There’s a saying that if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. I think that maxim was created by astronomers, but it’s likely someone came up with the idea long before scientists started looking at the stars.
In my case, I began carrying a journal on my first motorcycle trip back in February 2007. I took it along on a solo weekend trip to visit my sister. The inspiration for journaling my motorcycle adventures came from reading Neil Peart’s autobiography, Ghost Rider.
It’s amazing how much comes back to me when reading over my old journal entries. I can recall the scenery, people I met, places I ate, things I saw, even smells. Sometimes I can even recall the song I was listening to in my earphones as I went around a particular curve on a specific trip.
I no longer own a motorcycle and have stopped riding as a result. Although I don’t regret getting out of motorcycling, I still miss it. I get a lot of enjoyment thinking of the memories of the many roads I’ve traveled and adventures I survived.
Motorcycling isn’t for everyone, but many people enjoy various forms of travel, whether it be on foot along a local hiking trail, or via jet plane or sailing vessel to distant lands across continents or oceans. I suggest to those who do like to travel to get into the habit of journaling their adventures. A handwritten notebook is subjectively ideal. Don’t rely on just the photos you take with a cell phone. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a few hundred — or even a few dozen — words can convey far more than a photo viewed out of context at a later date ever could.
I just sold my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. This means I no longer own a motorcycle. Does that mean I am no longer a motorcyclist?
I don’t think so. Motorcycling has been a part of my adult life since late 2006, and I’ve ridden all over the west coast of the United States and Canada. Some of my life’s fondest memories are of times spent on two wheels. That will always be a part of me.
The fact that I don’t currently have a motorcycle doesn’t mean I’m not still a motorcyclist. It’s in my blood in many ways, and definitely in my mind.
You may be wondering why I sold my bike, “The Grey Mule.” It’s a bit of a long story, but ultimately it came down to a shift in priorities. I am moving back into music and composing, which isn’t an inexpensive hobby, and I needed a way to pay for it. I also needed to shift some things around in my home to make room, and by freeing up space in the garage, it freed up space within the house for my new gear.
Stay tuned for the new musical chapter of my life.
I took a day ride on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 to Kinzua, Oregon (pronounced ‘kin-zoo’). Kinzua is an abandoned lumber community southeast of Fossil, Oregon. I used to hunt deer in the area with my father back in the early 1980s and wanted to go back to the area and explore around.
My intention was to ride the Kinzua Road (NF21) east from highway 19 to where it connects to highway 207. The maps and online resources said it connected and was open, and even the gas station attendant in Fossil said it was likely open. I rode east on NF21 to the location of where the community and mill site of Kinzua used to be, and spotted a small sign on the side of the road saying that access to hwy. 207 was unavailable.
I turned around and backtracked the 8 miles to highway 19, then headed south a few miles to have lunch at the Bear Hollow county campground (Wheeler County). The park was deserted, so I had it all to myself. After getting filled up with a lunch of dehydrated “breakfast skillet”, I backtracked my way westward to home.
Just west of Shaniko and riding northwest along Bakeoven Road, I noticed wildfire smoke in the distance to the west. I had just ridden from that direction that morning, and although I could smell a bit of wildfire smoke when passing through Maupin, I only saw a bit of smoke haze to the south, near Warm Springs. This fire was new since I had just passed that way a few hours before.
As I approached along highway 216 toward the community of Pine Grove, I could see that the fire was burning very close to the road. There were no roadblocks and I there were cars coming from the west, so I assumed the road itself was still open.
Just west of Pine Grove, I stopped to get a photo and some video of the fire. I couldn’t see the flames but could see how they colored the smoke a deep orange. The fire seemed to be burning about a half-mile from the highway. I continued westward uninhibited and made it home after riding 360 miles for the day.
The news labeled it the S-503 fire, and said it had ignited Friday night. It had burned 4,000 acres as of this writing and was only 2% contained. The fire incident map shows it burning to the southeast into the Warm Springs Reservation. The town of Pine Grove is on a level 3 evacuation alert. If the wind shifts and blows to the northeast, that small community would be in its direct path.
In September, 2020, a wildfire destroyed the resort town of Detroit, Oregon. Do a search for “Detroit” on my blog and you’ll see just how meaningful this town has been for me. I have ridden my motorcycles to this place more times than I can count.
