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Blog articles unique to Steve Williamson's personal hobbies, interests and activities.

Day Ride to Kinzua, Oregon

Bear Hollow CG, Wheeler County
Bear Hollow CG, Wheeler County, on hwy 19 south of Fossil, Oregon

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.

No access sign, Kinzua, OR
No access to highway 207 from Kinzua, NF21, Wheeler County

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.

Bear Hollow CG, Wheeler County
Bear Hollow CG, Wheeler County, on hwy 19 south of Fossil, Oregon

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.

S-503 fire, Oregon
S-503 fire, along highway 216 approaching Pine Grove, Sat. June 19, 2021

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.

S-503 fire, south of highway 216, June 19, 2021
S-503 fire, burning a mile south of highway 216

The Power and Problem of Social Media

Social Media

Many have speculated — and I am one of them — that the problem with social media, and online communications in general, is that it removes a degree of accountability from those who wish to convey hateful or confrontational messages. It’s easier to call someone a bad name if they aren’t standing in front of you.

Since about 2008, I have seen the rise of hate speech online and a palpable vitriol in political discussions. Conversations about which political candidate is good or bad have been going on for centuries, but it seems that the level of animosity and outright hatred rose dramatically about the time a black man ran for President of the United States.

Was that latent white supremacy rearing its ugly head because it had a prominent target? Or was the hatred always there, waiting for an easy way to be unleashed and shared?

I think it was the latter. It’s a lot easier for someone to reveal their true racist colors and scream it at the world when there is no risk of consequence. If someone stands on the street corner and shouts, “I will -never- vote for a black man for President!” they are likely to be confronted, shouted down, maybe even physically accosted in some places. On social media, they can do so with near impunity, and have a much larger audience hear or see their message.

Social media, and the internet in general, makes it very easy to spread hate.

Legality of Free Speech

In the United States, we have an amendment to our Constitution that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What many people confuse about our First Amendment right to free speech is that it doesn’t absolve a person for the consequences of what they say. For example, you can’t walk into a crowded movie theater and shout, “FIRE!” without getting into a lot of trouble — and putting many people’s lives at risk. You also can’t stand up in front of a large crowd and call for them to storm the capitol building, inciting a riot or insurrection. That’s illegal.

My primary point, however, is the double-edge to the sword of social media. We have the right to free thought and expression (within certain legal limits, of course) but with that freedom we also have the moral and ethical responsibility to be kind, truthful, and respectful. Just because you can say something negative about someone without consequence doesn’t mean you should.

Detroit Burned

The Cedars restaurant, Detroit, OR
Site of The Cedars restaurant, Detroit, OR

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.

Detroit, OR, January 17, 2021
View of downtown Detroit, OR, January 2021, after the fire.
Detroit, OR store site
Site of Detroit, OR store, gone after fire.

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.

Ride Report: Hillsboro, OR, 29 miles, 38 degrees

Steve, Meagen and Keith
Steve, Meagen and Keith, Nov. 20, 2020

I completed my longest bicycle ride to date, 29.3 miles. This ride had a few more milestones as well and some lessons learned that I will discuss here.

It’s the middle of Fall, the days are getting shorter, and dry weather is becoming the exception, not the rule. Fortunately, there was no precipitation on my day off, so my buddy, Keith, and I decided to get out on two wheels for a ride around Washington County.

Trek Domane AL5
Trek Domane AL5, “Riff Raff”, at The Bike Gallery, Portland, OR

When we met in the empty parking lot at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Oregon, it was 38 degrees and foggy. This would be my maiden ride on my brand new bike, a Trek Domane AL 5. I literally had never sat on the bike until that moment, and in fact it was also my first time riding with clipless pedals (although I have recently installed the same pedals on my spin bike at home).

Keith and I did a few laps around the parking lot so I could get used to clipping in and out of the pedals, as well as learn the hand signals cyclists use on group rides. Once I got the basics down, we set off.

29.31 miles, Hillsboro, OR
29.31 miles, Hillsboro, OR

The entire route was on public roads. Up to this point in the season, I have ridden exclusively on designated bike paths without having to deal with traffic (other than one day climbing the numerous hills of my own neighborhood, where everywhere you go is uphill both ways). Keith led and I followed.

