This past weekend I went for an overnight trip to visit family at their home in rural south-central Washington state. I rode my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, nicknamed “Shoot to Thrill.” The weather was perfect, the road conditions were great, the bike ran wonderfully.
I left Gresham Saturday morning and got on I-84 westbound. At I-205 I crossed the Columbia River and got on SR14 eastbound. Between Washougal and North Bonneville I got stuck behind some slow cars that for whatever reason were all Oregon drivers. To this day I don’t know why people think driving 10 mph below the speed limit is a good idea.
I stopped at the rest area on the north end of the Hood River bridge for a bio break. The sun was bright, air temperature was about 60 degrees, and the wind was calm. The river was nearly mirror perfect. Continuing east I had more of the road to myself without the hassle of slow cagers. At Lyle, I headed northeast on highway 142. This road follows the Klickitat River and has many fast sweepers and a few tight turns. The road was in great condition and didn’t appear to suffer any damage during the winter.
In Goldendale, I rode south a few miles on highway 97 to the Chevron where I filled up my fuel tank. I rode 133 miles on 2.3 gallons of gas. What a machine! After a quick snack, I continued east on the Bickleton Highway, then to my sister’s house. The last two miles were on gravel road, and although that’s never any fun on a sport bike, I kept it upright and stable.
The ride home the next day was even better. Rather than backtracking the whole way, I continued east to the tiny community of Bickleton before heading south to Roosevelt. This stretch of road is simple at first glance, but has some interesting characteristics. It has numerous straight stretches a few tenths of a mile long, followed by a 90 degree turn posted at 30-45 mph. Each turn is banked, and the pavement is in perfect shape. There is some gravel on many of the curves, however, so picking a good line and maintaining control is critical. The other interesting aspect of the route is the rows and rows of wind turbines.
The road descents about 2,000 feet to the road-side community of Roosevelt along the Columbia River. It comes to a T-intersection with SR14. I turned right and headed west toward home. From this point forward, SR14 can be extremely windy. Today, however, it was calm and I had the road practically to myself.
I stopped in The Dalles for gas and food before continuing west. Traffic increased, and there were lots of motorcyclists about. Several sport bike riders gave me the signal for law enforcement ahead (by patting the top of their helmet). I saw one unmarked Washington LEO with his lights flashing, having pulled over a guy in a blacked-out Honda accord. I got two more warnings for cops but never saw where they were hiding.
I crossed back to the Oregon side via the Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks. I pulled up behind a buddy in his car just as we were getting onto the freeway. Small world!
By the time I got back home it was in the upper 60’s.
During a spring ride in April, I discovered some new beauty in Klickitat County, in south-central Washington State.
While visiting family outside of Goldendale, Washington, I often take Highway 142 from Lyle on the Columbia River north, then east, to Goldendale. That route is wonderful on a motorcycle, with good pavement quality, a wide variety of curves, and some excellent scrub oak, pine, and grassland scenery along the Klickitat River. This time I decided to take a different route to explore new roads.
The route began in Lyle as usual, but this time I took the Centerville Highway instead of 142. The road climbs steeply above the town of Lyle, with several tight switchbacks, and soon I was in pine forest with lots of green spring grass underneath. It looked like a well-groomed park.
Once on top at 1,700 feet above sea level, the road has wonderful curves and several small up-and-down hills that are a lot of fun to ride. This is deer country, however, so the rider must stay alert.
The road emerges out of the trees and heads mostly east toward Centerville across a prairie dotted with farms and giant wind turbines that generate a lot of renewable energy for the region. The town of Centerville itself is small and has no services (gas, food, or lodging) that I could find, but that’s no matter. The road meets up with Highway 97 in short order, with the town of Goldendale just a few miles to the north.
Once I gassed up in Goldendale, I caught Hoctor Road heading due east from Highway 97, until I came to gravel Oak Flat Road under the rotating blades of several massive wind turbines. Oak Flat Road descends steeply through a narrow gulch lined with scrub oak. The gravel is in good shape, but if you take this route when it’s raining, expect some slippery, muddy conditions. Oak Flat Road connects with Bickleton Highway, a paved rural two-lane road that joins Goldendale in the west with the tiny town of Bickleton to the east.
Hilleberg Namatj 3GT with 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650
I stayed at my relative’s house and slept in my Hilleberg Namatj 3GT tent. As I have mentioned in a previous post, this is an outstanding tent with well thought-out features and long-lasting quality. I recommend spending some time practicing set up and tear down prior to use. It’s a really nice tent, but it’s big and takes a bit more time to set up than an el-cheapo dome tent from Walmart.
For the trip home, I wanted to continue the theme of exploration, so I headed east on Bickleton Highway through the tiny community of Cleveland and into Bickleton itself. I saw a card-lock fueling station in Bickleton and a tavern, but there didn’t seem to be any other services available. Be sure you have plenty of fuel before taking this route.
