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The other side of a classic river

I live in Oregon. When I need to travel along the Columbia River I do so on Interstate 84. It’s fast, and less boring than most interstate freeways. But there’s another side to that mighty river that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Washington state road 14 (SR14) follows the Columbia River from Vancouver on the west to it’s junction with Highway 395 to the east, which lies just north of Hermiston and Umatilla, Oregon. The road is in great shape and offers a diverse range of scenery and terrain.

This past weekend I rode my V-Strom to visit my Dad at his home in Hermiston. I decided to take SR14 the whole way. From where I work in Gresham I backtracked west to I-205 and crossed the Columbia there. Then I got on SR14 and rode East. The road winds up and down several cliffs above the river, offering some fantastic viewpoints. The road is two lanes the entire way but has narrow shoulders in many places. The road surface is in great shape, however. Sometimes slow cagers can get in your way and it’s important to keep and eye out for John Q. Law, but other than that it’s a great run.

From Vancouver to the junction with Higway 97, just north of Biggs, Oregon and just south of Goldendale, Washington several towns are found at seemingly evenly spaced intervals. Gas and food are both available at most of them. Once you pass east of 97, however, it’s 82 miles of nothing. Absolutely nothing. No gas, no food, nothing. Because the bridge to Biggs is closed, the last gas available is a quarter mile north on 97 at a Shell station/minit-mart.

The views to the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge are amazing. The cliffs and hillsides are rugged and majestic and as good, if not better, than most other terrain features I’ve seen all over the entire Western U.S., including the run up to Lolo Pass in Idaho. The Gorge is in my own backyard so to speak and I have taken this route for granted by sticking to I-84.

Once past Dallesport, however, the terrain flattens and becomes more arid but no less dramatic. It’s not until you go east beyond the junction with 97 that things get boring. Even then, however, it’s more exciting than the Oregon side of the river.

The trip from Gresham, across 205, and east on SR14 to Hermiston took 4.5 hours with several small stops.

Another Sunday down the Valley

It was another sunny Sunday and the smell of menudo cooking drove me out of the house and out on two wheels. I headed south through my usual off-season route to Silverton. But instead of stopping for lunch I continued on until I reached the tiny town of Scio.

There were a lot of riders out but not a single V-Strom could be found other than my own. The more miles I put on this bike (I’m at 10,000 now) the more I love it. It’s performance and comfort far exceed it’s very meager cost. Every time I go on a day ride like today’s I yearn for my first big trip of the year. I’m not sure where I’m going on the first trip, but I’d imagine it will be the southern Oregon and northern California coast. The redwoods are fantastic and I don’t have to ride over any mountain passes to get there. Other than a very high likelihood of rain I don’t anticipate weather being a factor.

Astoria and Jewel Elk

Mike and I spent Saturday on a loop trip to Astoria and back.

It was clear but cool when I left my house in Sandy at 7:40AM. I got to Mike’s house in Scappoose an hour and 10 minutes later. We checked out his new bike, a 2005 Suzuki M50, dubbed “Big Red”, then headed over to the gas station to fuel up. Because it was still cold and we were leery of hitting icy spots, we decided to take Hwy 30 up the Columbia to Astoria, then loop back through the coast range through Jewel and Mist instead of the other way around.

Within 20 miles of Astoria we hit some drizzle but it wasn’t much to worry about. Bikes and MikeMike and I pulled into a small state park overlooking the river for a bio break. We were getting hungry and lunch time was approaching so we decided to stop in Astoria for some grub.

Stephanie’s wasn’t too busy when we parked our bikes and headed inside. Astoria was overcast and there was an occasional mist in the air. Mike ate a Reuben sandwich and I ordered biscuits and gravy. The food was adequate but not overwhelming. Our waitress looked like Laverne’s friend, Shirley, and the other waitress was probably a meth head based on the fact that we couldn’t understand a single word she said, and everything she said was funny enough (to her) to warrant laughing out loud.

Two older guys came out of the restaurant as we were gearing up to head out and chatted with us quite a while about our bikes. One made the audacious claim that he had recently purchased a 1994 BMW RS1100 in excellent shape for a mere $1,000. If that was true I wonder if he could get me a good deal on some beach-front property in Aspen.

We had more mist on our face shields as we turned inland and headed into the coast range. Highway 202 was very bumpy and rough, with lots of gravel in the roadway. The damage from recent storms was evident everywhere. We could see where creeks had risen above their banks and flooded surrounding areas. The riding was slow because of the road conditions but we took our time and maintained a good pace.

