Attempts at Detroit

Springtime in Oregon is hard to beat when it comes to weather. 72 degrees and sunshine? Yeah, that works. Being a motorcyclist, you’ve got three guesses how I’ve handled it, and the first two guesses don’t count.

Sportbikes don’t like snow

Two days in a row, I rode my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 “Shoot to Thrill” past Estacada, up highway 224 to Ripplebrook ranger station, and then south on NF46 toward Detroit. Both times I was turned back by snow, as I expected. What was surprising was how far I got before the road was covered enough to make me turn around.

Although I didn’t have a GPS on my bike, I would estimate the snow is at 3,300 feet elevation, and was within a few miles of the summit at the power lines. If you can get that far, the rest of the route should be open.

They are doing repair work at mileposts 31-37, and delays during the week are common. This is to repair damage to the cliff face after the big fire that occurred about a year-and-a-half ago. Highway 224 is in reasonably good shape, otherwise. NF46 has some issues, however. There are a few more potholes, some of which would give a sport bike rider a hard time if they were hit at speed. There are also some trees down, blocking portions of the roadway or hanging low over one lane. It’s best to take it relatively easy on the sighting lap before giving it the beans on the return leg.

The Smiling Astronaut

When I rode up the first day, I met two guys on sport bikes stopped in the road. They told me the road was covered a mile ahead, and although a pickup truck had driven up through the snow and parked at the top of the hill, it would be impassible to all but a dirt bike with knobby tires.

One the second day, I rode to that point myself and stopped at the snow to take a break before turning around. On the way back, I came up behind a guy on a sport bike west of Ripplebrook. We zipped along until we came to the construction delay, and chatted briefly before continuing on to Estacada where we exchanged contact information. His name was Wayne and he was riding a 2013 Kawasaki ZX-10R. We agreed to talk more about future day rides on our sport bikes.

To paraphrase the old Honda slogan, “You meet the nicest people on two wheels.”

320 miles on a GSX-R750

I seldom need an excuse to ride a motorcycle, but having a specific destination can provide the motivation to tackle a tougher route or longer duration than would otherwise be the norm. Last weekend was a good example of this.

My good buddy, Mike, recently moved to Albany and wanted me to visit him at his new home. I was already planning on taking the Gixxer for a spin, so I decided to give my ride a destination. Of course, I wasn’t just going to buzz down I-5 (ick!) and back. I chose the long way ’round.

I left Gresham at 9 AM and rode due south to Deep Creek Road, which connected to Highway 211 just west of Barton. I followed 211 east into Estacada and veered left onto Highway 224 and familiar ground. There were numerous rafters on the Clackamas River and many cars headed in both directions between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station.

I stopped at the ranger station for a quick bio break, then headed south on NF46. I rode to Detroit without stopping, and maintained a spirited yet controlled pace. The temperature was warming up and by the time I got to Detroit it was already in the upper 70s. I ate a snack, filled up my tank with ethanol-free premium, and turned west on Highway 22.

This stretch of road, from Stayton, up over the Cascades to Sisters and Redmond, is busy and this warm late Spring day was no exception. I had to pass several slower cars, but kept my speed moderated for safety and economic sake — tickets are expensive.

In Mehama, I crossed the Santiam River into the the community of Lyons. It was my first time in that tiny town. Highway 226 west was my new route and I was impressed with how lush it was. This is a beautiful drive, and it exemplifies the beauty of western Oregon. The next town I came to was Scio. I continued south then west again on 226, past the community of Crabtree, and into Albany.

I got turned around in Albany and had to backtrack a few blocks to get onto the correct street to Mike’s house. I don’t have a GPS on my Gixxer and on the ride back I spent some time wondering where I could mount one in the cramped dash space of the sport bike.

Mike and I drove in his car to a nearby brewpub for burgers and BLTs and ice water. We were the only customers until a middle-aged guy showed up solo on his Harley-Davidson. He ordered a beer and Mike and I talked behind his back at how foolish we think drinking and riding is. That guy has his freedom to do what he chooses, of course, including the freedom to make poor choices.

I decided to backtrack the way I came, so I said my goodbyes to Mike and made it back onto 226 east bound. The weather had warmed up into the low 80s and was a bit muggy. The armpit and back vents on my Aerostich Roadcrafter did a surprising job of helping me stay relatively cool. I stopped for gas again in Detroit, before heading north on NF46.

There were many motorcyclists heading toward me and the waves were enthusiastic on both sides at how great of a day it was to ride. When I stopped in Ripplebrook for another bio break and to chug more water, there were a half dozen other riders doing the same thing. I saw a couple of Forest Service law enforcement vehicles parked at a boat launch on the way back on 224 into Estacada, but they paid me no mind.

