Bike Camping in Eastern Oregon

Bike Camping in Eastern Oregon

I recently took an overnight trip on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom (DL650) to eastern Oregon. Although the premise of the trip was to meet some friends at a remote hot springs, I was also using it as a shake-out trip to sort out gear and methods for bike camping. The former didn’t happen, and the latter proved to be very informative.

To start, my route from Gresham to Tygh Valley was uneventful, taking familiar paths of highways 26 and 35, to NF48 through Wamic. Once in Tygh Valley, I took highway 216 past Sherars Bridge over the Deschutes River, and up the dramatic east side road to Grass Valley. The climb out of the river canyon on 216 is twisted and dangerous, with no guard rails and zero room for error. Survive it, however, and you’ll have great memories of the experience. Riding a motorcycle is like that.

From Grass Valley up highway 97 to Wasco, then southeast on 206 to Condon, I rode through some incredibly beautiful scenery. It is almost exclusively wheat fields and wind turbines, with views that include Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. Adams and Rainer in Washington. The road surface is in fantastic shape, and follows the rolling contours of the land as if Vivaldi composed it himself.

Lunch spot

I gassed up in Condon–which sells ethanol-free premium unleaded–and continued south on highway 19 to Bear Hollow county campground south of Fossil. There I parked the bike, busted out my MSR Pocket Rocket stove, and made lunch from freeze-dried Mountain House beef stew. There were a few house flies bothering me, but otherwise it was a pleasant stop.

Whenever the road dropped in elevation, the temperature rose. By the time I stopped at the Thomas Condon Interpretive Center near the junction of highways 19 and 26, it was downright hot. I filled up my water bottles, merged onto highway 26, and rode east to Mt. Vernon for gas at the Chevron station.

By this time, it was nearing 4 PM and I had somewhere to be. My goal was Ritter Hot Springs, which was north of Long Creek off of highway 395, just across the middle fork of the John Day River. The stretch of 395 north of Mt. Vernon has some incredible high prairie views that make you say, “Wow!” inside your helmet.

I found Ritter Road and took my time following its tight curves ten miles west from 395 to the hot springs. The road is in rough shape and matches the contours of the middle fork of the John Day. When I arrived at the hot springs the first sign I saw said, “No alcohol on the premises.” I had purchased a six pack in Mt. Vernon to share with my friends. Sorry, not allowed. I pulled into the hot springs parking lot and was disappointed at how run-down the place was.

The buildings were constructed in the 1800’s, and looked as if they haven’t been upgraded or repaired since then. I used the restroom and had to tell some very large spiders to get out of the way. Walking around the main building and the pool, I checked out the grass tent area. It was crowded asses-to-elbows with tents, and the only space remaining was on a steep slope. My tent would have been within arm’s length of another. I walked back to my bike and noticed a sign on the pool fence, “Pool closed until 8:45 PM Saturday.” I recalled reading that the hot springs were owned by devout Seventh Day Adventists. It made me wonder if the Creator of the Universe and Lord of Hosts would smite me if I dipped my toe in the water at 8:44 PM.

Shaking the proverbial dust off my sandals, I suited back up and rode away. My friends hadn’t arrived yet, I would not be allowed to enjoy a cold, well-deserved beer, and I couldn’t enjoy the pool until after dark. Plus, the crowded camping situation had me longing for solitude. I headed south on 395 back toward Mt. Vernon.

My campsite

Somewhere between Long Creek and Mt. Vernon, I found a gravel road and headed up the hill into the Malheur National Forest. After riding about two miles up to the 4,200 foot elevation mark, I found a flat spot in the grass, parked the bike, and made camp. I had the woods all to myself.

I was glad to be at higher elevation. The temperature was much cooler than it was at the hot springs, although it was still warm enough to be in short sleeves. There was no rain in the forecast so I didn’t worry about putting a tarp over my Eureka Backcountry tent.

After dinner and cleaning up, I gave myself a sponge bath with a couple of baby wipes. I felt somewhat foolish standing in the middle of the woods stark naked, running moist towelettes over my arm pits and nether regions, but after the sweaty ride getting there, it was the best I could do. There were no creeks or lakes nearby. Once that was done, I changed into fresh clothes and laid down in my tent to read on my iPad. Prior to departure I loaded up a few new books. The iPad is great because you don’t need a flashlight to read. That helps if night comes and you’re still not tired enough to sleep. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Alas, that was not to be. Although I don’t know why, I didn’t fall asleep until sometime after 3 AM. My sleeping bag was comfortable and I was never cold. My air mattress was comfortable. My pillows were comfortable. I think my brain just didn’t want to shut up. Once I fell asleep, I slept well, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I was awake by 5:30 AM. At some point during the night, I got up to relieve myself and was amazed at how many stars were visible. The Milky Way was brilliant. I also heard a lone coyote yipping and yowling about 100 yards away during the night.

