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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Andrew J. Weber Panamanian Tour

Have you ever had the thought, “That would make a great story!” when it comes to your family history… this is exactly that, “Once upon a time moment.”

 

To add historical context and a colorful backdrop, the year was 1968.  It was one of the most tumultuous single years in history.  Soviet armed forces invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia–Prague Spring; North Korea captured the Navy intelligence vessel U.S.S. Pueblo; The Tet Offensive, an all-out effort by the Communists to inflict terminal damage on the South Vietnamese regime; U.S. ground troops killed many Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam; both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated; Summer Olympic protests recorded black-gloved fists in a salute to the Black Power movement; Richard M. Nixon wins the White House and Apollo 8 carried the first humans to orbit the moon.

It’s difficult to truly appreciate everything that occurred in 1968 even as we watched it play out on TV.

This story begins as a lovely autumn day 50+ years ago, to the month, when my father (U.S. Army – now Retired) arrived with a team of nine military personnel in the Panama Canal Zone.  It’s a journey over a short period of time that will lead him and our family from Fort Bliss, Texas to Kwajalein Marshall Islands and then to the SAFEGUARD AntiBallistic Missile System (ABM) in Nekoma, North Dakota.

Panama Canal

But, first some historical context on Panama.  It’s country on the isthmus linking Central and South America. The Panama Canal, a 48-mile-long man-made waterway, cuts through its center, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to create an essential shipping route.  It’s designated as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

You’ve likely heard of the Panama Canal, but you may not know how it works.  The Canal is a system of locks that allows ships to ascend and descend in steps, like a staircase.  The lock system lifts a ship up 85 feet to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and down again.  The Gatun Dam moderates the amount of water in Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created solely to reduce the amount of excavation work that was required to build the canal.  The Dam’s hydro-electric generating station provides electricity to operate the locks and a wide range of other equipment in the canal zone.

USS Sturgis – Moored at Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Gatun Lake is a critical element of the Panama Canal, acting as a reservoir of water for the operation of the canal locks.  Every time a ship transits the canal, each lock chamber requires 26 million gallons (the equivalent size of 35 olympic sized swimming pools) of water to fill it from the lowered to the raised position; the same amount of water must be drained from the chamber to lower it again as the water passes from the lake into the sea.

As the tale went, in early 1968 there was a severe water shortage that jeopardized both the operation of the Panama Canal locks and the production of hydroelectric power for the Canal Zone. The large amounts of water required to operate the locks and the water level on Gatun Lake fell so drastically that operations at Gatun Hydroelectric Station were curtailed.  Brown outs and total black-outs from a complete loss of electrical power became the norm.

Andrew J. Weber

Shrouded in military secrecy, was the Andrew J. Weber, a floating power plant equipped with three 1,650-kw diesel generators and two 8,400 kw gas turbine sets, that was designed to provide 20 MW of on-demand electrical capacity.  Enough to supply approximately 25,000 homes with electrical power!

The military often prefers strange, far-flung and obscure parts of the world for testing because the Pentagon doesn’t like to advertise them.  Such was the case for the power barge which was obscurely in route to KWAJALEIN, Missile Range (KMR) in the Marshall Islands.

Marshall Islands Location

The increased demand of electrical power for missile-tracking radar at the SECRET Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site was it’s planned duty station, however, the demands of the Vietnam War had significantly increased traffic through the Panama Canal and while transiting the canal en route to Kwajalein Missile Range (KMR), the Secretary of the Army redeployed the “Power Ship” in October 1968 to the Panama Canal Zone at Gatun Lake.

Another historical context for this story is that a few months prior, the USS STURGIS (look, there is a name reference to motorcycles!) a WW II Liberty cargo ship (previously named: Charles H. Cugle) was converted into a 10 MW floating nuclear power barge/ship and was already on location, but could not fully meet the electricity demands.  This electrical shortfall added to the decision criteria of the Andrew J. Weber being redeployed to the Panama Canal Zone.  The electrical power produced by the Weber and Sturgis replaced the power from the Gatun Hydroelectric Station, and freed up the lake water for canal lock navigation use.

U.S. Army Air Defense Command

The USS Sturgis was the first “ship” to be deployed and the only one in the U.S. Army with a nuclear reactor power plant.  The MH-1A plant was a pressurized water reactor and one of a series of reactors in the U.S. Army Nuclear Power Program.  Program Video HERE:

In 1968 we lived in El Paso, Texas just off the Fort Bliss military base where my father was stationed.  Fort Bliss was home of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM).  The military installation was instrumental in training personnel on Air Defense Artillery missiles, such as Nike Hercules, Nike Zeus, Nike X, and the Sentinel Missile System (renamed to the SAFEGUARD AntiBallistic Missile System (ABM)).

But, I’ve digressed and want to return to Panama.

Arnulfo Arias Madrid was a Panamanian politician, doctor, and writer who served as the President of Panama.  He took office on October 1, 1968 and demanded the immediate return of the Canal Zone to Panamanian jurisdiction and announced a change in the leadership of the National Guard.  President Arias removed the two most senior officers and selected Colonel Bolivar Urrutia to command the Guard.  The Guard staged a coup and removed Arias from the presidency. He served for eleven days!  The overthrow of Arias provoked large scale student demonstrations and rioting in many areas.  The military seized power, suspended civil liberties, censored the press and deployed combat troops to help the police make hundreds of arrests.

Fairbanks-Morris Model 38D-8-1/8 Diesel Engines

It was during this political strife that my father arrived with a team of nine military personnel.  In fact, the day before the team (notable members: Roger Ashpole, R. Cunningham, Dave Mathews) arrived, the Chief of the Panama Police was assassinated.  They rucked it over to Balboa, Panama, (Atlantic side of the canal power system) in civilian clothes due to the U.S. being cast as villains in the coup and immediately initialized start-up procedures of the power barge.  They spun up the Fairbanks Morris Diesel Engine/Generators and gas turbine sets and operated three shifts–3 guys to shift 24×7.