Eventually we made it to the Jewel elk viewing area and were not disappointed. Elk at JewelThere were probably 50-60 elk in the field, half bulls in the velvet and the other half cows. We snapped several pictures, then continued eastward.

By the time we got back to Scappoose we had dry pavement and clearing skies. Mike’s fuel light came on and I was getting tired, so we parted ways after a handshake and a “Great ride!” His loop was roughly 180 miles and mine was approximately 275 by the time the day was done.

Riding in the Valley of the Sun

I just returned from a short vacation to Phoenix. The contrast is dramatic between the mid 70’s and sunshine found in the Valley of the Sun and the gray rain of my home turf east of Portland, Oregon. I saw many motorcycles out and about in Arizona, with quite a lot of Gold Wings on the back roads, even a couple traversing the somewhat treacherous Apache Trail (188) — 22 miles of steep washboard gravel road.

Apparently Arizona doesn’t require riders to wear helmets. The first indication I had of this legal status was a guy on a black cruiser, running his fingers through his movie star hair at a stop light — with a full-face helmet bungied to his pillion seat. I just shook my head in wonder. After experiencing the crazy cagers on Phoenix freeways my opinion of helmet-less riders migrated to “those people are 100% insane”. Phoenix drivers are fast and seemingly incapable of staying in their own lane.

The weather there is great in the off season, of course, and there are numerous excellent riding roads outside the Phoenix metro area. I wouldn’t want to be on two wheels during the summer, though. I’d rather ride in 40 degree rain than 100+ heat, dry or not.

Besides lots of cruisers and Gold Wings, and two sport bikes, I never saw a single V-Strom. Needless to say, I could hardly wait to get home and ride. I was on two wheels the very next morning after my return, headed to work.

Motorcycle camping

I’ve been a backpacker since I was 15, so moving into the realm of motorcycle camping is an easy thing to consider. So far my multi-day trips have been 100% motels for overnight stays. This year I plan to mix some tent camping with motels perhaps every other night or every third night (for showers and laundry).

I pulled my backpacking gear down from storage and investigated where things stood. My single burner camp stove and mess kit are good to go but my water filter got nasty so that either needs to be replaced or eliminated from the list. I’ll probably replace it because I find them handy in many different situations.

My tent needs help. It’s a two person dome tent but doesn’t pack very small and the poles are far too long to pack on the bike. Plus a couple of them are broken, so a new tent is needed. I ordered the Eureka Backcountry I personal backpacking tent. It’s 3′ wide, 3′ tall, and 8′ long and packs very small, into a roll that’s about 15″ long and 6″ thick including the poles.

I have three different sleeping bags, for three different temperature ranges, plus the necessary stuff sacks that go with them so that’s taken care of. My sleeping pad arrangement leaves a bit to be desired, however. I currently have a standard ThermaRest with a half-length model that includes a blow-up pillow. Together they’re okay but I’ve never been able to get a decent night’s rest on them. Further, when rolled up they’re fairly wide. Doing some research I came across the Big Agnes (that’s a brand name) Insulated Air Core air mattress.

It’s plenty long enough and wide enough, and gives me a good 2″ of insulated and comfy loft above the ground. It came yesterday via FedEx and I inflated it as soon as I got home and tested it out. Very nice! It’s not cheap, at $75 not including shipping, but definitely seems to be worth it. The biggest benefit, however, is that it rolls up into a 9″ x 5″ package, so space savings is a huge plus.

The next step is to find a 12v compact air compressor that will not only fill my tires in case of a flat, but has a nozzle that will inflate my air mattress. It’s got a 1/2″ nozzle that requires you to put your mouth around it, unlike most where it’s a tube you blow into.

Coldest ride yet

When I rode to work today it was 26 degrees outside with a slight cross wind. The calculated windchill was approximately 1 degree, give or take. At that temperature frostbite can begin setting in within 30 minutes.

The only part of my body that felt cold was my eyebrows. Yes, my eyebrows. My HJC modular helmet lets a sliver of air come in from the top of my face shield and it hits me right above my eyes. My Aerostich Darien jacket, Fieldsheer pants, and Alpinestar boots did a great job keeping their relative body parts comfortably warm, as did my generic Gore-tex ski gloves for my hands.

Ride: Back roads to Silverton

I was able to get on the bike and ride this weekend. For those that live out of the area, the Portland metro area has two kinds of weather in January. It’s either gray, gray, gray and raining, or it’s clear blue skies with a bitterly cold east wind.

Except Sunday.

Where I live in Sandy, we had clear blue skies but no wind, and the temps were in the upper 40’s. I left the house and headed south through Estacada and through the hills toward Molalla. Just as I reached Colton, a dozen miles outside of Molalla, I rode under clouds. Once I hit Molalla, I was in a cold fog that formed a mist on my bike’s windshield. I even had a few rain drops on my face shield.

