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Independence Day Loop

Sherman County
Looking west toward Mt. Hood across rural Sherman County

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.

Ride Route
I traveled clockwise

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.

Columbia River near Stevenson, Washington, looking eastward.
Columbia River near Stevenson, Washington, looking eastward.

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.

Bactrian camel at Schreiner Farm
Bactrian Camels

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.

Columbia River, Wishram Heights, Washington, looking eastward.
Wishram Heights, Washington, above Columbia River

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.

Sherars Falls, Deschutes River, Oregon

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 Creek Campground, Mt. Hood National Forest
2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, Forest Creek Campground

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.

NF48, Mt. Hood National Forest
NF48, Mt. Hood National Forest

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.

The Whack Job in Detroit

Detroit, Oregon
Looking north, Detroit, Oregon

Photo: Me in Detroit, Oregon

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.”

M’kay.

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.

Have you ever traveled a road that begged for your return?

Cathedral Rock, Kimberly, Oregon
Cathedral Rock along the John Day River near Kimberly, Oregon

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.

Here’s my route in Google Maps.

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.

V-Strom 650 in Maupin, Oregon
2007 V-Strom 650 in Maupin, Oregon

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.

Bear Hollow Park, Fossil, Oregon
Bear Hollow Park, Fossil, Oregon

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.

Mt. Hood from Bakeoven Road, Oregon
Mt. Hood from Bakeoven Road, Oregon

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.)

Two-wheeled Cabin Fever

Riding the trail on my V-Strom
Riding the trail on my V-Strom

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.

Stay tuned.

The Lottery Winner, the Ghost Rider, and the Author

Neil Peart
Neil Peart

The Lottery Winner

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.

Try my simulator here to see for yourself.

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’.

The Author

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.

Crashing Influence

Motorcycle Accident Training
First responders practice treating a motorcycle accident victim.

A close friend of mine was involved in a life-threatening motorcycle accident recently. Although he survived, his life will never be the same again. He’ll likely never ride again, and may not even walk again, either. It’s too soon to tell.

As many of my readers know, I am a motorcyclist. I have been riding up to 10,000 miles a year since 2007, often on long multi-day solo trips around the western United States and British Columbia. So far, I have only had one involuntary get-off, and that was at slow speed and into soft snow. No harm was inflicted on me or the bike (although my pride was dinged a bit).

My thoughts lately have been on the influence of my friend’s crash on my own future. Will I continue to ride? Will this impact my willingness to go on long solo trips? Will my riding level and pace go unchanged?

Riding a motorcycle, or flying an airplane, or driving a car (or even walking down the sidewalk) has a certain amount of risk. Everything we do in life is a calculated risk, even where we choose to live or whom we date. Most decisions we make are based on emotions and not objective risk calculations. As an example of this, I have met many people who refused to fly because they thought it was unsafe yet are willing to drive a car. The former is significantly safer than the latter.

Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous activity. We face the risks of getting into an accident, and when that happens, we face the risk of serious injury. It’s a complex calculation compounded by poor (or wise) choices. Those who drink and ride make a choice that significantly increases their risk of getting into an accident. Those who ride without a helmet significantly increase their risk of serious injury or death if an accident occurs. Do both and you’re a great Darwin Award candidate.

The risks I’ve faced while riding motorcycles have always been there. My friend’s accident has not changed the calculus on that. The best lesson to learn is from someone else’s mistake. My friend didn’t make any mistakes that contributed to his accident, but there are still lessons to be learned.

When I take a training class, I obtain knowledge. I make choices to practice and apply those lessons until they become automatic, muscle memory, instinctual. I am going through the same thing now with my friend’s accident. I have obtained knowledge about what happened and what could have been done to prevent similar situations from happening to me — or, what could be done to minimize my risk of harm if it does (some things can’t be prevented from happening).

I have gleaned two lessons from my friend’s accident. Accidents can happen through no fault of my own, so wearing all the gear, all the time is a rule I will never break. The other lesson has nothing to do with motorcycling, but instead has everything to do with life after an accident occurs.

What will my family do if I die or become incapable of working? What if I need long-term care? Who will be notified in the event of an accident?

All of these things should be considered by everyone, regardless if they ride motorcycles or not.

I am making the choice to continue riding, and continue living. I will not live as if my death is imminent, and certainly not as if I am already dead. Some people live that way, sadly, if you can even call it living.