Speaking of Diesel engines, the power barge had three massive Fairbanks Morris 16 cylinder opposed Diesel engines and two GE LM1500 gas turbines to produce over 20 MW.  The Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D-8-1/8 is a two stroke cycle engine with an upper and lower crankshaft and detonates in the middle.  They were compressed air started and had a pressure release valve on top of the engine.  You’d pull the lower air handle while pulling the top valve until it started firing.  The engine was known to have oil everywhere all the time.  In fact, drip pans were a “feature” mounted on the side of the huge block that routed leaking oil back into the motor.

The team’s mission was to provide tactical electric power and environmental control capabilities to the canal zone in defense of the economic interests of the U.S.  The power barge augmented the USS Sturgis and was able to establish a power generation grid in the canal zone.  Eight months later the nine-man team was replaced by a “small” Army company of 125 men.

My father stated that “Life in Panama was not hard, but it was strenuous and the investment of sweat-equity was worth it.  It was an interesting time and it was nice working as a liaison with civilian personnel to help restore stability and the operations of the Panama Canal.”

Don’t stop reading!  The tropical sun is about to come out and all will be clear.

Kwajalein Marshall Islands

As mentioned above, the Andrew J. Weber power barge was in route to KWAJALEIN, Missile Range (KMR) before being redeployed to the canal zone.  Shortly after my fathers Panama Canal assignment we departed Fort Bliss and relocated to the tropical island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. The Marshallese, say: “Yokwe Yuk” versus welcome.  Kwajalein Island is one of 97 that make up the Kwajalein Atoll and is situated 2100 miles SE from Honolulu.

The island, a two-mile long flat boomerang strip of land dominated by the runway and dotted with palm trees, tranquil beaches and stunning aqua water with coral reefs are all set under an unrelenting equatorial heat.  No one just drops in on the island.  For security reasons only staff and their dependents can live on Kwajalein, tourists aren’t allowed. Everyone (military and government contractors) are there in a professional capacity as the island has no private housing.  No one actually lived on the island of Meck, that houses a launch facility, which meant a 25-mile helicopter commute for my father every day over water from Kwajalein.

Kwajalein Test Facility

When we lived there and today, no cellphone network exists on the island, residents relied on landline phones which were dotted all around the island, including in the supermarket and on the beaches. There was no Television, but today TV is provided by Central Pacific Network (CPN), a service of the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS). The Army operates a small fleet of vehicles for official use, but for “islanders” the main mode of transport is bicycles, everyone has one.  Underneath the relaxed veneer is a strict security protocol.  There were things we couldn’t photograph and doing so would likely get you a permanent pass off-island.

Systems Technology Test Facility constructed on Meck Island on Kwajalein Atoll

The tropical environment of the island makes it sound like a wonderful playground, with work merely an afterthought. Rest assured, the business of the missile range is extremely serious.  The radar facility is part of the Defense Major Range and Test Facility Base. They provide range instrumentation, missile launch facilities, mission control center, range safety, meteorological support, and support space operations.  The site hosts a suite of unique instrumentation, located on eight islands throughout the Kwajalein Atoll and provides space-, ground- and sea-based sensors of real-time target acquisition and tracking data to a command-and-control center during various Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests.

An ICBM target launches from Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands on 03/25/19

For example, earlier this year (2019), the military launched an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missiles (Minuteman III) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and tested the reentry vehicle on the 4,200-mile flight over the Pacific Ocean to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands which is now know as the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

After a couple of years living the island life in flip-flaps we departed the year-round heat and humidity and relocated to the SAFEGUARD AntiBallistic Missile System (ABM) in North Dakota. We arrived in a particularly intense cold month, the angle of sunlight was stark and non-penetrating, and snow drifts covered everything.

The Complex was authorized by Congress in 1969 and construction began in 1970 for the purpose to defend the offensive Minuteman missiles based at Grand Forks Air Force Base in the event of a nuclear ICBM attack by the Soviet Union or China.

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (SRMSC)

The Safeguard system was a cluster of military facilities in Cavalier County, N.D. and consisted of several primary components, the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR), the Missile Site Radar (MSR), the Spartan missile launchers, co-located Sprint missile launchers, and Remote Sprint missile launchers (RSL).

As originally proposed by President Johnson in 1967, the system, then known as Sentinel, was supposed to provide protection for major cities against a ballistic missile attack.  The “Pyramid” as it was called by locals, was located in Nekoma, N.D. and was the main control of the Safeguard system. It housed the computers and a phased array radar necessary to track and hit back at incoming ICBM warheads. The facilities were a technological marvel at the time. The structure is 80 feet tall and has four-foot-thick concrete walls sloped at a 35-degree angle to protect it against a potential nuclear blast. Each face of the structure had the ability to scan the landscape and skies for targets coming from any direction.  The MSR provided launch and control for Spartan, and the shorter-range Sprint anti-ballistic missiles.

Dependent Housing – Nekoma, N.D.

The facility was later re-named the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (SRMSC). The ABM debate in the Senate and the impact of the SALT II treaty proved to be a turning point—as the facility became active in April 1975, fully operational in October 1975 and was shut down in February 1976.

The Library of Congress has an extraordinary set of images documenting the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in various states of construction and completion.

At various times from 1973 to 1976, both my father, and I worked at the MSR.  We spent a lot of time in the underground power plant and it was rather impressive. There were several Cooper-Bessemer Company, 4-cycle, turbo-charged, dual-fuel (diesel or natural gas), V-12 engines which supplied electricity to the complex when commercial electricity failed or when there were mock attack tests. The engine turned a 2-ton fly wheel connected to a General Electric generator. The complete unit weighed 35 tons and was shipped in via rail to the facility during initial construction.

