The Kindness of Strangers [Updated]

[Updated 2018-12-02: Added picture of what caused the flat tire; see bottom of post]

As my tow truck driver said…

“It restores your faith in humanity.”

The goal was to get one last decent ride to Detroit and back before the weather turned nasty. I’ve written about this route many times before; it’s one of my favorites. From Estacada, Oregon you ride east up highway 224 along the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook Ranger Station, then south along paved Forest Service road 46 to the small resort community of Detroit, Oregon. It follows the western slope of the Cascades mountain range, twists and turns with the Clackamas River, and represents about 80 miles without stop signs or towns. There and back from my home in Sandy is about 180 miles, and I often ride it a dozen times or more every season.

There was low clouds and fog in patches when I started and the temperature floated between the mid 30s to the low 40s. Once I got past Northfork Reservoir along the Clackamas River, however, the sky opened up and sunshine emerged.

The fall colors were brilliant with lots of yellows and reds. The few cars I came upon kindly moved over and let me past – this is rare in Oregon, but it was a good sign of the kindness I’d experience from strangers as the day progressed.

Even the pavement was in great shape. The Oregon Department of Transportation had worked to repave most of the route, improving many areas that were safety hazards because of dangerous potholes.

I stopped at the cut-off road to Olallie Lake because my hands were bitterly cold. I parked my bike in full sunlight and placed my gloves palm side up on the seat. The sunlight warmed the black leather quite nicely. I shook my hands and swung my arms to get blood flowing back into my fingers. After about a five minute break, I was warmed up enough to get back on the road.

I crested the pass underneath the high power lines in view of Mt. Jefferson and began the 18 mile descent to Detroit. In the resort town, I stopped at the gas station and deli, used the restroom, and ate a Snicker’s bar as I marveled at how low the lake was. The marina was on high ground and a creek you could walk across without getting your knees wet was all that ran through the inlet.

The stretch of road between Detroit and the pass is a lot of fun, with well-designed curves and great road conditions. Something seemed off, however. As I carved the twisties, I noticed my bike seemed to feel mushy and unstable when leaned over. I wondered if it was the road surface in that lane, or if something else was wrong. By the time I made the last hairpin turn and began the final ascent to the pass I knew there was likely something wrong with my tire.

At the top I saw two riders standing next to their Harley baggers. I pulled in and parked, and immediately they came over to talk, noticing my tire. I got off and said, “Something feels off.”

“You definitely have a flat tire,” the tall rider, Bill, said.

Bill and Nick were two riders from Central Oregon who rode over to visit some friends camping nearby. They spent almost an hour working with me to try to repair the flat tire. At first we couldn’t find a nail or other item in the tire, and I didn’t recall running over anything, so we initially assumed it was caused by a bad valve stem. After inspecting the tire more closely, we found a 1/2″ gash just off center from the middle of the tire.

Tire gash
There was a half-inch gash in my rear tire (Shinko 705).

I pulled out my DC compressor and mushroom-type plug kit and set to work on it. Unfortunately, the gash was too large and the inside of the tire was too damaged to plug (not for lack of trying, though). We even tried multiple plugs but air kept rushing out of the gash.

Bill flagged down a group of riders on Harleys headed south toward Detroit and we asked them if they’d call a tow truck when they got into town. Unfortunately, there is no cell service anywhere between Detroit and Estacada. The riders eagerly agreed to make the call when they got to town and set off.

Nick and Bill set off north toward their destination. As I settled in to wait for the tow truck to arrive, I reflected on the situation. I was parked in a safe location, the weather was perfect with bright sunshine and a slight breeze, and the temperature was pleasant. I had an adequate amount of water and even found a granola bar in my tank bag. As I had worked on the flat, despite the fact that it was irreparable, I had the right tools to work with. I was also thankful that two other riders were eagerly willing to help with whatever I needed. They even volunteered to ride all the way to Estacada to arrange a tow if it came down to that.

A sunny spot to get a flat tire.

Various cars went by and some of the drivers glanced at me but most didn’t act as if they understood I was anything more than a rider taking a break. Several riders went by and most slowed down and gave me an inquisitive thumbs-up as if to ask, “Are you okay?” I nodded and waved them past, trusting the previous riders were already arranging for me to get a tow truck (you don’t want to double up on your two requests).

