Springtime in Oregon is hard to beat when it comes to weather. 72 degrees and sunshine? Yeah, that works. Being a motorcyclist, you’ve got three guesses how I’ve handled it, and the first two guesses don’t count.
Sportbikes don’t like snow
Two days in a row, I rode my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 “Shoot to Thrill” past Estacada, up highway 224 to Ripplebrook ranger station, and then south on NF46 toward Detroit. Both times I was turned back by snow, as I expected. What was surprising was how far I got before the road was covered enough to make me turn around.
Although I didn’t have a GPS on my bike, I would estimate the snow is at 3,300 feet elevation, and was within a few miles of the summit at the power lines. If you can get that far, the rest of the route should be open.
They are doing repair work at mileposts 31-37, and delays during the week are common. This is to repair damage to the cliff face after the big fire that occurred about a year-and-a-half ago. Highway 224 is in reasonably good shape, otherwise. NF46 has some issues, however. There are a few more potholes, some of which would give a sport bike rider a hard time if they were hit at speed. There are also some trees down, blocking portions of the roadway or hanging low over one lane. It’s best to take it relatively easy on the sighting lap before giving it the beans on the return leg.
The Smiling Astronaut
When I rode up the first day, I met two guys on sport bikes stopped in the road. They told me the road was covered a mile ahead, and although a pickup truck had driven up through the snow and parked at the top of the hill, it would be impassible to all but a dirt bike with knobby tires.
One the second day, I rode to that point myself and stopped at the snow to take a break before turning around. On the way back, I came up behind a guy on a sport bike west of Ripplebrook. We zipped along until we came to the construction delay, and chatted briefly before continuing on to Estacada where we exchanged contact information. His name was Wayne and he was riding a 2013 Kawasaki ZX-10R. We agreed to talk more about future day rides on our sport bikes.
To paraphrase the old Honda slogan, “You meet the nicest people on two wheels.”
Recently the weather has been cooperative enough for me to get both bikes ridden, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I try to ride each bike at least once every other week, rather than winterizing them and letting them sit. They only get non-ethanol fuel as well, and I think this keeps them in better shape.
On the V-Strom, I went up highway 224 to Ripplebrook. They are working on a hillside prone to landslides, so there are some construction delays to contend with. This is between milepost 31 to 37. At the Ripplebrook ranger station, I kept heading south on NF46 toward Detroit. We’ve had a lot of low-elevation snow this winter so I didn’t expect to get far, but I wanted to see how things were looking. The road has a few new potholes but is in otherwise good shape.
I had to turn back just past where NF42 heads east toward highway 26. Despite this, it was a fantastic ride and it felt good to stretch the V-Strom’s legs a bit.
In other news, I have published my third novel. It is titled Paragon’s Call and is the culmination of The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. It is available for Kindle on Amazon.com, and is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
The sunset of an old hero The dawn of a new foe
Paragon’s Call is the third and final book in The Taesian Chronicles trilogy. In this exciting and fast-paced conclusion, we pick up the story a year after the Battle of Eeron from book two, Ohlen’s Bane. Ohlen and his comrades, Therran and Ahmahn, discover the novaari, dangerous beasts that are half man, half animal. Ohlen is conscripted by Emperor Percy Saltos to lead a ragtag group of criminal misfits called Paragons, who are charged with seeking out these monsters and destroying them. But not everyone wants them to succeed.
I seldom need an excuse to ride a motorcycle, but having a specific destination can provide the motivation to tackle a tougher route or longer duration than would otherwise be the norm. Last weekend was a good example of this.
My good buddy, Mike, recently moved to Albany and wanted me to visit him at his new home. I was already planning on taking the Gixxer for a spin, so I decided to give my ride a destination. Of course, I wasn’t just going to buzz down I-5 (ick!) and back. I chose the long way ’round.
I left Gresham at 9 AM and rode due south to Deep Creek Road, which connected to Highway 211 just west of Barton. I followed 211 east into Estacada and veered left onto Highway 224 and familiar ground. There were numerous rafters on the Clackamas River and many cars headed in both directions between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station.