My next leg of the journey home took me zigzagging south along East Road under rows and rows of wind turbines. The road has many straight stretches that are a few hundred yards to a quarter of a mile long, with a 45 degree or 90 degree angled turn to the next straight stretch. Although it sounds rudimentary and boring, it is actually a fun route. Eventually the Columbia River comes into view and the road descends down the hill to the small town of Roosevelt. There is a cafe there, but no gas.
In Roosevelt, I joined SR14 for the scenic ride west to Dallesport and the junction with Highway 197, where I crossed south over the Columbia River and back into Oregon. The Dalles has full services.
My itinerary was aggressive from the start. I crossed the state of Washington from south to north and didn’t end my day until I’d crossed the border into Canada and finished at the Super 8 hotel in sunny Osoyoos, BC. The weather for this leg was very pleasant and didn’t get hot until I reached Wenatchee.
I went around Mt. Hood via Government Camp, then over to The Dalles via NF44. I crossed the Columbia River via highway 197, then took SR14 to Goldendale for my first stop of the day. I gassed up, ate a snack and had a bio break, then followed highway 97 all the way north into Canada.
My Garmin Zumo 220 GPS was set to ‘shortest distance’ and it took me on surface streets through Yakima and Ellensburg. A benefit of this was it routed me onto SR 821 along the Yakima River. This is a fantastic road, winding along the river valley through rugged eastern slope topography. It was the highlight of the day.
I stopped at a gas station near Wenatchee and got chatted up by four local guys, each on a different bike. They were on their way to a rally in nearby Waterville, and were interested to hear about my trip.
My border crossing was uneventful and efficient. When I checked into the Super 8 in Osoyoos, the very friendly gal at the front desk (Cindy) remembered my wallet from when I visited two years prior. It’s a topographical map made out of Tyvek, the stuff you put on the side of your house, and is sold by MightyWallet.com. It gets comments everywhere I go.
It started sprinkling shortly after I got unloaded, but I was allowed to park my bike under the front overhang, so it was a dry process. Dinner was at the A&W across the street. That’s the only problem with that particular motel — you have to walk a bit, or across a busy street, to eat anywhere when staying at the Super 8 in Osoyoos. Otherwise it’s a great hotel. (On my way back I stayed at the Best Western in Osoyoos and now prefer it. See notes later in this series.)
I got chatted up by another V-Strom owner, a guy from Calgary, Alberta, as I was loading up the next morning. He also owns a Yamaha FJR1300, a bike I considered buying before I chose the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 instead.
For those that don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River Gorge is a must-see. It’s a major river — second only to the Mississippi in volume — that runs right through the middle of a mountain range. It was created by a series of massive floods caused when an ice dam repeatedly formed and then broke loose in Montana (called the Missoula Floods). The scenery and topography is dramatic.
Friday I left work at noon and rode through the Columbia River Gorge eastward to Lyle, Washington before turning north on Hwy 142 to follow the Klickitat River to Goldendale, Washington where I stayed the weekend at my sister’s house. I camped in her yard to test out my gear for the upcoming season’s riding adventures. It got down into the 20s each night, so my new sleeping bag got a workout.
Sunday I rode back home via the same route. The weather was fantastic and there were motorcycles everywhere.
This time of year the weather dictates my riding schedule more than anything. Because the weekend looked dry and free of frozen precipitation, it seemed like a great opportunity to get on the bike and make a quick trip to my sister’s house in southern Washington. I had been needing to visit her for some time as I’ve been building a web site to highlight her artwork (www.TamlenCreations.com) and we needed to go over some project related items, so it made sense to combine the work with pleasure and make a bike trip out of it.
I invited my friend Mike to go along. He and I have known each other since the 3rd grade and share a love of motorcycles, getting our endorsements within a few months of each other three years ago. The idea was to leave from our jobs mid-day on Friday and meet up somewhere, then ride together the rest of the way. We coordinated our departure times at 1pm and planned to meet at the Steigerwald Lake wildlife refuge parking lot in Washougal, Washington.
Unfortunately Mike got stuck in stop-and-go traffic on I-5 heading out of Portland and arrived a little more than an hour late. Stop-and-go on a motorcycle is not fun and I felt bad for him, but he had his usual “Whatever, man. Let’s ride!” attitude so that’s what we did.
The route was SR14 eastbound, and as usual we got stuck behind a series of slow cars and a semi. We pulled over at the Cape Horn viewpoint
and took some photos, then continued on to the Chevron in North Bonneville for a snack break. Mike ate carrots, I ate a Snickers and Frappucino. I keep telling Mike that calories don’t count when you’re on two wheels but I don’t think he believes me.
There was a 20 mph headwind but we could tell that it was gradually easing up as we continued eastward. We stopped again at a rest area just west of Lyle for a bio break and Mike took the opportunity to snap a few photos
of his bike with the setting sun over the Columbia River in the background. I saw a guy walking up the trail below the viewpoint carrying a tri-pod and camera bags. Obviously he recognized the photo opportunity as well.
