Sport Bike Northwest Rally, Columbia River Gorge
I’m trying to open up to the world of motorcycle rallies and group events. Its rather foreign to me, as the principle of them goes against what I love most about riding: being alone and doing what I want. What I found out this weekend is that sometimes there’s a time and a place for other people. This was one of them.
August 24~ August 27, 2006
Total Miles: 871 miles, 4 days
Seattle, WA to Stevenson, WA
Tom Mehren of SoundRider.com invited me to his 4th Annual Sport Bike Northwest Rally, held each year in Stevenson, WA. He asked if would come down and give a little talk/picture show at Ladies Night and light a spark of enthusiasm for riding. It sounded intriguing and I had never been to a Rally before, so I agreed, took a couple more days off work and packed the GS up for the trip. A friend wanted to join me for the trip so we made arrangements for him to ride down from Vancouver Wednesday night so we could ride down to the Rally together Thursday morning.
The day started out cool with high clouds, which became low clouds as we gained elevation near Mt Rainier. It actually threatened to rain and I considered an alternate route that would keep us out of the clouds, but when I learned that John had never seen Mt Rainier then I figured that it was worth it to ride through the park and see whatever was reveled to us. I didn’t even notice the forest fires that were scorching the northeast side of the mountain because the clouds kept it all out of sight. Instead I was treated to ever-brightening skies and hints of blue. The roads remained dry and on this early Thursday morning the traffic was almost non-existent. Unfortunately the clouds weren’t clearing up quite enough to give us a full show of the mountain when we stopped at one of the overlooks, but we took pictures anyway and then hopped back on the bikes to continue our journey south. Then the clouds cooperated just as we had passed a couple of slower vehicles. It was well worth our time to stop again and grab some more pictures, even as the RV and touring sedans rolled by. I can never get enough of this mountain.
Mt Rainier, playing hard-to-get
Tasty roads near Mt Rainier
Letting traffic go by
Worth the wait (Mt Rainier)
We skirted the eastern side of the mountain’s flank, bumping along on 410 as it wound its way through towering trees and over shaded, frost-heaved pavement.We stopped for lunch in Enumclaw, which was just as sleepy as always. From Enumclaw we swung westward on 12 to Randle, where Forest Service road #25 drops south to the west side of Mt St Helens. I wanted to show John the top of Mt St Helens and that meant taking an hour detour up to Windy Ridge on FS 99. Quite frankly, I don’t care for this road. It is very tight and once you get into the blast zone there is nothing between you and a few hundred feet down if you were to miss a turn. I know that it’s all psychological, but I just don’t get the enjoyment out of it like others do. The views however, are worth it and I suggested that we take a ride to the top. I let John lead so that he could set his own pace, which he did quite well once we got past the only two cars on the road. I caught up to him once he discovered the blast zone. I could tell that he was in awe of the view that was before him (as I am, every time I come around that last corner). Although the mountain exploded over 25 years ago, there are still massive amounts of evidence of the natural forces that were at work when the searing wall of heat blew its way over mountains and ridges. It’s a lot greener now than when I first saw it almost 10 years ago, but it is still like another world. A very beautiful world.
Mt St Helens blast zone
New growth getting greener
The BMW with Mt St Helens
Clouds over Spirit Lake
Log debris still floating on the lake
Sheltered side of the ridge
We stopped for some photos along the way up and back, with clouds hiding most of the mountain at the very top, but a slightly lower viewpoint gave us a clear view of the smoke rising from the still-growing lava dome. While at one viewpoint I noticed a strange dust formation and realized that it was a dust devil pulling up dirt from the side of the mountain where the road was carved. I had only seen dust devils in the flat fields of eastern Washington so it was very unexpected and exciting to see one here.
Smoke puffing out of the top
Riding along the mountainside
Road to Windy Ridge
It was a much quicker ride back down the mountain and FS25. A quick turn off near Cougar and then we were heading south to Carson, WA, a small town just minutes from the Rally site in Stevenson. The roads here are a variety of shaded, river companions and sunny, mountain climbing switchbacks. The road finally came to an end with a spectacular drop down towards the Columbia River Gorge, its twisted lines buried deep underneath the dense foliage of the forest. From Carson it was a quick ride into Stevenson where we found the fairgrounds that the Rally was located on, found the registration table and then found a place for our tents. Welcome to the Sport Bike Northwest Rally!