I made it Silverton with cold fingers (I was wearing my medium gloves, not the cold-weather kind) and was pleased to see the Silver Creek Coffee House was open. Once my belly was full of ham sandwich and Tuscan white bean and chicken soup — plus the requisite mocha — I remounted and headed back the way I came.

The only frustrating part of the trip, other than some cold fingers, were the obliviots that think it’s okay to drive their Buicks 35 mph in a 55 mph zone. They probably think they’re being safe. Ha! If they only realized just how disruptive they actually are.

To video or not to video

As some of my readers know, I have a history of creating videos. My repertoire includes videos of sports teams, life retrospectives of the bride and groom played at wedding receptions, family reunions, hunting expeditions, and my biggest production of all, an original short film that I wrote, directed, and produced (“A Cup of Joe”, link).

Despite being paid for most of my work, I would still consider myself an amateur videographer if for no other reason than the fact that I don’t currently make a living doing it. Still, it’s something I enjoy and I frequently look for ways to combine my love of video with other passions.

Take motorcycling for instance. I love to ride my V-Strom, especially on multi-day solo trips around the Pacific Northwest. It was a natural thing to think, “How can I make a video of a motorcycle trip?” I thought about producing a video a la Warren Miller’s ski films, complete with narration and amazing scenery. When I added up the production costs and level of effort involved I quickly realized it would be far too expensive and time consuming.

The next thought was to go minimalist and simply tape myself talking into the camera, sort of like The Blair Witch Project sans spooky plot lines. That would certainly be easy to make but who would want to watch it?

Do I want to be a videographer first and a motorcyclist second? Will the focus be on the scenery and locations, the riders, or the riding itself (lots of rolling on-bike shots)? Will I need a chase car with a cameraman plus driver?

So many questions, so many options.

What does Microsoft Vista have to do with motorcycling?

Nothing. Except that I’m a motorcycle rider and I use computers for a living. Also, if you’re reading this blog you’re also using a computer, and the odds are you’re using a flavor of Microsoft Windows to do it.

Here’s the scoop. I’ve been using computers since 1983 including numerous flavors of Windows, Linux, OS/2, and now Mac. This web site is hosted on a Linux server and I use a Mac in my daily computing life. Suffice to say I can make a rational and informed comparison between the various operating systems available today.

I had my first opportunity to use Microsoft Vista the other day. I have read countless review about Microsoft’s latest OS and was anticipating a similar but slightly less satisfactory experience to Windows XP. I was amazed at how much I disliked Vista once I had a chance to actually use it. To put it another way, I hated it.

The incessant “Are you sure?” prompts felt like I was trying to have a conversation with someone afflicted with an acute stutter. Just moving my way around Control Panel was an unnecessarily complex rats maze.

Talk about a huge step backward in productivity!

It seemed that everything was a subtle invasion of my privacy, whether it was the incessant personal questions or the large volume of bloat-ware and crap-ware and trial-ware that comes with it. The overall experience felt like I was being molested by a well-dressed car salesman.

Not one part of that operating system felt like it was there to serve me but instead was there to serve some corporate power.

I found the interface to be very confusing and none of it made sense. Despite the fact that I’d never seen Vista before, I’ve used many operating systems and nothing in Vista looked like it made sense to me. It was very counter-intuitive.

I was surprised at how much I disliked Vista. I expected it to be only marginally worse than XP (based on previous reviews). It was drastically worse.

If you recently switched to Vista, either from XP or from other operating system, what’s your opinion? If Vista is your first computing experience, you not only have my sympathy but also my consolation that there are other alternatives. Downgrade to XP or better yet, take your computer back for a refund and go buy a Mac instead.

9 things NOT to carry on your motorcycle

There are as many opinions of what to carry on your motorcycle as there are people riding. From tire repair kits to lip balm to more bizarre things like dog goggles and hair spray (no one likes helmet hair!) But what about things not to carry?

Here’s a list of 9 things not to carry on your bike:

A frown.
Worries about your daily life.
A tow rope.
A life preserver.
A note from your mother.
An attitude.
Misconceptions about your mortality.
An eagerness to return to the daily grind.

In an effort to be positive and not just negative, here’s a list of things that I suggest you do carry every time you’re out and about on two wheels:

An appreciation for how lucky you are.
Respect for the risks you are undertaking.
A focus on the moment.
A willingness to enjoy the experience, regardless of the weather.
A sense of honor to all others on two wheels, no matter what brand they ride.
A sense of accomplishment for making this dream of riding come true in your life.