Many riders enjoy the solitude of the open road. For me, it is always better to share the adventure. That’s where a friend on another bike or pillion comes in to play.
My wife enjoys riding as pillion. She has trekked along with me exploring mountains, deserts, lakes and oceans. All of which were fantastic rides stretched out on smooth pavement. She had yet to enjoy the true scenic routes of the dirt backroad variety with Progentra at her back. This was about to change.
This past weekend we escaped from school, work and the rest of life to explore the backroads of the Cascade Mountain foothills. We were going to get out in the sunny spring day on an adventure together.
After a stop for breakfast at the Mount Vernon Cafe, we pointed the bike toward the unpaved road mecca found in the nearby foothills.
I had a general idea of where we were going. A few weeks ago I was riding the Skagit Highway when I came across Finney Creek Road. The road starts as a poorly paved county road and continues along the rising elevation as Fire Service Road 18.
I’m always looking for backroads that go somewhere. By that, I mean they aren’t dead end roads. Motorcycle rides are better if they make a loop to keep the scenery new and changing. Roads that require you to ride in, turn around and ride back out in the same way you came in don’t keep my interest.
Call it rider-A.D.D. Changing scenery just keeps my attention longer… Look something shiny.
The first time that I found this road, the sun hung low in the evening sky. I got as far as daylight would allow, but nightfall forced me to turn back. Exploring mountain backroads through the darkness of night isn’t a good idea. Minor things like tight corners with steep cliffs have a way of sneaking up on you at night.
Lesson learned, this time we left plenty early to complete the 114-mile loop that I mapped out on the Darrington Ranger District map. Google and other online mapping software often fall short on showing full detail for National Fire Service Roads. The trusty Forest Service map showed enough of a road that I figured we could make a connection from the Skagit Highway to State Route 530 on the south side of the mountain.
About 40 miles east of Mount Vernon on the Skagit Highway, we turn south onto Finney Creek Road (see map at end of article). At first, the road climbs quickly. The single semi-paved surface switchbacks up the mountain.
The initial climb opens expansive views of the Skagit River and Sauk River valleys below. This is definitely a spot to stop and snap photos. Mount Baker rises magnificently in the distance. The snowcapped mountain peeks between the outstretched arms of the North Cascade Mountains to provide a spectacular view.
Small creeks descend the rock faces as we continue beyond the county road’s pavement and meet the loose chipped rock surface of Fire Service Road 17. Numerous off chutes would provide many hours of additional exploring. Alas, our goal today is to find a through-route. So, we motor on.
The road jumps over a creek with yet another single-lane bridge. Looking over the side as we roll over the structure provides a brief glimpse of the spring-time rush of melting snow escaping it’s winter home by rushing down river more than 50 feet below us. The road comes to a junction. Heading straight would keep us on FR 17. We veer left to take FR18. We are now heading south toward SR530.
The elevation continues a gradual climb. The gains aren’t grossly noticeable, but the snow in the forest creeps closer and closer until it covers the road. My well-worn Bridgestone Trail Wing front tire has just enough tread to bite the chipped rock under the snow.
Just a couple miles past the FR17/18 split, the road is fully covered in snow. A wiser man would turn around and venture back later in the year. The odometer shows that we’re about 57 miles into the ride and at approximately 2,600 feet in elevation. The peak, 3,400 feet, is just a few miles ahead. Then we’d be on the sunnier side with less snow on the road.
My pillion chimes in through out Chatterbox intercom, “It is getting colder. I prepare to respond while my feet slide on the ground to provide extra balance. That’s when the front tire loses contact with the trusty chipped rock. The end slides left and I press harder on my left foot to correct us. The tire slides right and I press again on the right foot. One more slide to the left and it’s all I can do. The entire bike slips out from underneath me. Both Monica and I land on the ground with the bike trailing behind us.
I’m back on my feet almost instantly. Monica erupts into laughter from the whole situation as she just slides on the slippery surface in all attempts to get to her feet. Knowing that she is okay, my attention turns to the bike.
Our Suzuki V-Strom is nearly upside down. I tell Monica, “Get up, we can laugh about this after the bike is picked up.” She quickly snarls at my insensitivity. We both struggle on the Teflon-like surface to pick the bike up. Finally, all is well again and the bike is resting on two wheels and the kickstand.
The crashbars and side cases did as they were designed (my design at least) and protected the bike. The only damage was to the right blinker. A couple of zip ties from the tool kit and we’re ready to slide on down the road again.
We’re well beyond wisdom at this point. A normal person would certainly turn around. That accusation has never been pointed in my general direction. I ski the bike up the road while Monica walks beside me. I’m hoping that we can make it to the sunny side of the mountain.
About a half-mile up the road we cross another bridge to find deepening snow and a much steeper climb. Our through route has been foiled again. it is a two-person event to turn the bike around. Our nose is now pointed back in the direction we entered from.
We didn’t accomplish what we set out for. We did head back down the mountain and soak up the heat while laying another 75 miles of rubber on dry paved roads.
We arrived home safely and thoroughly tuckered out. Both of us were ready to conquer the mountain backroad route later in the year when snow shouldn’t post as much of an issue.