Ride Report: A Tale of Two 36’s

It has become somewhat of a tradition that I spend my birthday on two wheels, and this year was no exception. Considering I would be turning 50, I wanted it to have a mix of new roads as well as trusted twisties. The routes I chose did not disappoint—except for one. Learn more about my unpaved adventure below.

I just got back from a 5-day motorcycle trip down to northern California, spending all four nights in a tent. That’s a first for me. I’ve bike-camped many times before but only spent one night out of doors. This trip was memorable for other reasons because it included a nice mix of success and hassle, lots of nearly perfect riding weather coupled with a bit of late spring rain, and a lot of fantastic roads. To top it all off, I got to see some good friends, too.

Click on the section titles to see my riding routes in Google Maps.

Day 1: Home to Central Oregon Coast

It was cloudy and there was a chance of showers the day I departed from my home in Sandy, Oregon. I traveled south through Estacada up the Clackamas River on highway 224 to Ripplebrook, then south on NF-46 to Detroit. I topped off my gas tank at the small store there, then continued south on highway 22 about 18 miles where I got off the highway and headed up into the hills on NF-11, Quartzville Road.

This was a new path for me. The road is paved but narrow, and I had to dodge around a lot of tree and rock debris. The upper reaches of this road, topping off at around 4,000 feet, didn’t get clear of snow until just recently. Not long after heading west on NF-11, the rain started. It was fairly intense and constant until I was on the downhill side and approaching Green Peter Reservoir.

Taking a break from the rain

I took a break at the Dogwood wayside, glad to be under a patch of blue sky (Spring weather in Oregon is fickle). After resting for 10, I continued west. The road condition improved and the route around the northern shore of the reservoir did not disappoint. I used to ride with a group of sport bike riders that loved to take that route, and I could see why. The pavement was in good shape and the curves were delightful.

After riding through Sweet Home and veering southwest through the communities of Crawfordsville and Brownsville, I passed over I-5 into the small town of Halsey. A few miles south found me in Junction City where I stopped for lunch at the local Dairy Queen.

The rain had paused and I had sunshine to suit up and continue west, this time on Oregon’s highway 36. For the second time in the day, I got to ride a road that was new to me. I’ve been a huge fan of California’s highway 36, so I had to see what my home state had to offer.

It was a mixed bag. The road was nice, with predictable curves and bucolic farm houses, although there was a fair number of homes and pickup trucks decorated with right-wing propaganda. Declaring oneself as a hater of others because of their skin color, country of origin, political affiliation, or sexual orientation isn’t a way to win points in my book.

The rain returned soon after leaving Junction City, although with a milder intensity this time around. It stopped by the time I got to Mapleton and highway 126. I followed it west to Florence. The rest of the ride south on highway 101 into North Bend was uneventful and pleasant.

Waiting for my campsite at Sunset Bay, Oregon

Once in North Bend, I let my GPS guide me out to Charleston and then to Sunset Bay State Park. The sun was shining and only a few clouds off on the horizon, out over the Pacific Ocean, were visible. I had a reservation for a tent site at the campground, but they wouldn’t let me occupy it until 4 PM, so I killed about an hour of time at their day use area overlooking the small yet idyllic bay.

Day 1: Campsite, Sunset Bay State Park, Oregon

I got my camp set up and was reading when my neighbors pulled into the spot next to me. They had a difficult time backing their rig into their slot at a 90-degree angle, so I helped guide them. They were so grateful they offered to share their spaghetti dinner with me. I had already set my dehydrated meal to cooking and didn’t want to waste it, so I thanked them and gave a pass.

While we were chatting, however, a trio of crows snuck onto my picnic table and pecked a hole in my as-yet unopened dehydrated meal pouch. The hole was below the water-fill line, so that pouch was ruined. The crows continued to push the issue, quite vocally, until I asserted my dominance enough that they gave up and resorted to mere verbal abuse from the safety of the trees.

After taking a pleasant shower and reading a bit, I settled in for bed. I fell asleep fairly quickly, thanks to my ThermaRest Mondo King air mattress. That beast is expensive and thick, but it sure works well at providing a good night’s rest in a tent. I’m very happy with that investment.

I woke up just before 1 AM to break for nature. Within 60 seconds of getting back into my tent and crawling into my sleeping bag, the rain started. It rained hard for about 15 minutes, then repeated the process again a bit later. It stopped before I got up at 5:45 AM. Although I had blue skies when I woke up, I had a wet tent to pack.

My morning snack was a Clif Bar while I broke camp. I rode into Coos Bay and had breakfast at the Stock Pot restaurant on the south side of town. One of the locals at the table next to me chatted me up about riding. He was a logger that had lived there his whole life and collected Harley-Davidsons, although no longer rode any of them.

Day 2: Down the Coast and Over the Mountains

A light rain began to fall just as I was leaving the restaurant. It kept up with me as I headed south on 101, turning into a dense mist as I ascended into low-lying clouds just north of Bandon. By the time I got to that town, the moisture stopped and never bothered me again for the rest of the entire trip.

