Post, Oregon … finally

I am running out of places in Oregon that I haven’t visited by motorcycle. One of the locations on my to-ride list was Post, Oregon, the geographic center of the state.

Been there, done that, won’t bother doing it again.

Don’t get me wrong, the ride there and away was fine, with some classic eastern Oregon scenery and roads. But, the location — you can’t call it a town — of Post itself is just a general store with a sign, and that’s it.

They do have a gas pump, which I suppose would be convenient if you were running low. Regular unleaded cost $2.96 a gallon, which is amazingly low considering the remote location. I paused long enough to get off the bike a take a picture, then moved on.

My route was Gresham to Prineville via highway 26. I know, boring. But I didn’t really have any other viable routes to take. Once in Prineville I took state route 380 east-south-east to Post, then kept going east to Paulina. When I left home, I stopped at a gas station in Boring to put some air in my tires and got chatted up by a retired school man named Val. He was very familiar with the area and suggested I take a side route south to Burns, then north on US 395. I thanked him for the suggestion and looked for the required road when I got to Suplee. Alas, I never found it.

Even my GPS kept wanting me to go all the way to 395 first, then south to Burns, which would involve riding the same 45 miles of road twice in the same day. That’s not going to happen.

The last dozen miles of 380 before you get to 395 are much more wooded and typical of the Blue Mountains kind of terrain. I came out onto 395 just north of Seneca. I rode up to Canyon City, gassed up, then got to my motel in John Day in the mid afternoon.

I stopped at the Shelton Wayside along highway 19 just south of Fossil for a break, and used the timer on my camera to take a rare self-portrait.

Dinner was at The Outpost next door. That night, some rowdy kids decided to paw-tay the night away in the room next door so it took ear plugs to give me a few hours of sleep. The next morning I left with temps in the mid 30s. I took my usual route home: Kimberly, Spray (where I got gas), Fossil, Antelope, Maupin, Wamic, Government Camp, home. The weather was perfect. I saw two cow elk cross Bakeoven Road between Shaniko and Maupin, and earlier saw a wild turkey on the pavement, but other than that the only other critters I saw were a half dozen dead deer at various places along the route.

Eastern Oregon Bliss on a GSX-R750

Some rides are utilitarian and have the charm of lukewarm tapwater. Others are sublime extensions of oneself that shall remain in our memories until the day we die, and perhaps beyond.

This past weekend was such an experience.

My goal was to take my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 on an overnight trip of at least 250 miles each way to see if I can physically handle that kind of mileage on a sport bike, as well as test out my luggage and its ability to carry what I needed. The fact that I would be traveling on some of the best roads Oregon has to offer was incidental.

My route took me over Mt. Hood, down to the Deschutes River rafting town of Maupin, through the hamlets of Shaniko and Antelope, along magical highway 218 to Fossil, through the cowboy town of Spray and along the John Day river to the destination town of the same name. It was windy and the pass at Government Camp would be a bit chilly so I started off with my yellow Nelson-Rigg rain jacket on over my AGVSport leathers for extra warmth. When I reached the lone gas station in Maupin to fill up, I was able to shed that outer layer.

The absence of premium 92 octane unleaded is a concern when riding in rural areas. My Gixxer averages 43 mpg when I ride it, and with its 4.5 gallon tank, I have an effective range of about 180 miles before I’m running on vapors. In Maupin, I not only filled my gas tank, but I filled up a 30 oz. fuel bottle that I kept in my tail bag just in case. As the big-bellied station attendant said, “That will save you a 15 mile walk!” Fortunately, it was never needed on this trip.

I left Maupin for Shaniko via Bakeoven Road, a route I highly recommend to any rider, especially those on sport bikes. The first few miles out of the Deschutes River canyon are technical and require top attention. The curves are great but gravel is common and the stakes are high if you leave the pavement. But, through adversity we grow, and each successful run over roads like that makes you a better rider.

East of Antelope highway 218 shines. The road is in fantastic shape, there are great sight lines and very few blind corners, traffic and law enforcement is nearly non-existent, and the weather was perfect. What’s not to love? I really got sideways and the chicken strips on my Shinko 011 Verge tires are now down to 1/4″ wide.

