A Week In Oregon’s Outback
The Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (OBDR). I had heard about it maybe 2-3 years ago while reading through ADV. It looked like something that would be fun to try: a challenging, 750+ mile dirt route from Walla Walla, WA to the California border, crossing through central Oregon’s forests and deserts. It was close to home, so there wouldn’t be a huge time commitment in making this trip. And now the time had come.
June 21 ~ 29, 2008
Total Miles: 1,700 miles
Seattle, WA to Oregon and back (mostly)
Map Link (not entirely accurate for the dirt roads)
Months ago, Dan and I had slated the last full week in June for our OBDR adventure. There was a lot of mental preparation in gathering route information, parts and tools, and setting up the logistics of staying “off the grid” for 8 days. What we didn’t have was much time to work on riding skills and bike preparation. But hey – what better way to learn than by doing?
A last-minute tidbit of information gleaned from a fellow rider experienced with the OBDR suggested that this early in the year we might have trouble with snow in the northern portions. We made a quick change and decided to start from the southern end, near Lakeview, OR and our meeting point was changed from Walla Walla, WA to Klamath Falls, OR. We chose a motel to meet up at and made a rough estimate of arrival times for Saturday evening. Now all we had to do was ride our motorcycles to the Maverick Motel, Dan from the Bay Area and me from Seattle, and we could start our adventure.
I pulled into the parking lot just as Dan finished his tour of the motel grounds, room key in hand. Perfect timing indeed. We checked out each other’s bike, noting how things were packed and what last-minute preparations had been made. A week earlier we got in touch with an ADV rider who lived in the area (“Voidrider”) and made arrangements to meet up with him and his family for dinner. After a tasty Chinese meal with oddly appropriate fortunes in our cookies, we were ready to end our last night in civilization.
Sunday morning we turned the bikes east to Lakeview, OR. Technically the OBDR starts at the California border near New Pine Creek, CA, but neither of us was interested in the hard-core “border to border” run. We would ride what we could and maybe do the rest at some other point. Dan had the route loaded into his GPS and would be in charge of navigation. I had forest service maps rolled up on my bike as a backup. We were ready for adventure!
Serving Lakeview since 1939!!
Prepping in the Safeway parking lot in Lakeview
The OBDR is not one set route. Sure, we had a set of way-points that would lead us north and east through the state, but by no means was there “one way” to get there. There might be half a dozen different forest service roads that would all lead us to the next way-point. Which one we took depended on how our GPS was reading the route, the condition of the roads presented to us and what we happened to stumble upon. One earlier group of riders had five GPS units among them and often all five units showed a different way to get to the same place. The OBDR would be a challenge not only in the routes to be traversed, but also in the navigation of these routes.
Dan’s Metzler Sahara
My Dunlop 606
Our first attempt at finding a way-point led us to a closed gate. As Dan prepared to open the gate to pass through, a local on a four-wheeler pulled up, his dog “Cowboy” in eager company. The driver informed us that we could go through this gate, but the one at the other end of the road was locked. We thanked him for the information and went back to the main road to find an alternate route to meet up with the OBDR. It took a few miles of pavement but we eventually found it. Or so we thought. We spent a considerable amount of time exploring up a narrow forest service road only to stop, check the GPS and find that we were on the wrong spur. Or sometimes the GPS would insist that we take “that road”, where “that road” had massive logs spanning it and no way around. It was then that I realized that this could be a long trip.
Stopped by a gate early on
A dog named Cowboy
Open roads early on the OBDR
Dan takes the lead with his GPS
While the roads thus far were in generally good shape and the weather was perfect, there were those times when long-dried mud had formed hazardous ruts that wreaked havoc with Dan’s bike. He had only 10 months and 3,000 miles of riding under his belt and while those miles were fairly well mixed, they weren’t much help when riding a fully loaded bike on rough dirt through the back country. He gamely picked up his bike after each fall, pulling off bits of shattered plastic or re-setting a crooked handguard or mirror. It was late that afternoon when he was recovering from a rather abrupt headfirst tumble into a wall of dirt that he made his decision: this was beyond his comfort level. He was having fun and he felt terrible for ruining our plans to ride the OBDR, but he was smart enough to realize that there was no point in putting him and his bike in danger just because it was The Plan. Dan made the silly offer of me continuing the trail by catching up with some other ADV riders who were “somewhere north of us”, but I pooh-poohed that before he could even finish the sentence. We had a week to ride through Oregon and that’s just what we’d do.
The GPS insisted that we go “this way”
Riding through the sagebrush
Early view on the OBDR, south of Summer Lake
Bikes packed. Overpacked, even
Snug on the KLR
Believe it or not, our route is to the right.
Another choice. Neither one was correct
An abandoned house along the OBDR
We pulled out the maps, the GPS and the clock and figured out where we were and where we could be that evening. The town of Paisley was just ahead. A few more miles of dirt, a few more miles of fast gravel and then we’d be somewhere with hot food and a place to discuss our options.
At Paisley we found a very good restaurant, ordered up some greasy food and a milk shake and pulled out the maps. There was a hot spring just up the road – ahhh, just what the doctor ordered. After our meal we bolted for the Summer Lake Hot Springs, not sure what amenities that they offered, but sure of one thing: they have a hot spring. The location described by the Garmin 450 GPS was absolutely wrong — that leads to an abandoned wrecking yard. So we turned around and went to where the paper map said it was and there it was. I will always swear by paper maps, even as much fun as a GPS unit can be.