The wildfire that took Detroit threatened my own home in Sandy. The boundary of mandatory evacuation orders came within a few hundred yards of my house. The smoke was so thick we almost left voluntarily just to go someplace with cleaner air. Only the risk of exposing ourselves to family members and possible transmission of COVID-19 prevented us from leaving.
Recently I traveled (by car) to Detroit to see the destruction first hand. The route I usually take along highway 224 through Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station, and then Forest Service road 46 south past Breitenbush, is closed due to clean up efforts and risk of landslides. A section of highway 224 burned a few years ago after target shooters started a wildfire, and it suffered substantially more devastation during the latest conflagration. Instead, I had to drive down 211 through Molalla to Sublimity, and east on highway 22.
Reaching Detroit, I could see the evidence of just how massive the fire was. But when I stopped in the town itself and looked at the charred ground where The Cedars Restaurant and the Detroit Store once stood, I felt a deep sadness for what once was.
In one lot where a building or home once stood, sticking up from the blackened ground was a white PVC pipe with a Trump 2020 flag attached at the top. The juxtaposition of a Trump flag in the middle of scorched earth was a profound metaphor for just how devastating his presidency was, and the profound irony of someone who refuses to acknowledge his incompetence and lies.
I am very curious to see how, or if, the town of Detroit rebounds and recovers. There is still a lot of work to be done and I saw no evidence of any new construction. Perhaps the locals haven’t returned — to what? — or have given up. Time will tell.
For nearly 20 years, I have been curious to reach Badger Lake on the southeast slopes of Mt. Hood, in Oregon. It is near my home but very remote, with only one road in. That road has a reputation for being disagreeable, and that reputation is well-earned.
Once I got into motorcycling, and adventure touring specifically, my curiosity and desire to ride to Badger Lake increased. I knew it was possible, as I’ve seen evidence on the Interwebs that dual-sport riders have made the trek, but the majority of what you’ll find on YouTube seems to be 4wd trucks reaching the lake. None of the videos or photos you’ll see are of a particular section of the route, however, and there’s a very good reason for that. It would be like trying to take a selfie while getting mugged.
I decided to take a stab at it for a quick overnight camping trip off the back of my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650.
I did the best I could to investigate the route, the road, the campground, the weather conditions, even the fire hazard (there’s a small-ish fire burning twenty miles to the north of the lake). There are some things you just can’t understand until you experience them for yourself, however.
The NF 4860 road from NF 48 is in fairly decent shape. The first few miles are even paved, although there are some huge potholes that need to be avoided. Once the pavement ends, the gravel road is easy enough to handle. There are some narrow sections and a few ruts, plus some depressions where deep puddles would form in early season or when it rains. I stood up on the pegs and took my time. So far, nothing seemed insurmountable or overly dangerous for my bike or my skill level.
I found the 4860-140 spur road and noticed the sign. 4wd high-clearance vehicles only, no trailers, and I saw two little ideograms with red slashes through them. One was a quad and the other was a motorcycle. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why can a 4wd truck go through but not a motorcycle?”
Seeking adventure, I pressed on and soon found it.
Spur road 140 is the only road into and out of Badger Lake. It makes a sweeping 270 degree arc from the south and looping counter-clockwise toward the west. The leg heading north is tolerable, although the ruts get noticeably deeper and the road is quite a bit narrower.
I had to maneuver in some tight spaces to get around an oncoming vehicle (a Toyota 4Runner, if I remember correctly). When 140 makes its bend to the west, however, is when things got gnarly.
The road surface became very rocky and rough and began descending in earnest steeply toward the valley floor. I was standing on my pegs, ass all the way back against the camping gear strapped to the back of my seat, and both brakes engaged. Without any margin on my right separating me from the very steep drop to the valley below, I descended the bumpy and rocky road as slowly as I could while still maintaining control of the bike.
I quickly realized that stopping was not going to be easy, and turning around was physically impossible. I would have to reach the bottom before I could get back to the top.
At one point another 4wd vehicle was crawling up the hill toward me. He pulled up against the bank as far as he could go and I inched past him between his vehicle on my left and the cliff on my right. There was about two feet of ground underneath me and my right foot only had a few inches of loose gravel to touch (gently!) to keep from falling to certain death. My aluminum tank bags were about two inches away from scraping the side of his vehicle.
Gingerly, I made it past him. I got the back wheel into a divot between two large rocks to arrest my descent and took a quick breather. I knew I couldn’t stop too long or think too hard about what was going on or I would likely lose my nerve. I put the bike back into first gear, let out the clutch, and stood up on the pegs to continue my harrowing descent.