I stopped at the ranger station for a quick bio break, then headed south on NF46. I rode to Detroit without stopping, and maintained a spirited yet controlled pace. The temperature was warming up and by the time I got to Detroit it was already in the upper 70s. I ate a snack, filled up my tank with ethanol-free premium, and turned west on Highway 22.
This stretch of road, from Stayton, up over the Cascades to Sisters and Redmond, is busy and this warm late Spring day was no exception. I had to pass several slower cars, but kept my speed moderated for safety and economic sake — tickets are expensive.
In Mehama, I crossed the Santiam River into the the community of Lyons. It was my first time in that tiny town. Highway 226 west was my new route and I was impressed with how lush it was. This is a beautiful drive, and it exemplifies the beauty of western Oregon. The next town I came to was Scio. I continued south then west again on 226, past the community of Crabtree, and into Albany.
I got turned around in Albany and had to backtrack a few blocks to get onto the correct street to Mike’s house. I don’t have a GPS on my Gixxer and on the ride back I spent some time wondering where I could mount one in the cramped dash space of the sport bike.
Mike and I drove in his car to a nearby brewpub for burgers and BLTs and ice water. We were the only customers until a middle-aged guy showed up solo on his Harley-Davidson. He ordered a beer and Mike and I talked behind his back at how foolish we think drinking and riding is. That guy has his freedom to do what he chooses, of course, including the freedom to make poor choices.
I decided to backtrack the way I came, so I said my goodbyes to Mike and made it back onto 226 east bound. The weather had warmed up into the low 80s and was a bit muggy. The armpit and back vents on my Aerostich Roadcrafter did a surprising job of helping me stay relatively cool. I stopped for gas again in Detroit, before heading north on NF46.
There were many motorcyclists heading toward me and the waves were enthusiastic on both sides at how great of a day it was to ride. When I stopped in Ripplebrook for another bio break and to chug more water, there were a half dozen other riders doing the same thing. I saw a couple of Forest Service law enforcement vehicles parked at a boat launch on the way back on 224 into Estacada, but they paid me no mind.
I got back into Gresham at 4:20 in the afternoon, after riding 320 miles. I was hot, thirsty, and my helmet — which I had already cleaned three times during the day — was covered in bugs. The front of my Gixxer was even worse. It needs a thorough cleaning.
On Saturday I went for a Gixxer ride and discovered the roadblock on Highway 224 just east of Estacada has been lifted. It was in place since late September of last year due to landslides after the 36 Pit Fire near Memaloose Bridge.
I rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and noticed that the road was in normal condition, with rocks on the pavement in only two spots — which is typical for that highway. There was a sign in Estacada just as you leave town and head up 224 that said the road to Detroit was closed due to snow. They lie like a rug. Unless we get a freak low-elevation snow storm, it should be snow-free for the remainder of the season.
At Ripplebrook, I headed south on NF46. Again, the road condition was fine and normal and suffered no damage over the anemic winter.
I was in for a shock when I got to Detroit. The lake level is normally full this time of year, but instead the northeast reach, fed by the Breitenbush River, was at a record low. The docks were high and dry and only a 10′ wide creek flowed at the bottom of the lake channel. In the half dozen years I’ve been riding to Detroit, I’ve never seen the water that low, even late in the season.
I gassed up, ate a snack, and headed back. Despite not riding that route since last year, I still have the route and curves memorized. My bike and I were in the zone and it was a flowing, fast ride. There were many other riders on the route, too, so people were taking advantage of the road opening.
It’s autumn and that means winter is right around the corner. That also means that my riding options become limited. Highway 224 from Estacada to Ripplebrook remains open all year, but from NF46 from Ripplebrook to Detroit is not maintained for winter travel. Once we get our first snowfall down to 3,000 feet elevation, that’s all she wrote until mid May at the soonest (two years ago the road wasn’t snow-free until the third weekend of June!)
I’ve ridden to Detroit several times in recent weeks, specifically to get as much road time on that route as possible before it closes for the winter. Why do I like that route so much? It’s 80 miles of curves and scenery without a single stop sign or town. Although it doesn’t have a lot of especially tight twisties, it does have a broad variety of curve types and conditions. This is a great way to improve skills.
When I rode to Detroit late last week, the fall colors were resplendent and bold. It was a blast.
