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Ride Report

Ride Report: Northeast Oregon – Day 3

SUNDAY

We woke up late again on Sunday. Like usual, neither of us was in a hurry. We understand riders who are going to cover hundreds of miles in a day, especially in hot weather, getting an early start, but that’s not what we are doing. Today looks to be about 250 miles. It was kind of depressing to realize we were already turning around to head home. Luckily we were near the eastern edge of the state and had two days to enjoy getting back to Portland.

We took our time getting ready, and snacked on some of the breakfast bars we purchased at the store the night before. By the time we were packed and leaving, it was 10:30am, virtually the same time we pulled out Saturday morning.

Twenty miles and 30 minutes later we were in Baker City, with many historic buildings dating back to the late 1800’s. With nearly 10.000 people, it was much larger than most of our stops. We pulled in to a gas station to fuel up and soon a couple of older gentlemen on Harleys pulled in. We struck up a conversation and they were very curious about the weather to the east, as we were coming from that direction. But remember, we had just started out, so we couldn’t give them any advice. We asked where they had started from this morning and had to laugh when they told us they began in Mitchell. Mitchell was near our ending destination today! So, at 11am, they had already ridden as much as we planned to ride all day, and they were eyeing Montana as they headed home.

We headed south on Hwy 7 for about 10miles until it turned in to Hwy 245. We took 245 for about 35 miles and really enjoyed it. For several miles we were on perfect pavement, gliding in and out of curves between 35-45mph. This is the kind of riding I enjoy the most! Nice scenery, good roads, curves with a pretty consistent speed. We were also still blessed to not have any traffic yet.

When we hit Hwy 26, we realized that we were now in the flow of traffic, meaning we found cars and other motorcycles. We saw many bikes riding the opposite direction and couldn’t help feeling sorry for the riders. They were taking a route that would get them “through” the area, but they would not get to explore like we had been.

After lunch in John Day, we were a short ride away from the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. As a lifelong Oregonian, I have often heard of them and seen them on maps, but had never visited. I was not too excited about it, as I am not very interested in geologic studies.

Well, my interest was peaked as we approached the area. From a few miles back, we both notices a “crack” in the hillside we were following. The closer we got, the more we hoped that we would be riding into it rather than passed it. We both had huge smiles when we saw for sure that indeed the road did turn and enter the gap to which we had been paying attention.

The road followed a rock wall on our left and a small river on the right. We rode the short distance to the visitor’s center and the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The view from the visitor’s center gave us a good picture on the famous “painted hills” which cover many of the 14,000 acres.

The other highlight of that viewpoint was Sheep Rock, so we each posed for the obligatory photograph.


Duane and Sheep Rock


Wayne

We spent some time in the paleontology center. The most impressive part was that it is an actually working center. We were able to watch as scientists painstakingly “scraped” away debris to reveal the intricacies of a fossil.

When we left we headed west to have dinner in the small town of Mitchell. Before we pulled out, I decided I’d try to figure out how people take pictures while riding. I fiddled around with the camera for a while until I found a way to keep it strapped to my wrist so that I could safely ride, but then easily lift it up and snap a few picture along the way. I realized if I didn’t mind holding the camera upside down, I could do this without it being a distraction. It wouldn’t matter if the camera was upside down or not. Unless I also tried to take some video. Hmmmm…would I really try to take video, forgetting the camera was upside down, therefore rendering the video useless? Of course not! Well, OK, but it was an honest mistake, and I could easily laugh at myself later, even as I turned the computer upside down just to see what it would have looked like.


My first action shot!


Pretty typical…a Ducati in my rearview mirror. 🙂


Approaching the gap through which we had entered from the opposite side.

We enjoyed more sweeping corners and some miles of twisty roads and varying scenery. I really did expect the scenery to change less often than it did after we originally crossed the Cascades and entered the eastern half of the state. I guess I still have a lot to learn.


Still ahead of that Ducati!

We pulled into Mitchell at around 4pm. I was looking forward to checking it out. Any town with a population of less than 200, that which can keep three diners in business is my type of town. The first thing we discovered is that the diner we planned to enjoy is closed on Sundays! We then noticed the only gas station in town (and within about 40 miles) was also closed. Well, we did what anyone would do. We checked out the bear with a mohawk! There is a bear kept in a caged area next to the gas station. I had heard of this bear before, so it was like visiting the local celebrity.