I rode down the steep, rocky slope one bang and bounce and jerk and foot at a time. At one point my bike slid sideways off a large rock and bottomed out, smacking my skid plate hard on the rocks below. Fortunately the front wheel corrected and kept me pointing mostly in the direction I wanted to go rather than toward the cliff on my right.
The experience was similar to a controlled crash, where you’re only partially in control. Gravity was pulling me down the slope and I was unable to fully arrest the descent, all I could do was struggle to keep the bike pointed in the most deliberate direction I could. I’d say I was only 70% in control of the situation at any one point. My mind kept flashing, “You have to ride UP this!” and I kept fighting to push that thought away and focus on what I had to do then and there. Time enough for the climb out if I make it to the bottom.
I could see the slope easing ahead and I caught a glimpse of a tent tucked in the brush. The valley floor was within sight! Then I noticed the moguls. The grapefruit-sized rocks gave way to large in-ground boulders mounded up in an uneven pattern, gaping depressions nearly two feet deep between them. A four-wheeled vehicle can pass over the top, sort of averaging out the highs and lows, but a two-wheeled motorcycle must choose a track and go through them.
My bike jumped and dropped and lurched around and my speed increased. I smacked my skid plate and hoped I didn’t leave any hard parts behind. Somehow, 95% through sheer luck alone, I bounced my way through that 20′ section of rocky moguls and was still standing upright on the other side.
The slope evened out and emerged into a wide area with a small tent camp with a Subaru Forester — wait, how could a Subaru get through that? — on my left, and more campers in the brush to my right.
I spotted the lone outhouse pit toilet on a slope to my left and the bumpy road going forward. I was surprised at how many campers were there and began to worry that I’d not find any open sites for me and my tent.
I passed several more campers and saw the road narrow and turn hard right through some dense brush. I stopped and wondered if the road was even viable. I took a chance and rode forward, made the hard right turn, and saw a large brown puddle spanning the width of the road. Water crossings freak me out, especially when you can’t see how deep the water is or what rocks or other obstructions lie underneath the surface.
I approached the puddle and stopped. All the water crossings I’ve seen on video have the rider sitting down rather than standing on the pegs, feet wide for balance. If you have to put a foot down to catch yourself, you get wet. Deal with it. But you keep the throttle going and keep going forward.
That’s what I did. Feet wide, throttle open, I rode forward through the chocolate water — and made it out the other side.
I was dismayed to see even more campers surrounding the road’s end. I parked the bike and shut it off. Then the shakes started. The exertion of what I’d just experience hit me hard and I mentally forced myself to stay calm, relax, and realize I’d made it safely to the bottom.
I drank water, walked to the lake’s edge to take some quick photos, then went back and sat in some shade and ate a granola bar as my nerves calmed down. Mentally, I kept telling myself that I could do it, that I could make it back up. I didn’t have a choice. I can do this. If a Subaru can do it, so can I. I can do this.
There wasn’t any room at the inn, that much was clear. I’d have to go back. I made the decision and then forced myself to stop thinking about the challenge of riding back up the hill. I’d do it, taking each foot of the climb as it came, and not dwell on the difficulty. I’d do it. Period. That settles it. Now get on with it.
I suited back up, got the bike turned around, and gave gravity the finger as I lurched and jumped and bounced my way back up that gnarly, evil hill.
I live in a wonderful part of the country. Within two hours of my home east of Portland, Oregon, I can visit the ocean, high mountains, deep river canyons, and high desert. Apart from the ocean, I experienced all of the above in a single day ride over the Independence Day holiday.
My route started by heading through the east side of Portland onto I-84, then across the Columbia River via the I-205 bridge into Camas, Washington. I turned east onto SR-14, which parallels the river along the arguably prettier and more scenic side of the Columbia. The Oregon side has I-84, which is faster but far more boring.
I stopped at a wide spot of the road overlooking a cliff high above the river below. This viewpoint is just west of Carson, Washington and is definitely worth the stop.
My next break was in windy Bingen, Washington, just across the river from Hood River, Oregon. The public restrooms there are closed due to the quarantine — a common occurrence nowadays — so keep that in mind if you need a bio break.