RSL #2

In addition, we worked at the four Remote Sprint Launch Sites (RSLs).  The MSR could command the launch of Sprint missiles located at the RSLs.  The Spartan missiles were designed to intercept incoming warheads at high altitude at distances in excess of 400 miles.  Sprint missiles are a super quick-reaction missile used to knock out enemy warheads at close range.  A Sprint launch is dramatic….its acceleration is immediate, stunning and literally as fast as a bullet (zero to Mach 10 in 5 seconds! Video HERE.).

The history of the SRMSC is fascinating on many levels and I’ve only scratched the surface.  If you like deep dives,  please check out David Novack’s comprehensive web site HERE.

Unclassified CIA Sidebar: The Kwajalein Missile Range (KMR) was a test site for ICBM missiles along with the testing validation for SAFEGUARD.  And then there is this from an unclassified CIA document (page 40):  “In September 1969 in connection with an estimative paper on the Soviet ICBM designated the SS-9. CIA analysis indicated that the new Soviet missile, then nearing deployment, had powerful capabilities, but they were uncertain exactly how powerful. An unanswered question was whether the multiple warheads of the SS-9 were fitted with individual guidance systems to direct them precisely to dispersed US missile silos. The Nixon administration was just then seeking public and Congressional support to develop and deploy an antiballistic missile defense system, the Safeguard ABM. To provide a rationale for the multibillion-dollar ABM system, Laird and the Pentagon seized the Soviet development of the SS-9, claiming that its triple warheads were individually targeted (Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicle, or MIRV). This weapon, military analysts declared, would enable the USSR to destroy the bulk of the US Minuteman ICBM force in one strike and demonstrated the Soviets’ intention to develop a first-strike capability. The US ABM system, they argued, was an essential antidote.  The antidote became the Safeguard Ballistic Missile Defense site (Nekoma, ND) which was later re-named to the the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (SRMSC).

We departed North Dakota and relocated to Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Fort Belvoir is home to a number of important U.S. military organizations and has nearly twice as many workers as The Pentagon.  More on this station duty at a later time.

Safeguard Ballistic Missile Defense site

So, lets connect the dots on this rather long post… we started out in Texas, the home of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command learning about HAWK and NIKE missile systems.  Then a power generation assignment in Panama to stabilize and keep the canal operating.  That led to an assignment in the Marshall Islands at the Kwajalein Missile Range and then an assignment at the Safeguard Ballistic Missile Defense site in North Dakota.  All of it relates to the Ballistic Missile Defense program which represented many years of missile defense training, maintenance and operations.

Why is this important?  These were “good ‘ol days” for lots of now older folks -and one that they/we were quite proud of – the learning experience and doing something useful. Most of us look back and smile because there are a few times in anyone’s life when you have a chance to have a special place in the world’s imagination. One of those times was during the Cold War.  Our family didn’t choose to have a role in the Cold War, and for the most part we didn’t complain about being moved around and part of the Ballistic Missile Defense program.

SRMSC Power Plant Control Room

Although the thrill of gas turbine sets spinning up in the middle of night while going into “Alert Status Mode” remains strong, the former missile launch sites—once protected by high fences, search lights, and armed guards—are no longer on the front lines of America’s Cold War.

 

P.S.  Today, the Andrew J. Weber was one of 16 vessels scuttled as part of a military target practice program in 2001. The 6,000 ton Andrew Weber was sunk July 19, 2001. It currently lies at a depth of 12,600 feet, about 250 nautical miles south east of Agana, Guam.

P.S.S.  Since the late 1970s, the USS Sturgis had been part of the Reserve Fleet, sometimes colloquially called the “Ghost Fleet.”  In October 2014, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $34.66 million contract to decommission, dismantle and dispose of the ship in Galveston, Texas where it was towed that winter.

P.S.S.S.  Today the topside of the North Dakota SRMSC appears exactly as it did during its existence as an active launch facility.  The only part of the original SRMSC installation still in use is the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) which the U.S. Air Force operates as part of its space track and early warning system.  The SRMSC was made available to the highest bidder via an online auction by the GSA.  The winning bid of $530,000.00 was accepted in December of 2012 and the sale closed in February of 2013.  The new owner is the Spring Creek Hutterite Colony of Forbes, N.D. The Hutterites are a faith group with 45,000 or so members living in several hundred colonies scattered across the North American prairies with a lifestyle similar to the Amish and Mennonites.  In addition, the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (JDA) purchased about 40 percent of the land, including the tactical buildings, for $435,000 from a legislative appropriation. That group is invested in the site because of it’s historical significance in the community.  They have plans to create a “historical interpretation,” at some point in the future.  Related to the RSLs, Mel Sann purchased RSL #3 (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) site and another was bought by James and Anna Cleveland.  The Clevelands renovated the RSL site into a home and it was previously reported they are trying to sell it for $1.25 million.  Mr Sann runs tours during the summer at RSL #3 and you can get more information HERE.

 

Note:  This article was developed from discussions, personal notes and photos with my father.  In addition, I’ve chronicled a bit of family history from my own experiences, family discussions along with research from various news outlets and internet sites.

Photos courtesy of Time Magazine (’68 Cover); Map data (c) OpenStreetMap (and) contributors, CC-BY-SA; MISSILE DEFENSE AGEN; Stars and Stripes; Library of Congress; Ed Thelen’s Nike Missile Website; U.S. Army; SRMSC Facebook Page

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Real ID Driver License Example

Do you remember the $300 million in federal taxpayer money wasted for Cover Oregon?

The State of Oregon shutdown its planned healthcare exchange in 2014 which never launched. Former Governor Kitzhaber had staked his reputation and his reelection bid on promoting State-based health and welfare programs.

Given all the in-fighting and blame among employees in the Oregon Health Authority, Cover Oregon was becoming a political liability so, the state quickly pivoted to a blame-Oracle narrative and instructed Attorney General Rosenblum to justify and pursue litigation.