Henry the Bear with quite a hairdo.

Luckily there was a café that was open. It would probably be as good as the other. We went inside and met the mother and daughter who ran the place. They worked the café while the men worked the ranch about 10 miles away. The Café was perfectly clean, even the bathrooms! You could tell women ran the place.

Dinner was good, and it was another slice of small-town life. It was fun being the only customers in a tiny restaurant. The epitome of personal service. It also allowed us the opportunity to ask their advice about getting gas, since the station was closed.

The station would also be closed Monday, so we couldn’t get gas there in the morning. The nearest gas was at Service Creek, which was only 25 miles away, but there was one problem with that. The café owner was not sure if they would be open on Monday either. She said they were last Monday, but that was unusual, so she wouldn’t promise anything. Flexible hours! Another problem was that we still had 45 miles to travel tonight to our campground at Walton Lake, before returning this way in the morning and then continuing north from here.

We finally decided we needed to go to Prineville tonight for gas, and then backtrack to the lake. It would mean 30 extra miles today, but then no risk of running out of gas tomorrow.

As we got our gear on outside the café, we felt small hail hit us. We looked at the sky and saw that the hail and rain was coming from the east and we were heading west. We quickly left and raced to be sure to stay ahead of the storm.

We were able to outrun the hail, but to what end? As we approached Prineville, we were treated to a spectacular lightening storm in the distance. The big question was, how far away was it. Were we running from hail straight into lightening? It looked more and more possible as were got closer and closer to Prineville. Very dark clouds and flashes of lightening greeted us as we stopped at the first gas station in town. Prineville is a city of more than 7,000 people, so we had options here. We got gas, grabbed some snacks, and turned around to go to Walton Lake. This was the first time we had gone back over a stretch of rode we had already ridden. That was only for about 15 miles until we turned off onto a smaller road to the lake. I had driven that road several times with an SUV and camping trailer. Let me say, it was much more fun on a bike!

Walton Lake is an awesome place to camp. Large sites, no in-and-out traffic, and a scenic lake make it my favorite campground in Oregon. We pulled in around 7:00pm and set up camp.


See? I told you it was scenic.

I had packed fire starter and matches (I am no boy scout) so that we could enjoy a campfire. We bought wood from the host and enjoyed the rest of the evening sitting around the fire.


Enjoying my favorite camping activity

I knew I would not enjoy myself if I didn’t bring a folding chair. I ended up borrowing one from a friend because it was slightly smaller than any I owned, thus easier to pack. It served its purpose well! Wayne ended up realizing he also needed to bring something on which to sit. The same friend suggested a very small, easy to pack, tripod seat. It would never work for me, but Wayne decided to bring it along. He claimed it was just like sitting on a regular chair, if you were leaning slightly forward, as if you were going to poke at the fire. We were also at about 5,000ft of elevation, and ONE of us forgot to bring a sweatshirt, so check out the motorcycle/campfire gear.


He looks comfortable enough.

To wrap up Sunday, we rode just under 300 miles, enjoyed dinner at a small café, and camped in my favorite place in the state. Great day!

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Ride Report

Ride Report: Northeast Oregon – Day 2

SATURDAY

Camping in the Gorge…what a treat! We were “treated” to train horns throughout the night. The last one was especially slow moving, which meant we got to hear/feel it longer than the others! We finally got up, bright and early, except for the early part. Getting out of the tent at 9:00am was great. Wayne and I have figured out that we travel well together. We are both happy to just sleep until we feel like getting up, with the understanding that if either of us wants to, we can wake up the other to get going on the day.

My normal camping breakfast consists of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. Today is slightly different. We ate things like apples, granola bars, and crackers. This was our first camping experience and we are not ready to add cooking equipment to our packing list…yet. I do look forward to that addition someday!

After taking our time eating and packing, we finally left the park at 10.40am. Our destination tonight is a small town called North Powder, in the beautiful Baker Valley of Eastern Oregon. Along the way we will see the towns of Condon, Heppner, and Ukiah, before hitting one of the roads we look forward to the most. The 70 miles from Ukiah to North Powder cover National Forest District Roads and go up and over Anthony Lakes Ski Area and through much-anticipated twisties.

