Bike-camping shake-out trip to the Oregon Coast

Recently I took a shake-out overnight ride to an abandoned campground inland from Coos Bay on the central Oregon coast. The purpose was to sort out my bike camping gear and to find an adequate camping spot roughly halfway between my home in Sandy and my favorite riding grounds on the northern California coast.

Here’s the route I took.

I camped at Rooke & Higgens County Park along the Millicoma River, about halfway between Coos Bay and the tiny inland community of Allegany. The park seems to have been abandoned. Weeds were everywhere, many of the picnic tables were overgrown, there was no camp host, and even the privies were filled with spiders.

Needless to say, I had the campground to myself.

Prior to choosing Rooke & Higgens, I rode past Allegany and checked out Nesika County Park. It was nearly full, I couldn’t find the camp host, and the only few spots available were dusty and right along the park road. I wouldn’t have had any solitude considering one of the campers was blaring music out of their vehicle. So, I backtracked to Rooke & Higgens.

The weather was pleasant, with a steady breeze, but that unfortunately didn’t keep the mosquitos off me. I had numerous bites on my legs, hands and forearms.

My gear was another story. I got maybe an hour or two of sleep, and none of it in spurts of more than 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. I used a Therma-Rest air mattress that requires me to blow it up manually. It’s only 20″ wide and never allowed me to get adequate sleep. I’ve since ordered a Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D from REI, which is 4″ thick and 26″ wide. It’s expensive, at $179.95 but I have a year to try it out and return it if I don’t like it.

Other than the overnight experience, the ride there and back was adequate for a post-Independence Day weekend. That means lots of slow drivers and lots of traffic. At least the weather was good.

I saw something interesting on the trip southbound. While rolling through Florence, I saw a half-naked grey-haired white man walking along highway 101 carrying a large sign that said “Obama is Satan” in handwritten letters. I think he’s out of date by about two years (and is thinking of the wrong POTUS).

To Fly or Ride

Back in June, 2012 I rode my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 to Colorado and back, a loop trip of 5,000+ miles over 15 riding days, passing through 10 states. [You can read my riding blog here.] Once I began learning to fly in my home flight simulator, it became my goal to simulate that trip as closely as possible in a virtual Cessna 172.

The trip in my flight simulator has been ongoing since late June and is nearly complete. I only have one leg remaining. My plane is currently parked at Grant County Regional Field [KGCD] in John Day, Oregon, with my final destination of Troutdale, Oregon.

Throughout this trip, I have attempted to mimic the actual route I rode on my motorcycle as closely as possible, following primary waypoints at major junctions. I have also landed at the nearest airport to the places where I stopped each day for lunch. This means that each day’s simulated leg entailed at least two take-offs and two landings.

Recently, I experimented with early morning take-offs to see what lighting conditions look like in X-Plane 11. The results are amazing, but I noticed that in cities with custom scenery (Ortho4XP), the lights are nearly non-existent. Only stock scenery has the great lighting effects.

I flew from Red Lodge, Montana up and over Beartooth Pass and across Yellowstone Park to land for my mid-day stop at West Yellowstone. I took a screenshot of my cockpit.

The cockpit of a Cessna 172 during an early morning flight over Beartooth pass, Montana

I landed at Butte, Montana. The following day, I took off from Butte and flew to Grangeville, Idaho. I simulated real-world weather conditions and barely survived the landing. I had a constant cross-wind of 12 knots with gusts up to 21 knots. This shot me diagonally across the runway, coming to a stop on the adjacent taxiway. Suddenly a gust of over 60 knots hit my plane broadside and flipped it into the air and over onto its top. It’s my only crash of the entire trip so far.

Morning take-off in a Cessna 172 from Grangeville, ID

The take-off from Grangeville the next morning was stunning. I left a few minutes before sunrise and the scenery and lighting was very life-like.

From there, I mimicked my bike route to Oxbow, Oregon along the Snake River at Hells Canyon, then over to Baker City where I landed for lunch. The day ended at John Day, Oregon.

This trip has been an excellent learning experience. The airstrips and airports have been diverse. Flying in Colorado was a special challenge because of the high elevation airstrips and numerous 14,000+ mountain passes. Some take-offs required circling like a bird to gain enough altitude to move forward.

5,000 miles in 16 days

I just returned from a solo 5,000 mile trip around ten western states that took 16 days to complete. I left Oregon, went south to California, then across Nevada, Utah, and northern Arizona into Colorado. I then turned north into Wyoming and spent a night in South Dakota before turning west back across Wyoming, into southern Montana, across Idaho and back into Oregon.