It was a bit chilly at first, as you might imagine, but my gear did well at keeping me from getting too cold. I wore full-finger cold-weather cycling gloves, which were probably overkill by the time we’d ridden 5 miles or so. I also had to unzip my outer shell jacket to regulate my body temperature.

The route we took went counterclockwise around highway 26, the Sunset Highway, taking us on rural roads through some beautiful farm country. Most of the time we were on narrow two-lane paved roads without anybody around. It was nice to ride side-by-side with my friend, at a pace where we could hold a conversation.

There were some small roller hills to contend with and Keith gave me advice on how to prepare and handle them. I’m not yet in shape to handle hills of any extent, but I’m getting there. Overall, I was able to complete the ride without nearly as much struggle as I had expected.

About three-quarters of the way we came upon another cyclist riding a single speed bike. As I passed by I said, “Hey, you look familiar.” It was Keith’s wife, Meagen, riding a portion of the same route. The three of us completed the remainder of the ride together.

Meagan and Keith
Meagen and Keith, Nov. 20, 2020

By the time we got back to my car, we had ridden 29.3 miles in 2 hours, 15 minutes. It was my longest ride to date. Note: It is my goal to ride 100 miles by October of next year. I guess I’m 29% of the way toward reaching my goal.

What was noteworthy about this ride is I was using a bike I had never ridden before. I had recently purchased it from The Bike Gallery in Portland, after getting professionally fitted by Zak Kovalcik. The Trek Domane AL5 performed wonderfully. Although I had conceptually understood the value of a professional fitting, I could recognize its worth in a very tangible way on this ride.

I had very little problem clipping in and out of my pedals, but I still need to burn into muscle memory the way I shift gears on the drop-style handlebars. I’m used to the old style of mountain bike shifters where you use your thumb and forefinger. It won’t take me long once I’ve gone on a few rides.

I have decided to nickname my bike Riff Raff, after the AC/DC song and the character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Review: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Wow.

I’ve been flying X-Plane 11 since it first came out and recently gave Microsoft’s latest version of its venerable Flight Simulator a try — it’s first update in over 10 years — and my first reaction is Wow!

This new version offers real-world satellite photography to dynamically generate the scenery, allowing the virtual pilot to fly anywhere in the world without having to pre-generate (or buy) photo-quality scenery ahead of time. The visuals are stunning and very realistic.

I already knew that would be the case when I decided to purchase MSFS 2020. What I wasn’t prepared for, but was delighted to experience, was how refined and elegant the interface and mechanics of the software actually is. This doesn’t come across as what is essentially a first-gen product. Refined really is the best word for how the simulator runs and how you interact with it.

I really like X-Plane 11, and still feel it is the more realistic simulation in terms of how it simulates flight. But MSFS 2020 is a leap ahead in terms of product quality, from how it installs to how it automatically detects and configures your flight control hardware to how you work with the AI and air traffic control systems once you’re airborne.

Comparing X-Plane 11 to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is like comparing a command-line version of Linux to the latest version of Apple’s OS X operating system. They both get the job done but one is substantially more refined than the other.

There’s that word again, refined.

Although MSFS 2020 is a new product and still has some bugs and functionality that’s not yet in place, this is a flight simulation product that all flight sim enthusiasts should try.

Just make sure you have two things: a large solid-state hard drive and a very fast internet connection.

Cycling Tips, Tricks and Tools

I am relatively new to cycling, at least in a serious manner. I rode bikes back in my 20s but would never have considered myself to be a cyclist. Since April of this year (2020), and the subsequent COVID-19 lock-down, I’ve gotten back into it, and this time I’m giving it a proper go.

Through this process, I am learning as I progress. I started off by buying a bike without a lot of thought into the purpose of components, frame, geometry, or any of that stuff cyclists pay attention to. For the most part, it was a reasonably versatile bike that the local bike shop (LBS) had in stock that was an eyeball fit for my height. Good enough. (For those who are curious, it is a 2020 Giant Escape 3 Disc.)