View along the road
An easy section of the trail
A not-so-easy section of the trail
Dan checking on his bike after another fall
An infrequently used road
We pulled up a few hours before sunset to a wide, open plain near the shore of a very desiccated lake. There were a few ancient trailers set up along one side, an old barn near the middle and a couple of modern trailers and RVs dotted a grassy field. Dan and I found the proprietor who was extremely friendly. We had just missed the First Annual Coyote Festival (“Hippie-fest”, it looked like to me) and they were still cleaning up. But she had a nice space for our camp for only $10 and then told us about the gravity-fed hot springs, hidden in the ancient barn, which we would be free to use as long as we were there. Perfect.
We set up camp and immediately went for a soak. I don’t know the temperature of the water but I think the thermometer read “ideal”. The barn supports had recently been re-worked and everything was clean and tidy, framing a clean concrete pool between 4’ and 5’ deep. Some of the sheet metal roofing was off, allowing for views of blue skies beyond the rafters. Barn swallows performed their acrobatics around us, their iridescent feathers glittering in the sunlight. Dan and I both pruned up in the hot water, we stayed in there so long, floating in the natural mineral waters.
Ah yeah – that’s camping!
Our campsite at Summer Lake Hot Springs
Who needs gear?
A 100 year old barn housing the hot springs
View from inside the barn
Leaving Summer Lake the next morning
After a cool and quiet night we got up for a leisurely breakfast of bacon and, well, more bacon, in the clear morning sun. Camp packed up easily and we headed for our next impromptu destination: Christmas Valley. This was part of the OBDR and I think somewhere in the back of our minds it was our goal to follow the general route, even if we technically weren’t on the trail itself. Following Summer Lake gave a nice view of the wide lake bed, the shorelines long and shallow and full of grazing cattle. But then the road departed the lake and we were thrust into high dry plains. Sagebrush was the ruling plant; we had reached Christmas Valley. At this point, the OBDR would have us following dry lake beds through the brush, tracks all but invisible and relying solely on GPS coordinates. But Dan and I had different plans. After a quick fueling in the town of Christmas Valley (I still have no idea how it got it’s name) we headed east: due east for dozens of miles. This is a road that didn’t change course because there was nothing to make it do so. I had a lot of time to myself along here, left alone with my thoughts inside my helmet, but most of those thoughts ran along the lines of “what on earth do people do out here?” After a considerable amount of rehearsing that thought we came up Hwy 395. This is the same highway we had started out on the day before as it led us north out of Lakeview, but now it had lost much of its charm as it lay stretched out under the hot midday sun. We went northeast, through more sagebrush and desolate landscape. My map showed that we’d be passing through the town of Wagontire. Thank goodness that we hadn’t planned on doing anything useful there, as the only two buildings, a motel and a restaurant, were both shuttered and empty. We kept on riding.
Leaving Christmas Valley
Watch out for the corner!!!
Eventually we hit the junction of 395 and 20. I had anticipated this, as the town of Riley was there and I was looking forward to seeing what the bustling town would have to offer us. The “town” consisted of one building: an all-in-one gas stop, convenience store and bait shop. Granted, it was a bigger building than most in your average one-building towns. The billboard on the far side of the parking lot confirmed the limits of Riley, as it warned passersby “Whoa! You just missed Riley!”
We met up with a sport-touring rider, Michael, who was heading home from his own ride and he peppered us with questions about our bikes and how we liked them. He was very friendly and interested in what we had to say, as he was considering getting a more versatile bike than the street bike that he was on. After he left, Dan and I consulted the GPS to discover a campground just down the road. We pulled out and headed for the Chickahominy Reservoir. Camping on a lake sounded perfect.
What we found when we got to Chickahominy Reservoir was a wasteland of sagebrush and trailers, with the occasional pit toilet standing proud in the blowing wind. There were no trees, no shelter; nothing but dust and wind and heat awaited us here. Dan and I looked at each other, consulted our maps again and thanked the camp hosts as we got back on our bikes to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Back to Riley to fill up before we dove into the wilderness of Ochoco Forest heading north into the trees. On my map we saw two possible camping locations: Delintment Lake, which I had heard was beautiful, and Buck Springs Campground, which I had heard was even nicer. We headed for Buck Springs.
Finally heading for a campsite north of Riley
Catching up to Dan
The pavement ended quickly and we were on fast, loose gravel. The road cut up a lush canyon and followed Sawmill Creek before breaking away and darting up a side canyon to reach the campground. There was only one other inhabitant of the campground when we got there, not too surprising since it was a Monday night. We took a nice spot at the other side of the grounds from them and set up our tent. It was still relatively early in the evening and we wandered around looking for a source of water. Eventually, after a second return to camp empty-handed, the other campers pointed out a natural spring just beyond their trailer. Hmmm – that might have something to do with the “Spring” in the campground’s name. Very clever. Not sure of the purity of the water, we filled up a collapsible bladder and took it back to camp to run through our purifier. There were many cows in the area, most of them mothers and yearlings, and their lowing was a constant sound for us, gentle and reassuring in an ancestral-sort of way. These cattle were not used to humans at all. They would run from us as we approached, or watch us warily as we walked along the road, their cud held still as they debated the threat that we poised to them.