Fortunately, the wind was at my back. The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its strong winds, and if it’s coming at you, you’ll definitely be fighting it. During my stop I saw some wind surfers taking advantage of the 20+ mph winds.
Continuing eastward, I pulled into Schreiner Farms (http://www.schreinerfarms.com/) in the community of Dallesport. It is a private wild animal farm or refuge, I’m not sure which, and they allow the public to drive up their 1/4 mile long entry road and view the animals through the fence. I saw zebra, bison, antelope, and yaks. I stopped and got some video footage and a few up-close photographs of some lovely Bactrian camels. One such camel, a cute lady with a fuzzy head, came right up to the fence and stuck her chin through, scratching it on the metal wire. I wanted to pet her but the signs said that was strictly forbidden.
I stopped at a wayside overlooking the river above Wishram Heights before continuing to the junction where highway 97 crosses the river. I crossed back over into Oregon and got gas and a lunch snack at the Chevron in Biggs Junction, the busy truck stop where 97 crosses I-84 and the Columbia.
I rode south on highway 97 past Wasco and through the remote ranching and farming towns of Moro and Grass Valley before taking a western right turn onto remote state highway 216.
This stretch of rural two-lane road zigzags its way across the prairie of Sherman County, heading toward the scenic Deschutes River (it’s pronounced deh-shoots for those out of the area). The highway descends down a gnarly and technical canyon hillside with some tight switchbacks and a noticeable lack of guard rails. At the bottom, it crosses the Deschutes at Sherars Falls. This rapid is so deadly, white water rafters port around it or risk almost certain death.
The air got noticeably warmer at the bottom of the steep river canyon (or is it a gorge? Canyons are wider than they are deep, and gorges are deeper than they are wide). Back up the other side, I rode past White River Park and into the tiny hamlet of Tygh Valley. I ventured onto another narrow two lane road and headed into Wamic.
Wamic is a tiny community near the resort and retirement community of Pine Hollow Reservoir. There is a single store with gas, and it was very busy as I rode by.
I continued west, riding past Rock Creek Reservoir, and headed up into Mt. Hood National Forest. I took a detour into Forest Creek Campground, a small, primitive campground along the old Barlow Trail Road. Although the campground was open and the pit toilet was unlocked, I could tell the place was not being maintained due to worker layoffs during the quarantine. Weeds were high in several camp spots, and I only saw a single camper occupying one of the sites in the back. I saw no vehicle or motorcycle, so they may have been bicycle camping.
Forest Service road 48 is one of my favorite routes for motorcycling and the curves and views don’t disappoint. At one point along the hillside above Barlow Trail Road, you get a wonderful view of Mt. Hood in the distance.
By the time I got home, I had ridden 270 miles and spent a little over six hours on the bike. I had fantastic weather, the wind through the gorge was at my back, and I had very little traffic or slow cars to contend with. It was a great way to experience the freedom of the open road on our nation’s birthday.
Update Oct 9, 2020:Much of what you see in the background, including the store referenced in this post, is burned and no longer exists.
Every season I eagerly await the melting of snow on NF 46 between Ripplebrook Ranger Station and the small resort town of Detroit, along the western slope of the Cascades mountain range. I attempted the route the last weekend of April but couldn’t make the connection and had to turn back. Today (Sunday, May 24th) I made it through.
The ride itself was standard fare: amazing curves, great scenery, and 80 miles without any stop signs or towns. I’ve ridden this road dozens of times a year for the past 13 years, so I essentially have it memorized. It’s a lot of fun and provides me with a great excuse to get out of the house for half a day.
This particular ride was interesting not because of the ride itself, but the ‘interesting’ gentleman I met in Detroit. I stopped at the small store and gas station to take a break and struck up a conversation with an older man loading stuff into a small and beat up cargo trailer parked next to the store. He looked to be in his 60s and had a long, mostly grey beard. At a glance, my first thought was he was an aging hippie.
We never exchanged names, so I’m going to refer to him euphemistically as Mr. Whacko. You’ll find out why shortly.
We talked briefly about where each of us was coming from and where we were going. Mr. Whacko didn’t seem to know where he was, and was also confused about where he was going. When I told him I was from Sandy, he asked, “Where’s that?” I pointed and said, “It’s about 80 miles north of here.”