Real ID Information

Now it’s Déjà vu all over again.

I’m talking about the Real ID Act and the State of Oregon Driver License.

The state and/or the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) looks to be unwilling to take responsibility for its own system failures in trying to comply with the federal Real ID Act.

 

Here are some facts:

• Oregonians are not required to change their standard driver license or ID card. The current card will continue to be valid until it expires, and you can use it for everything you use it for today – including air travel until October 2020.
• When your driver license or ID card expires, you have the option of renewing your standard license or ID card (prior to July 6, 2020) or getting a Real ID version on July 6, 2020.
• From the DMV stats page: There are approximately 4.1 million registered vehicles in the state of Oregon. Of those, about 3.2 million are passenger vehicles with nearly 3.1 million licensed drivers.  Those drivers are served by 60 DMV offices around the state.
• The State of Oregon is not yet compliant with the standards of the Real ID Act and CANNOT provide a Real ID option until July 6, 2020.
• The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given Oregon multiple extensions to-date, but their last and final extension means the state has to provide a Real ID option prior to October 2020.
• The DHS will not recognize driver licenses with out Real ID for air travel after October 2020.

The State of Oregon has received constant warnings about being prepared and providing Real ID licenses, but the project, its problems, its scope, its goals, its costs, its risks, its timing, its milestones, its deliverable, and its schedule didn’t seem to be understood by many until DHS extensions stopped.  I’m not certain, but I anticipate government representatives making the rounds on TV pontificating whining how the State of Oregon teams faced so many legacy issues, including complex IT structures, manual processes, insufficient visibility into systems and dwindling resources to comply with this federal act.

Oregon DMV Locations

Let’s do the math — assuming all 3.1M Oregon licensed drivers get a Real ID license during the “90 day window” (July 6, 2020 – Sept 30, 2020) that is 34,444 drivers renewing licenses per day.  Divide 34,444 drivers by 60 (# of DMV offices across the state) that is 574 drivers per day, filing paperwork and renewing their licenses.  Of course the 90 days isn’t totally accurate as the DMV offices are not open 7-days a week and in addition, the highest number of drivers will be in a smaller number of the overloaded metro offices.

I’m not going all Chicken Little on you, but it looks like the “sky is falling on the Oregon DMV” and at best, this is a political embarrassment for Governor Brown.  At worst, it’s another example of Governor Brown’s administration  accountability or lack there of, for procedures in important areas and may set off another round of state employees lobbing rocks over the fence in a defensive, accusatory and inaccurate ways.

In fact, earlier this week it became all about offense as government officials started amplifying the spin on TV and recited:  “Avoid the long DMV lines next year and instead either get one or plan to use your current passport for air travel.”  Clearly this is an effort to change the narrative of Real ID implementation delays which I read with deep skepticism.

Who will help rescue the state from its own incompetence this time?  Why has the state kept key details on the reason for Real ID delays concealed from the public?  Why has no media outlet demanded an answer on the reasons of the delay?  How will the state triage and combat lengthy wait times?  Will the state redirect employees from the DMV headquarters and staff from other state agencies and departments— to reduce the wait times at field offices?

The State of Oregon owes the public a duty of transparency on the Real ID project!

 

Real ID Background:
On September 11, 2001, America was attacked.  While prior to September 11th, states were already implementing numerous security measures to counter issues with counterfeit driver’s licenses (DLs) and identification cards (IDs) and dated licensing procedures, after September 11th states accelerated these efforts to ensure that their driver’s licenses and identification cards were secure.

The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005.  On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005” (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13), which included the “Real ID Act of 2005.” Title II of Real ID—“Improved Security for Driver’s License’ and Personal Identification Cards”—it was based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”  It establishes standards that state-issued driver licenses and identification cards must meet in order to be accepted for certain federal purposes.

More information on the Real ID Act, federal funding and extensions is:  (HERE)

Photos courtesy of Oregon DMV and Google Maps

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Somewhere on CA. Highway 139

Somewhere between Bieber and Sheepshead on CA. Highway 139, you’ll find yourself in the middle of nowhere.

Add to that being kissed with semi-warm September sunshine and you’d be in a place that many of us on motorcycles call happiness.

Sure we could set the cruise control on Interstate 5, but the fun ride to Reno, Nevada for the fall Street Vibrations Rally is coincidently also the shortest route leaving Portland to Eugene (Hwy 58) to Klamath Falls then on OR39 which becomes CA139 through much of the Modoc National Forest and Tule Lake to US 395 into Reno.

Interestingly, OR39 runs through the mixed-up little town of Hatfield.  The California map says it’s in California and the Oregon map says it straddles the state line, which at least in practice, it does.  The actual location of the state line is a bit confused, because Hatfield is an unincorporated community in both Siskiyou County, California, and Klamath County, Oregon.  At any rate, the junction of Oregon Route 39, California State Route 161, and California State Route 139; all three routes terminate at a four-way junction in the community.

If you live in the Northwest you know that the Oregon summer ends and autumn starts for many motorcycle enthusiasts by making the pilgrimage to the 25th annual Street Vibrations Rally.  It’s often the last nice weather ride of the season.  Nothing replaces wind in the face on the Harley-Davidson, a playlist with heavy bass, and a distant horizon when needing a little adventure.  Some may argue that the make and model of the motorcycle doesn’t matter, that the joy comes solely from the open road—frankly, they’re right.

Street Vibrations officially closed on Sunday.  Over five thousand people were expected to attend the multi-day event and from my vantage the number of riders in town for the celebration exceeded that estimate.  There were over 250 vendors with motorcycle gear, food stalls and six stages of great live music!  Most notable was Heartless—a tribute to Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart and they delivered the sound and spirit of the sisters classic rock-n-roll songs.   Video snippet below:

 

On Friday we rumbled along the 26-mile route from Reno to Virginia City—called Geiger Grade Road—with thousands of other riders who cruised into the historic mining town.  The route offers several curves along a cliff side and views of rolling hills with sagebrush to the pine tree-covered mountains.  It’s a thrilling experience, but the road routinely catches riders off guard and can become an accident quickly.