Valley near Buck Springs Campground
Our campsite at Buck Springs Campground
Beware my ninja-like skillz!
Checking out yesterday’s “modifications”
Mmmm – backcountry pizza!
When we had chosen this site we were disgusted by the way the previous users had left it. The rocks that would normally make a nice fire ring had been shoved around, tumbled across each other in disarray. There was some unburned debris still half-buried among the rubble, things such as batteries, glass and tin cans, that I pulled out to dispose of properly. I gathered up wood while Dan made back country pizza for dinner.He is really good with a camp stove whereas if it were up to me we’d be having instant soup made with boiling water. It was a pleasant evening under the stars and eventually the coyotes started their chorus all around us, yipping as they moved through the forest.
After dinner walk around the campground
Road up to the campground
The next morning we were awakened in our tent by quite a ruckus around us: the cattle were moving up into the hills for the day, eating as they passed by. The sounds of grasses being chewed, the snuffling of noses as they shuffled their way through our campsite – we could hear it all from within the tent but decided to wait for them to move on before getting up. Today was to be a lazy day: we’d leave the camp set up and take the bikes, “naked”, out into the woods to play on the dirt roads unencumbered.
Is is safe to come out?
Dan fills up from the natural spring conveniently equipped with a hose
Dan and I were surprised to see that the tidy fire pit we had made yesterday was now in shambles. A raccoon? Opossum? We didn’t know what would be eager enough to get into the fire pit that it would move the rocks in order to do so. It was a mystery! After a tasty breakfast I packed up tools, parts and a camera and we headed out. We thought that we’d follow the OBDR some more, since we were once again on the route. But after a couple of wrong turns we finally gave up on finding the true route and simply headed for Delintment Lake. I had heard how beautiful it was and wanted to see for myself. It was an easy journey on a well-maintained forest service road and it didn’t take us long to get to the lake. It sat like a sapphire at the top of a mountain, surrounded on all sides by rich green trees. A floating dock allowed a group of visitors to throw their lines into the lake from the comfort of folding chairs, while a few small hand-powered boats plied the waters, trolling for whatever might lie below the surface. We parked our bikes and took in the scenery. Osprey and eagles soared overhead while squirrels played in the trees around us. A campground was tucked discreetly along the shore, the vehicles hidden from sight by a nice assortment of natural barriers. It was quiet.
Riding more backroads
Pleasant roads near Buck Springs
Bikes in the field
Ooo – more ruts!
King Dan of Delintment Lake, surveying his domain
Old people fishing in the sunshine
Finally! A decent picture of a bald eagle!
Having had enough of the quiet for now, we made our next plan: we would try to get back to our camp via different roads than what we had taken to get where we were. The map didn’t make this look easy without going either a considerable distance out of our way or running through some rough terrain. We would give the rough terrain a go; after all, it was still early, the bikes were unloaded and the weather was perfect.
A few miles of fast, one-lane pavement (#42) lead us out of the Delintment Lake area and towards Burns, OR. But not far into this we took a turnoff onto a rough gravel road. A small, unobtrusive signpost stated that this road was closed, but it didn’t look like something to take seriously. I had already turned back once because of one of these signs and I didn’t want to do it again. We proceeded past it, flying along the hard-packed dirt road. The dry pine forest along side the road had recently burned and the vivid rusty red of dead needles contrasted with the still-green needles further up the tree trunks. A few stands of trees had burned completely and hotly, with nothing left but black-charred trunks standing deep in ashes. The sun was hot in a hazy blue sky and the views were scarce among the trees. Just like the map said would happen, we reached a junction and the forest service road became a 4×4 trail and the hard-packed dirt was now littered with rocks and gravel. It was still a fast road and we blasted along it through flowering meadows and rolling hills — heaps of fun! Then we came to a gate. The signs there proclaimed that there was to be no trespassing and no going forward. I didn’t mind going through the gate as much as I dreaded getting to the other side of the property, finding the gate locked and having to backtrack the entire way. Dan consulted the mighty GPS and saw that if we backtracked a bit there was another trail that might get us around this gate. Sure, why not? After all, we have all day to explore and this was fun!
We went back to a faint junction and took the lesser-used branch. We followed this track over a couple of hills, through a draw and up to a small ridge. The further we went the less defined the track became. There were sections where there really was no track, but we could see where it picked up further on. Finally we reached another barbed wire fence. This one didn’t have a gate, but it did have a “no trespassing” sign and, most daunting, a complete lack of indication that a road would even continue once we crossed through a deep washout. Dan was willing, but I wasn’t. We turned around and went back to the junction where the 4×4 trail started. We consulted the map some more and took off to the east, sort of heading for the main road, but looking for ways to avoid it if possible.