After about an hour, a grey-haired couple on BMW GS’s stopped for a break. We chatted for about 10 minutes, during which they offered me water and protein bars and apples, whatever I needed. After they left, two sport bike riders stopped on their way north. They mentioned they’d seen me on their way south, with me and Nick and Bill behind my bike with tools spread out on the ground. Since I was still there on their way back, they wanted to make sure I was okay. I told them the tow truck was on the way and thanked them for stopping.

Shortly after that, the original group of three Harley riders stopped on their way back and said, “We called the towing company and they are sending a truck. It should be here soon.” It was very nice of them to give me an update and I thanked them, wishing them the motorcyclist’s benediction, “Keep the shiny side up!”

Less than five minutes after they left, the tow truck arrived. Braden from Santiam Towing and Recovery said, “I bet you’re glad to see me.” I was.

Santiam Towing and Recovery did a great job!

He set to work getting my bike up on the flat bed and took extra precautions to make sure my bike was securely tied down. As that went on, a man with long gray beard and a pony tail parked his pickup truck behind us and came over to chat. He was in the area elk hunting and wanted to see if I was okay. He was quite a character, and talking rapidly with a ready smile shared several funny stories about motorcycles in his youth.

Braden happily agreed to drive me the full 64 miles back to my house in Sandy, even though he had started his day with a job in Eugene. A lot of miles for Braden!

We chatted easily on the drive back, taking things slow so the bike wouldn’t bounce around too much on the back of the truck. Braden even stopped a second time to make sure everything was cinched down properly.

We made it to my house at 5 PM, got the AAA paperwork squared away, and unloaded the bike. I slowly rode it into the garage and parked it.

After Braden left, I gave thought to the events of the day. Riders on Harleys, BMWs, and sport bikes all stopped to help or offer assistance or just to make sure I was okay. The towing company prioritized my tow request above two others because they were just abandoned cars and my situation involved an actual person needing assistance.

The kit I ride with was adequate and I was pleased I had the tools usually needed for a flat tire. In this case, however, the damage to my tire was too great. The only thing I could have had with me to make the situation go quicker would have been a satellite phone. I also should keep more snack food on the bike, as a single granola bar wasn’t quite enough (I was very hungry by the time I got home).

For having something go wrong, it really couldn’t have gone any better than it did, and I am very thankful for the kindness of strangers.

Updated 2018-12-02

I finally got around to getting my tire replaced with a new Shinko 705 at Yamaha Sports Plaza. I asked them to save the punctured tire so I could inspect it. They found a piece of glass floating around inside the tire, the culprit for the flat. Pictured here:

The glass that caused my flat tire.

A new book and new tires

The Taesian Chronicles, paperback

In personal news, I recently published my trilogy of fantasy novels in a single paperback volume. It is entitled The Taesian Chronicles and is available for sale from Amazon.com or directly from me if you want an autographed copy.

In other news, I just put a new set of Shinko 011-Verge tires on my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I got a little over 6,000 miles on the previous set. Their chicken strips were less than 1/4″ wide and the wear pattern was very uniform and round; no squared-off center strip at all. I am very impressed with the Shinko’s.

As the previous set lost tread, their traction degraded gradually. I backed it into a few corners and was impressed with how gracefully it happened. There were no sudden losses of traction or pucker moments.

When I got the new set put on, and properly broken in, I was amazed at how much grip the new tires have. I’ve been focusing on building up my skills in fast cornering situations, and despite increasing my cornering speed, the tires have responded reliably and with great confidence. It’s as if the Shinkos are saying, “Is that all you got? Bring it, Rossi-wannabe! We can handle a lot more!”

I’ve had several fast runs to Detroit lately, and have really upped my riding game. I still have a ways to go, however, and am always working to improve my skills.

320 miles on a GSX-R750

I seldom need an excuse to ride a motorcycle, but having a specific destination can provide the motivation to tackle a tougher route or longer duration than would otherwise be the norm. Last weekend was a good example of this.

My good buddy, Mike, recently moved to Albany and wanted me to visit him at his new home. I was already planning on taking the Gixxer for a spin, so I decided to give my ride a destination. Of course, I wasn’t just going to buzz down I-5 (ick!) and back. I chose the long way ’round.

I left Gresham at 9 AM and rode due south to Deep Creek Road, which connected to Highway 211 just west of Barton. I followed 211 east into Estacada and veered left onto Highway 224 and familiar ground. There were numerous rafters on the Clackamas River and many cars headed in both directions between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station.