I got back into Gresham at 4:20 in the afternoon, after riding 320 miles. I was hot, thirsty, and my helmet — which I had already cleaned three times during the day — was covered in bugs. The front of my Gixxer was even worse. It needs a thorough cleaning.

Highway 224 to Ripplebrook is open

On Saturday I went for a Gixxer ride and discovered the roadblock on Highway 224 just east of Estacada has been lifted. It was in place since late September of last year due to landslides after the 36 Pit Fire near Memaloose Bridge.

I rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and noticed that the road was in normal condition, with rocks on the pavement in only two spots — which is typical for that highway. There was a sign in Estacada just as you leave town and head up 224 that said the road to Detroit was closed due to snow. They lie like a rug. Unless we get a freak low-elevation snow storm, it should be snow-free for the remainder of the season.

At Ripplebrook, I headed south on NF46. Again, the road condition was fine and normal and suffered no damage over the anemic winter.

I was in for a shock when I got to Detroit. The lake level is normally full this time of year, but instead the northeast reach, fed by the Breitenbush River, was at a record low. The docks were high and dry and only a 10′ wide creek flowed at the bottom of the lake channel. In the half dozen years I’ve been riding to Detroit, I’ve never seen the water that low, even late in the season.

I gassed up, ate a snack, and headed back. Despite not riding that route since last year, I still have the route and curves memorized. My bike and I were in the zone and it was a flowing, fast ride. There were many other riders on the route, too, so people were taking advantage of the road opening.

Road Closed to Memaloose

Over the weekend I took a day ride up Hillock Burn Road into the Cascade foothills. This road heads south and southeast from Highway 211, a few miles south of Estacada.

A few miles up the road I saw several Clackamas County sheriff deputies and a Forest Service law enforcement officer standing at a canopy on a wide spot on the side of the road. They were handing out flyers describing the rules and laws of target shooting in the area. After telling them I was only there for a ride, the deputy I spoke with told me the road got gnarly a mile or two up the road. I thanked him for the warning, and continued onward.

It had rained the night before so the gravel road was wet and there were numerous small mud puddles, but the road itself was in relatively great shape. I kept going and never came to anything that was a challenge.

Hillockburn Road soon turns into NF-45. It heads south to a W-shaped pair of switchbacks before turning north again. The highest point of the road is just below 4,000 feet, and this time of year should have seen the road under a foot of snow. I went there the same time last year and had to turn back because of snow; not this year.

My V-Strom with its Heidenau K-60 knobby tires performed wonderfully and I built up my confidence riding on the gravel road.

It was my hope that the road was open at the north end where it quickly descends to the Clackamas River and crosses to highway 224 at the Memaloose bridge. The sheriff’s deputy didn’t say anything about the road being closed, so I remained hopeful. The previous September “36 Pit Fire” had burned both sides of the river near where the bridge crosses, and was behind the road closure. Still, since 224 was open to local traffic, I hoped they’d let me through so I could loop back to Estacada and not have to backtrack all the way to 211.

Unfortunately, within a mile or two of the final descent down to 224 I came upon the road block. They had erected several concrete barriers and piled boulders on both sides. One side could have been bypassed if I walked the bike through and was very careful, but I suspected there would be landslides or other natural barriers further down the road and didn’t attempt to by past it.

I ate a protein bar and head back the way I came. This time I was able to go a bit faster and with greater confidence on the gravel road. When I eventually got back to the sheriffs, I told him the road was blocked. He said, “Yeah, I probably should have told you about that. There are several landslides just past it so you wouldn’t have made it through anyway.”

By the time I got home I’d ridden 120 miles, more than half of it off-road. The total route took 4 hours.

Writing instead of Riding

Lately I’ve been pushing to finish my second book, Ohlen’s Bane, the sequel to Ohlen’s Arrow. My goal is to get it published and available for purchase by Thanksgiving. Because of this, I haven’t had many opportunities to ride lately. To further complicate matters, highway 224 between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station has been closed because of the 36 Pit Fire back in September. It burned on both sides of the highway and ODOT is concerned about landslides. This effectively eliminated rides to Detroit as a possibility.

Speaking of landslides, there was a bad one on 224 recently, further complicating matters. It is possible 224 won’t be available for riders like me until spring of next year.

In the meantime, I have been taking short maintenance rides on both my V-Strom 650 and GSX-R750 just to keep them running. Having my bikes stabled in a storage unit a half mile from my apartment makes it that much more of a hassle to hop on and go for a ride.