By the time I got to Fossil I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, the Big Timber restaurant was closed — either for the day or permanently, I’m not sure — and the only other place to eat was crowded with pirates (cruiser folk), so I continued onward. I stopped in Spray and ate a BLT in the back of the small market and gas station combo. From the looks of their few, sparse shelves, first impressions would indicate they’re about to go out of business. Not all first impressions are accurate, however. The two gray-haired gals working the joint rustled up a BLT for me, and 20 minutes later I was back on the road.

From Maupin east, the nearest source of 92 octane unleaded is Dayville on highway 26. It took 3.4 gallons to cover the approximately 145 miles, so the range between fill-ups was adequate. Another hour down the road and I was pulling into the Best Western John Day Inn and unloading my gear into my room.

Things got even better the next day. I left John Day at 8 AM and had the roads to myself. After getting warmed up on the highway 26 leg to the junction with highway 19, I ramped up my pace and really got sideways. Other than a brief snack break in Spray, I maintained a brisk and spirited pace all the way to Maupin. For those who haven’t explored the byways of rural Eastern Oregon, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. The topography and rivers have to be seen to be believed.

I fueled up once again in Maupin, this time only requiring 2.3 gallons — odd — and went home through Wamic, past Rock Creek Reservoir, and then back over Government Camp and into Sandy and home.

My cheeks are still sore from grinning so much.

But back to the original goal of testing the trip-worthiness of the GSX-R, yes, it’s possible. Riding attire is important, and would probably be better served with an Aerostich Roadcrafter or Transit suit rather than racing leathers. Also, luggage space is reduced but with judicious selection of only things that matter, that’s not much of a challenge. Fuel capacity is also an issue, but with the what-if inclusion of extra fuel via my 30 oz. bottle and careful route planning, that also isn’t much of an issue. Riding a sport bike is a much more physical endeavor so fatigue can be somewhat of an issue. Ironically, my butt hurts more when I ride my V-Strom, but my neck and knees hurt a bit more on the Gixxer. It’s a trade off, and frequent rest stops mitigate that adequately.

Having said all that, the V-Strom is more capable for long trips but the Gixxer provides more smiles per mile.

Ride report June 2012: Day 16

Grangeville, ID to Sandy, OR

Breakfast was at The Outpost a few minutes after they opened at 6 AM. The food is always good there, especially their breakfast.

Eager to get home, I didn’t waste time. I was on the road shortly after 7 AM. I topped off my tank in Dayville, then got on highway 19 through Kimberly and into the tiny town of Spray. I then worked my way to Fossil where I headed west on my favorite road in Oregon, highway 218, to Antelope.

218 is a lot of fun. There is a variety of curves, all banked perfectly, there are very few blind corners and sight lines are far, and the road surface is in fantastic shape. The road can bite you if you’re not on your game, but if you get into the zone it’s a thrill to run it.

I rode through Antelope, Shaniko, over Bakeoven road into Maupin, through Tygh Valley and into Wamic where I gassed up and ate a snack. I then took FS48 west, but had to detour onto FS43 to get to highway 26 as the rest of 48 to highway 35 remained closed, presumably due to late season snow (they don’t plow it).

I was soon up and over the pass at Government Camp and back at home in Sandy by 12:30 pm.

Respite at home

— This is the last day of the first half of a multi-day loop trip to British Columbia and northern California. —

Sleep eluded me for most of the night. I eventually dozed off at around 4 am, only to wake up at 6:00 am in a motel room without power. I looked outside and the electronic sign in front of the motel was inoperable as well. I got dressed for breakfast and noticed none of the signs down main street were working, so it was safe to assume the restaurant a block away was not an option. I ate the granola bar I had in my top case, packed everything up, and headed down the road.

I rode about eight miles into the adjacent town, Mt. Vernon, and saw the “open” sign was lit at a small cafe. I pulled in and parked right in front, between a half dozen pickup trucks covered in farm dirt. When I entered the entire clientele consisted of old white men in western shirts and an even combination of John Deere ball caps and cowboy hats. I sat down and was served by a thin, high strung women in her early 30’s, face covered in pock marks and jaw working overtime. I assumed she was a meth head tweaker. She was friendly, efficient, and equally capable of dishing back the good natured teasing she received from the regulars. I told the waitress that the power was out in John Day and she said that it had been out there as well, only coming back on a few minutes before I arrived.