2020 Giant Escape 3 Disc

2020 Giant Escape 3 Disc

As of this writing, I’ve put 450 miles on the bike and have been bitten by the cycling bug. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that it wasn’t the type of bike I need. The stock saddle was a nightmare (for my anatomy; for some it may be wonderful), so I swapped that out for a Fly Chromoly saddle from Terry. It was a noticeable improvement, but I still have tailbone pain after rides of 15 miles or more.

Terry Fly Chromoly saddle

Terry Fly Chromoly saddle

This leads me to my first tip: get a professional fitting and buy the bike best suited to your body and riding style based on their advice.

Professional Fitting

I went to Bike Gallery in Portland, Oregon (their Hollywood location) and paid $175 for a professional fitting. The process takes about two hours and covers practically every detail about my body, flexibility, fitness, and riding style. As a result of that fitting, I have ordered a Trek Domane AL 5 with carbon fork and Shimano 105 group set.

2021 Trek Domane AL 5

2021 Trek Domane AL 5

When the bike arrives, the technician at Bike Gallery will adjust all aspects of the bike to fit my specific measurements. I can’t wait! Stay tuned for a review once the bike arrives.

Clipless Pedals and Shoes

In addition to getting fitted for the bike, the tech at Bike Gallery also helped me choose clipless pedals and shoes. I went with Shimano RX8 shoes and Shimano pedals. Currently, I’ve been wearing flat-soled tennis shoes to go with the flat pedals on my Giant, but will be looking forward to clipping in.

Shimano RX8 Gravel Shoes

Shimano RX8 Gravel Shoes

The weird thing is calling them clipless pedals even though you are clipped in. Regardless, the benefits are consistent foot placement, a stable platform when you stand up while riding, and improved efficiency with every stroke of the pedals.

Fueling the Body: Water and Food

I have learned that drinking enough fluids and staying properly fueled both before and during a ride is very important. Drink a minimum of one full bottle of water for every hour you ride at a moderate pace on relatively flat ground, double that if you maintain a faster pace, climb any hills, or if the weather demands it. Drink small amounts throughout the ride, not all at once at long intervals apart.

It is also important to stay fueled. Eat complex carbohydrates and proteins that are slower to digest before the ride, and take with you small snacks to eat along the way. These should be easier to digest for quicker energy. I take fig newtons because they travel well, don’t melt when it gets hot out, and have a good combination of carbohydrates without a lot of artificial ingredients.

Apps and Ride Tracking

There are a lot of mobile phone apps available to help you keep track of where you go and how fast you get there. I rely on the Activities app built into iOS, and have added Strava as a third-party app. These give me all the data I need to see how my fitness level is coming along.

For data gathering, I use an Apple Watch series 4 to track heart rate and other data points. This data feeds into the Activities and Strava apps. I don’t currently use a separate heart rate monitor, but that may come down the road. I also do not have a cadence or power meter on my bike. Currently I use a simple bike computer that tells me speed, distance, and time.

On my home computer, I use a website called Kamoot to plan routes. It is free, although there are paid options. It is fantastic for mapping and determining relative difficulty of routes. These calculations factor in traffic volume, road conditions, shoulder width or designated bike lanes, and elevation gains.

Tools

There are a few simple tools and supplies you’ll need to maintain and enjoy your bike both now and in the future. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of bike maintenance; it’s easy and actually kind of fun. Keeping your bike in good shape not only makes it last longer (thus improving resale value when you upgrade), it makes the bike perform better which makes you perform better.

Your tires and chain probably need the most attention. Your tires need to be properly inflated based on their size and your body weight, so this requires an accurate air pressure gauge that can measure PSI (pounds per square inch) up to 160, and a pair of air pumps; one is compact and goes with you on the bike and the other is a floor model that you keep at home. Use your gauge to check your tire pressures at least every other ride.

You need a small bag of some kind that straps to your bike, either under the seat or attached elsewhere on the frame. In this bag you will carry a spare tube (or two), a pair of tire removal tools/levers, and a multi-tool with bits that fit all the main components of your bike.

I went with a Blackburn Local Ride kit, including multi-tool, bag, pump, and tire irons.

Blackburn Local Ride kit

Blackburn Local Ride kit

I recommend carrying a compact air pump to inflate tires while on rides, rather than the CO2 cartridge repair kits. Cartridges can run out but an air pump will keep working as long as your muscles hold out.