My next rest and fuel stop was in Brookings, where I ate a snack and enjoyed the bright sunshine. Soon I was across the California border, and soon after that I headed inland on highway 197 and then 199 toward Cave Junction. Highway 199 is great for motorcycles but it’s very narrow and windy in places and makes for an uncomfortable drive if you’re pushing a motor home or towing a trailer.

In Cave Junction, it was warm but not unpleasantly hot. I got gas, then ate lunch at Dairy Queen. Suited back up, I took the back roads through pot-growing country to Indian Creek Road up and over the pass and back into California. Last year there was a very large wildfire just west of that road, but I never saw any glimpses of its destruction.

From Happy Camp, I took highway 96 south to Willow Creek. Highway 96 is both challenging and rewarding. The curves are fantastic and the scenery above the majestic and rugged Klamath River is spectacular, but the road itself has a lot of undulations and different surfaces along with plenty of rocky debris to contend with. It’s a road that likes to be ridden fast but the rider must be focused and never slack on their attention or it could easily be fatal.

It was fairly warm by the time I got to Willow Creek and the junction with highway 299. Westward on this much busier route had me up and over a pair of 2,000+ foot passes and their pleasant, cool air. I met back with highway 101 in Arcata, then down to the southern side of Eureka where I filled up my gas tank.

Riverwalk RV Park, Fortuna, CA

I got into Fortuna and checked into my tent spot at the Riverwalk RV Park at 4:30. I was 15 minutes into setting up my camp when my friend, Roger, showed up. He rode up from his home in the Bay area on his Honda ST1300 to help me spend my birthday riding the loop (more below). We planned to stay two nights in our tents at the RV park.

After we got our tents set up and our showers out of the way, we walked the 1/4 mile over to the Eel River Brewery for dinner. Traditionally, I’ve stayed at the Super 8 which is adjacent to the brewery, so the tent experience there was new to me. It worked out well and saves a ton of money.

Dinner and brews at the Eel River Brewery are always a delight at this busy establishment. We were told it would be 15-30 minutes before a table would be ready, so we headed outside to enjoy some adult beverages and catch up.

I had met Roger at a V-Strom rally a few years back (see my blog for details) and we’d maintained a friendship ever since. He even rode up to meet me back in 2016 when I headed to Fortuna on my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. We rode the loop back then, him on his V-Strom and me on my Gixxer. This was the first time I’d seen Roger since then.

We enjoyed our food and conversation, then wandered back to camp. We were in bed a little bit after 9 PM, eager for the loop ride the next day.

Day 3: The Loop

I slept well, even better than the night before. After eating a Clif bar and suiting up, Roger and I rode up 101 to the north end of Eureka where we ate breakfast at The Chalet restaurant. We had clear skies and pleasantly cool air for our ride.

We headed north on 101, then caught 299 inland (east). We made a quick stop in Willow Creek so I could plug my phone into a cigarette power adapter on my bike. Continuing on, the weather got warmer but was still very pleasant. We only had to stop for construction once before getting into Weaverville.

At the Chevron, we saw a dozen Porsches get gas as part of an organized rally. Roger and I filled our own tanks, then parked in the shade and ate some snacks under the market’s overhang. While I was filling up my gas tank, the rubber shroud leaked gas over my finger and down the side of my tank. This is dangerous as the fuel may touch the hot engine and ignite. I quickly finished the job and closed the gas tank before anything happened.

As we sat in the shade, we talked with an older gentleman shuffling by with his little black dog. Between repeated ‘sniffs’ from the oxygen tank strapped to his back, we chatted about his dog, our bikes, and the weather. After he left, a couple on a BMW GS came in to get fuel. We chatted with the lady while her husband finished fueling his bike. In our conversation, we discovered she and her husband and Roger went to the same high school, graduating just a year apart.

Roger and I on The Loop

Roger and I rode south on highway 3, where the road climbs and winds its way up and over a pass, then down the other side into the community of Hayfork. This section of highway 3 is both the most challenging and rewarding road of the area, and one of my all-time favorite roads to ride.

Like highway 96 to the north, this section of highway 3 is both rewarding and challenging. There are no guard rails and it’s a long way down if you leave the pavement. Most corners are blind and are posted between 20-25 mph. You are either climbing or descending, so your throttle and brakes get a workout. The rider must be alert and in the zone or else fatal danger lurks. There can often be rocks in the center of the lane, too, so choosing and sticking to a track around a corner is helpful.

We survived the curves with a smile and stood up on our pegs to rest our legs and glutes as we rode through Hayfork. Soon after, in the community of Peanut, highway 3 ends and we caught highway 36 westbound.

The true highway 36 experience should include its full route from Red Bluff at I-5 all the way west to Fortuna. The best is to ride it one direction, eat lunch, then back track and ride it the other way. It’s tiring but very rewarding. That famous “144 miles of curves” sign is at the Red Bluff end.