Back in late May, I placed an order for a Roadcrafter one-piece riding suit from Aerostich. I chose a size 42 regular and had them rotate the sleeves forward to accommodate a sport-bike riding position. My custom-made suit came via FedEx yesterday and I took my first ride while wearing it.
First impressions matter, but I’ve learned that may not always be the case in riding apparel that needs to be broken in before they’re comfortable. Fortunately, my Roadcrafter fit me perfectly on Mile One. As with most specialized gear, it can feel a little awkward when you’re standing upright. It doesn’t get into its groove until you assume the position specific to the activity. You wouldn’t walk through a grocery store wearing scuba gear and expect it to fit right, but as soon as you get into the water everything would fall into place, so to speak.
Despite being a full-size suit, my Roadcrafter is surprisingly light. I expected it to weigh quite a lot, especially considering how much heavy-duty Cordura nylon and hardware goes into its construction. It is fully lined with a thin nylon material to prevent chaffing, and the protective pads in the shoulders, elbows and knees are discrete and barely noticeable.
Getting into the suit is counterintuitive, but the friendly folks at Aerostich include a ‘donning’ guide that makes it a snap. You hold up your suit and step into it right foot first, followed by your right arm. Then you insert your left arm into the sleeve. The unusual part is you engage the full-body zipper up by your throat and then zip it down rather than at the ankle and zipping up. Once I did it a few times, I could get into the suit in less than 15 seconds.
I threw my leg over the saddle of my 2012 GSX-R750 and rolled out of the driveway. Before departure, I opened both armpit vents and the vent across my back. The temperature outside was around 80 degrees so I anticipated being rather warm in the thick nylon suit. Surprisingly, I wasn’t any warmer than I am in my AGVSport leathers and noticed the Roadcrafter actually had a bit more upper-body ventilation. Most of this was from airflow down the back of the collar and across the center of my back. There are no vents on the legs, however, which may be an issue on especially hot rides.
Once I was on my bike, the suit felt like it disappeared. There were no hot spots or areas where the suit rubbed on a joint or limb. There was plenty of airflow from the open collar. It felt lightweight, too. I was immediately impressed.
I rode through Estacada up the Clackamas River Highway 224 to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and back again. During that ride I got sideways a few times and tested out how the suit felt at higher speeds. It was stable and comfortable, with no flapping or other detractions.
By the time I got home, my new Roadcrafter one-piece suit felt like an old friend. I look forward to many thousands of miles wearing it on my Gixxer.
After a ride to Detroit and back on Saturday, the fantastic riding weather was too tempting to deny so on Sunday I headed out once again on the Gixxer.
I fueled up in Estacada, then rode straight through to Detroit where I drank a Frappucino and ate a Snickers bar before heading back. I didn’t get gas in Detroit as I usually do, making the calculation that my bike would make the roundtrip on a single tank of gas (Gixxer’s don’t have a fuel gauge). Once I left Detroit, I caught up with a guy on a Yamaha FJR1300 that was loaded up for a long trip. He quickly waved me past and I zoomed forward. He followed me until the turn off to Timothy Lake, at which point I saw him do a U-turn in my mirrors. I think that was the way he wanted to go.
Not much farther down the road I heard a “Whoosh!” and saw a guy on a black Yamaha R1 zoom past me. I quickly caught up with him and was soon riding up his tailpipe on the corners. He was riding fairly aggressively, going fast in the straights, but he had a disjointed style in the corners and wasn’t taking them very efficiently. Soon I passed him as well as numerous cars.
Before I knew it I got to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and stopped under some shade in the parking lot. Less than a minute later he pulled in and parked next to me. We chatted for a couple of minutes before his buddy on a red and white anniversary edition R1 showed up. Finally their third buddy on an FZ1 pulled in and the four of us talked for about five minutes about bikes. They couldn’t say enough good things about my GSX-R750 and were blown away when I mentioned it apparently has a top speed of 180 mph, stock. The stock 1000 cc R1 can only go 6 mph faster than that. They were in somewhat of a hurry to get back into town so they pulled out and headed down the road. I put my gloves and helmet on and sought out to catch up to them.
