Marv and I plan a week-long motorcycle ride every September, and this year we decided to spend the bulk of the time in Oregon. Most often we use this time to trek to California, but we hadn’t spent much time in Oregon the last few years, and we can easily entertain ourselves for a full week visiting interesting areas of Oregon.
We had a particularly warm, dry summer in the Pacific Northwest this year and, due to the forest fires in the regions we would be visiting, and the resultant smoke lingering in those regions, we decided to postpone the ride for three weeks. We finally set our ride for the first week in October. This move increased the influence of weather forecasts on our plans, but we can adjust to, and tolerate inclement weather better than we can smoke, fires, and the associated diversions that could be caused by the unpredictable fires.
Cary Perkins, currently living in the Tri-Cities region of Eastern Washington, would join us on this ride. Cary had plans to attend a concert in Seattle Saturday night, so we made plans to meet him Sunday evening in Pendleton, Oregon, just across the border from his home. Marv and I would overnight Saturday in Republic in North Central Washington, and then meet Cary in Pendleton Sunday.
Saturday morning in Sedro Woolley was very cool and damp. Marv and I left from my house, and rode the South Skagit Highway up to Concrete. The weather was damp, but it wasn’t actually raining. At the Skagit River Bridge near Concrete, we stopped to adjust our riding gear and take a couple of photos.
We followed the colorful Skagit River to the Seattle City Light dams above Newhalem, and rode through cold, drizzly weather across Rainey Pass and Washington Pass. Conditions on the passes were right on the edge of becoming unfriendly to motorcycles, and I felt it could begin to snow any minute.
Upon descending into the Methow Valley and Winthrop, the skies brightened significantly and it warmed a bit. We took a short roadside break to stretch our limbs, clean our visors, and have a drink of water before continuing to Twisp.
There’s an organic food store in Twisp with a lunch counter serving creative, delicious salads and sandwiches. Whenever I pass through, I like to stop and have something nutritious. When I’m visiting rural areas, I never know when my next opportunity for real food will be.
After taking Highway 20 over Loop Loop Pass, we picked-up Highway 97 for about 20 miles to skirt Omak and Okanogan. We then took our first good opportunity to exit Highway 97 at the turn-off to Highway 7. It’s a nice alternative to Highway 97, free of semis hauling produce. Highway 7 carried us north through the orchard and vineyard country of the Okanogan Valley to Palmer Lake, and then to Oroville.
We gassed up in Oroville before riding east on Chesaw Road. Riding through this area of Washington is taking a glimpse back across the decades to the 1930’s. There are many abandoned sawn wooden-plank houses and barns, with the specters of archaic wind mills standing vigil over their remains.
There isn’t much in the town of Chesaw. It’s in a pretty setting, tucked back into a small canyon around Myers Creek. It has a dozen or so buildings spanning 60 or 70 years – a few newer houses and livestock pens, a couple of modern metal buildings, and some old sagging houses.
There’s not as much a sense of poverty, as a disregard for all things temporal. There’s a mixture of old and new and, for all the times I’ve been through Chesaw, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person. This day there were a dozen or more cars, surprisingly well-kept vehicles, sitting across the road from the tavern. The general store looks as though it may have some regular activity, but the rest of the town always seems to be deserted – not abandoned but, in a way, out-of-use.
After a long break in Chesaw, we headed east on Toroda Road through pleasant scenery, pastureland and forest toward Curlew.
For a short stretch south of Curlew, we followed a pickup that was all over the road. The driver was either inebriated or otherwise preoccupied. My guess would be the former. He kept crossing the centerline, speeding up, slowing down, and tapping his brakes as though he were seeing things in front of his truck that were visible only to him. Finally, the driver pulled off the road onto a wide shoulder area, and we were able to continue on our way. At the junction with Highway 21 near Curlew, we turned south toward our first night’s stop in the small town of Republic.