“That’s north?” he asked, puzzled. “All this time I thought I was going south. Hmm.” He was serious. He then told me about his drive up “The Five” from Los Angeles, and how his vehicle overheated and stopped three times climbing up the Grapevine. He was driving a Honda Odyssey (which wasn’t anywhere that I could find nearby) and it had died several times along the journey. Mr. Whacko referred a couple times to some “Magic Oil” he put in the radiator to keep the engine from seizing.
Then things got weird. “The radiator has this gunk in it, around the cap, that is put there by the government. The magic oil I put in keeps that gunk from seizing the engine.”
The conversation turned to COVID-19, as I had seen him taking off a mask earlier when he emerged from the store. Mr. Whacko then informed me that he spoke with a doctor who had a female patient that had come down with COVID-19. “The doctor gave her hydroclox [sic] and she was cured in two weeks.”
He couldn’t pronounce hydroxychloroquine, but I understood what he was referring to. “The government is trying to hide it, but there is another doctor in Florida that said it completely eliminates COVID.”
Mr. Whacko further elaborated on his views of the government. “The government is putting military agents at the borders because of all the judges.” He explained, somewhat confusingly, that all the judges in America are fraudulent because the oaths they took were illegitimate. Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense to you, because it didn’t make sense to me, either. He implied the military agents were to keep the judges from leaving the country.
I asked Mr. Whacko a few questions as his rambling began to pick up speed, but he quite deliberately spoke over me to keep me from seeking clarification. He’d raise his voice and talked quite a bit faster as soon as I’d start asking a question.
Our conversation (if you can call it that) turned to the law. “‘Statutes’,” he said, “aren’t legal because only laws that pertain to money are actually laws. Everything else — statutes — are unconstitutional.” He said something about universities and how they aren’t legal, either, but by this point he was conspiring so rapidly I began to lose track.
“Every time someone takes an oath, at the national or state level, it must have something in it about The Republic or it’s fraudulent. In fact, it’s illegal to be a Democrat in America because the word ‘Democrat’ doesn’t exist in the Constitution. Only the word ‘Republic’ does.”
He reiterated this point. “I grew up saying the Pledge [of Allegiance] and it says ‘…to the Republic.’ It doesn’t say anything about ‘Democrat.'”
You may be wondering if this guy was a Trump supporter. He never uttered Trump’s name nor even said ‘President’ during his rant. In fact, he never alluded to the position at all.
After several more conspiracy theories, many of which went by too fast to track, I asked him where he gets his information.
“The main [stream] media tries very hard to keep the truth from us, so you have to know what media to search for to find it.”
Then things took a turn into the macabre.
“You know about the babies, right?”
“Babies?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. The government has a program where they scare the crap out of babies and then drain their blood. Important people drink it to harvest their adrenaline. It’s called ‘adrenoquine’ or ‘adrenoleen’ or something, it’s well known.”
“I’m sorry, they drain their blood?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah. They take babies and scare the crap out of them, really bad and cruel, and drain their blood so you can drink it, but only important people like celebrities and political people do it. It’s to get their adrenaline.”
Mr. Whacko elaborated. “All the people coming over the border from Mexico… they capture the babies and put them in cages and scare them really bad. All to drain their blood.” He paused for the briefest of moments, then added, “You can buy them.”
“Buy what? Babies?”
“Yeah, you can buy them, for the blood draining. There was some movie star, in Europe — I can’t remember his name,” he said, pointing to the west. “All this time he was claiming he had coronavirus, he was actually in jail. He bought a baby for $50,000. So he could drain his blood.”
I had tried to interject to ask some questions, but at this point, Mr. Whacko was so far into his rant that he was barely even taking time to inhale. I put in my earplugs and donned my helmet, wished him a safe journey, and left. He was still rambling as I pulled away.
I’ve met a lot of very wonderful people on my motorcycle, but this was the first one that actually scared me.
I keep going back to central Oregon and route 218 between Shaniko and Fossil, so there must be something to it. Flawless pavement, well-banked corners, wide open scenery, no traffic — it checks all the boxes.
Since I began riding back in 2007, I calculated I have ridden the route from my home in Sandy, Oregon to John Day, which includes the amazing state highway 218 smack in the middle, more times than any other overnight route. Only my day rides to Detroit, Oregon on NF46 exceeds it in volume.
This latest trip was intended to explore a new road and to camp in a tent overnight before returning the next day. I had spotted South Fork Road, which follows the south fork of the John Day River south from Dayville, many times and have always been curious what it was like. It’s like a snake off it’s medication on the map, and I’m drawn to roads like that for two-wheeled travel.
