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Archive for the ‘Hell Ride’ Category

The Devil's Tail

It’s about 90 days out until HCMR, but if you wait much longer to ride the dream in historic Baker City be prepared to camp out on the High School football field.  Not that there is anything wrong with that as the posse tried this a couple years back.

There’s truly something about Baker City, Oregon.

It’s a city that rolls out the red carpet for bikers and welcomes them like they are veterans returning home from a war.  Local residents volunteer their homes and when ask provide updates on what’s new in their fine city.  It’s a friendly atmosphere, warm outgoing residents, great food with refreshments, and this year a Main Street that will be closed to traffic where the vendors will hawk their wares in the street along with the motorcycle show.

And that’s just Baker City. Add to this the awesome motorcycle roads that intersect at Baker, I-84, Hwy 30, Hwy 7, Hwy 203, Hwy 245 and Hwy 86. Also nearby are Hwy 244, Hwy 237, Hwy 26 Hwy 82 and the Hells Canyon, Blue Mountain and Elkhorn Scenic Byways. And don’t forget the more important road — The Devil’s Tail — a 22 mile road from Oxbow to Hells Canyon Dam is the signature ride of the rally. It could be the most inspiring 44 miles you’ve ridden on a motorcycle!

There’s a lot more and if you’re looking for a narrative taste I’ve blogged about previous trips HERE, 2010 HERE and 2009 HERE.

You wake up in the morning and the beauty surrounds bikers on all sides. The Blue Mountains, the Elkhorn Ridge, the Seven Devils, the Wallowa Mountains and the Strawberry Mountains. More natural landscape in your first breath than many people get to experience in a lifetime.

I’ll see you there.

Photo taken by author.

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Highway 97

There was fun, sun, cerveza’s and of course a dash of rain.  Mixed in along the way was some imperfect weather, but what can a person expect living in the northwest in June?!  It’s an imperfect world and besides, many riders revel in the glory of making it through adversity.  Not me… I like perfect weather versus keeping track of the number times I had to dawn on rain gear.  But that’s me.

At any rate, the opening sentence pretty much describes the high level summary of the ride situation to Baker City for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR), but if you’re the kind of person who reads the manual, ferrets out all the details and amazes friends with all your product knowledge then read on…

The posse started this ride on Interstate 84 to pick up a buddy in “Googleville” (aka The Dalles) then at Biggs Junction we rode south on Hwy 97 to Wasco.  From there we traversed Hwy 206(Wasco-Heppner Hwy) to Condon.  This stretch of road offers up a lot of sweepers and depending on which type of bike you ride it could be fast or a mental exercise to stay alert.  You’ll never get lonely on this stretch of road, not because of the number of RVs or automobiles – there are none – but because squirrels frequently run out across the road to challenge your dodging skills and if you’re real lucky you’ll get the occasional mule deer to snap you back to reality.

Clarno Unit -- John Day Fossil Beds

From Condon we rode Hwy 19 to Fossil where we took a detour on Hwy 218 to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil and is just under a couple thousand acres in size.  It’s a remote area and Hwy 218 is a real joy to ride.  There is nothing which explains the exhilaration of roaring out of tight corners and setting up for the next hairpin.  There is an odd trend in this area of marking an entire set of 6+ curves with one single sign marked with the speed of the slowest and tightest of the entire bunch of curves.  The first 5 corners are truly 45MPH then the last one is a 20MPH right angle with gravel on the apex.  Good to see the state saving money on road signs!  The views of Central Oregon’s near-desert environment are astounding and this highway was nearly empty of anything other than a variety of grasses, sagebrush and juniper.  The cliffs of the Palisades are the most prominent landform in the Clarno Unit and the trip wouldn’t have be complete without a photo op.

We back tracked the 18 miles to the junction of Washington Street and Seventh Street (Hwy 19)… street names in Fossil make it seem like a big town – it’s not.  We then proceeded south to Service Creek then to Mitchell and picked up Hwy 26 east (essentially follows the Oregon Trail) to John Day, Prairie City and then we veered off at Bates onto Hwy 7 (Whitney Tipton Hwy) toward Sumpter.

Prairie City

Along this area we unfortunately came upon a motorcycle accident between Sumpter and Baker City just after Philips Lake.  The rider failed to negotiate a sweeper and laid the bike down.  The footboard and engine guard made deep grooves into the asphalt as the motorcycle and rider slid off the right shoulder of the road down an embankment onto some soft brush.  The rider narrowly missed hitting a guard rail and survived with only minor injuries.  Very fortunate.  The motorcycle was towed away.  Traveling this route was basically going from one mountain pass to another separated by valleys, small towns and river valleys.  The passes were over 5000’ and the changes in temperature were notable until we arrived in Baker City.

After 400+ miles we arrived at the Best Western Motel and were greeted with smiling employees who got us checked in and on our way to dinner at Arceo’s Family Mexican Restaurant.  It was awesome!

And speaking earlier of accidents… the following day (Friday) we learned and responded to voicemail’s from people who were concerned about a motorcycle accident on I-84 which happened around noon and whether it involved other members of the posse who were in route to the rally.  It didn’t, but sadly a 63-year-old Albany man was killed and a 50-year-old Lebanon man was seriously injured about four miles east of Troutdale.   The two were part of a group of 12 people, aboard 10 motorcycles, heading for the HCMR rally.  Michael Pamplin, 63, was riding a H-D in the middle of the group when he lost control and crashed to the pavement.  Even worse was the fact that he was run over by another motorcyclist in the group, 50-year-old Keith Corbett, and died at the scene. Corbett was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with serious injuries.  It’s unclear what was the main precursor to causing this wreck…

Postcard From Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken by editor.

