No Sweat - Beating the Heat at Sportbike Northwest

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Michael Pierce

I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home,
And if you don't like me, just leave me alone,
I'll eat when I'm hungry, I'll drink when I'm dry,
And if the whiskey don't kill me, I'll live till I die.
-old English folk song

We're a gathering sort of species, and most riders are more gregarious than average. As for me, I ride alone.

I ride alone to work, to lunch, to parties, to meet friends and to all kinds of places where complete strangers want to talk to "the guy on the bike." Really, I ought to just find a few good roads and go riding with my buddies.

Tom Mehren, publisher of Sound RIDER!, had just that idea in 2003. He found a few more roads, invited a lot of folks, and dubbed it Sportbike Northwest (www.sportbikenw.com). Base-camped outside Stevenson, Washington on the banks of the Columbia River, participants can scamper west into the hills if it's fair, or blaze east across semi-arid wine country if it rains on the wet side.

Turned out, Sportbike '09 was calling my name. $99 bought rally-goers a plastic bracelet, a fistful of route maps, poker run, admission to various seminars and sound-impaired movies, four nights of camping, some reportedly meager chow on Saturday and a Sunday morning sendoff from the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

Saddled up for the week on a K1300S courtesy of Ride West BMW in Seattle, I dipped south into Portland to link up with pro cameraman Michael Pierce. The Orange Krusher proved itself deceptively swift and smooth. It even had the GM's personal tank bag strapped on for a little unearned sport-touring cred. It's good to know things, but it's better to know people. It's especially better when June's thermometer spikes well north of 100 degrees.

We arrived at the Skamania Fairgrounds to find that fairing-mounted beer cozies, chewed frame sliders and leather g-strings were in short supply. These rally cats incline more toward GPS-guided, low-altitude mileage missiles saddled with tank bags full of protein bars. By the time we got sealed into our orange plastic Bracelets of Admission, riders were emerging from the Small Animal Barn carrying pulled-pork sandwiches, while other barns full of tailored bikes offered better browsing than a three-ring dealer showroom.

Brains bubbling inside our helmets, we chose commuting from a buddy's Vancouver home over tenting on the ol' fairgrounds. That added 300-odd miles to our rally tally, but while the hard corps unrolled their creaking bones onto scorched Skamania grass, we were filling our Camelbaks out of Dread Pirate Kermit's icemaker and lingering over chilled cantaloupe and café au lait. We later heard from a diehard tentizen that campers queued up hundreds deep for a single, 50-cup urn of tepid brew.

Friends can last a lifetime, bikes for years and brekkie for a couple of hours if you're doing it right, but a road is only new once. Well provisioned, we sallied forth with a glint in our eye...and were promptly lost in the horse acres outside Washougal. Michael and I stopped to soak our heads in a stock tank and talk horses with Melissa, a sandy-haired, green-eyed pixie who's cowgirl enough to make an old motorcyclist reconsider his mount.

North out of Amboy runs a choice road wriggling with sun-dappled curves. It sails into a town where you can leave a $700 jacket and $500 helmet hanging on your bike with a D-SLR in the tank bag and stroll into the Cougar Café without a care.

In retrospect, it might have been better if someone had stolen the camera. I needed shelf space for my gut after piling through a chili-cheeseburger plate the size of seven McDonald's combos, washed down with half a gallon of sweet tea.

"Ultra-size me, honey."

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