I was concerned about fuel. I intended to fill up in John Day before I left but the power outage shut down the pumps. I rode another 25 miles into Dayville, the next town down the highway, and whipped into a tiny two-pump gas station and filled up. Just outside of town I turned north onto a secondary road that took me past one of the John Day fossil beds, through the small crossroad community of Kimberly, through the river town of Spray, and eventually into the town of Fossil itself. Without stopping, I veered west onto highway 218, one of my favorite roads in Oregon, and drank up the delicious curves between Fossil and Antelope and Shaniko.

I crossed over the high desert via Bakeoven Road, then dropped down the canyon into the Deschutes River town of Maupin. A dozen miles beyond I stopped in Wamic and fueled up at the same store/gas station I had visited just a few weeks before. I then completed the last leg of the trip by riding up and over Mt. Hood under showery skies, back to home in Sandy.

Guy’s Weekend

I was invited to attend an annual guy’s-only weekend at a cabin outside of North Powder, Oregon. I went two years prior with my buddy, Mike. Although he drove there with others in a pickup truck, I rode my V-Strom solo via my own more circuitous route (see end of this post for maps).

For several days leading up to my departure, Oregon had a lot of precipitation and low snow levels. The pass at Government Camp had packed snow on the roadway and temps in the upper 20’s and lower 30’s Thursday, the day I left. I backtracked into Gresham, then road I-84 east to Cascade Locks where I crossed the Bridge of the Gods to SR14 in Washington. There had been a rock slide at Dog Mountain so I had to wait about 10 minutes for the construction crews to let us pass. I took this photo looking south across the Columbia River toward Oregon.

I crossed back over into Oregon at The Dalles and had lunch at Casa El Mirador. Dos enchiladas, pour favor … muey bueno! I topped off my gas tank and headed south through the heart of Oregon on highway 197. This stretch of road passes through alfalfa and wheat fields covering rolling hills and wide open spaces. It passes by the town of Dufur, which is a common turn-around spot for me on a favorite day loop. Riding through Tygh Valley 197 climbs back up one hill then back down again into the small but busy rafting town of Maupin, which straddles the Deschutes River.

I often stop in Maupin for a quick snack but this time I kept riding. Instead of continuing down 197 I hung a sharp left once across the river and headed up the winding hairpin turns of Bakeoven Road. It takes me to Shaniko, the next town on my journey, with far less traffic and arguably better scenery. The weather was great for riding and I had a pleasant blend of puffy clouds and blue skies to enhance the view across the grasslands. Between Maupin and Shaniko is very little, but the sparse landscape has its own beauty.

In Shaniko I turned south toward the tiny hamlet of Antelope, then east on state route 218 toward Fossil. This is one of my favorite roads in Oregon. There’s hardly any car traffic, the road surface is in great shape — although there can be gravel on curves — the scenery is fantastic, and it has a nice blend of challenging and rewarding curves. It’s also long enough that I feel like I get my money’s worth out of the ride. I stopped at the Clarno Unit rest area and trailhead of the John Day Fossil Beds for a quick break, set up my mini-tripod down on the ground, and took this photo using the 10-second timer. Self-portraits are one of the hassles of my solo riding style.

I had enough gas to last the rest of the day’s ride, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when traveling the sparsely populated roads of eastern Oregon. I stopped at the two-pump gas station in Fossil and fueled up, then continued onward. State route 19 took me into the cowboy town of Spray, which sits above the John Day river. As I passed through I saw several real cowboys filing into a local cafe for lunch, their hats so wide they barely fit through the doorway. The next tiny town I passed through was Kimberly.

I was feeling thirsty and in need of a break so I stopped at a visitor’s center at one of the John Day Fossil Beds locations. About two miles later I hit the junction with highway 26 and turned left, eastward through Dayville and into Mt. Vernon. I had originally intended to camp at Clyde Holliday State Park in Mt. Vernon, but after pulling into the park and checking it out, I decided to continue on to John Day and get a motel room at the Best Western.