Upon our arrival in Republic, we went first to our motel to check in, but then decided we’d just ride up to the other end of town to eat before unloading. As is proscribed in all of the rules of motorcycle road trips, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I suppose one reason we always end up at Mexican restaurants is that every small town has at least one. I enjoy Mexican food, but a couple of times a year is plenty for me.
We stayed in a clean, comfortable room at the Prospector Inn. Hunting season was just starting, and I think a good deal of the trade in Republic is geared to the deer and elk hunting season. We saw several groups of hunters with camouflage, or apparently not-so-camouflage – since we saw them clearly. Most of them were driving big manly pickup trucks.
The next morning, we topped off our gas tanks at the gas station next to the motel, and headed south from Republic on scenic Highway 21 that winds through the Sanpoil River valley. The morning was crisp with a chill that signals autumn. Thirty miles later, at the junction with Bridge Creek Road, we turned east and rode another 30 miles to Inchelium to catch the Gifford-Inchelium Ferry across Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River.
Off the ferry at Gifford, and southbound along the east shore of the lake, we crossed the Spokane River at Little Falls Dam. The next two or three hours would be winding around and over the rolling hills of the Palouse of Southeast Washington.
The afternoon was unremarkable as we hummed through the agriculture-busy region, collecting an odd assortment of insects on our visors.
We took a couple of breaks, our last one at a small roadside park near where the Walla Walla River discharges into the Columbia River between the Snake River and the Oregon border.
Crossing the border, we entered the cold desert of Eastern Oregon and took Highway 37 east, and then south to Pendleton. When we arrived at the Red Lion Inn about 5 pm, Cary met us in the lobby. We spent the evening over dinner in the hotel lounge catching up and going over the plans for the coming week. Cary was full of energy, eager to put some miles on his new FJR.
Monday morning’s wake-up was another shot of cold. Marv and I have heated gloves and heated liners for our riding suits, but Cary had neither (yet). Breakfast at the hotel, which we assumed was included with our stay, was not. We opted to pay for breakfast there. Marv liked the hot chocolate, sweet rolls, sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs, but I found little to my liking, although I found enough to take the edge off my hunger. Most importantly, they had coffee.
The hotel’s dining area has an expansive view of the hills south of Pendleton. Above the hills, the gray clouds were roiling among the crests of the Blue Mountains. I looked at the radar and weather station data on my phone, and thought it would be premature to revise the route. We wouldn’t be that far south for several hours, and the radar was showing clear weather in the vicinity of John Day, our ultimate destination for the night.
Saddling up, we left Pendleton on US-395, planning to ride south to Ukiah. We knew we could top off our gas tanks at Ukiah, and expected we would head southeast on NF-52 in the direction of Sumpter. While gassing up, we saw a pickup roll up to the pump with snow on its roof. I asked the driver where he had been that it was snowing, and he gestured in the direction opposite of where we were going and said he had spent the night “up on top.” I held out hope that the snowy weather would be behind us and only at higher elevations.
After the gas stop, we got about ten miles south of town when it became clear we were climbing higher and heading directly into what looked like very cold rainstorms. I was in front, and decided to pull over to talk to Cary and Marv about re-routing. Our planned route was nearly all at elevations above 5,000 feet. That wouldn’t necessarily be impossible were there no precipitation, but in the direction we were going, it looked like precipitation was a sure bet.
We went back down to highway US-395 and turned south to the intersection with the very familiar County Road 20. It’s a winding road along the banks of the Middle Fork of the John Day River. The road is well engineered, and the corners are fun to take at a brisk pace, provided one takes adequate precautions for the possibility of gravel in the curves, open-range cattle laying claim to their piece of the road, and the occasional well-camouflaged ungulate.
The three of us got a bit strung out along the road, with each of us taking a break when it suited us, and stopping to take photos once or twice. We finally regrouped at a roadside pullout near Austin Junction. While we were there taking photos and discussing where we should go for gas, an RV pulled in with two middle-aged women out looking at the autumn colors. They were well-versed in the area, and we chatted with them for a while.