The terminal destination was Pine Tree Campground, roughly 10 miles south of Dayville. I had no on-the-ground reconnaissance, just satellite photos and a few topo maps. When I got there, I realized it wasn’t going to work. The entire campsite was on a slope that made it less than ideal for a tent camper like myself. Further, the river was blocked by brush and there was no privacy amidst the few juniper trees.
I backtracked on the gravel road to Dayville, then took highway 26 east into John Day and checked into the Best Western. A hot shower and nap on a king sized bed felt a lot better than a hot and dusty campsite with a terrible view.
The ride itself was fantastic. It was windy and warm when I left my house, riding with the liner out of my Aerostich Darien jacket. It was a bit chilly when I got gas in Government Camp, but not uncomfortably so (I’ve ridden in 9 degrees Fahrenheit before, so cold is something I’m used to enduring). My route was familiar: highway 26 east, cut over to NF 48 via NF 43, past Rock Creek reservoir and into Wamic, then over to Tygh Valley and back up the hill and then down to Maupin on the Deschutes River.
I stopped at my usual convenience store in Maupin but it was “Closed 4 Now” — one of many such signs I saw on my trip. I backtracked to another store for a brief snack and bio break before heading up Bakeoven Road to the high, windswept prairie above.
Bakeoven cuts southeast to Shaniko. Here, I caught state highway 218 and about 50 miles of riding greatness. It passes through Antelope, made famous by the Netflix documentary “Wild, Wild Country” and then winds its way eastward through the Clarno Unit of the John Day National Fossil Beds.
Highway 218 between Antelope and Fossil is in two sections, one on either side of the John Day River. Both have sections of amazing twisties, perfectly banked and almost entirely free of gravel and other hazards. You climb up to a ridge line and look across a 20-mile wide valley with amazing hills in the distance. I literally said, “Holy crap!” in my helmet the first time I crested that hill and saw that amazing view, and to this day I am awed at the scenery every time I see it.
The road descends through grass and sagebrush that reminds me a lot of the English moors, with fast sweeping curves posted at 45 mph but can be taken by a skilled rider at nearly twice that. Once across the John Day River at the bottom of the valley, it’s up the other side for another round of amazing twisties.
The town of Fossil isn’t much to look at as far as scenic beauty, but there is a lot of very interesting history there to be explored. Fossil even plays a small role in my upcoming novel, Second Citizen. Stay tuned for details of when that hits the shelves.
A few miles south of Fossil, I stopped at Bear Hollow county park and campground. A spray-painted plywood sign at the entrance said, “Park Closed” but I rolled in anyway and found myself a cozy picnic table under the pine and fir trees. Lunch was dehydrated beef stroganoff. It’s not much to look at but it fills the belly, especially when all the restaurants are closed due to the Coronavirus quarantine. Other people had used the park as well, considering the trash I found inside the trash can near my site. Even the water spigot worked.
The air got warmer as I descended to lower elevation and the one-store spot-in-the-road called Service Creek. A half-dozen motorcycles were parked outside as I rode by.
The next town was Spray and I stopped at their lone gas pump to fill up my tank. You pump the gas by hand and write your total on a little pull-tab ticket, then carry it inside and pay with cash. I had to wait for a local in a mini-van to pull out of the spot next to the pump; she parked there just to park. She was nice enough about it when she asked, “Are you waiting for me?”
By this time, the temperature was in the low to mid 80s with ‘abundant sunshine’ as the meteorologists describe it. After leaving Spray, I rolled through the junction town of Kimberly, where the north fork of the John Day meets the main stem of the river, and highway 402 connects with my road, highway 19. Apparently a Harley-Davidson rider went off the road on 402 over the weekend, went down an embankment into the John Day, and drowned.
I was glad to have gassed up in Spray because the anticipated gas pump in Dayville was “Closed 4 Now.” I pulled off the highway and headed south toward Pine Tree Campground, and — well, I already told that part of the story up at the top.
Jump ahead to John Day. I had showered and napped and was ready for dinner. I called my favorite restaurant in town, The Outpost, and ordered a chicken cranberry salad to go. I walked over 15 minutes later, paid with cash and left a big tip, then walked back to my room.
Three older gentleman on Yamaha FZ9s had arrived and parked in the spot next to me. They were intensely curious where I got my food. I shared my knowledge and menu (that I had grabbed from the motel lobby) and chatted with them briefly while they argued over which burger to order.