Highway 36 includes every kind of curve and corner and straight imaginable. There are mountain passes and their cool air and low-lying valleys and their heat. There are fir trees and pine trees and low scrub oaks and grasslands. There are even giant redwoods toward the western end. It has it all.

I highly recommend anyone serious about riding check out highway 36 in California. Just don’t tell anyone. Let it be our secret.

We sat outside at the Brewery to enjoy our dinner and conversation. Roger and I get along really well, so the company was a great way to celebrate my birthday.

Day 4: Heading North

There was a heavy dew during the night so once again I had to pack a wet tent. After breaking camp, Roger headed south toward home while I headed into old town Fortuna for breakfast at the Redwood Cafe. I had sunshine and blue skies again, although it was a bit chilly to start the day.

I headed inland, backtracking on highway 36 in the other direction. I stopped in Weaverville for gas and a snack, noticeably warmer than the day before. I saw the same shuffling old man as the day before and chatted with him about the climate.

My route took me north on highway 3 past Trinity Lake, then up and over Scott Mountain pass. This section of road is incredible, with great asphalt conditions and good sight lines. The northern side of the pass is grassy ranch land before you descend into hot Yreka.

I got lunch at McDonalds (don’t judge me, it was convenient) and got in out of the heat. After I ate, I stripped down a few layers and converted my jacket into hot-weather mode. I got onto I-5 northbound, then exited at the wayside town of Hornbrook. I gassed up, drank a bunch of water, then headed northeast on Copco Lake Road.

This is where things got kind of weird. I had planned my route using both a Gazetteer and Google Maps. Both indicated my route from Hornbrook across the California-Oregon border and into Keno, Oregon was feasible and paved. It wasn’t.

I rode up and down rolling hills and fast sweepers for several miles before the pavement lost its painted lines. That was the first clue things weren’t what I hoped. I reached Copco Lake, an impoundment of the Klamath River, and on the eastern reach the pavement ended. There was a sign that said, “Unimproved road 5 miles, campers and passenger cars not recommended” or something to that effect. I assumed it meant that the gravel only lasted 5 miles and therefore would turn back to pavement. I might be a moron for misinterpreting the sign, but it also wasn’t overtly clear, either.

So I rode onward, gravel be damned. I’ve ridden on gravel before and my bike is made for that, so it wasn’t an issue. The road began to narrow and eventually the conditions worsened. By this point I had ridden nearly 15 miles and there was no pavement in sight.

It was getting quite warm, too, with temps in the upper 80s. The road narrowed even further, barely wide enough for a small car to pass through without scraping brush on either side.

Finally I came to a fork in the road. On the right was a gate to a ranch house and on the left was a gnarly gravel track with rough rock. A hand-carved metal sign was stapled to a tree in between that said, “Adams Ranch” to the right and “Topsy Grade” to the left. I knew from my notes that the road would change names to “Topsy Grade” once it crossed into Oregon, so I knew I was on the planned route.

Except the planned route wasn’t paved, and looked like it would just keep getting rougher. It did.

By this point I had to stand up on my pegs because the road condition was so rough I couldn’t steer confidently while sitting in the saddle. It was also too narrow for a standard vehicle to pass through. Within a mile the gravel disappeared and the road turned into a steep, dusty, rock-strewn path barely wide enough for an ATV to pass through.

I had to go back

I climbed a dozen yards of this crazy road just enough to find a spot barely wide enough for me to maneuver the bike around. I backtracked to a flat spot and parked it. Getting off the bike, I was breathing hard and sweating profusely. My throat was raspy and my lips were dry. I chugged some water, then took a minute to take a short video and a snapshot with my phone.

Realizing going forward was not an option—both because I knew there were dozens of miles of gnarly track to contend with, and that my skill level off-pavement wasn’t up to the challenge—I decided to go back to Hornbrook.

It had taken me a little over an hour to ride 37 miles, so doubling back would cost me a lot of time. But, safety is what matters. After drinking some more water, I headed southwest again to Hornbrook.

There, I caught I-5 for the fast run north into Oregon. I got off I-5 onto a severely twisty highway 273 (it’s so twisty that at one point it actually twists around and passes under itself). That caught highway 66, the famous Green Springs Highway, and I was climbing up out of the valley on a twisty, amazing road. There were guard rails, which is a good thing because going off the road would be a long way down. The pavement is in perfect condition, too.

It was getting into early evening and once I was up into the timber, I became concerned about deer jumping out into the road in front of me. They are a very real risk to motorcyclists, and that time of the evening increased the risk even more.

I got into Klamath Falls around 5:50 PM to gas up and send a text to my wife letting her know where I was and why I was delayed. Fueled, I continued north around the lake and through the town of Chiloquin on highway 97 before pulling off into Collier State Park and my night’s stop.

