Slick roads and high-elevation colors

Friday afternoon I dashed out of the house to get a ride on Marmot Road before the rains came. The eastern half of the road had dust and gravel across both lanes because the road department had come along and scraped the side of the road (to kill weeds or something) and it pushed all the debris onto the road surface. They swept over the top of it but left a slick layer of dust and gravel.

I reached Lolo Pass Road and turned around for the return ride and the rain started. Within minutes it was raining hard and all that dust had turned into mud. Combined with a lot of wet, fallen leaves, Marmot Road became almost as slick as an ice rink.

I took my time and used very smooth throttle, brake, and cornering action and fortunately made it home wet but without incident.

Saturday the rain went away so I put my camera in my top case and headed up the Clackamas River Road, veering south onto Fish Creek. I stayed on fire roads and was soon traveling on gravel and dirt. My goal was to take photographs of the fall colors, but most of the road was lined with conifers and I didn’t get any decent views of nearby mountains until I got above 4,000 feet elevation.

I stopped a few times and took some pictures, but most were uninteresting (which is why they aren’t posted here). I made it back down to the main highway but hadn’t had enough riding so I turned right and rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning around and heading back home.

It’s easier than it seems but is harder than it looks

Riding a motorcycle has a mystique that is both alluring and intimidating at the same time. They can be powerful and fast and potentially deadly. They can be exciting and scary and even relaxing. They can be beautiful and sleek or utilitarian and downright ugly. They are as diverse as the people that ride them.

Many people fear motorcycles and assume that riding one is beyond their abilities or level of accepted risk. As with a great many things, however, the preemptive bark we anticipate in our minds turns out to be far worse than the actual bite.

Riding a motorcycle is far easier than it seems, but doing it well is much harder than it looks.

Once the basics of working a manual clutch and brakes have been mastered, just about anyone can ride a motorcycle. The Basic Riders Course provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a fantastic way to get up to speed (so to speak) quickly and efficiently. “Congratulations, you are now qualified to ride around a parking lot in first gear!”

As with a lot of things, the more you learn about riding a motorcycle and the more miles you get under your tires, the more you realize you still have to learn.

As I noted in a previous post, I recently attended the Lee Parks Total Control riders clinic up in Olympia, Washington. It involves a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on training in a big parking lot. I already know how to ride a motorcycle. I’ve racked up over 37,000 miles in the last four years. I took the class because I want to learn how to have more control and smoothness in my cornering. Refine my technique, basically.

When I watched our instructor, Jeff, take his Honda VFR in tight loops around the range during our class, I was amazed at how effortless and smooth he was. Experts make the more difficult task look easy and Jeff definitely qualifies as an expert. He loudly proclaimed, “This is what riding success looks like!” without saying a word. I want to be like him.

It’s not about speed or being able to drag my knee on every corner. Anyone can go around a corner on anything with two wheels. I want to do so masterfully.

Yesterday after work I rode up Marmot Road and Barlow Trail Road all the way to Zigzag and back to get some cornering practice under my belt. It was a frustrating experience. What I learned during my class seemed to have abandoned me. None of my corners felt right, nothing was smooth or easy. I was mentally going through the ten steps Lee Parks teaches for smooth cornering but somehow it wasn’t translating into actual results.

On the way back, something happened. I gave up. I stopped fretting over the details of what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to do it and just took the corners naturally. I basically said, “Screw the practice, just get home,” and something magical happened. My cornering became effortless and smooth. The same thing happened during my class on Saturday. When I stopped thinking and started feeling, everything fell into place and my technique improved.

Considering this, I’ve drawn a few conclusions from the process. Practice the techniques without worrying about the outcome. Let it be practice and nothing more. Don’t worry about winning races or impressing anyone. Go through the motions in the correct order and with the correct technique. Do it over and over again. Then move onto the next technique. Practice one technique at a time. Do each over and over again. When it’s time to actually ride, stop practicing and simply ride. Let your muscle memory and the less-than-conscious part of your brain do what you trained it to do.

Riding a motorcycle is easier than it seems but harder than it looks. But it can be done, by anyone.

Back side to Timothy Lake

It was a pretty good Labor Day weekend. The weather wasn’t too hot or cold, it was dry, and I had a nice mix of productivity, rest, and recreation. Of course, that means I got a good ride in. This time I headed up the Clackamas River road to Ripplebrook Ranger Station, where several government vehicles were parked at a forest fire staging area (presumably there was a fire nearby but I saw no smoke or flames). Instead of heading south to Detroit as I usually do, I headed east on FS57 past Harriett Lake and up the gravel road to Timothy Lake.

The road up the back side emerges at the lake’s outlet, a man-made dike that flooded Timothy Meadows back in the 50’s or 60’s. The water shoots out in a dramatic spray below the dike and flows west to the Clackamas River.

