Exploring The North Cascades

The Route Plan and The Beginning

Well, here we are! Officially the first post about a motorcycle Ride. While I could have started with any of the trips that I did in the past 2 years, this holds a special place in my mind. This route was one which covered lakes, mountains, valleys, snow, small towns, rain, kind of a desert(?) and then back home. 460 miles or 740 km covered in single day on a motorcycle. It is the longest one day trip I have done till date on a motorcycle. I had done this route with some friends a while back by car, but maybe that is a story for another time. This is also the motorcycle road trip that is on top of my to do list once the world is safe from the Pandemic. Hope keeps us going!

The story is from early October. Fall coming to an end and winter starting to set in. The time when people start getting excited about snow again as if they forgot all the troubles from last year. The time when you hear discussions about winter plans and skiing resorts. The time when people with All Wheel Drive Cars and 4×4 cars can flex their muscles and for motorcyclists, well it is a sad time for us because it is time for our motorcycles to enter winter storage. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who do still ride during winter, but I’m definitely not one of them. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think my modern retro – The RnineT (which I lovingly call as the nineT) – without any sort of wind protection would be supportive of it. 

My Companion for the motorcycle Trips – The nineT! Isn’t she a beauty?

This was exactly the mood I was in, and I wanted to do something special, almost like a goodbye for the nineT and that is how the route search began. Criteria was – should be a loop, should be scenic but doable in a day and should not be a route I had already covered on my nineT. After a fair bit of research and zooming in and out of Google Maps, I stumbled on Washington Pass and after looking around and following the road on google maps, I realized that it does form a loop and it was a loop which I had not been on by motorcycle before. A bit more research revealed that this formed the Cascade Scenic Loop highway and that was the Eureka moment. The route was a bit long, close to 470 miles (760 Kms) and that was longer than what I had ridden a motorcycle in a single day before. But it was a fun challenge and seemed doable. Even though I had driven on this route before, I remembered almost nothing about the drive.

Route Set – Cascade Loop Scenic Highway

Fast forward a couple of days, October 5th, a Saturday. It was a cold fall morning and there was a fair bit of fog outside. Around 5:30AM the preparation for the ride began. Mounting the bags, making sure there are spares, the pre-ride checks and setting up the GPS. At last we (me and the nineT) set off at 6:00am. The first stop for a ride is always the nearest gas station. It was quite cold and I had layers on to protect myself and even then the cold was penetrating. After filling up on gas, I rode off and shortly hit I-5 North interstate. 

Most of my Trips start here. The local Arco gas station

The first 60 miles (95 Kms) of the ride is boring. On a clear day, one will be able to spot the North cascades, Mt Baker, etc, but on that particular dark, cold and foggy morning, the biggest concern I had was keeping warm and alert. I kept myself occupied by singing some song to the beat of the engine (Oh if my helmet could talk, it would cry for help). There was a quick pit stop in between at a rest area near Mt Vernon. Just to stretch and use the restroom, but apart from that nothing worth mentioning happened here. Winter rides require you to hydrate well as you end up using the restroom – A LOT!! – because of the cold. So be prepared if you are an aspiring winter rider.

My first destination on the way was Diablo Lake and it is a place I have been to before a fair number of times. There are two exits you can take to Diablo Lake, First option is to take Exit 208 to take WA530 which will cut through the town of Arlington – a cute little town – which will go on to intersect SR20 (Cascade Loop Scenic Highway) at Rockport, WA. The other option which is a little longer is to take I-5 North all the way to Exit 232 and enter SR20 directly. I decided to take longer route via the Exit 232.

The SR20 is the highlighted route and the SR530 is the alternate route. I have not been to that Lake Cavanaugh before. Maybe worth exploring?
Little fun fact here. While writing this, I realized I have something against taking exit 208 while going towards the North Cascades and taking the Exit 232 when returning. Every single time I have been on this route I have always - and I mean every single time taken the exit 232 to go towards the cascades, and it is not that WA530 is any less scenic. In fact, it might be more scenic to start with than SR20. Next time I will try to break this habit.

SR20 route, needless to say, looks beautiful early in the morning, especially close to sunrise when the sun just starts to peek over the mountain top. However, I did not see any of it when I got on SR20 that day. It was drizzling, cold and foggy and I was starting to feel desperate for a nice cup of hot chocolate – which also by the way was nowhere to be found.

A little bit later, it stopped drizzling and I came upon the sign for the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway. This motivated me.It was still early and I was still feeling hopeful that the weather would get better. After all, that is what the forecast promised. The ride had begun…..

The Ride Begins……

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