The floor model air pump you have at home should have a built-in pressure gauge and be able to reach pressures of 160 PSI or higher. I use a Bontrager Charger floor pump and have been very happy with it.

Bontrager Charger floor pump

Bontrager Charger floor pump

Your chain needs almost as much attention as your tires. Keep it clean and lubricated and it will serve you well.

I suspend my bike on the Hollywood hitch-style bike rack I put on the back of my car. This holds the bike above the ground at a decent height, and lets me rotate the pedals forward and back unrestricted. On the ground underneath, I lay a large sheet of cardboard to catch oil drips.

Hollywood hitch-style bike rack

Hollywood hitch-style bike rack

I use a large spray can of WD-40 to thoroughly wet the chain and sprockets, working the pedals forward and back and even shifting gears. I wipe this down with a box of paper shop towels. This cleans road grime, dust and dirt from the chain. Once the chain has been wiped off, I allow any remaining WD-40 to evaporate away. (Don’t use WD-40 as a primary lubricant.)

The next step is to apply a chain lubricant. There are many available, so I don’t have any specific recommendations. As far as frequency, though, I recommend cleaning and lubricating your chain after riding in the rain or on dusty trails, or every 150-200 miles, whichever comes first.

Learn To Fix Flat Tires

One final piece of advice I have is to learn how to repair a flat tire using just the tools and supplies (spare tube) you carry on your bike. It’s not a difficult process (there are plenty of YouTube videos showing you how) but it’s a good idea to practice once at home so you are familiar with what needs to be done when a flat occurs out on the roadside or trail.

I suggest you practice once for your front wheel and once for your rear wheel, as the process of removing those wheels from your particular bike are a little different.

My First Quarter Century Ride

Springwater Trail
Springwater Trail, Oregon

When I [re-]started bicycling in late April, 2020, the best I could do was a 12-mile there-and-back ride on the Springwater Trail from Boring to Gresham and back. I averaged maybe 12 mph and had to stop numerous times, especially on the way back to Boring (it’s uphill, about 300 feet of elevation gain).

Writing this, it sounds pathetic. 12 miles? 300 feet of elevation gain? Those stats barely comprise a simple warm-up for most cyclists. But for someone like me who hadn’t exercised in any formal capacity for years, and who’s occupation involves sitting on my ass 9+ hours a day, it took some getting used to.

As I write this, it’s the first week of October. I’ve ridden close to 400 miles since then (still, a paltry number) and have seen some encouraging gains. I can now ride that same route there and back without stopping and average 14 mph. It’s not much of an improvement, but to me, that little bit of gain is encouraging and empowering.

Recently, I attempted my first Quarter Century ride. This is 25 miles in a single outing. I accomplished this goal, which was significant for me as it’s the longest I’ve ever ridden in one shot, even compared to when I rode back in my mid-20s.

My route started at Gresham Main City Park. I rode the Springwater Trail east to Boring so that I got the uphill portion of the trip out of the way first. I paced myself so that I wasn’t pushing it, wearing myself out too early. I have a bad habit of riding too fast too soon and using up my energy too quickly, not having enough in the tank to finish the overall ride. This time I made sure I maintained a moderate pace with the longer distance in mind.

This ride was on a 2020 Giant Escape 3 Disc.

Giant Escape 3 Disc
Giant Escape 3 Disc

After a brief break in Boring, I headed back to Gresham. Once back at my starting point, I ate a 100 calorie granola bar and then headed west toward Portland. I mention the granola bar because I’ve been learning the value of fueling and hydration on rides longer than 30-60 minutes. The idea of eating during exercise is new to me, but I’m trusting the wisdom and knowledge of countless cyclists who came before me and have learned what works and what doesn’t.

The ride from Gresham west to 111th avenue (Beggars-Tick Wildlife Refuge) is almost completely flat with no elevation change at all. I sipped water frequently as I rode and by the time I got to 111th street, I was ready for my second granola bar.

At this point I was feeling confident I could complete the ride. My butt hurt (more on that in a minute) but my legs were doing fine. My average heart rate so far on the ride had been 155-160 bpm. Not bad for a guy in his early 50s. Another thing I’ve learned is not to stop too long, so after wolfing down my granola bar and drinking some more water, I backtracked east for the final leg of my ride.