Collier State Park, OR

It was good to park the bike after a long and tiring ride. I got to the park at 6:20, about two hours later than expected. It was fairly warm and the air was dead calm. The mosquitos buzzed in unison, “Fresh meat,” and attacked me as I quickly set up camp.

It was also good to take a shower. I wasn’t hungry because of the heat and fatigue but I ate a dehydrated meal of beef stew anyway. The mosquitos ate as well, biting me in dozens of places on each leg, my arms and hands, and my neck and head. I’m still itchy several days later.

I turned in around 9 PM and was soon asleep.

Day 5: The Last Leg

As is usual for me, I was awake at 5 am. It was cold out, and according to a thermometer on my bike, it was in the upper 30s. I slept in a bit more, then efficiently broke camp and got my bike packed up. Fortunately the humidity was low and my tent was dry when I rolled it up.

I rode 110 miles into Bend where I stopped at a Shari’s and had breakfast. I contacted my buddy, Mike, and let him know I would be in Detroit at approximately 11:30 am, according to my GPS.

Gas was obtained in the themed town of Sisters, Oregon, as I continued my journey north under brilliant blue skies and perfect temperatures. I arrived at the Korner Post restaurant in Detroit at 11:25 to see Mike greet me outside the front door.

We ate lunch and laughed a lot, which is what Mike and I have been doing since we met in grade school. Our humor is particularly childish, a skill we have honed over these many decades of dedicated practice.

Fed and happy, we went our separate ways. Mike headed back to Albany where he lives and I headed north on NF-46, now retracing my steps back to Ripplebrook, Estacada, and finally Sandy.

Summary

This trip was especially enjoyable to me for many reasons. It was a delight to have packed all the gear and supplies I needed and nothing I didn’t need (that is a skill that takes a surprising amount of trial-and-error). I only had one very mild pucker moment on the bike, and I was able to analyze what I’d done wrong, decide on corrective action, and get past it without it getting me out of the zone. My riding was efficient and fast enough to feel fun and gratifying yet not so fast that I was unsafe, unlawful, or needing to feel guilty or regret. My bike performed wonderfully after the nearly 74,000 miles that have passed under its wheels. The V-Strom is truly an amazingly competent machine.

I was able to spend some quality time with good friends, and that is something I value highly.

On a rather personal note, my experiences taking trips on my motorcycle have changed a lot in recent years. My trips prior to 2014 were taken while I was in an unhealthy marriage to a very dysfunctional person. I used to think the reason why I enjoyed going on multi-week trips was for its own enjoyment, but I now realize that was only half the picture.

A great deal of my desire to be alone on the open road was to be away from her.

I am now in a very healthy and happy relationship with a woman that I miss very much when I’m gone. Although I still enjoy going on two-wheeled adventures as much as ever, I now feel a reluctance to be away from home that didn’t exist in my previous marriage. I now look forward to returning home.

Now that I got that personal note out of the way, we can return to this trip in particular.

The places I visited and the roads I traveled are some of the finest for motorcycling anywhere on the west coast, in my personal opinion. The section of highway 3 between Hayfork and Weaverville is worth riding two days in the rain to reach. Seriously.

What makes trips like this special, though, is the sense of adventure that carrying everything you need on the back of your bike can convey. It’s a pain to put up a tent every night and pack it all up the next morning. The elements are a hassle and eating dehydrated food and protein bars gets unappetizing after a while. The toll on your body wears you down a lot faster than staying in motels and traveling by car.

But, you also experience the environment in which you travel at a much more intimate level. The smells are far more immediate and vibrant, and the temperature changes also add a more dynamic and impactful element to the experience. You also meet some of the nicest and most interesting people when traveling on two wheels. The bike strikes up a lot more conversations than I’d ever have otherwise if they were to rely solely on my rather shy, natural personality.

Traveling by motorcycle grants you something priceless and unique every time you head out: memories. And I will have them long after the machine itself has turned to rust.

Bike camping trip to Forest Creek CG, Mt. Hood National Forest

On a recent weekend, I went on an overnight camping trip on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 to Forest Creek Campground within the Mt. Hood National Forest.

360-degree video of campsite

The purpose of the trip was to get my bike camping gear sorted out before I take some multi-day trips this summer. Forest Creek Campground is nearby, about an hour from my home, and I have visited it before–just never staying overnight.

Forest Creek Campground lies on the old Barlow Road, an alternate route settlers took around the south side of Mt. Hood to get to the Willamette Valley. This avoided the dangerous route rafting down the Columbia River.

I was greeted by two middle aged guys staying in campers, Dave and Scott. They are brothers who have been spending Mother’s Day weekend at Forest Creek since the early 1970s. Their 90 year-old mother would be showing up the following day. After some initial chit-chat, I set to work getting my camp set up.

Forest Creek Campground, 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650

I got my tent erected and made dinner–dehydrated rice and chicken. It’s not bad as far as dehydrated meals go, and it’s super easy to make. Just add 16 ounces of boiling water right into the bag, stir, and seal. After a 9 minute wait, dinner is ready. The only dishes to clean up is a spoon.