It didn’t take long before I was right behind them, on the hill down to the river crossing at Indian Henry Campground. Between there and the next bridge just before Three Lynx I passed the FZ1; he didn’t appear to be a very good rider. Soon after the red and white anniversary edition R1 waved me past. I was then up the tailpipe of the first guy on the black R1. Again, he wasn’t riding very smoothly, actually tucking down against his tank when going into corners. This is opposite of what should be done. I quickly went past him, too. They had a hard time keeping up.
The three guys finally caught up with me at the construction stoplight just west of Promontory Park. They followed me the rest of the way into Estacada where I pulled into town to get gas and they continued on westward.
It was a fantastic ride and I had a huge grin on my face when I got home.
I took the day off Friday. Although we had a stiff east wind, the sun was shining and it was relatively warm for this time of year. I spent the middle part of the day riding 160 miles, first south through Molalla to Silverton, where I had lunch (waffle and bacon and mocha) at the Silver Creek Cafe, then backtracked to Estacada where I headed east up the Clackamas River highway to Ripplebrook Ranger Station. I stopped for a few minutes to let my hands warm up before heading back down the river to home.
There were a few bikes out and a few slow cagers, but overall it was a fantastic ride. I arrived back home tired but with a big grin on my face.
Friday afternoon I dashed out of the house to get a ride on Marmot Road before the rains came. The eastern half of the road had dust and gravel across both lanes because the road department had come along and scraped the side of the road (to kill weeds or something) and it pushed all the debris onto the road surface. They swept over the top of it but left a slick layer of dust and gravel.
I reached Lolo Pass Road and turned around for the return ride and the rain started. Within minutes it was raining hard and all that dust had turned into mud. Combined with a lot of wet, fallen leaves, Marmot Road became almost as slick as an ice rink.
I took my time and used very smooth throttle, brake, and cornering action and fortunately made it home wet but without incident.
Saturday the rain went away so I put my camera in my top case and headed up the Clackamas River Road, veering south onto Fish Creek. I stayed on fire roads and was soon traveling on gravel and dirt. My goal was to take photographs of the fall colors, but most of the road was lined with conifers and I didn’t get any decent views of nearby mountains until I got above 4,000 feet elevation.
I stopped a few times and took some pictures, but most were uninteresting (which is why they aren’t posted here). I made it back down to the main highway but hadn’t had enough riding so I turned right and rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning around and heading back home.
I had a 24-hour window of opportunity this past weekend to go for a quick bike camping trip. I loaded my gear on the V-Strom and set off by noon. The sun was shining and it was in the upper 60’s, quickly climbing into the lower 70’s. I fueled up in Estacada, then headed up the Clackamas River highway to Ripplebrook, where I continued east on NF58 past Harriett Lake. The road turned to gravel for about 10 miles before crossing the earthen dam at Timothy Lake’s outlet.
I followed the road around the southern shore of Timothy Lake before hitting Skyline Road (NF42). It was a quick 8-mile jaunt to a brief run south on Highway 26 before continuing east onto NF43. This road connected to NF48, and soon was I zooming past Rock Creek Reservoir and hitting the long straight into the tiny community of Wamic.
I grabbed two snacks, ate one and saved the other for later that evening, then chatted with two guys from Hood River riding tall off-road bikes with large home-made sidecars as they stopped to fuel up. Soon I was backtracking to Rock Creek Reservoir where I followed some narrow forest service roads to a particular campsite within the Mt. Hood National Forest.
There was another group set up about 75 yards away, but despite smoke still coming out of the campfire, no one was home. I wanted to ask permission first before I made camp, just as a courtesy, but in their absence I made the decision to go ahead and set up anyway.
I soon had my tent erected and my gear stowed inside. I propped my bike up on its center stand, sat aboard, leaned back against my top case, and pondered the sky while listening to several different species of birds arguing about the various disposition of seeds in light of recent changes in the world economy.
Weary from the ride and mentally relaxed from contemplating the heavens, I retired into my nylon and aluminum structure, struck a face-down horizontal pose, and remained inert for over an hour. My slumber was disturbed by the return of my neighbors. I decided it was dinner time anyway so I emerged and began making dinner.