Dan took a random road to the right and I followed him. It led through some dense and dry trees, through meadows and a variety of road surfaces. Weird junctions appeared, the road surfaces rutted or eroded and full of rocks and loose dirt. At one point I stopped to wait for Dan to get through a particular nasty section and eventually saw him standing next to his bike. I joined him to see what the problem was (there wasn’t one) but then saw something on the ground: a bolt. A very shiny and new-looking bolt. We looked over his bike and found a hole where this bolt should have been: it was from his sub-frame Yikes! We parked the bikes in some shade and pulled out the tools for a proper installation of this bolt (with Loc-tite of course), as well as a quick check of other key fasteners that should be keeping his bike together.
Deer in the meadow
Recent fire evidence
Traveling light for the day
Checking out a closed road
And the road starts to disappear
More faint tracks through the scrub brush
After this dab into the wilderness we went back to the paved #42 for a little bit until we reached one more dirt section that might take us back to camp. It did, and it did so with aplomb. We rode through Egypt Canyon, a wonderful, magical place with rich green growth guarded by tall rocky walls. A river delicately wound its way through the thick underbrush of the canyon floor and the road was mindful to stay out of its way. We were almost done with our route by the time we exited the canyon, now at the southern end of our thwarted attempts to take the back way to this area. I was glad that we had turned around when we did, as the large metal gate at this end of the road was soundly locked and with no easy way around it. Now it was just a quick re-trace of yesterday’s route up to the campground and we will have completed our day’s adventures.
Dinner was again a tasty treat of gourmet cooking (it’s amazing what they can do with dehydrated foods these days) and we roamed the campground afterwards, filling up with more water. We noticed on this trip the number of cows in the campsites and the surprising number of cows with their heads in the fire pits. What was this? Apparently the cows crave something in the ashes of the fire pits and will spend long amounts of time eating the wood ash as they wander through the campground. This would explain the tumbled rocks around our campsite and the strangely “clean” fire pit we had, for we had left some wood to smolder the previous night.
Behold the mighty steeds!
Behold the intrepid explorer!
Dan has goggle face!!!
The next morning I was woken once again by the sound of the cows. But this time they weren’t shy of our strange tent and had no qualms about putting their snuffling noses against it. But one miss-step by a cow could do a lot of damage to sleepy campers, so Dan, in his best “bad dog” voice, said “No!” which startled the poor bovines and sent them quickly on their way. But not after they had cleaned out our fire pit and rearranged the rocks again. It was the first and only time in my life I heard the words “We have a cow in the fireplace” and not been completely surprised.
We packed up our bikes again, fully loading them down with too much stuff. We would have to seriously reconsider what we brought and how it was packed when we next try the OBDR. Dan was very top-heavy, with all of his baggage carried in a duffel and Givi top-case, and he had a difficult time adjusting to this high center of gravity. I had some heavy stuff loaded across the back of the bike in a duffel, but I also carried weight down lower with some soft-sided panniers in the back. Today would be an easy day of mostly pavement. We re-traced our steps north to Delintment Lake and then, mostly due to a misunderstanding of mileage and fuel availability, we went to Paulina, OR. I don’t think that anyone goes to Paulina on purpose. It is truly in the middle of nowhere and I can see no reason for it to exist. There is fuel and a small grocery store, a chapel and a school. The book mobile comes to town every two weeks, an event obviously much anticipated by the residents, as we were lucky enough to witness its arrival. The children ran up to the bus as it pulled in near the grocery store and set out its “open for business” sign. A woman lugged a canvas bag chock full of books over to the open door of the bus, commenting to us that there wasn’t much else to do in Paulina.
Leaving Buck Springs
Paulina, OR – home of 120 people
The arrival of the Bookmobile was a big thing!
We didn’t need fuel yet, so we backtracked along SE Paulina-Suplee Rd towards Izee. Izee isn’t a place so much as a reference point. For us, Izee marked the point on the map just after the turnoff to follow the South Fork of the John Day River to the north. We wouldn’t reach Izee because we were instead going to explore the river. We enjoyed the young and lively stream as it fell gently through rich greens foliage. The canyon we were in now was deep and narrow. Through openings in the trees around us I could see ancient remnants of lava flows, the canyon walls decorated with their post piles. The hard-packed dirt was fast and we enjoyed a pleasant romp along the river, watching as it got wider and less direct with each passing mile. At one point I had stopped for some photos while Dan kept on going, a common theme in our riding. I had barely gotten on the throttle to catch up when I came upon a herd of cows and calves. They were blocking the entire road and I couldn’t see beyond them, as the bushes were high along the inside of the curve. I snapped a couple of pictures but then got bored waiting for them to scatter. I eased on the throttle and started towards them. They looked slightly alarmed but didn’t seem to know what to do about it. Slowly the cows and calves made their way to one side of the road or the other and I rounded the bend, only to find Dan standing by his bike, filming my cowboy antics with his camera.
Riding north along the South Fork of the John Day River
Great geology along the river
They just didn’t want to move!
A small waterfall near the road
Looking for the original route
The canyon starts to open up
Miles of fresh, loose gravel
Eventually we reached Dayville and refueled. Now where to go? This was a conundrum I had never experienced before. Just about every trip I had taken before had a definite starting and ending point. But here I was with a week to go… nowhere. Dan and I pulled out the maps and the GPS. We were on the hunt for another hot spring. Ritter, just a short hop north on 395, looked like a possibility, but no one could assure us of camping opportunities nearby, so we kept on looking. Ukiah wasn’t too far away either, and just east of it on 244 was Lehman Hot Springs – with camping! We turned our bikes north and enjoyed the wide-open scenery of 395 as it cut in and out of the Umatilla National Forest. A couple of fun elevation changes greeted me as the road dipped down into the depths of various forks of the John Day River, now a full-grown river with distant banks and smooth but deep waters.