That night was Ladies Night and after a few hours of some informative conversations and looking at pictures of some of my trips, it was free time at the Rally. I knew very few people, but there were a couple of hundred to meet, so I got busy meeting them. My memory is quite dismal when it comes to faces and names, so I meet some people for the second time as well.
Friday was dedicated to local rides with route suggestions provided by Tom. I met a woman named Tracy and we hit it off, so she, John and I decided to hook up for a short ride called the Mosier Loop. It was a quick ride across the Hood River Bridge, where I promptly got us lost (thinking we were in Mosier, not Hood River) so I let Tracy take over with her fancy GPS giving us directions. It was worth it, as the suggested roads were fun, scenic and provided miles of grins. But when we reached the far end of the loop I went off on my own, as I had agreed to help sweep Maryhill Loops Rd and the meeting time was approaching.
Lake at the fairgrounds
14A along the Columbia River
Mt Hood from Washington
Geology on display
I-84 on the Oregon side
Maryhill Loops Rd is a private road built by Sam Hill in 1913 as an experiment in paved road design and was the first paved road in the Northwest. Now it was time for the Rally to take over this road, and it was part of my job to make sure that the surface was clean of stones, cow droppings and anything else that might interfere with that “perfect line”. The crew made quick work of the road that was already in good shape and then it was time for me to explore some more.
Maryhill Loops Rd
Maryhill Loops Rd
I saw a road that climbed up the southern bank of the Columbia while I was crossing on the bridge into Oregon. It looked like a fun road and I sought out its source. I found it, only to discover that it was a gravel road. Not sure of where, if anywhere, this road went (other than up a steep hill) I decided to chance it and powered my way up the side of the ancient bluffs. The surface was even and predictable and I found myself passing through isolated farmsteads and green oases of trees. Five miles later I was spit out onto a paved road that took me on a delightful ride back down to the river’s edge through Fulton Canyon. Ahhh, the joys of a duel-sport bike!
Now I wanted to find the roads that I hadn’t experienced yet from the morning’s ride through Mosier Loops. I tried valiantly to stay off I-84 and stay on the original Highway 30, but it appeared that the modern freeway had gobbled up the older, more interesting road. Nonetheless, part of Hwy 30 has been saved in the form of Rowena Loops. This section is fairly famous, and rightfully so. It is amazingly scenic; the road must have been built just for bikes and sports cars. But after it crests the rise in Mayer State Park, the road is swallowed by its younger sibling once again. Now desperate to find more of Hwy 30 I kept riding west. But the small towns, the sterile interstate and the hot weather were all against me and I decide to go back to the fairgrounds for dinner and find some friends.
Rowena Loops (Hwy 30)
Rowena Loops(Hwy 30)
The cliche shot of Rowena Loops
Sunflower along the Columbia
Saturday was my first ever poker run. I understood the basics of it and our group of three grew to a larger group. I followed along, the leaders knowing an alternate route to the first checkpoint. The group staggered out and soon it was just Tracy and I riding together. We found that our riding styles overlapped considerably and had a great ride through the beautiful hinterlands of the Columbia Gorge. We got our chips, experienced some “spirited riding” back down to the Gorge and then rolled into the fairgrounds for one more night of Rally fun.
Tracy near Mt Adams
Near Glenwood, WA
Near Glenwood, WA
Near Glenwood, WA
Poker Run stop in Bickleton, WA
I was up much later than I realized that night, gossiping with other riders until 1:30 in the morning. And with the sunrise lighting up the inside of my tent at 6:30, it made for a very short night’s sleep. I packed up my gear, said good-bye to a few people and was on the road to Seattle at 8am. Not more than 20 minutes later I was stopped on the pavement watching 5 elk decide if they should panic at my arrival. They eventually did, scattering to both sides of the road and I continued my journey homeward. I re-traced my route up the east side of Mt St Helens but declined to view the smoldering dome again. And instead of toiling through the anticipated traffic of Mt Rainier I slipped along the west side of the mountain past Elbe and its historic church and locomotives. I was tired and took this opportunity to take a break I found sweet and juicy blackberries growing near the river’s edge and helped myself, my heavy gear keeping the vicious thorns at bay. Then it was back on the road where I dealt with traffic on the most beautiful stretch of 7 as it followed the eastern shore of Alder Lake and then tolerated the eternal straight roads that lead back into Seattle. Five hours after leaving Stevenson I arrived at home, tired but happy with the weekend’s events.
Mt St Helens
Curly Creek Rd
1906 church in Elbe, WA
Nisqually River in Elbe, WA
Blackberries in Elbe, WA
Iron Creek Falls