Fully into vacation mode, we pull out of the campground and are on our way…for about one quarter of a mile. I pull over and Wayne pulls in behind me and we decide that our first turn of the day was a wrong one. We promptly turn around and begin our day, correctly this time. I think it’s safe to assume that will be our ONLY wrong turn of the day, so it was good to get it out of the way!

The first five miles southeast on Highway 206 were an awesome way to start the day. Curves, good roads, and NO traffic. What else can one ask for? We continued on 206 for 5 miles until we reached Condon. Pulling into town was really a thrill for me. I was truly looking forward to seeing several small Oregon towns I had never been too before, and of course, there is no better way to see them than pulling over and getting off a bike!


Storefront in Condon, complete with older couple eating on the sidewalk. (Hidden by the beautiful bikes!)


Historic Hotel Condon


Just me-not historic at all

We walked the few blocks that make up “downtown” and grabbed a drink at the local grocery store. That is where I had my first thought that it may be true that everyone knows everyone in a small town. I’ll continue my research over the next few days!

We pulled away from Condon and traveled a short distance until…OOPS! This doesn’t feel right? Wayne, are going the right way? Nope! Wow, we are now two for two, going the wrong direction when leaving town.

Another 50 miles or so, in the right direction, would take us to Heppner, OR, where we would have lunch and join the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. When planning our trip, we had a general idea of where we wanted to go and how long we could be gone. We actually took an Oregon map and used a highlighter to highlight several scenic byways in the area we would be. We then connected the dots, considering mileage and accommodations, and were happy knowing we’d cover some great less-traveled roads.


Nice road, eh? (No comment on Wayne’s camera-topped helmet.)

Riding into Heppner, I was surprised to see more than a one-block town. There were several eating and drinking establishments, a large grocery, and many more businesses. Our first stop was the gas station, where I learned more of life in a rural area.

I was standing second in line to pay for gas, over hearing the clerk telling the person in front of me about her experience hitting a cougar with her car. As she told the story, a man behind me in line said, “I heard that was down by the Johnson’s place.” Nope. She corrected him and told him where it actually occurred. So, news travels quickly, if not entirely accurately, here. I smiled leaving the gas station and we headed toward the grocery store for a cheap meal. We grabbed chicken and jo-jo potatoes and headed to a small, treed park to eat.


Park with a view.

It may sound simple, but this was something I looked forward to doing. We took off our riding gear, ate our simple lunch, and then lounged on the grass for a while. We just relaxed and watch people, remaining in town for almost an hour and a half. Have I mentioned we were not in a hurry?


Rested and ready to go.

While I stood by my bike getting things sorted out, I heard someone called out, “Mr. Larson!” Working in education, I am blessed/cursed by running into people I know almost every place I go. Disneyland? Of course. Mexico City Airport? Sure. But Heppner? Well, I looked up and saw another administrator from my district. Ends up that he grew up here, part of the population of about 1,000 people, and was on vacation with his family. It seems ironic that he is now the principal of a high school nearly three times the size of his hometown!

Well, we were not going to make the mistake of heading out of town the wrong direction again this time. Finally! We did it correctly! Now we begin on the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, continuing another 50 miles until our next stop in Ukiah. The byway is beautiful! Very scenic, fun turns. The scenery varies here more than I thought it would. We lowered into a canyon for a while, riding the twisties in a forested area along a river, possibly Willow Creek, seeing as that was the name of the road.

It was nearly 3:00pm and I must describe the traffic we’d seen so far today. None! Sure, there were cars in the towns we had visited, but we had seen virtually NO other cars all day. It was ideal! Around 3:30pm we pulled in to Ukiah, a town of less than 300. We stopped at a small park and drank some water. The only sounds you could hear were from a family of three (1% of the town’s population) playing in the park. This town is quiet! From where we sat, we could see the bikes AND a sign pointing us on our way. At least this time, there was NO WAY we would go the wrong direction again.


See the sign?


Can’t get lost THIS time!


Wayne saw the sign at the Antler Inn and wants to check out the showers and cooler.


Hmmm…Is this the shower? Cooler? Both???

After our shortest stop of the day, we headed off, continuing on the Blue Mountains Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful beginning, but I had to laugh when we realized we had done it again!!! Yes, for the third time today we pointing ourselves in the wrong direction! The good news was that each time we had a sense right away it was not the direction we needed to go and had turned around in less than half a mile. How much for a good GPS?