Ukiah is at the junction of 395 and 244 and was a surprisingly small and somewhat disappointing town. Dan and I stopped by the ranger station to check on camping opportunities only to find that they had closed 10 minutes prior to our arrival. With nothing else to catch our interest in town we continued on to Lehman. We weren’t disappointed by the road there: it was only 16 miles to the turnoff to the hot springs, but 244 wound itself nicely around Camas Creek the entire way. At the turnoff (which we almost missed, as it was rather poorly marked) it was a very short jaunt before we came to the hot springs and the lodge. This was nothing like the barn we had enjoyed a few nights before but it would still be a welcome respite. And the first shower in four days was greatly appreciated, even if it was of the smelly, sulfurous variety.
We set up camp along a small creek, still warm by the source waters at the spring, and were surprised to find that we were the only ones in the campground. Again, traveling mid-week does have its advantages. It was a short walk up to the lodge and the pools. The water cascaded quietly at the south end into a small, shallow, but very hot pool. I believe it came in at 114F (~ 46C). Dan tried it out, and found it almost scalding hot, and could only stand a few seconds. The next pool, slightly larger and also not very deep, registered at 107F (~ 42C). Hot and perfect. The 3rd pool was cooler, larger and deeper. There was one more pool but it obviously hadn’t been cleaned in quite some time and it looked ill advised to go into it.
Campsite at Lehman Hot Springs
Dan and I floated around in the various pools while kids played in the water and the birds called from the surrounding trees. I could really get used to having a natural hot spring in my back yard. Eventually we got out and returned to camp for dinner. We walked around the area and were surprised to see a number of what looked to be summer homes tucked away behind the lodge. This appeared to be a developing area, but for now all was quiet and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep by the river.
The Lodge at Lehman Hot Springs
The hot springs themselves
The next morning was typical of the trip thus far: sleep in late, eat a hot breakfast, pack up the gear and mull over the maps on which way to go. Today we’d start our return trip west. It was already Thursday and we were going to head home on Saturday. So we went back across 244 to Ukiah and then kept going west on to NF 53, the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. I’m not entirely sure why they called this stretch of road “scenic”, as there wasn’t much to see for the first 3/4s of its length. Lots of trees, a couple of views to nearby hills covered with more trees and mileage signs for Heppner every mile for the first few miles. I guess they wanted to make sure you knew where you were headed. But eventually a pass was crossed and the road started to wake up. It dropped down evenly and nicely, down into Cutsforth Park and on to the Willow Creek valley. Now I could understand why they might call this road “scenic”. The Willow Creek stretch is an idyllic setting in a small valley, the floor of which is covered by tidy farms and fields of hay. Farmers waved as they drove their tractors across the cut grass, traffic was light and the river played on the other side of the valley, cutting deep into the dry sidewalls of the plateau.
A dam cut short the beauty of Willow Creek, just before we reached the little town of Heppner. The reservoir was full of boats and the surrounding shores were dotted with buildings catering to the sportsmen who flocked here. But we soon left the lake behind and dropped sharply into a different valley filled with quaint houses and shops. Heppner is by no means a large town (around 1,400 people call it home) but they have what every town should have: a beautiful courthouse, a gas station and a bakery. We particularly enjoyed the bakery, with their friendly and personable service, not to mention the tasty victuals they had in the glass cabinet.
Heppner auto parts
Leaving Heppner – a quick climb
Views south of Heppner
More views along 207
Leaving Heppner by heading south on 207 led us on a dramatic rise back up out of the valley and onto the land of dried out sagebrush and towns. The road wasn’t terribly demanding and I was able to enjoy the wide-open scenery. I’m always amazed at the complete lack of trees in some areas of the country and what people must have done in order to build the wooden structures still visible in the dying towns at the side of the road. Hardman is a prime example of this. If I had realized that it really is a ghost town I would have made the effort to stop instead of rolling on by. But I was wrong in my guess that it had succumbed to the 20th century’s farming practices. The real reason that Hardman has just a couple of inhabitants now is simply because the stagecoach was replaced by something bigger and better and the town no longer served a purpose.
After Hardman, 207 offered itself up to the motorcycle gods and became an engaging lesson in 30mph corners. For almost 20 miles there was nothing to do but flick the motorcycle from one side to the other, sometimes with a slight distraction of a panoramic view peeking out from behind the now-thick trees. The elevation dropped easily and consistently all the way to Spray, giving me no pause to stop for a photo. I didn’t mind at all.
Once we hit Spray we fueled up at the only pump in town and then went down to a riverside park to enjoy a break. The park was quiet and right on the John Day River (I swear that river covers the entire state of Oregon!) I sat in the warm sand as Dan rested under the shade trees. Our repose was interrupted when no less than three Schwann’s delivery trucks decided to park near us and do some product exchange. The least they could have done was offered us some ice cream from their refrigerated trucks.