We soaked up the 81°F day and continued riding the loop to Carson City Harley-Davidson for more motorcycle accessories, themed art, crafts, apparel, music and ended the day back through the Carson (“wind tunnel”) Valley.  Mainstream meteorology suggests that “windy” conditions are anything sustained above 15 miles per hour, but we joked later that our helmets began inflicting what felt like a wind concussion on that segment of the ride.

I-5 Return Route With Cold, Rain and Wind

Speaking of navigating hazards… they are part of everyday life for motorcycle riders—we’re experienced riders, and typically get the local weather forecast before riding. If extreme temperatures are predicted, we might consider a different route and/or a different departure day if it’s practical. It was clear from Friday’s weather reports we’d be riding through less-than-ideal conditions—read MUCH COLDER and wet.  What?  Rain at Street Vibrations!  We enjoyed the 80°F temperatures  Wednesday through Friday, but now fast-moving storm along with a freeze watch was in effect with heavy rain expected Saturday mid-morning and all day Sunday.  In addition, the Oregon passes would receive snow down to 3500 feet and we had at least two major mountain passes to traverse above that altitude.

Postponing our departure wasn’t an option so, we opted to end the festivities early and leave on Saturday and avoid the worst of the early winter storm.

Estimating wind chill is a complex calculation involving ambient temperature and wind speed.  It goes something like:

Temperature’s Influence = ( ( Predicted High Temperature – ( Temperature Base = Your Minimum Acceptable Temperature – ( Predicted High Temperature – Your Minimum Acceptable Temperature ) ) ) / ( Your Ideal Temperature – Temperature Base ) ) * 100 then factor in Wind’s Influence = ( ( Low, High and Gust Wind Speeds Averaged – Your Minimum Threshold For What’s “Windy” ) / ( Your Minimum For What’s “Hazardous” – Your Minimum For What’s “Windy” ) ) * 100 and finally there’s Precipitation Influence, Minimum Visibility and the wildcard algorithm of Road Conditions.  When in doubt always multiple by 100!

If you tracked all that, then you’ve likely developed a customizable motorcycle weather application for the iPhone and already talking a “deal” with the motor company.  I’m not a mathematics wiz, but I know for a fact that warm and comfortable riders have more fun!  Thirty minutes outside of Reno did not fail to disappoint—bringing heavy black clouds, cold torrential rain, hail showers along with snow on the higher elevations of the Plumas Mountain Range.

Riding in the rain doesn’t make me unique—it’s one of the things you do on the road.  Motorcyclist spend the money on riding gear with features or materials to keep warm(ER) and dry.  But, very cold temperatures and the first major rain of the year in Nevada means the oil rises to the top of the highway in a soapy like mess and combined together makes a person go from “Get your motor running” to “Sux2BU” pretty quick.

No one thought we were “cupcakes” just because we didn’t want to ride in the cold/rain/snow.  Fortunately Harley’s heated gear has gotten far more user-friendly over the last ten years and we pressed through the worst of the weather for 560 miles and now have another story to tell.

Arrest Stats for 2019 Street Vibrations.

Photos take by author.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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It’s official.  The Great American Solar Eclipse and the potential for catastrophic disaster has produced the first ever Oregon Motorcycle Solar Eclipse Advisory: AVOID RIDING MOTORCYCLES, August 18 — 22, 2017 is the stated recommendation.

Plan to have a good time watching the 2-minute daylight-to-twilight event (around 10:15 am), but just don’t travel anywhere by motorcycle for 5-days!

Huh?  How did we get to this place?

The “once-in-a-lifetime” excitement and buzz surrounding the eclipse is now at Defcon 1 with less than seven days before the interstellar event.  For months people have been on an obsessive pursuit of the perfect photo location.  Get outside advertisements and turn your Oregon journey into a legacy have been everywhere,  Eclipse 101 brochures, guide pamphlets, and preparedness articles are in overdrive across all forms of media.

Advisory: Avoid Motorcycle Riding August 18 – 22, 2017

But, there is this bazaar pre-cog of an impending apocalyptic doom that is permeating the eclipse narrative given that hundreds of thousand of people and their vehicles — perhaps millions — will converge on the already severely overcrowded highways.

Can you spell Oregon anxiety and fear?

Media ratings often drive the “never miss an opportunity to drum up catastrophic hysteria:”  Did you set up a generator ‘war room’ in your basement in case of a state-wide breakdown of electricity and communication?  Did you rent a satellite phone to update your social media channels from Steens Mountain?  Does your family have an evacuation route and disaster preparedness plan?  Did you stock up on SPAM and water?  Do you have a full tank of gas?  Did you buy extra coolant and oil for the engine?  Do you have jumper cables?  Did you purchase a spare tire for your spare tire in case it goes flat?  Did you drain your checking account and now walking around with thousands of dollars in your wallet?  Do you have paper maps in case the cell phone grid goes down?  Did you take a first aid course?  Do you have a roll of duct tape?  Did you buy a package of souvenir: “The Path Of Totality” toilet paper?

Seems silly, but maybe the media should ask us if we remembered to breath?

Is the sky truly falling or is the daily drum beat of “chicken little” prudent preparedness?

I don’t think we want the celestial spectacle any darker and will know soon enough.  Though we might make fun of them a little, looking back, we may also sympathize, but after a long season of eclipse anxiety and survival doomsaying, condensed with all the scientific history, phony viewing glasses and hype — we should all be so lucky as to have yet another boring Monday on August 21st.

TIME photo modified by author with original courtesy of TIME.  TEAM Oregon photo courtesy of web site.

