Sunday, January 3, 2021

End-of-year vacation trip 2020 (and a little of 2021)

 Donna and I took a wonderful end-of-year trip to Nevada, California, Arizona, and Utah this year. We started out in Las Vegas (briefly) -- we picked up a Camaro convertible (?), then headed to Beatty, Nevada to get the party started.

I've had Death Valley on my winter travel trip list for a long time, and 2020 was a good enough excuse to make that plan a reality this year. Lodging at Death Valley was closed right before our trip, so we did a quick re-plan to stay in Beatty (which turned out to be a great idea, anyway). 

We then headed out through Rhyolite, Nevada and Death Valley to enjoy the sights (and much cooler temperatures), with an overnight stop in Laughlin, Nevada. I've never been to Laughlin, so this was a new experience for me.

Grand Canyon National Park was our next overnight destination. We stopped off in Kingman, Arizona to see a little of historic U.S. Route 66, then continued to Williams, Arizona to see a bit more. Both of these towns deserve a more detailed visit, especially Williams. The weather was getting a bit more interesting as we headed north from Williams, and quickly turned to snow as the temperatures dipped. The Camaro didn't appreciate the road conditions, but we took it slow as we got to the park. Grand Canyon is amazing enough, but the snow cover highlighted the impressive geology by affecting the contrast of the geology and the sky.

Because Navajo Nation closed the east entrance to Grand Canyon earlier in 2020, we took the long way to Zion -- back to Williams, then east to Flagstaff. More U.S. Route 66 sightseeing (much more is required), then north through Cameron, Arizona to Zion National Park.

We spent two nights in Zion National Park, to allow for some serious hiking in the canyon. We didn't make it all the way to Angel's Landing (the ice was a bit much), but we saw wonderful scenery on the portion that we did. I'm glad I spent a lot of time pre-trip studying up on the geology of the area; it made the trip more enjoyable for me, as I was able to spot specific features in the park.

From Zion National Park, we headed to Las Vegas to see 2020 out the door. There weren't specific festivities available in Las Vegas this year, so we enjoyed walking up and down the strip. 

We drove to Boulder City for the last night of our trip, staying in the Boulder Dam Hotel. We enjoyed hiking around the town, and our stay at the hotel. This was the third dam-related stay of the past year: Fort Peck, Riverton, and now Boulder City. I highly recommend the Boulder Dam Hotel for comfort and historic charm.

We wound up the trip with a drive to Hoover Dam, and a meandering trip back to Las Vegas. We took the red-eye back to IAD, arriving after noon on Sunday.

It was a great trip; I'll likely put in more details shortly, as I dive through the photographs and videos.

Friday, December 25, 2020

2020: Almost done

2020 didn't turn out anything like I'd planned. At this point last year, I was fretting about working around the schedule for the Alaska Marine Highway System -- budget issues were delaying the release of the sailing schedule, and those delays were showing up in problems with booking hotels (especially at Glacier National Park). 

Eventually, I had to work around the problem by planning to ride from Valdez to Whittier, and from Haines to Skagway. Not ideal, but a workaround that we could live with.

I had nearly all the hotels booked, and was ready to go for a June 2020 departure, heading north.

Then the pandemic hit. The border closed, and remained closed (as it is today). So, the Alaska plan was tossed, and we ended up having a great ride to Washington and back. The lower 48 portion of the Alaska trip was the basis of this new plan, with an adjustment in departure by a few days to lessen the impact of late snows on Beartooth Pass. As it turned out, that delay wasn't enough to allow us to ride the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but we were able to get a cabin at GNP.

Instead of playing chicken with Alaska travel in 2021, I pulled out an old Pacific Northwest plan that I've never ridden. We'll have a nice ride west, along the Lincoln Highway alignment all the way to Little America, WY. From there, we'll continue west along U.S. Route 30 to Portland, OR. We'll then ride north to Bellingham, and visit Orcas and San Juan Islands. We'll see the Olympic Peninsula (and Olympic National Park), then ride south to Redwood National and State Parks at Crescent City, CA. Turning northeast, we'll see Crater Lake National Park on our way to Walla Walla, WA. Turning northwest, we'll head to Yakima, WA and Mount Rainier National Park. Then we're off to Portland, OR to see the sights (and do a little visiting, as the pandemic permits). We'll ride home via U.S. 20 / U.S. 26 as far as the start of U.S. 40 in Utah, then take U.S. 40 east (eventually picking up the alignment of the National Road).

I'll fuss with the routing a bit over the next few months, but each day is largely set. We're signed up for the Tour of Honor again in 2021, so we'll catch as many of those bonus locations as we can, to spice up the usual geocaches, waymarks, and roadside attractions.