Taking a break in Spray
The John Day at the riverside park in Spray
Eventually we got back on the bikes and after a short jaunt west on 19 we continued south on 207. Is it possible for a road to re-create itself? If I thought that the northern half of 207 was great, then this section of 207 was superb! More twisty roads, smooth pavement and well-marked corners greeted me all the way into Mitchell. But we’d been riding all day without eating (again) and the lack of food was starting to take its toll. A small restaurant near the junction of 207 and 26 proclaimed that it had the Best Burgers! That’s quite a statement to make and Dan and I were ready to put them to the test.
They do not have the Best Burgers! but they did have sufficiently tasty burgers to make it worth our while for a stop. A couple on a cruiser who had pulled up just as we did invited us to sit with them. We accepted and spent our time exchanging riding tales and plans. It was nice to sit down and relax for a bit, and meeting someone new was a change from the one-on-one that Dan and I had enjoyed for the previous five days.
Fantastic views along the John Day
More views south of Spray
Great roads along 207
Our own version of the painted hills
After the baskets had been cleared of all foodstuffs the four of us wandered out front to the bikes to kick tires and talk routes for a little bit longer before we each mounted up and went our separate ways, They would be continuing on their road trip to Yellowstone while Dan and I continued west. Dan and I were now on the “all business” portion of the ride, planning to go directly from Mitchell to Prineville and then find a campground south of Bend near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The route wasn’t terribly engaging and, as warned by the friendly couple from lunch, an 11-mile stretch of freshly laid chip seal awaited us. Naturally this wasn’t a problem for our bikes, but the reduced speed limit prolonged the ride just that much longer.
I realized just after we left Mitchell that now I had skipped two photo opportunities: the bakery in Heppner and the Best Burgers! in Mitchell. I vowed not to miss the next one. Therefore, when we stopped in Prineville at the Bi-Mart I felt obliged to record it for posterity. And now there was no more reason to stop until we reached our destination. We slogged our way south through Redmond and Bend and then droned along 97 for an interminable amount of time. Finally we reached the Newberry area and pulled off onto the feeder road for the crater lakes that make up the keystone of the park. We took a campsite at the first available campground, sharing the entire place with the almost non-existent camp hosts and a quiet couple across the way. It was to be a very peaceful night.
Coming down into Mitchell
Who could resist the Bi-Mart in Prineville?
Ample supplies for the night
The next day was Friday, our last full day together before we each headed to our respective homes. We left our camp set up and took off on our naked bikes. The road to the top of the monument was paved and we made good time. There was very little traffic, which surprised me considering that it was a Friday morning. There was no charge to get into the park as the ranger assumed (correctly) that we were just “passing through” to get to the China Hat off road area on the other side of the mountain. However, we took our time getting there, stopping a couple of times to enjoy some of the features of the park.
Paulina and East Lakes make up the prime attraction here and both lakes were ringed by campgrounds and fishing boats. Apparently the roads to the top were empty because everyone was already here. The lakes were a deep blue, but nothing breathtaking or even vaguely awe-inspiring: just cold lakes full of fish. Dan and I continued on our way, backtracking at one point to check out the Big Lava Flow turnout. We parked the bikes and took a short hike (in full gear, in the sun – it was getting hot) up to the lava flow. I enjoy geological features and the obsidian to be found here was amazing in its size, quantity and beauty. I took note of the sharp edge of the lava flow and how plant life was attempting to reclaim the land for its own. A bit of snow left over from winter provided a nice backdrop as well as a source for a couple of well-aimed snowballs.
Paulina Lake at Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Ducks in Paulina Lake
The sign speaks for itself
The edge of the lava flow
Dan, man of adventure
Colleen, woman of cold butt
Don’t trust photo composition to strangers
A tree grows in…Brooklyn?
Ok, enough sightseeing; it was time to get some dirt under our tires again! We kept going past the campgrounds, looking for the road that would lead us down the east side of the monument and into the dry hilly land below known as China Hat. I didn’t know what to expect from this road, assuming that it might be tricky as it made it’s descent but no, it was easy. Almost too easy, as it opened up and just dropped us down gently with very little input to the left or right. Now Dan would lead us to the top of China Hat, a specific hill with a road that wound it’s way up and around and around to the top.
We were now well on our way up China Hat and it was getting hotter. The road curved so evenly and consistently that I almost got dizzy. Shaded side, sun, shaded side, sun, shaded side, sun, until finally: the top. I admit to being slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a better view from the top. I guess I expected some sort of open expanse or even a lookout tower. But instead there was a place to turn the bikes around and a couple of peek-a-boo views of the snow-capped mountains to the west and some hazy blue hills to the east. Oh well – it was still a fun ride.
Heading down the eastside of Newberry
Our start up China Hat
China Hat trail
View east from China Hat
The Three Sisters
Oh my god – no beauty pageant winner here!
Back down we went and then took a main gravel road (China Hat Road) south until we met up with NF 22, also known as Ice Cave Road. It wasn’t long until Dan pulled off at the Ice Cave and we started exploring. There were already three dirt bikes parked nearby and a family (from Seattle) was enjoying the cool air at the cave’s mouth. We all sat and talked for a while, loathe to go back out into the heat and the sun. Eventually Dan and I did and made a beeline for the town of La Pine. The gas jockey was completely useless in recommending a café or diner, instead suggesting the Subway on the next block, or the Chinese place next door. Yeah, that’ll be just the place to order a burger, thanks. But we managed to find the Sugar Pine Café and weren’t sorry that we did. Delicious food, friendly wait staff and delectable milkshakes awaited us.