Despite my lack of sleep, I felt happy when I got up and made breakfast. I started with a cup of hot coffee (Starbucks singles). Then I followed it with Mountain House blueberry granola. You only add a half-cup of cold water and stir, no heating required. It was surprisingly good. Once that was done, I cleaned up camp and loaded everything on my bike. Other than my lack of sleep–which was the fault of my brain and not my gear–it was a fantastic camping experience. The solitude was especially nice.

I left a few minutes after 7 AM and rode down the gravel road, out of the forest, and onto highway 395. I got to Mt. Vernon and filled up my gas tank, then got a proper breakfast at the Silver Spur Cafe. After I ate, an older gentleman from the area chatted me up outside as I suited up. We talked for about 20 minutes and had a great conversation.

The wind between Fossil and Condon and Grass Valley was intense, but the scenery going in the opposite direction was more than worth it. Any good road should be ridden in both directions to get the full experience.

By the time I got home, the round trip had been 700 miles. My gear worked perfectly, the weather was great, and I saw some amazing scenery. Eastern Oregon has some wonderful motorcycling roads and a lot of beautiful country to explore.

Thinking about my trip, I had a realization about loneliness. Although I spent the night alone in the woods, without any sign of people or civilization, I never felt lonely. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience. The only time I feel lonely is when I’m by myself around groups of people I don’t know. If I had stayed in a campground surrounded by strangers, I would have felt lonely indeed. It’s odd, but I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone, only when I’m around other people [that I don’t know].

Latest rides, and a new book

Latest rides, and a new book

Recently the weather has been cooperative enough for me to get both bikes ridden, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I try to ride each bike at least once every other week, rather than winterizing them and letting them sit. They only get non-ethanol fuel as well, and I think this keeps them in better shape.

On the V-Strom, I went up highway 224 to Ripplebrook. They are working on a hillside prone to landslides, so there are some construction delays to contend with. This is between milepost 31 to 37. At the Ripplebrook ranger station, I kept heading south on NF46 toward Detroit. We’ve had a lot of low-elevation snow this winter so I didn’t expect to get far, but I wanted to see how things were looking. The road has a few new potholes but is in otherwise good shape.

I had to turn back just past where NF42 heads east toward highway 26. Despite this, it was a fantastic ride and it felt good to stretch the V-Strom’s legs a bit.

Available for Kindle on Amazon.com

In other news, I have published my third novel. It is titled Paragon’s Call and is the culmination of The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. It is available for Kindle on Amazon.com, and is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

The sunset of an old hero
The dawn of a new foe

Paragon’s Call is the third and final book in The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. In this exciting and fast-paced conclusion, we pick up the story a year after the Battle of Eeron from book two, Ohlen’s Bane. Ohlen and his comrades, Therran and Ahmahn, discover the novaari, dangerous beasts that are half man, half animal. Ohlen is conscripted by Emperor Percy Saltos to lead a ragtag group of criminal misfits called Paragons, who are charged with seeking out these monsters and destroying them. But not everyone wants them to succeed.

2016 and I’m off to a slow start

I haven’t been riding much in the last quarter of 2015, and the new year isn’t shaping up to be any different. I try to get both the V-Strom and Gixxer ridden at least once every other week, rather than winterize them and let them sit.

The pattern is to find a dry weekend, even if it’s just an hour of opportunity between rain storms, and ride each bike for at least 30 minutes. This helps clear the exhaust of moisture and charge the battery. I keep my bikes in a storage unit and there’s no electricity, so that eliminates the possibility of putting the batteries on a tender/charger.

With El Nino, the weather has been rather uncooperative. It’s been raining like mad, and on the rare dry days, it’s bitterly cold and blowing wind. I also have to avoid most side roads because they often still have icy patches or gravel from previous freezes.

As a result, I have no interesting blog posts to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some interesting rides in as the weather improves with spring.

Rebuilt V-Strom suspension from Adventure Power Sports

During a recent trip to northwest California for a group ride, I came to realize how inadequate the stock suspension really is on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The bike has 62,000 miles on it and the suspension is completely stock without modification or adjustment. Over time, suspension components soften and wear out and need to be replaced. Because this degradation had taken place over tens of thousands of miles, I didn’t notice the change.

The first evening of our group event, a presenter and fellow rider by the name of Jay Jobes of Adventure Power Sports, out of Eagle, Idaho, talked about suspension on V-Stroms in particular and adventure bikes in general. Jay, who goes by the nickname “Sasquatch”, discussed the mechanics of front forks and rear shocks, how they work, and what they’re designed to accomplish. Jay also talked about what happens when suspension isn’t up to the task, either through weak design or pure age.

During the day, our group had taken a 180 mile loop ride on the finest back roads California has to offer. This can best be described the way the locals put it, “If you go off the pavement and the ride gets smoother, you know you’re in California.” The route went from asphalt with more bumps than a teenager’s face to washboard gravel with gnarly potholes. It was rough, and my bike let me feel every bump in full detail.