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Lewis and Clark; The Expedition Returned 2017

I’m a H.O.G. member, but not the type of person who displays an undying passion for the patches and pins or for that matter in attending a lot of H.O.G. events.  Sure, I’ve participated in the occasional H.O.G. rally, got the t-shirt and then headed home. Riding is primarily a solo activity for me and it’s more about riding in the wind, not the rally destination.  
 
Although there was this one time in Hawaii where it was all about the food.  The Aloha State Chapter #44 (Maui H.O.G.) were in the middle of a rally.  I wasn’t riding a motorcycle on the islands, but they were most gracious and let me enjoy some excellent pulled pork at their Luau!  We also had the opportunity to meet Cristine Sommer-Simmons, the book author of ‘Patrick Wants To Ride‘ fame.

But I’ve digressed.

Lewis and Clark Expedition Swag

A riding buddy and I decided to register and took a couple weeks last month to ride along with the H.O.G. Lewis and Clark; The Expedition Returns posse.  There were 182 register bikes for the tour which basically followed most of the same Lewis and Clark routes from Seaside, Oregon to St. Charles, Missouri.  They deviated a bit on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains which only added to the adventure.

 

Before I jump in and provide some insights about the ride, I want to say that H.O.G. is a class act.  Yes, there was a pricey registration fee, but the swag and goody bag we received for the expedition was detailed, high quality and exceeded my expectations.  The hotel registration process via the H.O.G. web site worked well and we had no issues in any location.  Big shout-out to Harley-Davidson, Team MKE, Paul Raap (H.O.G. Regional Mgr), Paul Blotske (H.O.G. Contractor) and the H.O.G. planners for making it simple and a great experience!

Lewis and Clark Expedition and Routes

 

Now keep in mind this wasn’t a “group ride” where 182 bikes departed simultaneous every day with a ride captain.  We were free to forge our own path (with some solid guidance) and ride with who we wanted and at our own pace.  H.O.G. provided a travelogue with approximate mileage and points of interest along the way for each day’s schedule.  In some cases they included passes for the various parks and/or sight seeing destinations.  This process worked well.

Ride Details:

Day 1, (Tuesday, July 11) — Had us traveling to the Oregon coast to visit the Fort Clatsop National Historic Park  where the Corps of Discovery wintered from 1805 to Spring 1806.  After 18 months of exploring the West, the Corps of Discovery built an encampment near the mouth of the Columbia River. They wintered at Fort Clatsop into 1806 before leaving the Pacific Ocean to return to Missouri and the route we were going to follow.

That evening Mike Durbin and Paradise Harley-Davidson (Tigard, OR) sponsored the gathering for dinner.


Highway 14 looking west at Mt. Hood

Day 2, — We were traveling east and heading to Lewiston, ID.  Along the route we could visit the Rock Fort Campsite which is a natural fortification located on the shore of the Columbia River, and where the Corps of Discovery set up camp on their journey home.  There is the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, the Sacajawea State Park Interpretive Center, and the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park

That evening we were at Hell’s Canyon Harley-Davidson for dinner. 

 
Unsolicited Comments About Portland Traffic:  It was common practice to ask other H.O.G. members where they came from, how far they rode etc., and when we mentioned being from Portland, people were compelled to tell us about their bad experiences riding around in Portland/metro traffic.  The H.O.G. HQ hotel for this event was the Jantzen Beach Red Lion and folks would drone on about the congestion, freeway crashes and the lengthy delays which were awful in the record Portland heat.  About all I could say was “True that, and apologize for the apocalyptic congestion.”  Then I’d add something about those new spiffy ODOT RealTime signs — you know, the big electronic signs that relay the obvious?!

Day 3, — Took us to Great Falls, MT.  There were multiple stops suggested to riders.  The first was the Nez Perce National Historical Park.  The 
New Perce were critical to the success of the Expedition by providing food and supplies. 

It was hot riding so, we left Lewiston early morning and as a result the park wasn’t open and we toured the exterior.  Lewis and Clark actually split up at what is called today Travelers’ Rest State Park.  Lewis went to the north.  On the north route, you could see the Lewis and Clark Pass, Museum of the Plains Indian, and Camp Disappointment   Clark went to the south, where you could see the Lost Trail PassCamp fortunate Overlook  the three forks of the Missouri River at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, and the Gates of the Mountains.

Highway 12 heading toward Lolo Pass

We were on Highway 12 headed over Lolo Pass for much of the morning. You’ve undoubtedly seen the photos of the sign that says “Curves next 99 miles…”  Yeah, that one and it’s named one of the best motorcycle roads in the country with lots of sweeping curves and several tight ones.  The elevation at the top is 5,233 feet in the northern Rocky Mountains and the temperatures were quite nice.  Road conditions in some areas were a bit dicey and unfortunately a female member of the H.O.G. group veered up against the guardrail and crashed.  She survived with a number of broken bones, but as I understand it, spent multiple days in the hospital. As we rode by the crash, her motorcycle freakishly went 75 yards up highway 12 and across both lanes of traffic and was sitting upright on the left side of the road, as if someone just parked it there on the kick stand.  Very strange.

That evening the group all got together for dinner at Big Sky Harley-Davidson.


Day 4, — (Friday, July 14,) — Took us to Billings, MT where we spent a couple of days.  There were a couple of stops planned.  The first was t
he Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls.  We also made sure to take time to see the Great Falls of the Missouri including Rainbow Falls before leaving the area.  

Great Falls, MT is actually situated on the northern Lewis return route, and Billings, MT is on Clark’s southern route.

Rainbow Falls

We took the more scenic route on Highway 89 south through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and then picked up Highway 12 east to Highway 3 south into Billings, MT.

That evening we had dinner at Beartooth Harley-Davidson, but to be candid we were getting a bit tired of the pork sliders or burgers and salad.