By the time I got back to Gresham Main City Park, my trip computer said I had ridden 23.4 miles. I wanted to hit 25 miles officially, but I knew that my legs could have gone another 5 miles without too much complaint. I was out of water, though, having taken only one bottle (a lesson learned), and my butt was very sore.

The ride took 1 hour 47 minutes, I averaged 14.1 mph, over the 23.4 miles distance.

I had ridden my first unofficial (23.4 miles) Quarter Century ride and I felt very proud. I was also very happy at the relative ease for which I’d done it. Although it was difficult, it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated. Having done it, I’m confident I can ride 30 miles, maybe slightly more, if I take enough water and snacks.

Now, I’d like to address the butt soreness I mentioned. I’ve been wearing cycling shorts that I bought back in the early 90s. They have a chamois and are still in good shape, but I realized that the chamois inside doesn’t actually have any padding.

Oops!

Reading reviews and watching educational videos on YouTube, I realized that today’s cycling shorts and bibs have some decent padding in the crotch, not just chafing resistance material.

I recently ordered two pairs of black cycling bibs from The Black Bibs ($40 a pair, awesome!) They didn’t arrive until two days after my long ride, and when I inspected the padding in the crotch, I realized I’ve basically been riding without any padding at all with my 25-year old shorts. Dumb!

Based on this, and considering that the dominant limiting factor of my quarter century ride was butt comfort, I feel like 30+ miles is very doable for me. That, and taking along enough water.

I will likely post a review of my black bibs after I’ve had a chance to ride with them a time or two. Stay tuned.

Back in the Saddle

Road bike
Road bike

Back when I was a young man, living in the big city, I rode my bicycle all over town. An abandoned train track nearby had been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle path (called the Springwater Trail) and we quickly became very good friends. I even rode from my apartment in the city to the home where I grew up.

I moved to a smallish town in the foothills where everything was uphill both ways, and my poor Trek hybrid bicycle fell by the wayside of time.

Twenty years have passed and, after being stuck at home due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I decided to get back into bicycling. The intent is to get out of the house and get some exercise.

Back in April, I purchased a Giant commuter bike, the Escape 3 Disc, which is basically a rigid frame road bike with lower gearing and wide, flat handlebars.

Giant Escape 3 Disc
Giant Escape 3 Disc, 2020

I had the bike shop throw some rain fenders on it, and I changed to an after-market saddle, and away I went.

As the weather has allowed, I’ve ridden an average of twice a week on the Springwater Trail, typically from the terminal end in Boring, Oregon to downtown Gresham and back. It’s just shy of 12 miles round trip and is uphill on the last leg back to the trailhead in Boring. It’s been a great workout and I’ve noticed my ability to get back to the car with fewer stops, and my average speed has improved.

A common goal of road cyclists is to ride their first Century, 100 miles in a single outing. I’m a long way from being able to do that. So far my longest ride was 15 miles in 1 hour, 15 minutes. I intend to get there, though, but it will remain to be seen if I can reach that goal by the end of next season.

In the meantime, now that it is mid-September and the rainy season will be soon upon us, I got a spin bike for inside my home. This will help me maintain the fitness indoors that I’ve gained on the outside bike.

Next season, I hope to upgrade to a proper road bike with drop bars and better gearing. Right now I have my eye on the Trek Domane AL 5, but time will tell.

[Update 9/28/2020: After speaking with a local bike shop, they told me their back-order for bikes from the Trek factory are due to arrive sometime in April, 2021. Yikes!]

For now, though, I’m not getting much riding in at all due to the wildfire smoke that has blanketed my state. Breathing outdoors is a dangerous activity.

I Sought Adventure And Found It

Badger Lake, Oregon
Badger Lake, Oregon

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.

Don't take a bike like this on a goat road. It's non-fun.
2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, “The Grey Mule”

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 4860-140.
Map source; Topozone.com

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.

Me at Badger Lake.
Badger Lake, Oregon

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.

Not my photo, but this shows how gnarly and steep 4860-140 is.
Not advised for heavy adventure bikes

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.