could have easily spent more time here.
Day three, would take us back into the mountains on RT 97 South toward Ellensburg. The changing terrain makes riding in this area really unique. Alternating between densely forested mountains and arid valleys, combined with the rushing waters of the Columbia River, there’s a lot to take in. Our ride would change again on RT 821 through the Yakima Valley. Unlike riding along the Columbia River, the ride along the Yakima was much more twisty, and deep in river valley, following the flow of the river for serval miles. A major highlight of our ride so far.
Our next rest stop would be in Yakima to visit John’s mom and share stories of our adventure, as if we were twelve. After a coffee and snack at mom’s, it was time to go back into the mountains in the hope of a clear afternoon to see the top of Mt. Rainier. At over 14,000 feet the summit is most often hidden by cloud cover. Luck was on our side as the sun shinned brightly while we followed RT 12 onto RT 410 for more mountain road riding that did not disappoint. As Mt Rainier came into view and we could see the snow-capped peak towering above all the other mountains in the area. It was absolutely stunning. A park ranger stopped to ask us about our ride and told us how fortunate we were to see the peak, since this was the first day in over a month the mountain was visible.
We rode a short distance around the southern side of the mountain to take in a few more vantage points. Then followed RT 410 back toward Seattle. On this loop I rode the Honda. Although it was a small bike, it was effortless to ride and simply fun. A change of pace from riding high horsepower bikes that require lots of braking and still rarely provide the opportunity to use all the power the bike has to offer. Sometimes it is more fun to ride a slow bike fast, rather than a fast bike slow.
My next loop would be another overnight ride but this time I would ride the Ducati Multistrada and I would be riding solo. Since I’m in Seattle and on a Ducati, a bougee stop at Starbucks Reserve Roastery seemed like a great start to my next adventure. They really did have some pretty amazing coffee.
Leaving bougee comforts behind I rode into the mountains. The size of the bike took some getting used to, but the Ducati twin was very familiar to me and made for an exciting ride. Wanting to try the bike on some dirt, I so a chose a route that included the Mountain Loop Hwy out of Granite Falls. This route would take me on a rural mountain road toward the Big Four Ice Caves, then become dirt for several miles leading into the town of Darington. Although the bike was entirely too tall for me, it was a thrill to ride. The height was only an issue when stopping, otherwise the bike handled the way you would expect a Ducati to on the twisty narrow paved section leading to the Ice Caves.
Arriving at the caves was a well-timed place to stop. I hiked in to get a closer look. It was hard to imagine that such a cool place exists and yet there was no one else there. Considering that it was September I wondered if there would still be snow, but there was still enough to create the caves.
Leaving the park, it had started to rain and the dirt roads I had planned to ride were now wet and muddy. My Ducati had more of a street focused tire tread, so I could not get too aggressive riding in the mud. Otherwise, the bike was a lot of fun and electronic Enduro riding mode made the bike much more manageable. And the mud only added to the adventure!
Upon returning to asphalt, I rode north to Rockport before turning west on RT 20 and hugging the coastline on RT 11 North to Bellingham. Pulling up to my hotel in Bellingham with primarily business travelers while I’m covered in mud did feel pretty badass.
My last day of riding would involve a ferry ride and island hopping my way along the San Juan Islands. I began by backtracking south along the coast then west to Anacortes. It was dry on my return trip allowing me to enjoy the view of the water and all of the boats docked at the marina. The riding pace is slow in this area with noticeably more traffic compared to encountering virtually no one in the mountains. But still and adventure when riding somewhere you’ve never been.
I worked my way south toward Whidbey Island with a stop at Deception Pass. Hiking the steep trail down to the water and walking across the pedestrian lane on the bridge both offer great island views and a chance to get some time off the bike. Crossing Whidbey Island would bring me toward the end of my ride and I boarded the ferry back Seattle.
Once back at John’s I serviced the bikes then we relived our rides while grilling some fresh caught Sockeye Salmon from the famous Pike Place Fish Market. Every ride is made better with great food and awesome friends. As for the experience of riding two very different bikes while traveling together, in our case it worked very well. The Ducati hauled gear for both of us and the pace was manageable for both bikes. Although they are very motorcycles, they were equally fun.