Day 5, — Was a “down day” from our ride schedule to allow riding in the Billings, MT., area.  Some jumped back on for full 400+ mile experience and rode to Livingston, MT., on I-90 then headed south on Highway 89 into Yellowstone National Park to see ‘Old Faithful.’  

Twin Lakes, along the Beartooth Highway

We decided to half that mileage and rode up Highway 212 to Red Lodge Montana and then over Beartooth Pass into Wyoming.  In Red Lodge, the annual Beartooth Rally was in full swing with a few thousand motorcyclists enjoying the area so, going over Beartooth Pass was slow riding, but we did enjoy the switchback curves.

It’s a great ride with some incredible vistas, but not for the faint of heart.

That evening we enjoyed a nice steak and ignored the gathering at Beartooth Harley-Davidson!


Day 6, — Had us traveling to Bismarck, ND., and it began early to avoid the sweltering heat. 

Across the NoDak Plains

We’d been riding in heat advisory’s across Montana for a few days and now the humidity was increasing!  One stop as we departed Billings was to tour Pompeys Pillar National Monument.  Pompeys Pillar was named by Clark and he and other members of the Corps of Discovery chiseled their names into the rock itself.  I believe this is the ONLY physical evidence that the Lewis and Clark Trail actually existed and took place. 

We rode on to Bismarck, ND.  There were additional stops along the way that included the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan.  I lived in Bismarck back in the day so, we ignored the extra miles and the point where Sacajawea and Toussaint Charbonneau joined the Corps. 

We enjoyed dinner at a local pub/restaurant while listening to some old Peter Frampton music on the jukebox! 


Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Day 7, — (Monday, July 17,) — The H.O.G. group headed west across the Missouri River from Bismarck and then we all rode south down Highway 1806 to Pierre, SD.  About 15 miles south of Bismarck we stopped at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park & On-A-Slant Village and toured the area which provided a great example of Native American encampments Lewis and Clark would have encountered on their journey.

Missouri River riding south on Highway 1806

We rode along Highway 1806 south down the Missouri River pretty much to the North Dakota – South Dakota border while watching out for farm equipment on the roads.

From there, we had a couple of routes to follow into Pierre, SD., though most of the Missouri River between Bismarck and Pierre is covered by the Lake Oahe Reservoir and the road follows the east side of the lake all the way into Pierre.

Pierre, SD., City Park

We had dinner at Peterson Motors Harley-Davidson in Pierre, but actually moved over to a city park on the river and tried Bison Burgers for the first time!


Day 8, — (Tuesday, July 18,) — Due to other commitments we departed the Lewis and Clark H.O.G. group on this day and started our return trip back to Oregon.  We intended to spend a couple of days in Boise, ID., to take in the Pacific Northwest H.O.G. rally and meet up with some other riders there.  The next couple of days were about laying down some miles and we avoided the wandering of site seeing.  We rode from 
Pierre, SD to Rapid City, SD on I-90, and skirted the Black Hills National Forest.

We traveled along Highway 18 and then took a wrong turn at Lingle, SD and ended up a few miles from the  Nebraska border before having to backtrack, riding through Fort Laramie on Highway 26 and then on to I-25 and Casper, WY., where we overnighted.


Day 9, — Had us traveling to Idaho Falls, ID., and we departed early to avoid the afternoon heat.  We were riding toward the Grand Teton National Park and Jackson when about 30 miles west of Dubois, WY, we encountered a fatal head-on car accident. 

The Road Glide and Grand Teton’s

We arrived at the scene at 12:30pm and the road had been closed since 9:30am.  We had to endure a 3+ hour wait which put us behind and more importantly it put us riding in the hottest part of the day. 

The 50 miles from Jackson, WY to the border town of Alpine, WY was like walking a marathon with all the backed up traffic. 

We finally made it to Idaho Falls, ID on US26 by early evening.  

Day 10, — We continued our travel west to Boise, ID on the two-lane US 20/26.

There are views of high desert, Atomic labs and of course Craters of the Moon Monument with it’s vast ocean of lava flows and scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush.We stopped for some site seeing, but didn’t explore any trails.

We arrived in Boise, ID before 3pm and met up with some other riders who arrived from Portland.

Day 13, — (Sunday, July 23,) — After a couple days of enjoying the local rides and taking in the city life along with parts of the Pacific Northwest H.O.G. Rally (While at the rally in Meridian, ID., I had a chance to test ride a new 2017 CVO Street Glide with the new M-8 engine. I will do a post on that experience soon) we returned to Portland, OR via the most direct route on I-84.

We finally arrived back in Portland that evening after touring over 3,500 miles with a number of new stories from the adventure in retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  In addition, we got to hang with a number of great H.O.G. members!

We could relate to Meriwether Lewis who wrote in September 1806:

Today Captain Clark will pen a letter to Governor Harrison and I shall pen one to President Jefferson informing them officially of our safe return and providing the details of our expedition. My hope, and that of Captain Clark, is that our work over the last two and a half years will accomplish this administration’s goals to expand the Republic westward and inspire future generations into even further exploration and adventure. — Meriwether Lewis 

Updated August 15, 2017:  Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left from St. Louis, Missouri with the Corps of Discovery and headed west in an effort to explore and document the new lands bought by the Louisiana Purchase.  To read more about Lewis and Clark, visit the National Geographic site dedicated to their journey or read their report of the expedition, originally published in 1814.  There are a number of period correct maps HERE.

Photos taken by author.

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Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242)

The Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242) will officially open to all traffic on Monday, June 19, 2017.

The narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation (5,325 feet) make the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.

Many of us look forward to the annual opening and to traverse lava fields, snowcapped peaks and cruise along rushing rivers which highlight this scenic highway to central Oregon’s Cascade Mountain passes.

Heading east-bound, OR 242 travels through Lane, Linn, and Deschutes counties, beginning at the junction with OR 126 near McKenzie Bridge and ending at the junction with US Highway 20 and OR 126 at the City of Sisters.  From Sisters, Oregon heading west, the route travels past hay meadows and ascends 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests.  The road follows an old wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and provides a dramatic view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.  The 25 mile, 4,000 foot descent snakes down switchbacks to the dense Cascadian forests and ends near the McKenzie River.