Coming down FS 18 from China Hat
South Ice Cave off FS 22 east of La Pine
I’m looking for bats
Dan looks for Batman
Now it was back to the campsite where I would attempt to start our campfire with one match and nothing more than I could find laying around the campground. This was my own little challenge and while I was very successful, I wasn’t surprised: the entire area is a dry as a tinderbox and would probably burn with a simple magnifying glass and some sunshine. A couple of Scrabble games amused us as we batted away bird-size mosquitoes and eventually we took to the tent for the night.
Oooo – good food here in La Pine!
Late evening exploration of nearby powerlines
Lightly-packed bike, showing map and tool tubes
Saturday. Dan wanted to get back to the Bay Area that day so that he would have all of Sunday to recover and prepare for work. I thought it was a bit too soon to head home, but left to my own, I decided to just head north and see where I ended up. We packed up our bikes and when we reached Route 97, we each went our own way. Dan had an uneventful 8.5 hour ride through northern California and the thick smoke from the roughly 1,000 forest fires burning that weekend.
I started out my return slowly. I had barely passed through Bend when I made my first stop to take pictures. The Crooked River (High) Bridge is just north of Redmond on 97 and was a worthwhile stop. I got to adjust the stuff packed on the bike, saw a couple of beautiful bridges and read the most absurd government sign I think I’ve ever seen.
I have never seen a sign like this
The history of the area
The old railroad trestle
The original bridge with the new one behind it
North of the bridge stop there were some amazing sights of more snow-capped mountains. Jefferson, Adams, Hood, Bachelor, the Three Sisters… each time I thought that I had gotten the best photo, another bend in the road would tell me that I was wrong. Thankfully there was a little pullout area that told me which peak was which, as I wasn’t familiar with the volcanoes in this area.
The countryside through here (between Redmond and Maupin along 97 and 197) was wide open, fairly desolate and hot. I didn’t realize just how hot it was until the road took a distinctive dive down into the river valley that shelters Maupin. Rafters floated down the Deschutes River, trees flourished along cool banks and the town squeezed itself below high-cut cliffs of the plateaus above. I was still planning my route home and had decided to take a small, unnumbered road that jutted west from 197 and over to Mt Hood. I kept an eye out for the likely looking turnoff as 197 shot upward from the river, arcing its way through cottonwood canyons as it struggled to gain elevation. By the time I rode through Dufur I realized that I had missed my turn off. Not wanting to backtrack, even on a new road, I decided to continue north to The Dalles and enjoy the coolness of the Columbia River Valley. Ha, was I ever wrong. Even as I descended down into The Dalles, the temperature increased. There would be no refreshing breeze from the river for me this time. So instead I planned my route to take me north through the mountains, behind Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier, keeping to the snow-covered mountains as much as possible.
I clumsily fumbled my 50c toll at the Hood River Bridge and crossed over into Washington State. I was almost home and almost every mile between here and there would be exciting ones. A quick stop in Carson gave me a break from the heat (I judged it to be about 95 by this point) as I ate my lunch and then I filled up the KLR. Two hundred miles stood between me and home and it was only 2pm. As I pulled out of the gas station I mused over the idea of checking out the side road to Windy Ridge, the twisty joy that leads up the east side of Mt St Helens. Then the bike died.
Silently, with power still showing on the dash, I coasted off the main road. I hadn’t made it far: I was literally half a mile from the gas station. I got off the bike and checked the fuel line and the petcock. The voltmeter told me I had battery power. The engine cranked but wouldn’t catch. I stood and stared at the bike. There was no shade and the sun beat down on me. I started to shed gear as I poked a little more seriously at the bike. I was puzzled and didn’t even know where to being at this point. Many motorcycles passed by, as this was a very popular route, but I didn’t feel desperate enough to bother someone else with my mechanical problem. But I was beginning to realize that I didn’t have many options. Just then a pack of sport bikes went by, the last rider noticing me standing there. As he looked over his shoulder he gave me the “thumbs up/thumbs down” sign, asking if I needed help. I shook my head “no, things aren’t good” and raised my arms in a helpless shrug. He turned around and parked next to me. His name was Jay and he was on his new BMW GS1200. After a brief explanation of the situation he started to poke and prod. His buddies eventually realized that he was missing and came back to find him. I now had five people standing around my bike in the hot sun as I pulled out parts and tools for them to poke and prod more thoroughly. They all seemed stumped. While a couple of guys discussed various possibilities, Jay asked if I was on ADV, as he had just joined. I said yes and told him about my trip that I was coming home from. I was glad that whatever was wrong happened now and not in the middle of some place like Christmas Valley.
Eventually my group of Samaritans gave up. The unofficial declaration was that it was a failure of an electrical part that would have to be replaced. I said that I had a towing service with my BMW membership and that I could call for help. Jay offered to give me a ride back to the gas station so we pushed my bike further out of the way, I grabbed what I’d need off of it and the whole gang motored down the road. At the station Jay handed me his number and said that he had a truck and trailer and lived in Vancouver, WA if I needed anything. I thanked him and said that the BMW tow service is usually pretty good, but it was nice to have a backup. I went inside, out of the heat, as they took off to finish their ride.