Our plan was to head northeast for a bit, and then to turn south and go to Dooley Mountain before winding our way into John Day. We had about 116 miles on our tanks with an expected maximum range of 200 miles. I was pretty sure we could get gas in Sumpter or in Baker City, either of which would be a little off the route, but not so far as to cause a problem. There were still clouds hovering over the Blue Mountains, and I was still suspicious there could be rain in our path.
When we got to the Highway 7 turnoff, I made a quick decision to head for gas in Prairie City. I enjoy the ride a lot more when I don’t have a lingering concern that I’m going to run out of gas. Prairie City was only about ten miles away, so we headed in that direction. About a minute later, we were riding through a sleet storm. We were over Dixie summit on US-26 in another couple of minutes, and descending rapidly to the plains southwest of the Blue Mountains. The sleet let up, and the temperatures climbed a little higher. We were all feeling much better about that.
As we were filling our tanks in Prairie City, Cary suggested we get something to eat. There weren’t many possibilities, but we did find a Mexican restaurant that was open. As we relaxed over lunch, a rain squall blew through, prompting Marv and me to make a dash to our bikes to quickly put rain covers over our tail bags. Back to the restaurant, I worked for a while on a route which would, with any luck, keep us out of the foul weather.
Out of Prairie City, we headed south on Highway 62, and west across the mile-high Logan Valley. Fortunately, we were able to avoid the clouds, and stayed in the cold sunshine. The area west of Logan Valley bore scars of a forest fire that had been visited upon the area. Marv and I had been through the area before, and I remembered how it looked on our previous visit. The areas that weren’t burned had alpine forest. The area is also home to the largest (known) single organism in the world – Armillaria solidipes. There is a bit of interesting reading on the Wikipedia entry.
The highway across Logan Valley connects with US-395 in Seneca, just south of John Day. We turned north and took an old mostly-paved cow-path I knew reconnected with US-26 just west of John Day.
We arrived in John Day earlier than expected, but all felt like we’d had a full day of riding. Over dinner at The Outpost in John Day, we discussed what our plans would be for the next day on our way to Bend. Some of the route we’d use was already decided, and some was still evolving.
Tuesday morning, we got a late start but, since this trip had an easy pace, we had plenty of time to spare.
We rode west on US-26, turned north at the junction with Highway 19, and followed the John Day River up to the Thomas Condon Visitor Center for the John Day Fossil Beds where we took an extended break.
We had all been through this region numerous times, but none of us had been into the visitor center. The visitor center is very comprehensive, and has some imagination-inspiring displays of fossils. We watched a short film of the history of the fossil beds, enjoying the experience.
Leaving the visitor center on Highway 19, we continued north along the John Day River past the Service Creek turn-off. Continuing a bit farther, we turned southwest at the Rowe Creek turn-off. The road had been freshly chip-sealed, and still had hard-to-see pebbles scattered across its surface, obliging us to use extra caution. We reconnected with Service Creek Road at the other end of Twickenham Canyon, turned south, and went to Mitchell for gas.
Leaving Mitchell, we passed a sign identifying the turn-off to the Painted Hills. I pulled over and asked the others if they minded another scenery and point-of-interest stop. We followed the road that’s paved for all but the last mile or so, and stopped at the view point for the Painted Hills. It’s a pretty landscape, with lateral stratifications of red and gold bands visible across the hills.
The route to Bend had one more very nice section of highway – The Crooked River Highway to Prineville Reservoir. It’s a pretty road that winds through the autumn-hued canyon before finally turning west for the straight-shot road to Bend.
In Bend we checked in at our hotel and then made a short trip across town so I could eat at Whole Foods. I didn’t need to persuade Cary, because he thought it would be a good idea. Marv, on the other hand, has a different opinion of the ‘hippie food’.
Wednesday’s destination was the town of Ashland, famous for its theatre performances and the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We expected warmer temperatures and more interesting roads west of the Cascades.
