I was invited to attend an annual guy’s-only weekend at a cabin outside of North Powder, Oregon. I went two years prior with my buddy, Mike. Although he drove there with others in a pickup truck, I rode my V-Strom solo via my own more circuitous route (see end of this post for maps).
For several days leading up to my departure, Oregon had a lot of precipitation and low snow levels. The pass at Government Camp had packed snow on the roadway and temps in the upper 20’s and lower 30’s Thursday, the day I left. I backtracked into Gresham, then road I-84 east to Cascade Locks where I crossed the Bridge of the Gods to SR14 in Washington. There had been a rock slide at Dog Mountain so I had to wait about 10 minutes for the construction crews to let us pass. I took this photo looking south across the Columbia River toward Oregon.
I crossed back over into Oregon at The Dalles and had lunch at Casa El Mirador. Dos enchiladas, pour favor … muey bueno! I topped off my gas tank and headed south through the heart of Oregon on highway 197. This stretch of road passes through alfalfa and wheat fields covering rolling hills and wide open spaces. It passes by the town of Dufur, which is a common turn-around spot for me on a favorite day loop. Riding through Tygh Valley 197 climbs back up one hill then back down again into the small but busy rafting town of Maupin, which straddles the Deschutes River.
I often stop in Maupin for a quick snack but this time I kept riding. Instead of continuing down 197 I hung a sharp left once across the river and headed up the winding hairpin turns of Bakeoven Road. It takes me to Shaniko, the next town on my journey, with far less traffic and arguably better scenery. The weather was great for riding and I had a pleasant blend of puffy clouds and blue skies to enhance the view across the grasslands. Between Maupin and Shaniko is very little, but the sparse landscape has its own beauty.
In Shaniko I turned south toward the tiny hamlet of Antelope, then east on state route 218 toward Fossil. This is one of my favorite roads in Oregon. There’s hardly any car traffic, the road surface is in great shape — although there can be gravel on curves — the scenery is fantastic, and it has a nice blend of challenging and rewarding curves. It’s also long enough that I feel like I get my money’s worth out of the ride. I stopped at the Clarno Unit rest area and trailhead of the John Day Fossil Beds for a quick break, set up my mini-tripod down on the ground, and took this photo using the 10-second timer. Self-portraits are one of the hassles of my solo riding style.
I had enough gas to last the rest of the day’s ride, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when traveling the sparsely populated roads of eastern Oregon. I stopped at the two-pump gas station in Fossil and fueled up, then continued onward. State route 19 took me into the cowboy town of Spray, which sits above the John Day river. As I passed through I saw several real cowboys filing into a local cafe for lunch, their hats so wide they barely fit through the doorway. The next tiny town I passed through was Kimberly.
I was feeling thirsty and in need of a break so I stopped at a visitor’s center at one of the John Day Fossil Beds locations. About two miles later I hit the junction with highway 26 and turned left, eastward through Dayville and into Mt. Vernon. I had originally intended to camp at Clyde Holliday State Park in Mt. Vernon, but after pulling into the park and checking it out, I decided to continue on to John Day and get a motel room at the Best Western.
The next morning, after breakfast at The Outpost restaurant next door, I continued east through Prairie City, then northeast over Dixie Pass before cutting north on state route 7 past Bates and Sumpter. The weather was slightly cooler but still dry. Eventually I made it to Baker City where I stopped for a late ‘second breakfast’ as a Hobbit might say. The homemade corned beef hash at the Oregon Trail restaurant really hit the spot.
Once fed, I headed north on highway 30 through Haines before turning west toward Anthony Lake. Leaving the farm and ranch land of the valley, the road enters the timbered Elk Horn mountains. My GPS guided me expertly to the gravel side road that took me to the cabin and my destination.
The cabin is without electricity, other than through the use of a small generator, and sits on 80 acres with a decent sized creek. There is a spring so running water is available. This particular weekend is for gentlemen only, and I use that term loosely. Sort of the whole point of the occasion is to get our cussin’ and scratchin’ and fartin’ out of our systems before we inevitably have to return to our wives and girlfriends and jobs and civilization in general. To protect the guilty, I won’t go into too much detail about what goes on, but I will touch on a couple of noteworthy highlights.
One of the main attractions was the presence of a rather large John Deere front-loader. Tracy, an older man who retired after spending 30+ years working such large equipment, expertly used it to load rather large stumps and logs onto the campfire.
Another guy, Dave, brought a homemade rock crawler in the back of his work van. Opportunity is where you find it, and once he unloaded the vehicle he used the empty space as a weather-proof location to pitch his tent. I, however, wasn’t as fortunate. I pitched my tent the old fashioned way, and was rather proud of how it looked with my bike parked next to it.
The temperature dropped into the upper 20’s during the night, no doubt aided by the fact that the cabin sits at around 4,500 feet elevation and rests at the bottom of a valley (heat rises, cold air descends, etc.) I managed to sleep pretty good considering the circumstances. I awoke a little after 5 am and relieved myself, then put some more wood on the fire to get it going again before crawling back into my warm sleeping bag for another two hours of shut-eye. Eventually the whole camp was awake and well fed with a breakfast of venison sausage patties and bacon, scrambled eggs, rosemary spiced potatoes, and coffee. While most of the other guys got fishing gear ready and set off for nearby Pilcher Reservoir in pursuit of some fat rainbows, I broke camp and loaded up my bike, eager to get my gear stowed before threatening clouds dumped rain.
My timing was perfect. After saying goodbye, I mounted up and headed down the quarter-mile dirt road onto the paved highway and down into the valley below. As soon as I emerged from the timber rain drops began falling. I had off-and-on rain for the next 30 miles as I retraced my route back into Baker City. I gassed up then stopped again at the Oregon Trail restaurant for a lunch of chef’s salad and coffee.
By 1pm I was heading southwest on state route 7 past Sumpter. At Bates, 7 meets highway 26 where I began climbing toward the top of Dixie Pass. It began to rain — hard. Then it began to drop snow mixed with the heavy rain. Slush formed on my face shield and I had to wipe it off every 5-10 seconds with the thumb of my gloved left hand. Thankfully the road surface was only wet and not frozen. The air temperature was dropping with every foot I climbed up the mountain pass and I began to worry I’d run into freezing riding before cresting the pass.
Fortunately, however, I reached the 5,200 foot summit and started dropping down the other side before the weather had a chance to get truly dangerous. I think Mother Nature knew I won because the clouds spread out and the precipitation petered out. By the time I reached Prairie City I had mostly blue skies. There was a bit of wind buffeting me from the side but I made it back to John Day safely and without further incident.
After another night’s stay at the Best Western — in the same room I had Thursday night — I set out toward home Sunday morning. This time I took a slightly different route. Instead of heading west on 26 through Dayville and then north on 19 to Spray, I went north on 395 to Long Creek then west through Monument where I got back on 19 in Kimberly. The rest of the route was the same until I got to Maupin. This time, rather than north to The Dalles and around Mt. Hood via the Columbia River Gorge, I headed west on highway 216 then over the pass at Government Camp. I returned home to Sandy under beautiful blue skies in what turned out to be a fantastic Spring day of riding.
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