The Texaco I was at was large and clean, but the only phone to use was a payphone outside. I did have my cell phone with me but the batteries had long since died and it was not even a good paperweight by this time. I went back out into the heat and made my call. The operator had a general grasp of the English language and with only minimal repeating of my information we were able to establish that I needed a motorcycle towed. She asked what number she could call me back on. Naturally the phone I was on did not accept incoming calls (something else that she didn’t grasp right away) and she asked me to hold. I stood there, as there was nowhere to sit and the cord was not long enough to allow me to sit on the sidewalk. Did I mention that it was hot? Eventually the operator came back online long enough to tell me that she couldn’t find an available tow truck and then rattled off a phone number and could she call me back at that number? I again tried to tell her that I could not accept incoming calls and she sighed heavily as she asked me to hold again.
More time went by. Bikes pulled in and out of the station. Locals packed into the beds of pickups rolled in and out of the lot. People walked out with cases of beer and bags of ice. I stood there in the heat. My BMW angel came back on the line to tell me that she still couldn’t find an available tow truck, she’s sorry and if I can find a tow then I can pay for it and send the bill in “for consideration”. Lovely. Modifying a current phrase from the Internet: BMWMOA Epic Fail!
I hung up the phone, went back into the station and proceeded to cry in frustration. Ok, that didn’t help. I asked the clerks behind the counter if there was a washroom I could use. They politely told me that there was a spigot out back near the dumpster. I eyed the sink behind them and walked out in disgust. I washed off my face and went back in. I asked the clerk again if there was a phone I could use beside the payphone outside. He hesitated and then offered me his personal cell phone. “Its free on the weekends anyway” he said as he handed it. I thanked him profusely and sat back down with my stuff. I started to call people on a list I keep in my wallet. It being 3pm on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, not many people were home and those who were couldn’t help. Bah. So I asked the clerks if there was a mechanic or tow truck in the area. They gave me the number for “Bob” and within 15 minutes I had made arrangements to get my bike towed to Vancouver, WA. They had estimated $700 to get my bike to Seattle; at that cost I figured that I’d use the BMW portion to at least get to the I-5 corridor and go from there. My tow coverage is only good for 50 miles and at roughly $170/50 miles, I didn’t feel compelled to go much further.
Eventually the driver showed up and we loaded my bike onto the flatbed. He seemed to know what he was doing and was pretty congenial once we got on the road. It was about an hour to get to Vancouver and I had time to call Jay. Hey, he offered, so I was going to take him up on it. Of course I didn’t know what I was going to ask of him, but I figured that would take care of itself when the time came. I eventually go a hold of him and told him where the driver would drop me off and would he meet me there? He had some errands to run but said that he’d be there with his truck and trailer.
How many riders does it take to fix a KLR?
Well, at least there was shade…
The driver left me in a dirt parking lot at a truck stop; the only shade available provided by a small strawberry stand. To add insult to injury, the stand was empty and the thermometer along the side of the highway read 97 degrees. I figured that Jay would be along any minute so I didn’t want to wander away from the bike to go to the restaurant across the way. An hour later, Jay pulled up, a bottle of ice water in hand and a smile on his face. We loaded up the bike and decided to go to his place where I could make more phone calls and formulate a plan. And if nothing else, he didn’t have anything going on tomorrow.
After a much-needed shower and a couple of unsuccessful phone calls I offered to take Jay out for dinner, as a token show of appreciation for all that he had done for me thus far. After dinner there was still no word from a potential source of help so we sat down to watch a movie and I eventually fell asleep.
The next morning brought no change to the idea of me getting my bike home via anyone I knew. Jay casually offered to drive me and my bike to Seattle. This is not to be taken lightly, as it is at least a two-hour drive just to get to Seattle and that’s if traffic is clear. Then he would have to turn around and come right back. That did not sound like a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, but Jay seemed more than willing and quite honestly, I didn’t have many options at this point. After topping off the truck’s gas tank and a quick coffee and bagel stop we were on our way. The drive went quickly and we found much to talk about along the way. When we reached Seattle I offered to take him out for lunch but he declined and instead said that he’d be on his way.
Jay and Smallsy say Hi!
Christian enjoying the couch, but not the heat
Getting a ride home from Vancouver
UPDATE: July 22nd: It took some time, a lot of help and a few wrong guesses, but the problem has finally been found! Last November I replaced the OEM stator with a “more powerful” (riiiight) upgraded stator. Despite loc-tite and proper torque, one of the bolts holding the stator came loose. It worked it’s way out of the hole far enough for the head of the bolt to snap off and roll around inside the casing for a considerable amount of time. This was a pretty violent time inside my bike! Fortunately the stator was the only thing damaged. After a quick heli-coil (I can say it was “quick” because someone else did it), a new bolt and a whole lot of loc-tite (red), the bike is back together. Metal shavings have been removed, the oil screen cleaned and fresh oil put in. I’d say that she purrs like a kitten, but this is a KLR, after all, and everyone knows that KLRs don’t purr.