Despite the pleasant fact that I wasn’t in a tent in the heat, I didn’t sleep very well. I know it’s a first-world problem, but having the air conditioning noisily come on every 10 minutes throughout the night tends to disrupt your sleep.
Breakfast was impressive: dehydrated biscuits and gravy (really) cooked with my little one-burner camp stove in my motel bathroom, along with a cup of complimentary Keurig coffee.
I was packed and heading westward by 7:40 am, this time with the liner in my jacket and my cold weather gloves on my hands. I didn’t shed those layers until I was on the western slope of Mt. Hood, nearly home.
After filling my tank in Mt. Vernon just east of John Day, I stopped at Cathedral Rock along the John Day, a few miles south of Kimberly, for a photo op. I pulled into the same one-pump store in Spray to buy $3.50 worth of gas, which would be more than enough to get me the rest of the way home. I don’t think I paid more than $2.68 a gallon at any point on this trip.
After riding the amazing stretch between Fossil and Shaniko, I stopped on a wide spot along Bakeoven Road for a break. I listened to the high prairie wind, hearing some cows arguing a half mile upwind. In the distance to the west was Mt. Hood, reminding me of the Lonely Mountain described in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I’ve always loved seeing that mountain — which is practically in my back yard — when returning from long bike trips, because it’s a symbol of home. I’d be on the other side of it in less than two hours.
Once past Maupin, I took highway 216 back toward the main highway 26. This bypassed Tygh Valley and Wamic, and was a more sedate change of pace. It passes in a straight line through windswept grasslands before abruptly entering pine, and then fir, forest. The smell was amazing.
There wasn’t much traffic on highway 26 as there usually is on a weekend, jammed with slow RVs and even slower Toyota Priuses (what is the plural of Prius?) The air was getting noticeably warmer as I descended down the western slope of Mt. Hood so I pulled over and shed some layers, opened my vents, and ate a quick snack. The rest of the route home was uneventful.
Getting home, I looked at my bike admirably, thinking of the 75,000 smiles it has given me since I bought it in February, 2007. It’s gotten me into and out of a lot of very interesting places, and enabled me to experience some amazing scenery. I’ve met some of the nicest people on two wheels, and obtained memories that will never fade, no matter how demented my mind becomes as I get older. (I know demented isn’t the right word, but in my case, I feel like it fits perfectly.)
As is typical for me, starting in January and with increasing intensity through late March, I spend a lot of time daydreaming about motorcycle adventures during the coming riding season. Now that I am quarantined at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this two-wheeled cabin fever is hitting me harder than usual.
Like a pilgrimage, I watch Long Way Round or Long Way Down (or both), and imagine traveling to exotic lands and having many adventures on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. One of my bucket-list trips is to ride to Prudhoe Bay and dip my feet in the Arctic Ocean. This time of year, I think about that trip a lot.
My latest fantasy ride is the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route. This is an off-road adventure trip that traverses eastern Oregon from the California border near Goose Lake to the Washington border near Walla Walla. It’s over 1,000 miles and 95% of it is on unpaved roads or even two-track trails. I’m not sure why I so badly want to accomplish that trip considering the fact that riding off-road kind of freaks me out. Maybe that’s the point.
That which does not kill you makes you stronger.
I’ve always had a sense of adventure, especially when I was a kid. My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books growing up. The thought of treading new ground or overcoming deadly obstacles to emerge from the jungle or mountains or tundra barely alive but triumphant is appealing to someone like me with an over-active imagination.
Adventures only suck while you’re having them. Afterward, you have some great stories to tell.
Back in the 90’s, I hiked and backpacked a lot, almost exclusively solo. I had a few adventures that definitely sucked at the time, but I do look back on them with some fondness using the filter of time and hindsight. I nearly died on a few occasions.
Now that I am older and in far worse shape physically, I let my friends Shinko and Metzeler and Heidenau do the walking instead of Danner and Merrell and Keen. There are a lot of similarities between backpacking and adventure touring on a motorcycle, though. And sleeping in a tent is the same experience entirely, only I now carry a much thicker and more comfortable pad to sleep on.
Working from home used to be a nice luxury, especially when I had to get something done domestically. I’m fortunate that my career lends itself to remote work; not everyone is so lucky. Now that I’m basically forced to work from home due to public health concerns, it feels different. Doing something is one thing; having to do it is another.