I noticed several characteristics of how my bike behaved on those challenging roads. On abrupt bumps, I’d feel a ‘chunk’ in the front suspension. This was a result of the forks not being able to handle the impact and slamming at full compression. Other sections of pavement had numerous, small bumps like riding across invisible corduroy, that dislodged the bike and left the tires airborne for fractions of a second instead of remaining in contact with the ground. This created a slight stopping effect that felt similar to the way ABS pumps your brakes several times a second. When this occurs repeatedly and in rapid fire, I was actually pushed forward slightly. Finally, when cornering, because the bike’s tires were becoming airborne in tiny but rapid intervals, it became nearly impossible to go around a bumpy curve with any kind of stability or sense of safety.

That night, Jay talked about suspension and described its dual roles: to efficiently absorb bumps in a way that conducts the least amount of shock to the rider, while immediately after pushing the tire back down as quickly as possible to maintain constant contact with the road surface. I asked a few questions and, with Jay’s well structured and informative answers, I quickly realized just how inadequate my suspension had become.

A rebuild or replacement of my stock suspension components was long, long overdue.

Jay has developed a technique for rebuilding the stock V-Strom suspension. This is significant because it was designed from the factory to be a throw-away component. It’s not built to be rebuilt. Jay’s technique provides riders like me a cost-effective way to get better-than-factory suspension without having to buy after-market third-party components. He takes the suspension apart, replaces the internals with higher quality after-market components, and puts it all back together. Even more, Jay interviews the customer to determine their weight, height, riding style, and frequent luggage load to make sure he chooses the right internals and makes the proper settings for their particular needs. It is custom suspension at lower cost than off-the-shelf after-market parts.

A week after the trip, I contacted Jay and gave him the details he needed. I took my bike to my local dealer and had them remove the front forks and rear shock, then store the bike in the back of their shop. I shipped the components to Jay at his location in Eagle, Idaho. He made sure he had the new parts ordered and on-hand in anticipation of the job.

Jay did the work and had my parts on a big brown truck headed back to my dealer within 24 hours. Once back at my dealer, they put the rebuilt forks and rear shock back on the bike. The total cost was $1280, and that included $200 in shop labor and $160 in shipping (there and back). I could have spent $1,600 for just an after-market rear shock and still had to pay for installation (or done it myself, which isn’t feasible where I currently live) — and that wouldn’t even include the front forks!

When I picked up the bike from the dealer, I took it for a short ride on a nearby semi-bumpy road for comparison. I had ridden the same road the day before I had the suspension removed, in anticipation of doing an A-B comparison. I didn’t feel much of a difference. The road wasn’t bumpy enough to make an adequate comparison.

The following weekend I took the bike for a 265 mile ride around Mt. Hood on a mix of gravel roads and bumpy Forest Service paved routes with lots of bumps.

The following Monday I called Jay to discuss my observations. Initially I was disappointed with the results. I hit several hard bumps and felt them similar to before. I went over washboard roads and they still felt like washboard roads. Other riders at the group ride had told me, “The difference is night and day.” My experience wasn’t anywhere close to that. More on that in a minute.

During my phone call with Jay, we talked about the specifics of how my bike was acting with the rebuilt suspension. Being an expert on the subject, Jay knew what to ask and how to describe the different aspects of the ride. I realized that the difference was there, the improvement was there, I just had unrealistic expectations.

My cornering seemed to be improved. Most of the route I took was very familiar to me, much of it memorized, so I was used to how fast I could go around numerous curves. I noticed I could go around the same corners at greater speed and with increased confidence and stability. Under hard braking, the bike seemed to stay level to the pavement, and felt as if both tires were providing equal grip to slow it down with greater efficiency. Before, the bike would dive forward like the forks were saying, “We give up!”

When hitting harsher bumps, I still felt them, but gone was the ‘chunk’ sound and sensation of the forks being overtaxed.

Rather than attempting to be an ace motorcycle mechanic, I needed to focus on how the bike behaved instead of how it functioned. In the end, it became clear to me that the bike was allowing me to ride at a higher level of performance and confidence with a lot less stress than before.

In the end, I have reached several conclusions. Above all, I was impressed with Jay’s knowledge and willingness to patiently explain a complex mechanical apparatus to a complete novice. He spent quite a bit of time describing how I can adjust the settings and do comparison rides until I get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. He met his commitments, was prompt, returned calls in a timely manner, and was well organized, having my parts on hand before my components arrived, got them rebuilt, and shipped back in very short order.

I also concluded that my bike’s suspension has become something I don’t have to think about anymore. I can now focus on the ride and other aspects of the experience instead of worrying that I might bounce out of a curve or lose hard parts from hitting big bumps.

Although I wouldn’t describe the before and after comparison as “night and day,” I would give it my highest endorsement of any expense for a bike: it is worth more than the cost, and to me, that is the best definition of a good value.

Post, Oregon … finally

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.