The next morning, after breakfast at The Outpost restaurant next door, I continued east through Prairie City, then northeast over Dixie Pass before cutting north on state route 7 past Bates and Sumpter. The weather was slightly cooler but still dry. Eventually I made it to Baker City where I stopped for a late ‘second breakfast’ as a Hobbit might say. The homemade corned beef hash at the Oregon Trail restaurant really hit the spot.

Once fed, I headed north on highway 30 through Haines before turning west toward Anthony Lake. Leaving the farm and ranch land of the valley, the road enters the timbered Elk Horn mountains. My GPS guided me expertly to the gravel side road that took me to the cabin and my destination.

The cabin is without electricity, other than through the use of a small generator, and sits on 80 acres with a decent sized creek. There is a spring so running water is available. This particular weekend is for gentlemen only, and I use that term loosely. Sort of the whole point of the occasion is to get our cussin’ and scratchin’ and fartin’ out of our systems before we inevitably have to return to our wives and girlfriends and jobs and civilization in general. To protect the guilty, I won’t go into too much detail about what goes on, but I will touch on a couple of noteworthy highlights.

One of the main attractions was the presence of a rather large John Deere front-loader. Tracy, an older man who retired after spending 30+ years working such large equipment, expertly used it to load rather large stumps and logs onto the campfire.

Another guy, Dave, brought a homemade rock crawler in the back of his work van. Opportunity is where you find it, and once he unloaded the vehicle he used the empty space as a weather-proof location to pitch his tent. I, however, wasn’t as fortunate. I pitched my tent the old fashioned way, and was rather proud of how it looked with my bike parked next to it.

The temperature dropped into the upper 20’s during the night, no doubt aided by the fact that the cabin sits at around 4,500 feet elevation and rests at the bottom of a valley (heat rises, cold air descends, etc.) I managed to sleep pretty good considering the circumstances. I awoke a little after 5 am and relieved myself, then put some more wood on the fire to get it going again before crawling back into my warm sleeping bag for another two hours of shut-eye. Eventually the whole camp was awake and well fed with a breakfast of venison sausage patties and bacon, scrambled eggs, rosemary spiced potatoes, and coffee. While most of the other guys got fishing gear ready and set off for nearby Pilcher Reservoir in pursuit of some fat rainbows, I broke camp and loaded up my bike, eager to get my gear stowed before threatening clouds dumped rain.

My timing was perfect. After saying goodbye, I mounted up and headed down the quarter-mile dirt road onto the paved highway and down into the valley below. As soon as I emerged from the timber rain drops began falling. I had off-and-on rain for the next 30 miles as I retraced my route back into Baker City. I gassed up then stopped again at the Oregon Trail restaurant for a lunch of chef’s salad and coffee.

By 1pm I was heading southwest on state route 7 past Sumpter. At Bates, 7 meets highway 26 where I began climbing toward the top of Dixie Pass. It began to rain — hard. Then it began to drop snow mixed with the heavy rain. Slush formed on my face shield and I had to wipe it off every 5-10 seconds with the thumb of my gloved left hand. Thankfully the road surface was only wet and not frozen. The air temperature was dropping with every foot I climbed up the mountain pass and I began to worry I’d run into freezing riding before cresting the pass.

Fortunately, however, I reached the 5,200 foot summit and started dropping down the other side before the weather had a chance to get truly dangerous. I think Mother Nature knew I won because the clouds spread out and the precipitation petered out. By the time I reached Prairie City I had mostly blue skies. There was a bit of wind buffeting me from the side but I made it back to John Day safely and without further incident.

After another night’s stay at the Best Western — in the same room I had Thursday night — I set out toward home Sunday morning. This time I took a slightly different route. Instead of heading west on 26 through Dayville and then north on 19 to Spray, I went north on 395 to Long Creek then west through Monument where I got back on 19 in Kimberly. The rest of the route was the same until I got to Maupin. This time, rather than north to The Dalles and around Mt. Hood via the Columbia River Gorge, I headed west on highway 216 then over the pass at Government Camp. I returned home to Sandy under beautiful blue skies in what turned out to be a fantastic Spring day of riding.
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