Perhaps my itchy feet and restlessness is my normal, seasonal desire to get out of the house after being cooped up all winter. I think there’s more to it this time around, though. Now that there are quarantine-induced restrictions of all sorts, my options are strictly limited to camping off the bike. Motels and hotels and restaurant food are essentially off the menu.
Yet I feel the need to roam is even stronger.
I don’t mind camping off the bike as long as the weather isn’t too extreme in the wet or hot categories. Being able to camp in a formal campground with showers and running water is a nice compromise. However, I have camped completely unaided by modern conveniences many times, just not on an extended basis.
If I am to go on any two-wheeled adventures this coming season, it will most likely be of the unsupported type, off the beaten path, and without the aid of someone-else-cooked food or end-of day hot showers.
I’ve already begun brushing up on my camping food/cooking knowledge and watching videos of riders tackling the growing number of backcountry discover routes (Oregon was the first, as far as I can tell). Time will tell what I actually get out there and discover this summer.
Did I win the lottery? I can name a few people that would be very keen to know if I did. I used to play but recently stopped. Would you stop buying Powerball tickets after you won? I would. Stop, that is.
I would stop for other reasons, too. Being a curious person, I wanted to find out how many drawings it would realistically take before the jackpot was in hand. They tell you the odds but that’s not very meaningful to me, or to most people.
Tell someone there are a trillion stars in the sky and they’ll believe you, but tell them the paint is wet and they’ll still touch it to make sure.
Being a software developer (programmer) by trade, I decided to write a simulation program to find out how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop Jackpot.
I looked up the rules for payouts on the Powerball lottery game and wrote a web-based program in PHP to simulate drawings. The simulation is simple. You specify how many drawings you want to simulate, it assumes you spend $2 per ticket, and it conducts random drawings, tallying the number (and dollar amount) of wins along the way.
My simulation presents not only how many times you’ve won, but also how much money you won minus how much money you’ve spent.
What did I find out? After running a few hundred million simulated drawings, you will have a winning ticket roughly 0.04% of the time, your winnings will be roughly 12% of what you spent (that’s an 88% loss), and your average win per ticket will likely be around $6.08.
They say the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. They’re right.
The Ghost Rider
On January 10th, 2020, it was announced that Neil Peart passed away a few days before (Jan 7) of brain cancer. This crushed me more than I expected.
I have always looked up to Neil more for his qualities as a person than for his amazing ability as a drummer (for the band Rush, for those who have no idea who he is). He was an author and a long-distance motorcycle rider as well as a drummer.
It was my dream to run into Neil in some small diner in a tiny rural town while on a motorcycle trip. Based on his writings, I can confirm that he and I have ridden many of the same roads and even stayed in some of the same motels. We just never did it at the same time.
Neil was famous for being shy in the spotlight. He was more than happy to talk to strangers when he was out and about “just being a guy,” however. I had thought that if I ever did run into him, after chatting about our bikes or destinations or the weather, I’d sign my autograph on a paper napkin and hand it to him with a wink, then say, “I’m glad you got to meet me.” I don’t know if he’d find the humor in it, but considering the fact that he was a genius (estimated IQ 155+), he’d probably get the joke.
Neil, you will be missed for decades.
Oh, and by the way, his last name is pronounced ‘peert’, not ‘pert’.
This is a quick update on my current project, a contemporary fiction novel titled Second Citizen. I’ve been working on primary composition for several weeks now and I’m currently on chapter 10, roughly 37,000 words. I’m ahead of my usual schedule, as I typically don’t start writing until the first week of January.
I still haven’t found an editor, but I haven’t been looking, either. I’ll worry about that when the manuscript is finished.
Meanwhile, I’m very happy with how the story is coming along. I outline quite thoroughly before primary composition, so I always have a clear idea of where the plot is going to go and what will happen.
Considering this is my first contemporary fiction piece (I have previously only written fantasy), it will be interesting to see how this turns out.
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Like many fantasy authors, Steve Williamson was introduced to the genre when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. It was during a family camping trip in May, 1980, and as he and two friends sat inside a travel trailer rolling dice and fighting orcs, the air outside became gritty and hard to breath. It was permeated with the fine gray ash spewing out of Mount St. Helens which was erupting just sixty miles away.
Steve now lives in Western Oregon in the shadow of another active volcano, Mount Hood.