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Around the Willamette Valley

I’ve lived in Oregon my entire life but never truly appreciated the beauty of the Willamette Valley. What you see heading down I-5 is barely the tip of the iceberg. I took a day off of work and clocked nearly 200 miles hitting the back roads of the western Oregon countryside and was amazed at what I saw.

I live in Sandy, on the foothills of Mt. Hood. When I left the house just before 8 am it was under cloudy skies. I headed south through Estacada and continued on Highway 211 toward Molalla. A few light sprinkles dotted my face shield, but the road was slowly drying out as the clouds struggled to break up. When I got to Molalla I headed south on 213 toward Silverton. This route is familiar and I’ve ridden it dozes of times (it’s open all year).

Once I got to the quaint town of Silverton I told my GPS to take me to Pratum, a community I had never heard of until hitting the maps the prior evening. Normally I would continue south toward Stayton but this time my route took me more to the west, about halfway between 213 and I-5. The area is predominantly rural, with small farms of all types everywhere. There was fog in patches and the low clouds overhead were breaking up, giving me striking glimpses of the sun rising behind massive oaks and other deciduous trees. The feeling reminded me of the English countryside.

I made it to Pratum, and it was barely big enough to qualify map-hood. I’d call it a community rather than a town. I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Mcleay, southward. Similar to Pratum, it was small and quaint and more a community than a town. The small two lane roads passed through green farm fields and clumps of oak trees, still devoid of leaves during this late winter ride.

At Mcleay I repeated the process. Pull over and tell my GPS to take me to my next waypoint. This time I was headed for Turner, which was a small town just east of the busy interstate. So far I had visited three new towns and would bag several more before the day was through. Turner marked the southernmost town on the day’s tour and once there I turned west. I crossed under I-5 to the community of Sunnyside, one of two such named communities in Oregon (the other near Clackamas to the north). There was quite a bit of fog so riding at a slower pace was appropriate. So far I hadn’t seen a single other motorcycle and had been thankfully free of Anti-Destination League members as well.

I was now west of I-5 and in new territory. My next destination was Independence, Oregon but I didn’t have a safe place to pull over and program my GPS, so I trusted my instincts and headed due west on Hylo road (aptly named). I came to a T intersection at Liberty road and was unsure which way to go, so I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Independence (I already had it, being on two wheels).

My Zumo took me north through the community of Rosedale (like the song) and into the city limits of the state capital, Salem, before pointing me west again on the twisty, narrow gravel Vitae Springs Road between very expensive houses tucked privately into copses of trees. The gravel was no problem for my dual-sport V-Strom but I was a little concerned about my GPS’ route choice. It wasn’t 30 seconds before I dropped down onto River Road and continued west. I crossed over the Willamette River for the first time that day and entered the town of Independence, Oregon.

Independence was founded in the mid-1800’s. It still kept its old time charm, with 2- and 3-story brick buildings on a classic American main street. The trees lining the streets were full of white early Spring blooms. I half expected Steven Spielberg to be standing on a street corner shouting directions to his film crew. It was such a dose of Americana that it almost looked artificial. I pulled into the parking lot of a mortuary of all places and told my GPS to take me to Monmouth, home of Western Oregon University. When I was a senior in high school I wanted to study economics at what was then called Western Oregon State College, but I studied computer science at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls instead, at my father’s urging.

Telling my GPS to take me to Monmouth wasn’t worth the effort because I was already on Monmouth St. and the town itself was only 2 minutes due west.

My fuel gauge showed 135 miles and although I can go over 200 miles on a tank of gas, I took the opportunity to pull into a Chevron and fill up. There are gas stations in many of the smaller towns, but the quality of their fuel is suspect and my butt needed a break anyway. After fueling up, I headed into Monmouth proper before ending my westward travel by turning north on Highway 99W.

Highway 99 are twin roads. Both run north and south, like all odd-numbered highways, but 99W is on the west side of I-5 and 99E is on the east side. I have traveled most of 99E but had never spent much time on its western twin until today. Once again I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to my next destination, this time a town to the northwest called Dallas.