We awakened to frost on our motorcycles again, and a boring stretch of road to kill before getting to anything interesting on Wednesday. Because of the cold temperatures, we decided to cross the Cascades to the warmer temperatures in the western part of the state. We knuckled down and rode south on US-97 for about an hour. It was cold, and we made a stop in Chemult for breakfast before turning west to cross the mountains at Diamond Junction. Although we were within spitting distance of Crater Lake, we passed it by. It’s pretty, but we had all seen it, and we were eager to reach warmer weather.
We had a nice time descending the western slopes of the Cascade Range, zooming along the paths carved through the enormous trees of the western forests. We took a route along the Rogue River, turned south to cross the Siskiyou Mountains at Butte Falls, and then caught Dead Indian Highway west to Ashland. It’s a beautiful road and, with warming temperatures, my spirit was raised. We were beyond the cold, high elevation portion of the trip.
While taking one last break before reaching Ashland, Cary drew my attention to his rear tire, and was wondering whether he had enough tire to finish the trip. I looked at the tire, and assured him it would be fine for the next few days. Then I looked at his front tire, and saw it was down to the wear-bars. After discussing it, Cary decided it would be prudent to replace the front tire in Medford, rather than running out of tire where none was available.
When we got to Ashland, Cary called a couple of places, and was able to schedule an early morning tire change at the very-helpful Hansen’s Motorcycle shop at the south end of Medford, the same shop that helped Marv and me with a tire change several years earlier.
Marv and I took advantage of a lazy morning while Cary went to get his tire changed. We met up with him at the tire store, and then took an easy-paced route through the pasture and vineyard areas west of Ashland. As we rode west, our attention was drawn to the south, where we intended to ride the next day. There were still fires in the Happy Camp area of Northern California, so I started thinking of alternative routes to use for our trek to the coast the next day. We were staying in Ashland one more night, so we enjoyed the comfortable pace and weather. We found our way up to Galice Road and had a nice lunch at the Galice Resort. They have a fantastic deck overlooking the Rogue River. While I was enjoying my garden burger, Cary spotted a small fox running along the river bank. Those little guys are rarely seen, and I managed to get a blurry photo of him. It was a beautiful day, and we really enjoyed the mild weather and the gorgeous scenery. As we wound our way back to Ashland, I felt blessed to be able to enjoy such things.
There was a point on the return trip to Ashland at which there was a construction delay with a long string of cars waiting for a pilot car. While we were awaiting our turn, a local rider pulled up and asked us if we wanted a way around. I asked where, and he replied, “On the other side of the river – nice windy road.” That turned out to be a great alternative, so much so that I would incorporate it into our route for the next morning when we left Ashland to go to Bandon.
We followed the rider through the farm roads on the north side of the river, and waved to him as he eventually made his turn-off. It was stroke of good fortune that he came along and offered us such a pleasant detour.
When we got to Ashland we had enough time for Cary and me to visit the heart of the town before getting back to the hotel and going for dinner with Marv. The first night in Ashland, we’d had average Chinese food. The second night we ate at a surprisingly good diner across the street from the hotel – the Wild Goose Café and Bar. Cary and I were inspired enough to try their outstanding apple cobbler at the end of the meal.
That evening, I spent some time creating a route to Bandon that was an alternative to the route through Northern California. I came up with a route that began as a re-trace of what we had ridden the previous day, but then continued north over some very nice roads in the Roseburg area.
I wish I’d added an alternate route, because Cow Creek Road was closed by a landslide. Without an alternate route loaded into the GPS, I was stuck taking us over old highway 99 and through the not-so-scenic areas around Roseburg’s timber industry roads. Those roads are in bad repair from the abuse the trucks heap upon them.
We made it through that area intact and, before long, we were enjoying a nice romp on Highway 42, the Coos Bay-Roseburg Highway. At Myrtle Creek, we turned off the highway to take an interesting set of backroads to our motel in Bandon.