I read for a little bit, then wandered over to Dave and Scott’s camp to chat. Scott had a 12-week old yellow lab named “Seven” that fell out of a cute tree and hit every branch on the way down. While we talked, a doe came into camp and snacked on the peanut shells the guys discarded nearby.

It got down to 35 degrees during the night so I inserted my sleeping bag liner into my 40-degree bag. I’ve had colder nights, but the chill made it difficult to sleep. There was also a heavy dew so my tent and ground cloth were very wet when breaking camp the next morning.

I was up at 5:20 and, after making a dehydrated breakfast of southwest hash, I packed up and was back on the bike by 7 AM, and home by 8 AM.

Trip Report: British Columbia 2018

I recently completed a 5-day motorcycle trip from my home in Oregon through Washington and up into British Columbia. This was my third motorcycle trip to B.C., all completed on The Grey Mule, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650. The trip total was 1,594 miles in 5 days of riding.

Day 1 Thursday – Sandy, Oregon to Leavenworth, Washington

290 miles

I left the house at 7:45 AM and got gas at the Sandy Chevron. There were small droplets of mist on my face shield and by the time I got to the top of Cherryville I had to pull over and put on my waterproof Aerostich Triple Digit over-gloves. And suddenly the precipitation stopped. I’ll have to remember that technique the next time it rains. I had blue skies by the time I got to Government Camp, so I pulled over and removed the over-gloves.

My next stop was Hood River where I changed into my warm weather gloves and opened the sleeve vents on my Aerostich Darien jacket. I paid $1 at the toll booth and I was riding across that scary, narrow metal bridge across the Columbia River. I wouldn’t be back into Oregon until Monday afternoon.

There was a moderately strong wind blowing through the Gorge, fortunately it was from the west, at my back. Now on the Washington side of the river, I turned north on highway 142 at Lyle and followed the Klickitat River and then east to Goldendale where I stopped and got gas and a snack. The temperature was warming up.

That west wind was now at my left side as I headed north on highway 97. It wasn’t too bad when I rode over Satus Pass. The scars from previous wildfires in that area were dramatic. The temperature continued to climb and got even warmer when I passed through the town of Toppenish.

I used my Garmin Zumo 200 GPS to guide me to Selah, in search of route 821 along the Yakima River, but I got a little misdirected and had to navigate on my own down a side road until I got to 823 and then 821.

Yakima Canyon (route 821) is listed at 45 mph but could easily be 60 mph. The ride through that stretch is well worth the detour.

I stopped at a boat ramp to use the pit toilet outhouse they had there and saw something funny written on the bathroom wall. “FOOK DA MAYWETTAS” it said. I’m not sure what that means but it seems a Scotsman has a strong opinion about what I presume are Mayweathers.

The wind was getting stronger the closer I got to Ellensburg. I gassed up at the Chevron there and ate lunch at the busy McDonalds a few doors down. It was good to get inside out of the heat. By the time I left, the wind was whipping really hard and blew me around rather aggressively.

My GPS guided me onto I-90 for a few miles and then back onto highway 97 north. A few turns and junctions later, I was on my way over Blewett Pass. That’s where I got a speeding ticket (for going 62 mph in a 60 mph zone) back in the summer of 2007, my only ticket on a bike and only the second in my entire driving career; the first was shortly after I turned 16.

Traffic on 97 north to Leavenworth was rather thick and I got stuck behind some trains of cars led by slow pokes who completely ignored the frequent “let them pass” signs and turn-outs for slow drivers.

Leavenworth itself was predictably busy with summer pedestrian traffic. I got into town at 2:40 PM, which was good riding for the day.

I stopped at the 76 station on the west end of town and bought three things: a one liter bottle of water, a 22 ounce bottle of Dru Bru Kolsch beer, and a bag of cookies for a snack later on. Icicle Road was next to the gas station, so it was easy to find with no GPS directions necessary. It follows the Wenatchee River, which is very rugged and filled with many dramatic looking boulders.

There had been a burn recently so the canyon walls were scarred and black.

Eight Mile Campground is the first one I came to. I rode through the whole site once to scope out my spot, which was right next to the camp host and also near the pit toilets. I set up my tent and then walked down to the entrance self-pay station and put $22 in the envelope. That’s a steep price when you consider the only amenities are pit toilets and a drinking fountain that only works when the sun is shining (it’s solar powered for some reason).

My dinner that night was freeze dried beef stroganoff. It wasn’t bad. The book for my reading pleasure was Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier.

Day 2 Friday – Leavenworth, Washington to Hope, British Columbia

334 miles

It was very windy but the temperature was pleasant at my campsite. My new air mattress, the Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D, worked well and is the best comfort sleeping on the ground I’ve ever experienced.