I stopped at the ranger station for a quick bio break, then headed south on NF46. I rode to Detroit without stopping, and maintained a spirited yet controlled pace. The temperature was warming up and by the time I got to Detroit it was already in the upper 70s. I ate a snack, filled up my tank with ethanol-free premium, and turned west on Highway 22.

This stretch of road, from Stayton, up over the Cascades to Sisters and Redmond, is busy and this warm late Spring day was no exception. I had to pass several slower cars, but kept my speed moderated for safety and economic sake — tickets are expensive.

In Mehama, I crossed the Santiam River into the the community of Lyons. It was my first time in that tiny town. Highway 226 west was my new route and I was impressed with how lush it was. This is a beautiful drive, and it exemplifies the beauty of western Oregon. The next town I came to was Scio. I continued south then west again on 226, past the community of Crabtree, and into Albany.

I got turned around in Albany and had to backtrack a few blocks to get onto the correct street to Mike’s house. I don’t have a GPS on my Gixxer and on the ride back I spent some time wondering where I could mount one in the cramped dash space of the sport bike.

Mike and I drove in his car to a nearby brewpub for burgers and BLTs and ice water. We were the only customers until a middle-aged guy showed up solo on his Harley-Davidson. He ordered a beer and Mike and I talked behind his back at how foolish we think drinking and riding is. That guy has his freedom to do what he chooses, of course, including the freedom to make poor choices.

I decided to backtrack the way I came, so I said my goodbyes to Mike and made it back onto 226 east bound. The weather had warmed up into the low 80s and was a bit muggy. The armpit and back vents on my Aerostich Roadcrafter did a surprising job of helping me stay relatively cool. I stopped for gas again in Detroit, before heading north on NF46.

There were many motorcyclists heading toward me and the waves were enthusiastic on both sides at how great of a day it was to ride. When I stopped in Ripplebrook for another bio break and to chug more water, there were a half dozen other riders doing the same thing. I saw a couple of Forest Service law enforcement vehicles parked at a boat launch on the way back on 224 into Estacada, but they paid me no mind.

I got back into Gresham at 4:20 in the afternoon, after riding 320 miles. I was hot, thirsty, and my helmet — which I had already cleaned three times during the day — was covered in bugs. The front of my Gixxer was even worse. It needs a thorough cleaning.

Highway 224 to Ripplebrook is open

On Saturday I went for a Gixxer ride and discovered the roadblock on Highway 224 just east of Estacada has been lifted. It was in place since late September of last year due to landslides after the 36 Pit Fire near Memaloose Bridge.

I rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and noticed that the road was in normal condition, with rocks on the pavement in only two spots — which is typical for that highway. There was a sign in Estacada just as you leave town and head up 224 that said the road to Detroit was closed due to snow. They lie like a rug. Unless we get a freak low-elevation snow storm, it should be snow-free for the remainder of the season.

At Ripplebrook, I headed south on NF46. Again, the road condition was fine and normal and suffered no damage over the anemic winter.

I was in for a shock when I got to Detroit. The lake level is normally full this time of year, but instead the northeast reach, fed by the Breitenbush River, was at a record low. The docks were high and dry and only a 10′ wide creek flowed at the bottom of the lake channel. In the half dozen years I’ve been riding to Detroit, I’ve never seen the water that low, even late in the season.

I gassed up, ate a snack, and headed back. Despite not riding that route since last year, I still have the route and curves memorized. My bike and I were in the zone and it was a flowing, fast ride. There were many other riders on the route, too, so people were taking advantage of the road opening.

Writing instead of Riding

Lately I’ve been pushing to finish my second book, Ohlen’s Bane, the sequel to Ohlen’s Arrow. My goal is to get it published and available for purchase by Thanksgiving. Because of this, I haven’t had many opportunities to ride lately. To further complicate matters, highway 224 between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station has been closed because of the 36 Pit Fire back in September. It burned on both sides of the highway and ODOT is concerned about landslides. This effectively eliminated rides to Detroit as a possibility.

Speaking of landslides, there was a bad one on 224 recently, further complicating matters. It is possible 224 won’t be available for riders like me until spring of next year.

In the meantime, I have been taking short maintenance rides on both my V-Strom 650 and GSX-R750 just to keep them running. Having my bikes stabled in a storage unit a half mile from my apartment makes it that much more of a hassle to hop on and go for a ride.