Bandon is a nice seaside town with great beaches and good seafood. We rode our bikes to the Old Town area, and looked around at the available restaurants before settling on The Wheelhouse Restaurant where we had an enjoyable dinner. The ride home from the restaurant was cold without my riding suit, and the damp sea air goes straight to the bone. Our motel was close to the ocean, and a fog horn sounded in the distance all night long.
Our last destination before going home was Tillamook. It wouldn’t have been our first, or even second choice of destinations. The Ashley Inn was one of the few places with availability for our originally-planned ride, so we had non-refundable reservations at that time. When our original ride was rescheduled, we couldn’t get the reservations refunded, but we could reschedule our stay. So, we’d be in Tillamook on the last night of the trip.
Highway 101 is the backbone of any route along the coast, and I put together a route that would take sections of Highway 101, but then cover portions of other local roads when they offered a viable alternative. As had been the ongoing pattern, my plan was foiled. There was a marathon race in the area south of Coos Bay, and we ended up following a pilot car through the race route. It was very frustrating for us, because there had been no signs alerting us to the event until we were stuck in the middle of it. There were a couple of extended stops while we waited for pilot cars to usher traffic through approximately 15 miles of alternating traffic in a single lane. These sorts of events are important for a community to have, but the organization of this one was pretty poor. I chatted with one of the routing people at one of the stops, and she told me they had been informed very late that they would need to come up with a plan for the marathon and, with only a few days to plan, they did the best they could. (Note to self – Coos Bay is dis-organized at planning community events. Avoid these sorts of activities here.) I vented a little, and told her that, had there been a sign or two on the main highway, we could have bypassed the marathon route entirely.
We got through the Coos Bay area, and continued to Reedsport where we gassed up, and then took the Smith River Road through a remote area of the Siuslaw National Forest. This is a road Marv and I have ridden several times. It’s a pretty good road that cuts a path from the coast to the I-5 corridor beneath the forest canopy. The quality of the road varies, but it’s quite acceptable for a sport bike.
We had been threatened with rain in the forecast for Saturday, but we didn’t actually experience it until we were nearly done for the day northwest of Corvallis. We had less than a five-minute period of rain, but it was a real downpour.
We rode north through Dallas on the Kings Valley Highway and then cut west on Highway 22 for a short spell. At Grand Ronde, we turned northwest to catch the Little Nestucca and Three Rivers Highways, reconnected with Highway 101 for a few miles, and then wound our way into Tillamook via Sand Lake Road and the town of Netarts.
I knew our motel in Tillamook was isolated from the town, and there weren’t many options for dinner within walking distance of the motel, so we stopped in the old part of Tillamook at an old ’50’s-era hamburger shop. It was styled in the fashion of idealized 1950’s diners, complete with old rock & roll décor and music, and black and white checkered floor tiles. I wonder how much longer those sorts of places will remain, given how overdrawn the nostalgia for Americana has become.
We had dinner, and went to check in at our motel, which turned out to be clean and comfortable. We had a terrible complimentary breakfast there in the morning, and then out for our trip home. Cary was going to stop in Portland to visit with his sister, while Marv and I were going to our homes the Puget Sound area. We rode together to the junction of Highway 53 and US 26 west of Portland, took a few minutes to chat with Cary, and then Marv and I headed northwest to Astoria, while Cary turned east to Portland.
I had planned a fairly quick route home. We’d been on the road for over a week, and I wanted to arrive home in time for grocery shopping and a restful evening. Marv and I parted company at the north end of Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. I continued north to catch the Port Townsend-Keystone Ferry to Whidbey Island; Marv turned east to take the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry across the Sound. We touched bases via text messages, that we had each caught a ferry, and were on our way home.
After arriving home, we all emailed confirmations of our safe arrivals at home. Cary had arrived home in the Tri-Cities without incident after his visit in Portland, and this ride was in the books.