I was awake at 4:30 AM and out of bed by 5:10 AM. There was just enough light for me to break camp without requiring my head lamp. Once my bike was loaded up, I rolled out onto the road at 6:10 AM and headed into Leavenworth looking for a restaurant for breakfast. McDonalds was the only place open, so that sufficed.

My route was southeast back the way I came until I caught highway 97 northbound. The wind was calm and the temperature was mild; a nice morning ride.

At Twisp, I headed west on highway 20, a new road to me. There were several more dramatic burn areas along the way – a frequent theme on this trip.

The town of Winthrop, Washington was very quaint and fun. It reminded me of Leavenworth, but instead of adopting a Bavarian theme, they chose a western theme instead. I also saw lots of people bicycling in the area.

And then scenery cranked up several notches. Highway 20 is amazing as it crosses the northern Washington Cascades mountain range in a east-west direction. The mountains are rugged and dramatic.

I stopped at the Lone Fir campground for a lunch break, just shy of the pass. I ate one of my freeze dried breakfast meals of egg, sausage and hash browns. There were a few mosquitos around, several of which bit me on my head. It made for some itchy times under my helmet later on.

After my meal break, shortly up the road the mountains became much more close, steep and immediate. Very cool!

The road down the west side of the pass was in great shape and had many nice sweeping curves. I relied on my GPS to help me navigate to Sedro-Woolley and then north where I stopped at a Chevron in the community of Nooksak. I had cell service so I called my partner back home and her and I chatted for a bit.

I crossed the border into Canada at Sumas, and was only asked a few questions by the border agent. One was, “Do you have any firearms?” When I said no, the agent then asked, “How long has it been since you had a firearm?” I felt that was rather presumptuous. After answering that question, I was given permission to enter their beautiful country.

Once through the border, I was amazed at the line of cars waiting to get into the U.S. The line was at least a half mile long.

I got onto Canada Highway 1 and headed east. Traffic on 1 was thick, almost like rush hour, and I rode for maybe 10 kilometers [do you see what I did there?] before I could get into upper gears.

The run to the town of Hope was fast, with a 110 km per hour speed limit. I had to use my GPS to find the Coquihalla campground where I intended to stay. It was the only one in the area that has showers. Unfortunately, they were full.

I decided to get a room instead of staying in my tent out in the woods somewhere nearby. The first hotel I stopped at didn’t seem to have a lobby or entrance; I walked all the way around it and couldn’t find the door. The next one looked utterly scary, the kind of place my Dad would describe as “not a good idea to walk across the room barefoot.” The third hotel seemed okay, the Skagit Motel, and fortunately they had a room available. It turned out to be a nice place to stay.

My shower felt good, as there wasn’t any available back at the Eight Mile campground near Leavenworth. It had been a warm ride, and nothing makes you look forward to a cleansing shower more than riding a motorcycle in hot weather. I even washed some of my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry in the bathroom [tip: ExOfficio underwear. Get some.]

I walked three blocks to the 293 Restaurant for dinner. The food was good.

So far on the trip, other than the bit of mist as I was leaving Sandy, it hadn’t rained, although the forecast looked tumultuous. It was also supposed to get hot on the east side of the mountains.

Day 3 Saturday – Hope, BC to Pemberton, BC

269 km / 167 miles

Today was the best ride of the trip so far. The road north from Hope to Lytton, highway 1, is very nice, especially on the southern end. The hills are nice and the road is in great shape.

The scenery dried out by the time I got to Lytton, with small pines and sage brush dominating the area as the road follows the mighty Fraser River. The last time I came that way I was traveling from north to south and the river was swollen and the color of chocolate milk. This time the river was low on its banks but still impressive.

Fortunately, traffic was light. There were some slow drivers but there were many passing lanes available.

I stopped in Lillooet and got gas, then used my GPS to find a Subway restaurant for lunch. A guy on a BMW 1200GS was in the parking lot putting his helmet on when I pulled in. By his accent as we chatted, I would have guessed he was from Australia or maybe New Zealand.

This was my first time riding highway 99 from east (Lillooet) to west (Pemberton). I recall saying, “Holy shit!” out loud inside my helmet. The road climbs an 11% grade into a narrow canyon between high mountains on either side and gets better with every mile.

The mountains were almost violent in their closeness and severity. When I had ridden 99 before, it was from west to east and it was raining, so the bulk of the scenery during that trip was shrouded and hidden by clouds. I can say this highway rivals Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park, and the road itself is much more fun to ride and a lot faster. In fact, I think highway 99 might be my favorite motorcycling road of all time.

The only really slow RV that refused to pull over and let others pass had a Washington license plate. Boo!

My day started by waking up at 6 AM, which was a late wake-up for me. I subconsciously knew I had a short ride ahead of me so I wasn’t in a hurry to leave. I got dressed and walked four blocks to the Blue Moose coffee shop, but despite Google claiming they were open at 6 AM, their sign and gated entrance declared they wouldn’t open until 7 AM.