The trip ranged from sea level (the Oregon coast) to 14,115 feet (Pikes Peak) and saw temperature extremes from the upper 30’s (Beartooth Pass, Montana) to 120 degrees (Zion National Park). The farthest south was Kaibito, Arizona, the farthest east was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the farthest north was Missoula, Montana.

From a gear standpoint, my bike — a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 — ran without complaint. In the 5,000 mile journey it used up about 3/4 of quart of oil (which is pretty normal for modern bikes). The odometer rolled over 50,000 miles during the trip. My Garmin Zumo 450 GPS half-died about 1,000 miles into the journey. It’s 5 years old so that’s a pretty good lifespan for an electronic gadget that gets exposed to the elements. The standout gear of the ride, however, were my ExOfficio convertible pants. I wore them under my Firstgear Kathmandu riding pants and made the trip a lot more comfortable, especially when riding in high desert heat. They retain zero odor, and I could wash them in my motel sink, ring them out (roll them up in a towel and step on it) and they’d be dry in a few hours. Plus they are super light and pack really small, which is a huge bonus when traveling by motorcycle.

The standout scenery was Beartooth Pass in southern Montana, just northeast of Yellowstone Park. The low point in terms of interest was probably Laramie, Wyoming. The town has the character of day-old dry toast.

I met some really cool people (Jeff in Fortuna, CA; Pam in Deadwood, SD; and Myles and John in Greybull, WY) and saw some shameful racism in many rural areas toward our President.

The trip went without a hitch, basically. There were no pucker moments or involuntary get-offs and no run-ins with law enforcement. It barely even rained — a few drops while visiting Mt. Rushmore.

Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, it was probably the biggest disappointment of all the big-name places I visited. It’s much smaller in person than I thought it was from all the pictures and video I’ve seen of it on TV. In fact, the rock formations surrounding the monument are far more interesting. Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming was kind of a ‘meh’ moment, too, not because it isn’t cool — it is — but because it’s exactly like I’ve seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a kind of “Been there, done that” sort of moment.

I hadn’t planned to visit Zion National Park but had to detour that way because of a road closure. Wow, what a place! I realize it’s cliche to say so but pictures can’t begin to do it justice. It’s as if Mother Nature consulted some big-name Hollywood filmmakers when designing it.

One thing that kept crossing my mind was the viewpoint that several fundamentalist Christians hold concerning the age of the earth. I’m all for the freedom to hold personal religious beliefs, but anyone that thinks the planet is only 7,000 years old is exhibiting a willful denial of reality bordering on malignant ignorance. Just travel around the west and look at the mountains that were built up, eroded away, and built up again and see if that kind of geological activity could happen in a few thousand years … or even in a few million. Wake up. It’s okay if the planet is 4 billion years old. Really. It won’t make you any farther from God to acknowledge what is obvious. If it makes you feel any better, remember what an old friend of mine used to say when asked about his view on dinosaur fossils vs. the Bible, “I don’t know how it happened, I just believe God was involved.”

When I go on these trips, I am often admonished by friends and family to takes lots of pictures. I took some, and I even took some video. In my tank bag was a GoPro HD camera and while riding I would often take it out and hold it with my left hand, filming various angles of the action. I’ve reviewed some of the footage and it worked pretty well. I plan to turn my photos and live footage into a produced video, with distribution to select individuals. Some photos will be posted here, but don’t expect too much. Philosophically, I have been taking the attitude that these places aren’t going anywhere; if you want to see them, go there yourself. I put in a lot of time, money, and sweat riding there and I feel somewhat reluctant to let others vicariously enjoy the benefits of that journey without paying some dues for the privilege. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel.

Meanwhile, my bike is filthy and needs an oil change. My chain is also in dire need of replacement and my Aerostich Darien jacket looks like it’s been to the moon and back (I love that jacket!) I also have 7 GB worth of video to edit. I’ll report back when I have something to report.

Can I turn 40 again next month?

Despite the old and run-down nature of the Westward Ho Motel in Bend, I managed to sleep adequately well. I couldn’t wait to get out of there the next morning, however. I rode to the north end of town and grabbed a bite of corned beef hash and eggs at Shari’s — across from The Riverhouse where I should have stayed to begin with — then continued over to Prineville where I gassed up the bike.

I followed Highway 26 east to Mitchell before heading north to Fossil. I often stop in Fossil for a BLT but wasn’t overly hungry so I continued back west toward Antelope. I was hoping to buy a bottle of water and have a short break in Antelope but their only store/diner was closed despite the sandwich board sign out front advertising the fact that they now sold bottled water.

