Northwest by Norton: A Short Ride the Long Way

A group riding Norton Commandos go the long way around the Pacific Northwest to the International Norton Owners Association rally.

| March/April 2018

The International Norton Owners Association offers an enamel pin for those riding a Norton 1,000 miles or more to its annual rally. But the 2003 rally in Lumby, British Columbia, was only 250 miles from my home base in Vancouver. What to do?

A group of us from the West Coast British Motorcycle Club decided we could qualify by going the long way round — via Washington state, Oregon, Idaho... and Polson, Montana, to collect fellow Nortoneer Carmine "Maggie" Mowbray.

We were all riding 850 Commandos: Steve and I were on our 1974 Mark IIs, while Ian, Geoff and Maggie rode electric-start Mark IIIs.


The North Cascades Highway (SR 20) is rated the No. 1 motorcycling road in the state by Destination Highways. Heading east from Burlington, Washington, before crossing Diablo Dam into the Cascades, SR 20 swept us along the mountainsides, throwing a succession of delicious turns as we spun toward Washington Pass. Dense cedar and fir gave way to scrubby pines as we skimmed the snow line at the 5,500-foot summit and started our steady descent of the gentler eastern slopes.

Lunch was in the faux-western town of Winthrop — all boardwalks and livery stables — at the Duck Brand Hotel for their signature smoked duck quesadilla: delicious! We cruised across open farmland, turning south on US 97 down to the Columbia River at Pateros. Leaving Washington's narrow coastal strip behind (the only year-round green part of the "Evergreen State"), we followed the Columbia south into the Okanogan Valley. Hot, dry winds blowing up from the Sonoran Desert toast the parched ground here and sear the nostrils, while the broad, slow-moving Columbia River irrigates the region's vast fruit orchards.

At Sunnyslope we turned west, and followed US 2 back into the Cascades to the fantasy town of Leavenworth, a chocolate-box "Bavarian" village of cuckoo clocks and cowbells. From there, we turned south again on US 97 and raced broad curves over Blewett Pass into Ellensburg. At the KOA campground, we parked between motor homes, sheltering from a blustery wind, and assessed the day's mechanical issues. Ian's Mark III was running rich, so we opened the Amal carbs and dropped the needles one notch. Steve had a noisy tappet, so we pulled the rocker cover and found the valve clearance way too wide. No one remembered feeler gauges, so we guesstimated the setting.

4/12/2018 12:35:05 PM

Nice article, thanks. I rode the opposite way part of ur trip...up the coast hwy frm Cali to turn east at Tillamook, thru Portland for a day or 2 stop & onto Mt Hood nother day or 2 (my dream - to ski on my July birthday), Yakima, Spokane, Missoula, outta the Rockies at Billings. All in all a circumnavigation of the parameter states of the USA. This Left Coaster's mind blown by the grander of that area two lane you describe. U brought back good memories of the my travels more'n 30 yrs ago. - -Chad Amherst MA

4/12/2018 8:18:58 AM

I live in Spokane Washington, and I have a great memory of every road, eatery and campsite mentioned in this article. Living in The Rocky Mountain Watershed offers a stunning array of rivers, lakes, mountains and deserts. You can be in all of them in a hard days ride. One area they got near while in Montana, The Sawtooth National Park, is an absolute joy to loop through. I rescued two gals whos car was steaming beside the road. Fixed a hose, then discovered they were family of Ernest Hemingway. This area was his last home. Saw all of these areas aboard my BMW R90/6, which I still own and ride, so the Norton aspect really added flavor and fond memories.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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