Motorcycle Rides through Western Washington: The Interview

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Ride Motorsports


Motorcycling through Western Washington

The Interview

Author Tom Mehren has been writing about riding in the Pacific Northwest since early 1999. His most recent book, Motorcycling through Western Washington is actually his fifth guide to riding in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a tight schedule this winter, we were unable to nail him down for an interview, but spring is here, the book is out and it all makes sense to tell you about it now.

Q: This is your fifth book of its kind about riding in the Pacific Northwest. It seems it would have been a more logical choice for being the first. Why did it take so long?

TM: Yes - as I look back I could see where you're coming from. But I didn't set out originally to write a series of touring books. The first book, Motorcycling through the Columbia River Gorge was initially written as a guide for people coming to the Rally in the Gorge. When it started selling all on its own, it became apparent we might have something here.

You have to remember, about that time (10 years ago) the duo from Canada had a fairly new book on the market, Destination Highways Washington. When it came time to write the next few books, I wanted to steer clear of competing against them and that's why the next books were about Oregon and Dual Sport rides in Western Washington. After 10 years I felt the DH WA had had it's time on the shelves and the market would be ready for something new for the Evergreen State. So here it is.

I think it came out to be a better book all in all because of that time factor and working through formats changes across the other books. This one is nice since all the restaurant, accommodations and see & do listing follow the rides they are closest to.

Q: You live in Seattle, so I suspect most of this could have come off the top of your head since Western Washington is your stomping grounds. True?

TM: I consider the entire Pacific Northwest my stomping grounds, not just Western Washington. My style of ride planning is intricate, seeking out the roads less traveled wherever I go. While the book was in full design layout, I was still out riding roads I've never been on, so there were a number of unknowns throughout production.

Q: And how do you go about finding these hidden gems of roads?

TM: There are several ways. First off I love maps. I could look at them all day. I own maps for the entire Pacific Northwest that date back to the late 1800s when the USGS was mapping essentially wagon trails. A lot of those main roads are still in use today and it's fun to see how they've been altered over time.

My friends Jim and Ellen have a large map of Washington state in their dining room. We stare at it for hours looking at the terrain and talking about what red lines we've been down and what we still need to get to.

My other source of finding roads worthy of a ride down are people I know in various places, who I know know the roads where they live. When I arrive to go for a ride with them, I feel like an invited guest who's getting a grand tour. There is something exciting to me every time I ride down a road I've never been on before.

Q: You left a few basics out, like riding around Mt. Rainier. Does that make your book less appealing to someone who has never ridden here?

TM: When I built up the Western Oregon book (published 2012) I purposely left out US 101. It's a romantic idea for someone who has never ridden it before and there are certainly some nice views, but I wanted to use the book as a guide to the roads less traveled and, as we all know, any monkey with a folding map can figure out how to ride up and down US 101 or around Mt. Rainier for that matter. My focus is to create a book for the slightly more experienced rider, or first time who wants to escape the traffic of these popular thoroughfares.

 Q: 25% of the rides in the book involve islands. That seems high?

TM: Welcome to Western Washington. We have one of the most intricate ferry systems in the world and hundreds of miles of great roads to connect to. The islands here are unique in that you can make each one a day ride, or spend a week hitting them all, like your own little tour. What makes that even better is the quality of accommodations and food available on each one. Whether it's an afternoon buzz around Mercer Island, a day trip exploring Vashon, or making a swing through the San Juans, it's a touring riders paradise - when the weather is nice.

Q: For this book, you list a number of state parks that include cabins and yurt accommodations. Is this new for you?

TM: In all the years I've lived here, I'd never stayed in a state park cabin until last year. I started a little research and discovered there are close to 75 such locations in the Pacific Northwest. Again, a rider could create an entire multi-day tour overnighting at such places.

Q: If you could take off on any of the rides right now, which one would it be?

TM: E4 - The Thurston County Runabout. That was the final ride to be written as I was wrapping the book. Steve Schiller of the CMA taught it to me one afternoon and we had a great time. Riding around the Hanford steam plant is bizarre and the roads just twist and turn as you go. A lot going on, so I want to go back and do it again and again.

Q: Several rides come out of an event you ran several years ago, the Anti-5. Tell us more.

TM: The Anti-5 was a fun run that raised money for the Starlight Children's Foundation. For several years I had been working on a route that would circumnavigate any of I-5 between Olympia and Vancouver. It took a long time to stitch it together. It's not the same route the Cascade Bicycle Club uses for the STP. This one meanders a lot more. At times, it uses sections of Old 99 and at other times it's way out in the boonies. For the book, I had to break it down piece by piece.

Q: The North Clark County Loop is a designated scenic drive by the county. What makes your version different?

TM: I stumbled on this loop one day a few years ago. I like everything about it except I wanted it to start and end in Woodland, so I tweaked their version just enough to make that possible.

Q: What's next for you in the book publishing world?

TM: A few years back we tinkered with a book release on Kindle and it's done pretty good. In the coming months I'm going to start assembling 1002 Tips and Tricks for Motorcyclists based on a lot of things I've written over the years. I haven't done a book for the masses since I wrote Packing Light/Packing Right back in 2006, so I think it's time. This new one will come out in paperback as well as an eBook.

Click here to download one of the rides from the book, Motorcycling through Western Washington.

Click here to order your copy now.

SR/Spring 2013

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!