Monday, January 13, 2020

20200112 Big Money Rally

The weather forecast was for really good weather (meaning: temperatures in the 60's, and at least partial sun) on Sunday, 12 January 2020, so we headed out to Prince Georges, Anne Arundel, Calvert, and St. Mary's counties for bonus hunting and geocaching. The day turned out to be gorgeous -- up to 70 degrees F and full sun. If only every riding day could be that nice! We got a whole lot of creeks and churches, one airport, and a few geocaches to help Donna's totals (adding three new counties and two virtual geocaches).

Ride maintenance

I took the bike in for service on Saturday, 11 January 2020 -- it was time for an oil change, and I'd gone a little past the recommended 36,000 biannual service mileage. Showing up for Saturday service in January is certainly different than showing up in June! I was first in line at about 0708, and was back on the road before noon. Pretty good. Very expensive, but pretty good. That'll get the bike to the pre-ride check in May or June.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2020: First ride of the year

The weather forecast was for "mostly sunny" and mid-40's today, so off we went for a short ride. There were Big Money Rally bonuses to hunt, along with a couple of virtual geocaches. The temperature held to between 39 degrees F and 43 degrees F for the whole ride, and the "mostly sunny" turned out to be "very occasionally sunny". But, it was a nice opportunity to shake out the kinks and get a little well-needed practice riding in. Bonus hunting is a specialized form of riding -- road riding, combined with slow speeds, negotiating turns, and watching for the "right" parking place adjacent to the target. Practice is important.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2020 Alaska Adventure -- reservations (continued)

Making reservations is a tedious process, even with much of the process done online. I've spent quite a bit of time already selecting locations to stay, based on factors such as distance from the previous stay, and places that I want to see in the vicinity of an overnight stop. The logistics associated with motorcycle travel include thinking about how to change from motorcycle boots and pants to hiking boots and pants. I've combined the motorcycle-powered sightseeing with some hiking on this trip, so those logistics concerns matter a fair amount.

Several of the places on my list of stays are highly-trafficked (e.g., Denali National Park, Glacier National Park), sparsely-provisioned (e.g., McCarthy, Watson Lake), or on the I-want-to-stay-there list (e.g., House No. 1 at Fort Seward in Haines, Alaska). As of last night, I've worked the list of stays without reservations down to about six locations (seasonal shutdown, combined with innkeeper travels, make communication challenging). Despite the remoteness of a couple of these locations, I'm not particularly worried about getting these last few reservations made over the next few weeks.

Many (most?) motorcyclists traveling to Alaska either intend to camp most or all of the time, have a much more compressed timeline than I have time, or can get away with much more modest accommodations (there are quite a few "dry" cabins available, for example) than I have in mind for this trip. The constraints I put on this trip (stays in specific locations, no "dry" cabins, no camping), coupled with the previous reliance on the Alaska Marine Highway System, put some urgency on getting the reservations made early. In a few cases, I was too late (e.g., House No. 1 is already reserved for the period of time I needed, and nearly all of the properties in Glacier National Park are reserved a year in advance). I was able, though, to get a place to stay in every one of my desired stops. I have a bit of an advantage over first-time travelers in that I've been to some of the 2020 Alaska Adventure locations before, so I know what to expect in those areas. Some others, such as Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK, have significant information available online, so those uncertainties are contained.

The bottom line? Seven months (or so) out isn't too early to be making reservations in places if you're determined to see specific things or have one or more zero-mile days. I think our 2020 Alaska Adventure is shaping up nicely; the advance planning will help ensure that I'm not making things up (and taking up valuable time doing it) on the road.

Monday, December 23, 2019

2020 Alaska Adventure -- reservations

Given the decision to decouple the trip from the Alaska Marine Highway System, it was time yesterday to start getting reservations. I'd been worried about getting places to stay around Denali National Park and Glacier National Park, so didn't want to wait too much longer. I got what I think are the tough locations locked in last night.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2020 Alaska Adventure -- Alaska Marine Highway System

It's now well past mid-December, and the Alaska Marine Highway System sailing schedule is nowhere on the horizon. The chatter on the Internet points to a budget impasse in the Alaska legislature, which is confirmed by a lot of official warnings about service impacts.

Last summer, folks were trapped by strikes; the 2020 situation is grim, but for other reasons.

Since we're not camping, and are planning to visit some very popular places (e.g., Denali National Park, Glacier National Park), it's time to plan around the two ferry runs in the original route and move on. It's not a lot of extra riding; I was hanging on to the ferry rides to get a little underway time and see Prince William Sound.