I walked back to my motel room and hung out until 7 AM, then made the trip again. The place was busy but I had no trouble getting a table to eat my bacon, egg and cheese scone and drink my decaf mocha.

An older gentleman sat by himself enjoying his beverage in silence. When he got up to leave, he began speaking in a very loud and angry voice, “That’s my f%cking garbage!” He repeated this a few times as he walked toward the door, and kept saying it once outside. He walked straight across the street without looking either way and continued across the park on the other side, repeating his loud comment. I got the impression he does this on a regular basis, because when he began his verbal tirade, none of the staff looked up or acknowledged it was happening.

The clothes I washed the night before weren’t quite dry yet so I used the hair dryer to finish the job. I took my time packing and loading the bike.

Let’s jump ahead in the story to when I arrived in Pemberton just before 1 PM. I rode into the very busy Husky gas station and topped off my tank, then continued further west down highway 99 to the Nairn Falls campground. It was full!

Back in Pemberton proper, I found my way to the Pemberton Hotel where I had stayed a few years ago back during my first visit to the area. I got the last room available, but unfortunately it was directly above the pub downstairs. I figured it would be better than sleeping in a hot tent outdoors (it was fairly warm in Pemberton) so I accepted the room.

Also unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow me to check in until 4 PM, so I had to find somewhere to kill several hours of time, preferably in the shade.

I rode back to the same gas station and hung out in the attached McDonalds. Their air conditioning was excellent, but it was a very busy place and I didn’t want to occupy my booth for too long, freeing it up for other customers.

Back on the bike, I wandered around town a little bit until I remembered a large covered barn-like park structure near my hotel. I parked the bike outside and went into the shade with my book and sat at a picnic table.

The “Downtown Community Barn” as it was called sat directly opposite a busy liquor store. Although many customers bought beer, none seemed to buy it in bottles. Everyone came out carrying cases or flats of beer in the can. Lots of beer, in fact!

I eventually got on my bike and swung around the back side of the barn and parked it in the shade next to my picnic table. I doubt it was legal or appropriate, but no one seemed to mind and it certainly wasn’t in the way.

At 4 PM, I checked into my room. It took four trips to get everything off my bike and carried up to my second-floor interior room. Thankfully the unit had both air conditioning and a shower. The room I stayed in a few years prior had neither.

Dinner was at The Pony, “across the railroad tracks and through the gap in the fence” as the front desk clerk described the restaurant situated about 100 meters away. My beer was great as was the Caesar salad and bison meatballs on pasta.

As I enjoyed my meal, I noticed the various languages I heard spoken by other diners around me. I heard what sounded like Portuguese, French, German, and what I think was likely Swedish or Norwegian as well as yet another European-sounding language I couldn’t identify. I mentally remarked that it was an experience very unlikely to occur within my United States, at least not without a lot of jeers and negative looks from closed-minded xenophobic locals.

Thinking ahead to the next day’s destination, I phoned the Super 8 hotel in Osoyoos, BC and reserved what the clerk said was their last room available. The Best Western I called just prior to that had no vacancy at all. Again, the ‘last room available’ was the repeated theme of my trip so far.

Day 4 Sunday – Pemberton, BC to Osoyoos, BC

463 km / 287 miles

I didn’t sleep very well, but I had better conditions than I would have had in a tent. I had air conditioning and a shower and Wifi, which were nice.

The pub downstairs did indeed make some noise, with the repetitive thump-thump of music heard from 9 PM right until they closed at 2 AM. Ear plugs really didn’t help much, but most of the noise I dealt with was actually from my air conditioner.

Breakfast ended up being at McDonalds, the same place where I ate lunch the day before. One restaurant next to my hotel was closed for the entire day and the coffee shop and bakery next to the railroad tracks wasn’t open until 8 AM.

I pulled out of town at 6:40 AM. There was dew on my bike seat so I used a hotel washrag to dry it off before loading up the Grey Mule.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning to depart. The sun was hitting the mountain tops and mist was floating through the willows of the valley floor. Visibility was an issue when the rising sun peeked into the valley and hit me straight on. I took things slow for that reason, and because of the risk of deer or bear in the road.

The air warmed up as I ascended the steep (13% grade!) road east bound. The views all the way to Lillooet on highway 99 did not disappoint. I trailed behind a van with Alberta plates for several miles but eventually overtook it, having the rest of that amazing road to myself.

I did not stop in Lillooet, choosing to continue south to the small town of Lytton before I stopped for gas. Other than to put directions into my GPS, I didn’t stop again until I broke for lunch at the Dairy Queen in Princeton.

The Chevron in Princeton was very busy, with a dozen bikes or more there and half that many cars. I chatted with another rider, maybe my age, riding a nineties-era Honda 600 sport bike. He recommended I explore a road leading up to the viewpoint just to the east of Osoyoos.