Mike commented that his hands were starting to get fairly cold with his warmer-weather riding gloves so I offered him my cold-weather gauntlets. He passed, and we continued down SR14 to the junction with Highway 142 northbound at Lyle.
Turning left we headed up 142 which followed the beautiful Klickitat River. Many sections of the road were in the shade and some spots were wet but the temperature was above freezing so we had no worries about sliding. Being mid-February the oak trees in the river valley were still devoid of leaves. Although we were out of the east wind, the air became noticeably cooler as we rode north through the river valley. Even though I was dressed for the cold weather, I could tell it was probably getting colder than Mike’s gloves could handle so I pulled off the road and dug out my cold-weather gauntlets. When Mike rolled up behind me I extended them to him and with a big grin he gladly accepted them. With warmer hands, we rode onward.
By the time we reached the top of the river valley to continue east toward Goldendale, the sun was getting close to the horizon. Our intention was to gas up in Goldendale before heading out into the hinterlands where my sister and her husband live, 30 minutes east of town. By the time we rolled into the Chevron Mike’s low fuel light was flashing. We filled our tanks and headed east on the Bickleton Highway.
The temperature was getting noticeably colder by the mile. The last two miles of the trip were on gravel and dirt road, wet and slightly muddy in many places. I stood up on my pegs but the forward pegs on Mikes Suzuki M50 didn’t allow that so he took the bumps sitting down. By the time we pulled into the driveway of my sister’s house the sun was below the horizon and only twilight illuminated our arrival. The temperature was 35 degrees and dropping quickly.
Part of this trip involved an equipment experiment. My sleeping bag, although very lightweight and compact, wasn’t overly warm so I purchased an ultra-thin but high-tech liner from REI to add some insulation without bulk to my sleeping system. My sister and her husband have a wood stove and their house is usually hovering around 80 degrees inside, much too warm for my tastes, so Mike took the guest bedroom while I pitched my one-man tent on the back deck and chose to test out my new sleeping arrangement. We stayed up until close to 11pm talking, before our mutual yawns told us it was time to call it a night. I went outside and crawled into my sleeping bag.
The temperature outside dropped to 20 degrees, but that didn’t keep the coyotes from howling. I was surprised to find out the sleeping bag liner I bought — seemingly made from spider silk and smoke — did a wonderful job keeping me warm. Because the air was so cold, however, any piece of flesh exposed became painfully cold. Even though I wore a fleece hat and had the sleeping bag cinched up around my head, I still had spots that couldn’t be completely covered. The rest of my body was perfectly comfortable, however. At around 1:30 am I had to go to the bathroom and decided that I had proven my sleeping bag liner worked as advertised and decided to spend the rest of the night on the couch inside.
The next morning there was a gray layer of frost on our bikes. We drank tea and coffee and ate hot breakfast sandwiches, then Tami and I worked on her web site for a while. Not wanting to get home after dark, Mike and I began packing up and loading our bikes. We rolled up the driveway and with a couple of “meep-meep” toots on the bike horns, we were on our way back home.
Mike and I rode through Goldendale on 142, back the way we came, but turned north toward the tiny mountain communities of Glenwood and Trout Lake.
The road descended down the side of a river valley and Mike and I took the opportunity to snap several photos of both the scenery and each other as we rode by. The river wound its way along the bottom of the valley below and we could see the road ahead doing the same down the other side of the valley.
I relied on my bike’s GPS to help us navigate the two-lane country roads between Glenwood and Trout Lake. We caught glimpses of Mt. Adams, skirting and shy behind cloud cover. Just before reaching Glenwood the clouds lifted and we got a good shot of the mountain.
We stopped at the General Store in Trout lake eager for a corn dog, but they were fresh out so we decided to press on and have lunch in Stevenson.
SR141 south is a beautiful drive interspersed between forest and small farms and ranches. Property values are substantially higher than one might expect, however, due at least in part to the scenic beauty of the area. It wasn’t long before we got stuck behind some slow cagers, however. Maintaining caution, we followed behind until we got to SR14 at the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia Rivers. Turning west, we picked up our pace under beautiful sunny skies and the glistening river to our left and continued on to Stevenson.
We parked our bikes in front of the Skamania County Courthouse and walked across the street to the Big River Grill for lunch. Mike had a reuben with tomato basil soup and I had a grilled salmon sandwich with the soup as well. Rested and fed, we went back outside into the sunshine. I intended to cross back over to Oregon via the Bridge of the Gods into Cascade Locks, while Mike would continue west on SR14 before crossing into Oregon either via the I-205 or I-5 bridge. So we shook hands, said our goodbyes, and continued on our separate ways.
Just west of Stevenson I crossed the high, narrow and fairly scary Bridge of the Gods. The swift wind tilted my bike sideways several times over the short bridge span, but I’ve jumped out of airplanes before so it wasn’t as scary as it would have been otherwise. I paid my toll, then got on I-84 for a quick ride to Troutdale, then home to Sandy.