Few realize that the McKenzie Pass is also known as the Craig’s McKenzie Salt Springs/Deschutes Wagon Road.

The backstory — in 1862, John Craig was was one of 50 men hired by Captain Felix Scott to build a trail from Eugene over the Cascades. By then the rush of westward-bound Oregon Trail pioneers had slowed, but the discovery of gold in Eastern Oregon prompted a flood of people heading eastward. Scott’s plan was to sell Willamette cattle to the hungry miners east of the Cascades.

As Scott’s road-building crew neared the lowest route across the mountains they encountered miles of snow and jagged lava fields at McKenzie Pass. Craig favored chipping out a road through the lava fields, but Scott decided to skirt the lava fields in favor of a notch at Scott’s Pass on the shoulder of North Sister that was 1000 foot higher, steeper and crossed more snow. Scott’s route was later abandoned and is known today as the Scott Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

After working for Scott, Craig spent the next 15 years working for himself while championing his vision of a lower crossing through McKenzie Pass. In 1871 he formed the McKenzie, Salt Springs and Deschutes Wagon Road Company and began to build his toll road. He cut trees, chipped and chiseled a roadbed out of the jagged lava fields just north of North Sister to form a McKenzie Pass crossing lower than what was available at the time.  By the Fall of 1872 his road open and began collecting tolls of $2 for a wagon, $1 for a horseback rider, 10¢ for cattle and 5¢ for sheep. After its completion he won a federal contract to deliver mail from the Willamette Valley to Camp Polk in Central Oregon over the road. In summer, the mail was carried on horseback. In winter it was carried on John Craig’s back. To accommodate the mail carrier, a small cabin was built about half way across, in which he could spend the night.

For many years John Craig carried mail from the Willamette Valley to Eastern Oregon, by horseback in the summer and on his own back in the winter.  After attempting to ski Christmas mail over McKenzie Pass in the winter of 1877, he was found frozen beside his mail pouch in his shack atop McKenzie Pass.  Mystery still shrouds the details of his death.

The U.S. Forest Service decided in 1920 to make the highway a tourist-friendly route over the mountains, so engineers took care to align it for sightseeing, with spectacular views of volcanic peaks, including the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, Broken Top and even the more distant Mount Jefferson to the north.  The road became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of OR 126.

The highway is a local favorite and should be on everyone’s Oregon highway bucket list.

References:

The John Craig Story
McKenzie Pass
John Craig – A Pioneer Mail Carrier, by Ruth E. Richardson – 1963

OR 242 map/photo courtesy of Google.

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Spring is here! Flowers are in bloom, birds are chirping, the sun is shining on many days in the Northwest, the days are longer and people feel more energetic.  Many want to get out to a happier place and enjoy the wind in their face.

Interestingly, it’s been reported that the Daylight Savings time change can be dangerous for some and researchers have shown there are increases in motor vehicle accidents.  Lack of sleep impairs driving ability, and driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as distracted driving.

Speaking of distracted driving

If you’ve been on a motorcycle for any length of time you’ve seen it all.  Talking on the cell phone, driving slow and looking down on the freeway, reading email at stop lights only to get honked at, eating and drinking, grooming, fiddling with instrument controls and GPS and talking with a passenger while using their hands for expressions. 

These are just a few of the common types of distracted driving habits that negligent drivers engage in across the northwest.

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 12.28.44 PMAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine Americans are killed every day in automobile crashes that involve a driver who is distracted by some other activity while behind the wheel (Norton, 2015). As distracted driving crashes continue to claim lives, state agencies like the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) are working to develop countermeasures that will may convince drivers to drive more responsibly.

Despite all the efforts to implement safe driving campaigns which have included things like billboard slogans, graphic video clips, television (TV) and radio ads, publications and legislative initiatives; the crashes continue to increase. As reported by Kullgren (2015), fatal crashes in Oregon spiked from 217 to 288, or 33% from September 23, 2014 through September 23, 2015. During this same time period, total deaths increased from 238 to 312, or 31%; pedestrian deaths increased from 33 to 54, or 64%; and motorcycle deaths increased from 40 to 46, or 15%.

When drivers overstep the inattentive line as they willfully impose their own level of risk on others they become socially and legally responsible. Drivers who allow themselves to be distracted by their multi-tasking activities are increasing the risk factor for themselves and imposing that dangerous limit on motorcyclists, passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. This increased risk to which others are subjected is similar to other driver behavior’s that are considered aggressive and illegal: going through red lights, failing to yield, exceeding safe speed limits, reckless weaving, drinking and driving, driving drowsy, road rage, etc.  In addition, distracted driving causes auto insurance to go up for everyone and state legislators feel the need to control more of our lives via instituted laws.  

And speaking of legislators, today starts Oregon’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month with a big kick-off event in the capitol.  If you want to read more about the Distracted Driving Epidemic in Oregon see this report which details the problem, identifies some solutions and highlights the sobering facts.

Be alert out there!

UPDATED: April 18, 2017 — Noah Budnick, Director of Public Policy & Gov. Affairs for Zendrive published a blog post with some excellent data on Distracted Driving.  Interestingly was the finding that Oregon was the LEAST distracted of the states, however, the city of Portland was in 10th place of cities that were most distracted.  You can read the blog post HERE or download the report.

References:

Kullgren, I. K. (2015, September 30). More Oregonians are dying in car crashes, new data show. The Oregonian. Retrieved from http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/09/more_oregonians_are_dying_in_c.html

Norton, A. (2015). Texting while driving: Does banning it make a difference? HealthDay. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texting-while-driving-does-banning-it-make-a-difference/

Photos courtesy of ODOT

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