The 70 miles between Ukiah and North Powder would be some of the most curvy road we would find this weekend. It also promised some great viewpoints as it climbed to nearly 9,000ft elevation. We stopped and took photos a handful of times, doing a good job of capturing nature, but not enough pictures of ribbons of pavement. More next time, I guess.


Full load!


OK, but honestly, do you think it’s goofy to try to get your own hand waving in the picture?

After cresting at Anthony Lakes (deserted!) Ski Resort, we began going downhill. We were shocked in the change! Not the scenery. Not the temperature. The road condition! The road up to the ski area on the west side had been in great condition, but not descending on the east, as it was full of potholes and even areas of gravel. This had looked like one of the most fun sections of the trip, but we were disappointed as we just had to make it through until we back down to nicer pavement.

Before getting all the way down, we were treated to something nice. Oh, the road still left a lot to be desired, but we pulled over at the Baker Valley Outlook. What a view! It was hazy this day, but we could still look east and see the rugged Wallowa Mountains in the distance. We were still nearly 7,000ft up, looking down into and across the Baker Valley, and then up to the Wallowas. It was quite a sight! The pictures make it look more hazy than it really was.


Wallowa Mountains in the distance


Wayne and the hazy Baker Valley

We descended into the valley and encountered new scenery for this trip. We were now riding on a flat stretch, along a small river, through farm land. This continued much of the final 10 miles into North Powder.

We had meandered, virtually traffic free, for about 250 miles today. It was nice getting into town, but we both were curious (nervous?) to see our motel room. We had just booked it a few days ago after finding it online. We would have a room with two queen beds at the North Powder Motel for $45. That is almost as cheap as a night camping. We were a bit leery though, not sure what $45 would get us.

To prolong the anticipation, we stopped first at the diner in town. Remember, this is one of my favorite parts of motorcycling. Small town diners can be serve some of the best food anywhere. I admit, part of the “flavor” is becuase it means I am in a new place, on some type of adventure, but the food usually helps too! We relaxed and ate our burgers, hardly worried about our accommodations.

We pulled out of the diner and rode both blocks to the motel.

Excellent! We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our clean, cozy motel. We parked and unpacked and were just glad to be there after another fun day riding!

After unpacking, we walked back to the small store that shared a parking lot with the diner and bought a few things to eat for breakfast. The woman running it also makes homemade milkshakes. So, we walked back with our supplies, happily drinking a thick marionberry shake on a beautiful summer evening.

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Ride Report

Ride Report: Northeast Oregon – Day 1

PLANNING

Wayne and I looked forward to our short adventure. We planned a long weekend to cover a large section of the northeast quarter of Oregon. We have previously enjoyed rides throughout the scenic Willamette Valley, along the Pacific coastline, and over the Cascade Range into Central Oregon, but had not fully explored Northeast Oregon. We had plans to spend the next four days seeing a lot of it!

Our plan would take us only about 1,000 miles, but it would be a fun-filled weekend! We would begin by passing through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge before dipping south into the high desert region, which covers much of the eastern half of the state. We will ascend mountain ski passes and descend into valleys with beautiful views of distant mountain ranges. We will follow scenic byways and other less-traveled roads, stopping in small towns along the way. It will be our first attempt at motorcycle camping, although we will keep it simple by not needing to prepare food at camp. Three days. One thousand miles. Two huge grins!

CHANGE OF PLANS ALREADY?

Often when you hear of plans changing at the last minute, it is not good news. This time would be different! We had planned to leave Saturday morning and get back Monday evening. Wayne suggested that we leave after work on Friday instead. Duh! Easy enough. We’d add one night of camping, since we were doing this on a budget. Strict budget? Not really, but we were going to be careful. Cheap lodging, some “grocery store” meals, and of course a good small-town café or two. In fact, like many other people who tour on motorcycles, my favorite thing besides the riding is stopping at a greasy spoon. They aren’t meant to break the budget anyway.

FRIDAY

We both took off from work a little early Friday afternoon and headed home to our bikes we packed the night before. After a little scurrying around grabbing any almost-forgotten items, we nearly met our 3:00pm departure time. By 3:20pm we were ready to roll. The 3:20 liftoff actually helped Wayne win a bet with his wife. For some unknown reason, they tend to believe that my promptness should be called in to question. Something about any time we ride, Wayne can set his watch to me…as long as he sets it 15-30 minutes late! So, they secretly had a bet. He predicted we’d leave at 3:40 while she guessed 4:00. Outrageous! I’m glad this time neither of them got it right.

