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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Ride from John Day, OR to Grangeville, Idaho

Day two would take me from John Day, Oregon over the Snake River into Idaho, with an overnight stay in Grangeville. I got up at 6:00 AM and had a breakfast of huckleberry pancakes, bacon, and eggs with juice and coffee at The Outpost next door. The food and service were much better than dinner in the lounge the night before.

I rode to Prairie City just down the road and gassed up at the Chevron under cloudy and threatening skies. As I climbed the hill just outside of town sprinkles began to appear on my face shield. The precipitation gradually increased as I rode through the rolling curves and hills on my way to Baker City. They were chip sealing the road near Sumpter but the construction delay was minimal. Since gas would be in short supply until I got into Idaho, I topped off my gas tank and ate a snack in Baker.

When I got on highway 86 from Baker City to Hells Canyon, I noticed something unusual. There was a light rain and instead of smelling like wet high desert, the air smelled more like the tidal flats you’d fine on a coastal bay. I never did find out why.

When I got to Hells Canyon, I turned north and crossed the Snake River at Brownlee Dam. As I climbed my way above the river the rain really started coming down. The curves require very slow speeds, and combining that with the downpour, I got fairly wet. The inside of my left boot was feeling very squishy, which was odd because my boots are supposedly waterproof. I figured water had run down inside the side zipper of my pants and entered the boot from the top.

I stopped at Woodhead Park and parked my bike under the relative shelter of a spruce tree hanging over the parking lot. I huddled under a picnic structure and ate my snack (of Reses and frappucino) while trying to warm up. My left boot was definitely wet inside but the wonder of wool socks is they remain insulative even when wet.

By the time I crawled back onto my bike to continue the ride, the rain stopped. Just like my trip in August of the previous year, there were very large black bugs crawling from the right to the left side of the road about half way between Brownlee and Cambridge, Idaho. They looked like very large crickets and were crossing the road en masse.

The sun was shining when I rolled into Cambridge, ready for lunch. There was a red V-Strom parked in front of the cafe so I parked next to it and went inside. In the booth closest to the front door was a gray haired gentleman, obviously the red Strom’s pilot, motioning me to join him. His name was Georgian (I never did get the spelling) and he was a retired engineer from Victoria, B.C. He was on his way back from a solo trip to Yellowstone. We had a great conversation, confirming yet again that I’ve yet to meet a Canadian I didn’t like.

The rest of the ride from Cambridge north to Grangeville was uneventful.

I stayed at the Super 8 in Grangeville and was immediately impressed by how helpful and professional the staff was. I was given preferential parking under the front entrance cover and was even offered a towel to wipe down my bike. My room was spacious and clean.

Dinner was at Ernie’s Steakhouse two blocks away as per the suggestion of the gal at the front desk. Ernie is apparently a local rancher who serves his own beef in his restaurant. The Red Diamond merlot was excellent and the rib eye was great as well. I also experienced a continuation of a pattern I’ve noticed in small towns. The hostess that seated me could very easily be showing up in the middle pages of next month’s issue of your favorite men’s magazine. Absolutely gorgeous.

For those motorcyclists looking to travel over Lolo Pass from Idaho into Montana, I highly suggest staying at the Super 8 in Grangeville. Not all Super 8’s are created equal, and this particular motel exceeds the standards I’ve found in several Best Western’s, presumably a higher-end chain.

Day One: Home to John Day, Oregon

Departure was on a Monday. 8 am, I pulled out of my home under sunny skies and 55 degrees. Perfect riding weather as far as I was concerned. The destination of the first day would be John Day, Oregon. I made it as far as Maupin on the Deschutes River before it got hot enough to change into my warm weather gear. I grabbed a snack (Reses peanut butter cups and a vanilla frappucino — Food of the Riding Gods) and continued on my way.

I got to Fossil at 11:00 AM and had lunch at the Big Timber Cafe. As I was getting on my bike to leave, a guy in a Ford Focus pulled up and asked me several questions about my bike. He had a Suzuki SV650 and was thinking about switching to the V-Strom. He seemed really short to me so I asked him how tall he was. He said he was 5′ 3″. I mentioned that even with lower modifications, the V-Strom would probably be too tall of a bike for him, but it was worth checking out.

Not 5 seconds after he pulled away, a guy on a DL1000 pulled in and parked next to me. His name was John and he was from Ephrata, Washington. We chatted for probably 15 minutes about our bikes and trips and so forth, then he asked where I was headed. I mentioned one leg of my trip would be near his home town. He was very helpful in pointing out how thick traffic would be on one leg and suggested an alternate route. We said our goodbyes and he went inside for lunch while I rolled on toward John Day.

The heat continued to rise as well as the humidity. I had to stop several times to drink water — and pour some on my t-shirt under my Aerostich — in an attempt to cool off. I got into John Day at 2:00 PM and checked into my motel. At the Best Western, they gave me the same room I had on my previous trip through John Day back in May. Fortunately this time it didn’t smell like a tavern like it did earlier.

Dinner was in the lounge of The Outpost next door. The same gal was working that night. The service could be classified as ‘indifferent’. The pizza was undercooked as well. Breakfast in the main restaurant the next morning was great, however.

Trip report: North Powder cabin, day one

I was invited to attend an annual guys/father-son weekend at a remote cabin outside North Powder, Oregon. My buddy Mike and I were planning to ride there and back on our bikes (he rides a 2005 Suzuki Boulevard M50), but he came down with a creeping crud that didn’t want to go away, so he trailered his bike and I rode the originally planned route.

Departure was Thursday morning, May 29. It was raining, of course. My route took me over Mt. Hood via Government Camp, down highway 26 to Bear Springs, where I headed east on highway 216 toward Maupin. A cow elk crossed in front of me but there was enough distance for me to easily slow down in time. The sun came out so I stopped in Maupin and took a refreshment break.

Instead of heading south on 197, I headed south east on Bakeoven Rd. and am glad I did. I had seen it on the map but had never taken it. After getting a report that the road was in good shape from the lady working at the store in Maupin, I took it. The road climbs steeply with narrow turns until arriving at the top of the plateau, at which point it opens up. The clouds came back and by the time I got to Shaniko I had rain drops on my face shield once again.

Rolling through Shaniko and Antelope, I continued east toward Fossil, my intended lunch stop. Passing through the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, the clouds had descended to ground level reducing visibility and began to dump copious amounts of rain. Although I had to slow down because of the reduced visibility, I was comfortable in my Aerostich and actually kind of enjoyed the experience. Because of an exceptionally wet winter and spring, the hills and grasslands were green and lush instead of brown and dry. The scenery and weather combined into something more like the Scottish highlands than eastern Oregon.

I arrived at the cafe in Fossil on 1st and Main wet and hungry but otherwise very content with the ride so far. My usual BLT and coffee was good as usual. The rain had stopped long enough for me to gas up and get back on the road.

My arrival in John Day occurred at 2:40, just ten minutes later than my arrival a year earlier. Yes, I left home at the usual 8:30, but after filling up my tank in Sandy, I didn’t actually leave town until 8:43. Let’s see, I left 13 minutes later than usual and arrived only 10 minutes later. How’s that for precise riding!

I checked into the Best Western, unpacked, and took a nap. By 4:30 my stomach was rumbling so I showered then headed next door to The Outpost for some beer and a personal Mexican pizza which was considerably better than the indifferent service I received from the waitress. Her surprisingly deep voice was disconcerting.