Dallas is another small town, about the same size as Sandy, my home town. It seemed I was on the truck route as I never saw the downtown proper. Repeating the process of pulling over and programming my next destination, I was soon heading north on Perrydale road.

On my ride so far I had noticed a growing trend. Farms on the valley floor with modest homes surrounded by modest or less-than-modest fences, big fancy houses on the numerous hill tops surrounded by expensive white fences and accessed by gated paved driveways lined with trees. I wondered what the hilltop dwellers did for a living. The amount of land and the size of these homes undoubtedly pushed their purchase price well into the millions of dollars. I didn’t see just one or two of these estates, either. I saw dozens. Basically every small hill had a large fancy house on top. It made me wonder how California’s famous Napa Valley compared in topography and economic demographics. Regardless, the verdant valley views (sorry, I couldn’t resist) were incredible.

Perrydale Road met Highway 22, the route many people take to the Oregon Coast to dodge the traffic and speeding-ticket nightmare of Newberg and Dundee a little to the north. I got on 22 westbound for about a quarter mile before heading north again on Perrydale. With the many small two lane country roads and lack of proper signage, I was thankful I had a GPS to guide me along. After a few turns and road changes I made it to Amity. I did a slow ride through the tiny town and scoped out the eatery options. I saw Ashes Cafe on the main drag and saw that it was both open and seemingly popular. Never eat at a restaurant that has no customers; it’s a bad sign. I saw a few scary-looking houses, too, but nothing worthy of a horror movie. I turned around and headed back, parking in front of Ashes Cafe.

The inside was rather run down and the waitress, Leona, looked like she needs to cut back on the meth a little. The food was tolerable. The coffee tasted burnt and the bacon was a confusion of nearly raw on one half and so overcooked on the other it crumbled when eaten. Two older gentlemen sat at the counter in front of me, one wearing a jacket plastered with military patches and slogans reminding us to remember those who have fallen in prior conflicts. Leona provided good service but her demeanor chilled whenever she came to my table. I never figured out why. Perhaps she only liked Harley-Davidson riders, guessing by the H-D poster on the wall above the kitchen food service window.

I paid the $7.50 ticket with a $10 bill, put my jacket on and headed out into the sunshine. My next destination was Dayton, a town I had visited on a similar day ride in February the year prior. From that point on I would be traveling familiar roads. By the time I reached Dayton, however, my clutch hand was beginning to hurt. The feeling was similar to how people describe carpal tunnel syndrome. It doesn’t hurt to hold the clutch in, but the motion of squeezing the lever brought an increasing level of pain.

My intended route home would take me south to Hubbard, back to the east side of I-5, then up a confusing jumble of back roads through Canby and Redlands to home. I knew that the increasing level of pain in my clutch hand wouldn’t survive that kind of route so got onto 18 eastbound and followed the traffic through Dundee, Newberg, Sherwood, and Tualatin. I hit I-205 northbound to the Clackamas exit, and came home via Highway 212 through Damascus and Boring.

By the time I got home my left wrist was in a lot of pain with every shift but I still had a smile on my face. As Neil Peart says (I quote him a lot), “When I’m riding I’m glad to be alive. When I stop riding I’m glad to be alive.” Despite the seemingly long route, I was home by 1 pm. I rode approximately 180 miles. I began to wonder why I’m able to clock a dozen 250+ mile days back to back on my long summer trips without wrist pain, yet a sub-200 mile day ride makes me cut my trip short. A similar thing happened a year prior when I had to ride through the heart of Salem. It’s not the miles, it’s how many times I have to shift that gets me. It’s the repetition. I’m going to do some research to see if there are some exercises I can do to strengthen and condition my clutch hand. Perhaps those spring-grip exercisers that have been around for decades will help.

Either way, I was thankful for the trip. I saw some fantastic scenery and obtained a new appreciation for the beauty of the Willamette Valley. I also visited several small towns in my home state for the first time. Overall it was a wonderful ride.

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