THE BIKES

Last year we ventured to the Oregon Coast on a similar short jaunt. One thing that was NOT similar was what we rode. Wayne was “between” big bikes, and only had his lawn mower to ride; a 2006 KLX 250. I would be on my 1996 Honda Shadow 1100. Luckily, Wayne rides faster than me, so we would be able to stick together in spite of his bike coming with an optional grass catcher!

(the old bikes)
This summer we have both enjoyed upgraded rides. Wayne has return to his Ducati days, with a Ducati ST2. I have upgraded to a BMW R1100RT. We are both excited about added comfort, luggage, and, dare I say, “cool factor”?

(Just about set!)

PULLING OUT

After a quick goodbye, we were on our way. Although today’s ride would be short due to the late start, and even though we had ridden it several times, it was still exciting to head out, knowing we had some great days ahead of us! We started out on I205 headed north and would quickly cross over the Columbia River into Washington state. A quick turn east takes us onto Highway 14 and into the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. We take the Washington side because Highway 14 is much more scenic due to its slower speeds and nice twisties. I84 is its Oregon counterpart and while the views are nice, it is just a four-lane, fast-moving highway. The only downside can be getting behind slow traffic and having no place to pass.

Riding this route in the past, on our way to Hood River, Oregon, we sometimes forget to stop before getting to Hood River, and often regret waiting. We tend to stop for a short stretch and chat every hour or so. Neither of us has any plans to tackle any of the Iron Butt challenges. Taking our time, enjoying the ride and the sights, and stopping whenever either of us decides to is our style.

The twisties on Highway 14 led to an interesting encounter with a log truck. Coming up on one particularly tight curve, the cars ahead of us were slowing, eventually to a complete stop. A log truck was stuck on a curve, not able to navigate it any farther. Hey Wayne, didn’t those signs advise large trucks to take I-84? No question why now! Well, in the end, it actually worked out to our advantage. We were able to pass the cars and then squeeze passed the truck on the shoulder. After a slight fear that the truck could get going right as we were getting passed it, we were actually free to move along without any traffic!

Well, as we rolled through Stevenson, WA, I was hoping Wayne would pull over, but he didn’t, so again for some reason, we went a little further on this highway with out stopping than we usually would. Finally, after passing where the Little White Salmon River connects with the Columbia, we pulled over for a break.

(Wayne, with his left-work-early smile!)

So, about an hour and a half, and 70 miles into our trip, we pulled into a small rest stop and snapped our first photos.

(Looking southeast, across the Columbia River into Oregon)

Our next landmark would be Hood River, with its steel-grated bridge and world-famous windsurfers. We planned to cross back into Oregon at this spot so that we could connect with the historic Columbia River Highway at the small town of Mosier. We have explored the highway on the western end, enjoying highlights such as Multnomah Falls and Crown Point, but have not ridden the 15-mile section between Mosier and The Dalles.

After holding on tight across the steel-grated bridge, and 5 miles on the slab, we rode into Mosier and began the twists and turns of the historic highway. Our smiles grew bigger as we had no traffic and could just enjoy the sunny afternoon as we felt our way through the corners. We pulled over at a look at point at Rowena Crest.

(Columbia River, looking east from Rowena Crest)

(Not sure which is prettier…the natural beauty or the bikes!)

(The information board does not tell the whole story. It leaves out the part about the designer foreseeing motorcyclist loving these loops!)

(Fun!)

We continued on the historic highway until we reached The Dalles. This was our first fuel and food stop. We bought a few items to eat for dinner at the campground and headed the last few miles to Deschutes River State Park.

Remember, we don’t set any land speed records. We arrived at the campground three and a half hours after leaving home and covered only 120 miles. We set up camp for the first time ever on motorcycles. My main thought was that I hoped I’d be able to get it all back on the bike correctly in the morning!

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Ride Report

Eastern Oregon is Fabulous

We just got back from pre-riding part of the Desert Tour. If you’ve never been to Eastern Oregon, you are really missing out. The traffic is almost nonexistent, the corners just keep on coming and the scenery is amazing.