The freeze-dried beef stew was unappetizing but wasn’t foul, either; it served its purpose. Once I got my mess kit cleaned up, I returned again to the comfort of my tent and pulled out my iPad to watch a movie. iPads are fantastic for travelers and I highly recommend them. You can watch a movie, read a book, play a game, compose a blog, etc. When you have Wi-Fi or 3G access you can plan a trip’s route or check the weather forecast.
By this time it was getting dark so I brushed my teeth and prepared for bed. Just as the last hint of light was fading, I heard “Huff! Huff!” outside my tent. Thirty seconds later I heard it again. I figured it was a cow, although I had never seen any cow pies in that area. I wondered if it was an elk, as the noise was fairly loud and actually seemed pretty close by. I heard the creature stomp the ground twice, then walk around. It sounded as if it was close to my bike, parked about 20 feet away from the entrance to my tent.
I grabbed my small flashlight, unzipped my tent, and peered outside. I saw nothing. No bodies, no glowing eyes. I knew I had heard a large animal of some kind but couldn’t find any physical evidence of it, so I zipped the tent back up and crawled back onto my sleeping bag for some iPad solitaire. Less than 5 minutes had gone by before I heard another “Huff!” accompanied by a large animal walking around close by. I grabbed a different flashlight, with a broader, brighter beam, unzipped the tent, and looked outside. Standing 20′ away was a female deer. She was grazing on some grass on the edge of the creek and seemed completely unfazed by my sudden emergence from my tent.
I was getting annoyed by the interruption at this point so I began to make my own huffing noises back at the creature. She gave me a look bordering on contempt, then returned to her grazing. I grabbed a pine cone and threw it at her, but it wasn’t very heavy and fell short. The deer remained unimpressed. I put my sandals on, stepped out of the tent completely, and began looking for a rock. The doe adopted more of a “Bring it, homeboy!” expression. The rock I found was at least as big as a grapefruit. I heaved it underhanded toward the doe. It struck the ground a few feet short, bounced up and smacked her in the rear flank. She leaped at least three feet straight up, then bounded a quarter of the way around my camp before heading into the woods up the hill and out of sight. That will teach her to mess with a top predator!
I brushed the dust off my hands, took off my sandals, and crawled back inside my tent. I put my iPad away, undressed, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Another five minutes went by before I heard two different deer walking around outside my tent. One even pawed at the corner of my tent fly, as if to say, “Oh, no you di’nt!” I decided to ignore them, treating them like I would a semi-crazy person trying to engage me in conversation about UFOs on a crowded subway train. Eventually they wandered off and I fell asleep.
The next morning I awoke at 5 AM, daylight beginning to filter through the trees. Although I normally get up around that time, I had no reason to this particular day and didn’t want to disturb my neighbors (who had stayed awake quite late into the night playing music and even shooting guns). I allowed sleep to return and awoke again two hours later. The sun was hitting my tent broadsided and lit it up so bright I had to squint.
Once up, I made coffee and ate a granola bar as I took my time packing up. I refilled my water bottle with my Katadyn filter down at the creek, checked that everything was tied down on my bike, then mounted up. I rode back up the same gnarly, rocky, dirt road that brought me there, fortunately without any mishaps. Back on the pavement, I boogied back into Wamic where I had a more substantial breakfast at the Sportsman’s Pub-n-Grub. The decor was nasty and the waitresses were friendly but slow. The food wasn’t half bad, however. Fed, I mounted up again and headed west along NF48. I passed the spot where my wife and I had gotten stuck in a snow drift just a few weeks earlier, this time the pavement was dry and clear. At the junction with Highway 35 I was flagged down by one of six riders parked nearby. He spoke with an Australian accent and wanted to know if the road to Wamic was clear. I assured him he and his BMW-riding buddies could make the route just fine as I had just come from there. He thanked me with a smile, I wished him a “Shiny side up!”, and I merged onto 35 and headed back over the mountain to home.
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Like many fantasy authors, Steve Williamson was introduced to the genre when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. It was during a family camping trip in May, 1980, and as he and two friends sat inside a travel trailer rolling dice and fighting orcs, the air outside became gritty and hard to breath. It was permeated with the fine gray ash spewing out of Mount St. Helens which was erupting just sixty miles away.
Steve now lives in Western Oregon in the shadow of another active volcano, Mount Hood.