As my tow truck driver said…
“It restores your faith in humanity.”
The goal was to get one last decent ride to Detroit and back before the weather turned nasty. I’ve written about this route many times before; it’s one of my favorites. From Estacada, Oregon you ride east up highway 224 along the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook Ranger Station, then south along paved Forest Service road 46 to the small resort community of Detroit, Oregon. It follows the western slope of the Cascades mountain range, twists and turns with the Clackamas River, and represents about 80 miles without stop signs or towns. There and back from my home in Sandy is about 180 miles, and I often ride it a dozen times or more every season.
There was low clouds and fog in patches when I started and the temperature floated between the mid 30s to the low 40s. Once I got past Northfork Reservoir along the Clackamas River, however, the sky opened up and sunshine emerged.
The fall colors were brilliant with lots of yellows and reds. The few cars I came upon kindly moved over and let me past – this is rare in Oregon, but it was a good sign of the kindness I’d experience from strangers as the day progressed.
Even the pavement was in great shape. The Oregon Department of Transportation had worked to repave most of the route, improving many areas that were safety hazards because of dangerous potholes.
I stopped at the cut-off road to Olallie Lake because my hands were bitterly cold. I parked my bike in full sunlight and placed my gloves palm side up on the seat. The sunlight warmed the black leather quite nicely. I shook my hands and swung my arms to get blood flowing back into my fingers. After about a five minute break, I was warmed up enough to get back on the road.
I crested the pass underneath the high power lines in view of Mt. Jefferson and began the 18 mile descent to Detroit. In the resort town, I stopped at the gas station and deli, used the restroom, and ate a Snicker’s bar as I marveled at how low the lake was. The marina was on high ground and a creek you could walk across without getting your knees wet was all that ran through the inlet.
The stretch of road between Detroit and the pass is a lot of fun, with well-designed curves and great road conditions. Something seemed off, however. As I carved the twisties, I noticed my bike seemed to feel mushy and unstable when leaned over. I wondered if it was the road surface in that lane, or if something else was wrong. By the time I made the last hairpin turn and began the final ascent to the pass I knew there was likely something wrong with my tire.
At the top I saw two riders standing next to their Harley baggers. I pulled in and parked, and immediately they came over to talk, noticing my tire. I got off and said, “Something feels off.”
“You definitely have a flat tire,” the tall rider, Bill, said.
Bill and Nick were two riders from Central Oregon who rode over to visit some friends camping nearby. They spent almost an hour working with me to try to repair the flat tire. At first we couldn’t find a nail or other item in the tire, and I didn’t recall running over anything, so we initially assumed it was caused by a bad valve stem. After inspecting the tire more closely, we found a 1/2″ gash just off center from the middle of the tire.
I pulled out my DC compressor and mushroom-type plug kit and set to work on it. Unfortunately, the gash was too large and the inside of the tire was too damaged to plug (not for lack of trying, though). We even tried multiple plugs but air kept rushing out of the gash.
Bill flagged down a group of riders on Harleys headed south toward Detroit and we asked them if they’d call a tow truck when they got into town. Unfortunately, there is no cell service anywhere between Detroit and Estacada. The riders eagerly agreed to make the call when they got to town and set off.
Nick and Bill set off north toward their destination. As I settled in to wait for the tow truck to arrive, I reflected on the situation. I was parked in a safe location, the weather was perfect with bright sunshine and a slight breeze, and the temperature was pleasant. I had an adequate amount of water and even found a granola bar in my tank bag. As I had worked on the flat, despite the fact that it was irreparable, I had the right tools to work with. I was also thankful that two other riders were eagerly willing to help with whatever I needed. They even volunteered to ride all the way to Estacada to arrange a tow if it came down to that.
Various cars went by and some of the drivers glanced at me but most didn’t act as if they understood I was anything more than a rider taking a break. Several riders went by and most slowed down and gave me an inquisitive thumbs-up as if to ask, “Are you okay?” I nodded and waved them past, trusting the previous riders were already arranging for me to get a tow truck (you don’t want to double up on your two requests).
After about an hour, a grey-haired couple on BMW GS’s stopped for a break. We chatted for about 10 minutes, during which they offered me water and protein bars and apples, whatever I needed. After they left, two sport bike riders stopped on their way north. They mentioned they’d seen me on their way south, with me and Nick and Bill behind my bike with tools spread out on the ground. Since I was still there on their way back, they wanted to make sure I was okay. I told them the tow truck was on the way and thanked them for stopping.
Shortly after that, the original group of three Harley riders stopped on their way back and said, “We called the towing company and they are sending a truck. It should be here soon.” It was very nice of them to give me an update and I thanked them, wishing them the motorcyclist’s benediction, “Keep the shiny side up!”
Less than five minutes after they left, the tow truck arrived. Braden from Santiam Towing and Recovery said, “I bet you’re glad to see me.” I was.
He set to work getting my bike up on the flat bed and took extra precautions to make sure my bike was securely tied down. As that went on, a man with long gray beard and a pony tail parked his pickup truck behind us and came over to chat. He was in the area elk hunting and wanted to see if I was okay. He was quite a character, and talking rapidly with a ready smile shared several funny stories about motorcycles in his youth.
Braden happily agreed to drive me the full 64 miles back to my house in Sandy, even though he had started his day with a job in Eugene. A lot of miles for Braden!
We chatted easily on the drive back, taking things slow so the bike wouldn’t bounce around too much on the back of the truck. Braden even stopped a second time to make sure everything was cinched down properly.
We made it to my house at 5 PM, got the AAA paperwork squared away, and unloaded the bike. I slowly rode it into the garage and parked it.
After Braden left, I gave thought to the events of the day. Riders on Harleys, BMWs, and sport bikes all stopped to help or offer assistance or just to make sure I was okay. The towing company prioritized my tow request above two others because they were just abandoned cars and my situation involved an actual person needing assistance.
The kit I ride with was adequate and I was pleased I had the tools usually needed for a flat tire. In this case, however, the damage to my tire was too great. The only thing I could have had with me to make the situation go quicker would have been a satellite phone. I also should keep more snack food on the bike, as a single granola bar wasn’t quite enough (I was very hungry by the time I got home).
For having something go wrong, it really couldn’t have gone any better than it did, and I am very thankful for the kindness of strangers.