8 miles up the road I stopped at the only remaining establishment open in Shaniko,

Shaniko, Oregon
Shaniko, Oregon

an ice cream shop that also sold a few other items. I got a nuked corn dog and ice water for $1.50, gave the old lady working there a $5 bill and said, “Keep the change.” After chatting with the old man sitting on the front porch for a bit I continued north on Highway 97 to Biggs where I gassed up and chugged a frappuccino. Once across the Columbia River I made my way to my sister’s ranch halfway between Goldendale and Bickleton, at the end of a rough and bumpy dirt and gravel road. My bike was covered in dust and dead bugs and I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.

My sister and her husband and I stayed up to around 10pm chatting then headed to bed. I slept well and was up by 6:30 am the next morning. My Dad and his wife arrived from their home in Hermiston around 8:30 am and we visisted until noon, had a quick lunch, then I mounted back up and headed back down the dusty trail, homebound.

I had to change into and out of my cold/wet weather clothes three different times on the way home. The weather was tumultuous and fickle, hot and muggy one minute then cool and rainy the next. I made it home safely, however, without getting overly wet and despite the nearly bald tire on the back.

My trip was a huge success. I logged over 2,500 miles in 9 riding days (12 days total, with a three-day stay in San Francisco). It made me want to turn 40 again next month. And next year. And the year after that.

Before, during, or after?

It’s a difficult proposition deciding what’s more enjoyable: the planning, the ride, or it’s memory?

Unlike those in more northern latitudes, I ride all year. Granted, I’m on two wheels less often when there’s 23″ inches of snow on the ground, but I do what I can. The longest stretch I’ve gone without riding was three weeks and a record-breaking snowstorm was the cause. When I’m not riding I’m thinking about it.

I spend a great deal of time in Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/) playing what-if with possible routes and destinations. It’s even useful for finding accommodations and places to eat, sites to see. I’ve often said that I’m very spontaneous as long as I know all the plans ahead of time, and online tools like Google allow me to plan my trips, both real and imaginary, many times over well in advance of departure.

Sometimes I think my over-planning can lead to somewhat anti-climactic results when it comes time to actually hit the road. Perhaps my coldly charted arrival times and reservations have been handled so deftly that it leads to a noticeable lack of adventure. However, another philosophy might best be summed up by quoting something I told my employer the day after I got hired, “If you find yourself wondering what I do all day, why I’m so quiet, that’s confirmation I’m doing my job correctly.” (I work in IT and I was referring to a lack of system crashes and fire to be extinguished.)

But I think the planning and preparation of a trip is a great deal of the fun.

During rides it’s comforting to know I have a place to stay when I reach each day’s destination. It’s not uncommon for me to have my dining options already scoped out, although I’ve yet to make reservations in advance. Perhaps part of the reason is because 71% of the time I’m dining on a weeknight and tend to avoid larger urban areas.

The rides themselves are gratifying for their own set of reasons. Despite my propensity to plan, I’ve yet to obtain the ability to control the weather, although I was friends with a guy in college that could (true story). God created the scenery, all I do is pick the route. Sometimes I’m tired, most of the time I’m exhilarated. On occasion I’ll listen to music while I ride but seldom for more than an hour or so before switching to the inner solitude afforded me by old fashioned foam earplugs. Call me anti-social, but I’ve learned that the three of us — me, myself, and I — get along swimmingly, and my own thoughts have proven more than adequate as companionship for the road.

When I get to the day’s destination a different rhythm sets in. Check in at the motel’s front desk, weary and thankful for another safe ride. Find my room and unload the bike. Lay down on the bed and basically pass out for about an hour. Shower, then head to whatever restaurant is on my dinner list for the evening. I usually pick a restaurant within walking distance. Depending on the city and the dining destination I may take a local cab, but I never ride my bike to dinner. I often enjoy a cocktail of some kind with my evening meal and never drink and ride. That is one zero-tolerance policy I adhere to on a strict basis.

The rest of the evening is spent watching the Weather Channel and whatever movie might be on. I also spend some time writing in my journal, describing the day’s events.

It’s difficult to describe which phase of a trip is the most enjoyable. Ask a parent to pick a favorite child to get a sense for what I’m talking about. Each is different yet equally enjoyable. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t get old. I can take a 10 day trip covering 2,400 miles, get home and want to head right back out the very next day.

Call me anti-social but there’s something magical about spending that time alone on two wheels.