The road leading to Princeton (highway 5A) passes through some beautiful aspen groves and bogs that would make for excellent moose sightings. Alas, I saw none (I still haven’t seen a moose in the wild, or even at the mall for that matter). The highway also passes by a series of lakes in a line at the bottom of a forested valley. Numerous paddle-boarders were seen on the water, along with many expensive-looking homes on the water’s edge.

As I rode through the fertile wine and orchard valley of Keremeos, I saw firsthand the wildfires burning on the hills on the western side of the valley. Several helicopters picked up huge canvas buckets of water from the river below and rose up to dump them on the hillside. Seeing them rise and fall and fly around reminded me of wasps building a nest or bees flying around their hive.

Fortunately my route wasn’t affected by the fires and there wasn’t much smoke to contend with, either, as I rode through.

The warming remainder of my ride into Osoyoos went without incident or note. I gassed up at the Shell station in town, and pulled into the Super 8 just a few hundred meters away. Fortunately I was able to check in even though I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. After having a nice chat with the desk clerk, I parked around back and unloaded my bike.

The air conditioning in my room never felt so good, as it was already 32 degrees outside (that’s 92 degrees to us ‘Mericans). My nap was nice, too. The temperature peaked at 93 hazy degrees by the time I walked across the busy street to get dinner at the A&W. At this point of the trip I was feeling rather tired of fast food.

My shower after dinner was nice, and the lack of cleanliness is one of the biggest drawbacks to camping on a trip like this. It’s hard to reset and recharge your batteries when you’ve sweated all day and never get a respite from it.

The forecast showed heat in the low to mid 90’s the next day. I knew I’d need to rely on all of my hot weather riding tricks to get through it.

Day 5 Monday – Osoyoos, BC to Sandy, Oregon

440 miles

The last day of my trip is what could be referred to as a “porno ride”: hot, long and hard. Forgive the juvenile humor, but the description fits.

I was on the bike at 5:50 AM and had no problems crossing the border back into the U.S.

Once again, I didn’t get much sleep. The air conditioning was one of those units that’s quiet for several minutes and then kicks on in a noisy fashion. This pattern of noise and silence keeps you from falling asleep very easily, and often prevents you from getting that deep regenerative sleep you need.

I was out of bed at 4:52 AM. My initial breakfast to get me going was a Clif Bar that I ate while I finished packing and loaded up my bike. My proper breakfast was at Shannon’s Café in Tonasket. I had eaten lunch there during a previous trip and enjoyed the food. Several local farmers where having breakfast there as well. I stood out like a sore thumb but fortunately I didn’t get any judgmental stares. The service and food were nice.

My ‘fastest’ route by GPS took me on SR17 past the Chief Joseph Dam, through the middle of nowhere, and into the center of nowhere town of Ephrata, where I stopped for gas.

After using the restroom, I was outside putting my helmet on when a couple pulled up in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. A toothless man got out of the passenger side and eyed my bike for several seconds before saying, “I sure wish I could go with you.” He went inside and after coming back out, pressed his thumb on this forehead and jokingly taunted, “I hope a bug hits you right here!” I smiled and said, “Many already have.”

I mounted my bike and began to back it out when I noticed the man back in his truck saluting me several times with a big smile on his face. I saluted back, then rode away.

I didn’t stop again until the Chevron in Goldendale, Washington. By this point, I was very hot and feeling quite knackered. I had a headache and my brain felt like it was vibrating. I was also getting hungry. I snacked inside the air conditioned mini-mart on a corn dog and chocolate milk.

The Columbia River was calm when I crossed at Biggs Junction, and for the first time I could actually smell the water.

To escape the heat of I-84, I turned south on highway 35 at Hood River and gained elevation to get into some cooler air. I rode up and around Government Camp rather than the faster route of 84 into Troutdale and then backtracking to Sandy.

I got home at 2:25 PM, and had been on the road almost continuously since 5:50 that morning. The ride was very hot and long and I was utterly spent.

Final Notes

I apologize for not posting any pictures from this trip. I carried my phone in a waterproof case and the lens over the camera made all my pictures come out very dark and blurry — basically unusable. I also have a bad habit of riding through the scenery enjoying the ride, rather than stopping and photographing it.

The highlight of the trip had to be highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, BC. The scenery and road condition make it a riding experience above anything else I’ve ever experienced.

The low point of the trip was that very long, hot last day of the ride. It was a lot of straight, fast riding with little to look at. The smells of the agricultural communities I passed through were interesting, however, often changing by the second.

Finally, I intended to camp every night of this trip under the pretense of saving money, but in hindsight I am glad it didn’t work out that way. Because of the heat and lack of showers — everywhere I stayed was experiencing very warm conditions — sleep would have been elusive and my ability to recover and renew my endurance for the following day’s ride would have been compromised. Thinking about this, it is my view that we can endure crappy conditions based on the inverse of our ability to recover from the experience. Maybe I’m just getting too old for sleeping under the stars, at least more than one or two nights in a row.

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).

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].