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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.


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

The Value of Expertise

Factory machine

Roughly half of my career as an IT and software development professional has been spent in the capacity of a consultant or freelancer. Part of that involved trading hours for dollars, but another aspect of my work has been providing solutions and being paid for those solutions regardless of how little or how long it took.

One of my favorite stories, likely apocryphal and without original attribution, is a legend among consultants and experts-for-hire. It goes something like this:

A manufacturer used a very large and expensive machine to make their product. One day the machine stopped working. None of the employees or managers could figure out how to get it working again. The company was losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost productivity. Something had to be done, fast!

On the advice of someone on the management team, they called in an expert from the outside. This individual arrived shortly after receiving the call. After being briefed on the problem, the expert carefully walked around the machine, listening and inspecting different parts of it.

After about 15 minutes of inspection, the expert asked that someone bring him a 10-pound hammer. The tool was produced, and taking it in his hands, the expert drew back and smacked the machine in a very particular spot.

Whirrr! The machine came to life and everyone cheered, quickly getting back to work.

Ten days later, the factory manager opened up the mail and saw an invoice from the expert. After looking at the amount due, he immediately called the expert on the phone.

“I just got your bill and I am flabbergasted and very angry.”

“What’s the problem?” the expert said, calmly.

“You have the audacity to charge us $2,000 when all you did was walk around the machine for 15 minutes and then smack it with a hammer. I could have done that!”

The expert politely said, “You aren’t paying me for 15 minutes worth of my time, like you do your bookkeepers or floor sweepers, and you aren’t paying me for my ability to swing a hammer like you do your workmen.”

“Then what exactly are you expecting me to pay you for?” the manager screamed into the phone.

“I restored to life a critical piece of machinery, without which you were losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost revenue. You are paying me for the value of what I gave you, produced through my years of expertise in knowing where to strike the machine and how hard.”

A Boy Named Marmite


I tried Marmite for the first time, spread on a Ritz cracker. Here’s how I would describe it.

Molly Molasses, well beyond her ‘best by’ date and bitter from a recent divorce, went to Las Vegas in a vain attempt to forget her past life. In a run-down and smoke-filled bar at the unfashionable end of town, she met a surly local with thick sideburns escaping from under a sweat-stained trucker hat, a bulging man that introduced himself to everyone by saying, “Call me Mr. Beef Bouillon.” They spent one unspeakable night together in a dilapidated by-the-hour motel, its slogan “What happens here, stays here” displayed in faded false prophet neon blinking arrhythmically behind scuffed, bullet-proof glass. Their unholy lust produced a child, a hell-spawn son named Marmite, a boy with a face and disposition only an utterly knackered and jaded mother could love.

Bless his heart.

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.”


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.

Second Citizen First Draft

I recently completed the first draft of my contemporary fiction novel, Second Citizen. This is a story I’ve been wanting to write for several years. It is a departure from my normal fantasy genre and was an interesting experience for a few reasons.

Because this book takes place in modern times and is based on real places (all in Oregon, my home state), I was able to use existing place names and locales. In fantasy, you have to create your world before you can populate it. That can be a challenge, especially when it comes to naming people and places. Although the characters in Second Citizen are fictitious, their names are common so I had a wealth of existing source material to choose from.

The downside to writing contemporary fiction is that I can’t violate the laws of physics or reality. In fantasy, I can have my characters do anything I want, as long as they do so within the laws of plausibility. It doesn’t have to be real but it has to make sense. In Second Citizen, however, my characters must engage in realistic activities.

Although I don’t want to spoil anything, one aspect of my book that sets it apart is I include various news reports scattered throughout the story. All reference real news agencies. Although the events in those news stories are fictitious, they closely follow real or realistic events that are happening every day. Since they involve gun violence, it was emotional at times to write — one news story I wrote had a real-life event very similar to it occur just days afterward. Life imitated fiction.

For now, I am going to ignore my manuscript for a month or so before I read it cover to cover. I want to get a relatively fresh perspective on it and then judge what needs work or revision. I’m not in a hurry to get this story published, nor do I have an editor lined up, so it may be a while before this book sees the store shelves — if at all.

Stay tuned.