The risks I face as I ride are acceptable to me, and I will continue to take steps to reduce those risks of a life-altering event from occurring. I will also take steps to reduce the effects of an event should it happen.

Ultimately, as I pass through middle age and get closer to the end of my ride, I look back and realize that most of my regrets are of things I was too afraid to try.

You Meet the Nicest People on Two Wheels

On this holiday weekend, I took my V-Strom out for a circuitous 170 mile ride around Mt. Hood, and ended up meeting a pair of riders on a much longer journey.

To start, I left my home in Sandy, Oregon and headed east on Marmot Road, which roughly parallels the Sandy River. This is a rural road with many different ups and downs and twists and turns, and is a fantastic route for skills practice. It ends at Lolo Pass Road behind the mountain community of Zigzag. I turned north and climbed up and over Lolo Pass.

The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road here and several cars were parked at the top. The pavement ends and I descended down the hill on NF 18 with an amazing view of Mt. Hood looming before me. The gravel road was in fairly good shape, but there were some hidden pot holes in shady spots.

Several miles down the hill, the gravel gives way to unmarked, single-lane pavement. Past the road to Lost Lake, I eventually made my way into the orchard town of Parkdale. I smelled barbecue as I passed Valley BBQ getting ready for lunch service. I connected with highway 35 and headed south.

My intention was to stop at CJ’s Chevron on highway 26, south of the 26/35 junction, and get a snack before continuing on. I pulled into the shade and parked next to a couple of riders doing the same.

The Netherlands
Albert and Heiken from The Netherlands

It was a middle-aged couple riding a Honda NC700 and a Ducati 998. Both were loaded down with enough luggage to make a burro wince.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Argentina,” the man said. He had a Dutch accent.

Shocked, I asked, “Where did you start?”

“Alaska,” he said.

His wife clarified, “We flew over to Anchorage from The Netherlands and rode north to Coldfoot, but it was far too muddy to continue [north] to Prudhoe Bay, so we turned around.”

I introduced myself. Their names were Albert and Heiken. Animated and eager to talk, they described their trip so far and their goals.

Heiken explained that they flew their bikes over to Anchorage via FedEx, $1,700 one-way (It wasn’t clear to me if that was per bike or for the pair). Their intention was to ride up to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay, then ride all the way south to the southern tip of Argentina before riding up to Buenos Aires and the flight back home.

“What about the Darien Gap [in Panama]?” I asked.

“We’ll put our bikes on a sailboat and go around it,” Albert lamented. He seemed disappointed they couldn’t ride the whole way. “We have to get to Buenos Aires by March, so we’re running out of time.”

Looking at the huge loads on their bikes, I asked if they were camping. “No, we stay in Air BnB’s and motels,” Albert said.

I was curious about Albert’s choice to ride a sport bike the entire length of North and South America. “It’s my bike and I love it,” he said. “It’s been great.”

When looking at the bikes more closely, I noticed they were both running sporty street tires. Heiken’s rear tire was squared off (flat) but Albert’s was fairly rounded and showed some tread remaining. No wonder they turned around when it got muddy at Coldfoot (which is north of Fairbanks, about halfway to the Arctic Ocean).

They hadn’t had any breakdowns or flat tires so far.

As we discussed more immediate matters, they said their destination for the day was an Air BnB in Corvallis, and they weren’t entirely sure how to get there. I knew where they needed to go, even though it wasn’t visible or clear on their map.

“I’ll guide you to Detroit,” I volunteered. “I’m going that way anyway.”

They eagerly accepted my offer. We suited up and pulled out onto highway 26. We rode south a few miles, and they followed me as I turned off onto Skyline Road toward Timothy Lake. I noticed they rode somewhat sedately, and with Heiken taking up the rear. I slowed my pace to make sure they could keep up.

We wound our way south along the crest of the Cascades, then over to the western slope where we headed downhill and met NF 46. That is the main route between Ripplebrook Ranger Station to the north and Detroit to the south. I pointed left and shouted, “That’s your way. Follow it to Detroit. I head north.”

Albert and Heiken gave me thumbs up and smiles and shouted back, “Thank you!” (We were all wearing our helmets with music playing in our ear buds, so verbal communications were symbolic at best.)

I left them and rode north and back toward home, feeling a tractor-beam pull to go back and ask, “Can I come, too?”

Ride Report: A Tale of Two 36’s

Roger and I on the highway 36 loop

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.

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.