Once I crossed the dike I rode around the various campgrounds on the southern shore of the lake, then got onto Skyline Road for about a dozen miles before merging onto Highway 26. Once up and over Government Camp I stopped at the Dairy Queen on Rhododendron for lunch (avoid the mushroom swiss burgers; they’re nasty). Fed, I left 26 in Zigzag and headed about a mile up Lolo Pass Road where I then cut west again on Barlow Trail Road and followed my favorite “Marmot Run” into the back side of Sandy and home.

My new Bridgestone Battle Wing tires were broken in and performed great, riding nice and smooth and providing plenty of grip. They’re supposed to grip really good on wet pavement. It’s supposed to rain most of this week so I may commute one or two days to test it out.

Here’s the route I took in Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Testing out gear

Gear update 12-15-2010:

I’ve replaced my 25 year-old CampinGaz stove with an MSR PocketRocket. It fires up easily, cooks nice and hot, is ultra-compact, and boils water very quickly (which is what I use it for 99% of the time). I got mine for less than $35 from

I’ve also purchased a new sleeping bag. My old one was a 30-40 degree bag made out of spider silk and smoke, and required the use of a Thermolite liner to keep me alive. I’ve slept in that system down to 20 degrees and although I made it through the night, it was unpleasant. I’ve since ordered a Marmot Never Summer 0-degree down bag from I’ll report more when I’ve actually slept in it

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming (a.k.a. the original post):

I have a trip coming up that will involve several nights camping out rather than staying in motels. The location will be remote, far away from services such as gas, food, and lodging, and will be at high elevation. This past weekend I decided to ride to a spot in the woods on the eastern slope of Mt. Hood and spend the night, testing out my camping gear. The last thing I want to do is find out my gear doesn’t work or isn’t adequate for the job when I’m relying on it for real.

The whole purpose of the short trip was to spend the night in the woods to test gear, rather than the more usual goal of a bike trip. I planned to eat dinner in camp, stay the night in my tent, eat breakfast, then ride back home.

It had rained at Government Camp within a few hours before I went over the pass, judging by the wet pavement and cool fall-like air. By the time I got to camp, about an hour and a half away from home and on the dry side of the mountain, I could see spots in the dust where it had rained briefly within about a half hour before. There was still an inch thick layer of fine dust on the ground, however, and it got everywhere as I rode over it.

I set up my tent and unpacked my cooking gear, then set out to make dinner. I’ve been using the same small Campingaz butane camp stove for 25 years and it has always been rock solid. However, partway through cooking dinner the fuel ran out. Prior to leaving I had suspected my fuel canister was getting low and when looking for a supplier I discovered that brand is no longer sold in the United States. So I took my chances and ended up eating most of my dinner cold.

One trick my brother taught me was to take food that doesn’t have to be cooked in order to be edible. If you get into a situation (like I did) where you’re unable to heat your food, you won’t starve. Eating my dinner cold was no big deal. However, yellow jackets soon discovered my presence and began to pester me aggressively. They landed in my food, on me, and began to really threaten my quality of life at that moment. I had to continuously walk around camp while I ate because if I stopped I’d have a half-dozen yellow jackets in my food.

I finally managed to eat my cold dinner and get my mess kit cleaned up. With the summer fire season in full swing building a fire was out of the question. Considering the prospect of a cold breakfast and more hassles from the increasing numbers of aggressive yellow jackets, I decided spending the night at home would be more appealing. Plus I already knew my tent and sleeping bag set up worked fine down to 20 degrees so I had basically tested out everything that needed testing: cooking, food prep, and packing/loading it all on my bike.

I broke camp and rode home.

End note: I’ve already ordered a replacement for my venerable but now obsolete Campingaz stove: An MSR PocketRocket from, $35 with free shipping. It’s the same type of stove but uses a different kind of fuel canister.

Into the mist

Saturday I took a nice ride up Marmot Road to Barlow Trail Road, then turned around and headed back. There were several bicyclists heading west on Marmot. I didn’t see numbers on their jerseys so I assume it was a for-fun or training ride, rather than a race.

Sunday, however, was a different story. I went through Bull Run and Aimes then up to Corbett and up to Larch Mountain, and from Sandy all the way to Hurlburt Road I was passing bicyclists in some kind of race (numbers on their jerseys). Some road three abreast taking up the entire lane. I don’t understand their mentality when bicyclists do that.

I managed to get past them safely. By the time I got to Corbett the clouds were thickening up and threatening rain. It had rained the night before so several spots of pavement were wet. I then headed east up Larch Mountain Road. As I climbed elevation mist began to form on my windshield and face shield. Once above 2,000 feet it began sprinkling.

The parking lot at the top of Larch Mountain — at 4,000 feet elevation — was shrouded in cloud and mist and drizzle. It was the first time I’ve ridden in precipitation in months and I welcomed it. I turned around without stopping and headed back down the mountain toward home.