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Butt Rider Award

Butt Rider Award

Before the final rider had packed up the saddlebags and rumbled out of Hells Canyon a couple weeks ago the local press were reporting on the arrests and accident stats.

Fortunately there were no fatalities, but several riders were severely injured and a few have a long recovery ahead of them.  I hope for the best!

As background, there were about 5,000 riders who converged on the surrounding area of Baker City.  I’ve already reported how there were widespread thunderstorms with heavy rain alternated with sunshine throughout the weekend.  There were two rally-related arrests which resulted from an intoxicated rider trying to move his motorcycle from the street lineup and crashed into 3 other motorcycles.  Yeah, that would aggravate me too!  George Twardus (Portland) was arrested for drunk driving.  Compounding that situation was one of his new friends from Baker City who decided to sneak off with the motorcycle and was arrested for unlawful use of a motorcycle and tampering with evidence. According to the reports police showed significant restraint as the riding group with Mr. Tawardus were acting out and expressing their freedom of speech.  I have dedicated a “Butt Rider” award to them!  In addition, there were a couple of other local residents arrested over the weekend for fighting outside a bar, but it was described by Police Chief Lohner as just part of a typical Saturday night in Baker City, and had nothing to do with the rally.

Baker City had 13 calls related to the rally, including eight motorcycle crashes.  The weather likely contributed to some of the motorcycle crashes, but rider skills certainly had a part too.  Four of the injured were flown out either by helicopter or plane.  In addition, there were a couple of motorcycle accidents reported in the Richland area including the hit and run accident with Rick Meigs which I reported on previously.  It turns out that this year’s rally was comparable to the number of accidents in 2007, but much worse than 2008.

And speaking of “Butt Rider” awards… as a visitor to eastern Oregon, I have a couple observations to pass along:

  1. Uninvited Guests — If a group of 4-6 riders are clearly in a group together then other riders not part of that group shouldn’t cut in to ride as if you’ve found your long lost riding buddies.  Often without warning we saw people dart/cut into our group vs. go on around – even with plenty of passing space.  Sure some riders were looking to pass and wanted to make sure there was clearance, but others cut in and behaved as if they planned to join the group?!  I know the skills of our riding group, but I wouldn’t know if the “cutter” has been riding motorcycles for 30 years, or 13 minutes — who knows and that concerns me.  I’m more than okay in sharing the roadways, but there was some stupidity being displayed and on several occasions we were forced to brake heavy to make way.
  2. Secret Motorcycle Wave — To me it is amazing to see folks waving or trying to wave at all the fellow riders when there is a big rally in an area.  And I’m not talking about the two-finger flip or the helmet nod, but the left hand high in the air “Hi Mom, I’m so excited to be out here and one of the gang” type waves!  Great way to avoid accidents on wet S-curves with 100’s of participants on the road.  Not!
  3. Hunting Season – is it me or is it you?  It must have been the time of year as I observed several riders (namely Idaho plates) displaying holstered firearms for all to see.  Sure, Oregon has a rich hunting heritage, but packing “heat” at a motorcycle rally should not be encouraged and certainly does nothing to promote conversation or relationship building.  I’m not anti-gun and own firearms like many of you.  I treat all firearms as if they are loaded and these guys were twitchy.  I don’t know these characters or what the potential target was and felt as though I should put on a blaze orange vest so as to not be confused with any live animal!

I’m of the viewpoint that a motorcycle rally has a couple of purposes beyond vendor booths and the camaraderie of enjoying wind in your face with friends  I’m sure there are others, but one is to raise awareness with the general public, that they are sharing the roadways with motorcycles.  Another might be to promote motorcycle safe riding practices and that as a large loosely aligned group of motorcycle enthusiasts, we can and are well behaved.  Some more than others I suppose…

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xtreme-pacsFor some there are not many things that get better than a scenic motorcycle ride with the added enjoyment of pulling off the tarmac to overnight under the stars.

I received several emails in regards to my outdoor experience during a recent trip to the Hells Canyon Rally.  I’m talking camping here and getting back to nature.  Touring motorcycles offer a lot in the way of storage because you’ll need a good tent, a better sleeping bag, an air-mat and a “butt buddy” i.e. chair!  But before you embark on that next camping trip you’ll have to decide what is or isn’t important to take because space is always a premium.

As I noted in the Hells Canyon post I went down the path of piece parting over a few years to fulfill the requirements of camping.   But, I came across an all-in-one system that looks like a good alternative for those looking for a one-stop complete package.  Made by Napier, it’s called the Sportz X-Treme PAC. It’s a complete camping package designed with everything you need (except air-mat) for a “comfortable” stay in the outdoors. A very compact 3 season package which includes tent, full rain fly, 2 stools, 2 sleeping bags and a carrying bag which can be easily attached to a motorcycle.  For about $250.00 it features a 7.5’ x 6.5’ tent which sleeps two people; a full tape seamed rain fly with side extensions; 2 heavy duty stools and 2 mummy sleeping bags. All of the items pack into the carrying bag.  They also make a one-person version which will save you $100.00 when you heed the call of the open road and nature.  The product has been shipping more than 3 years and there are a number of product reviews and blogs that have covered the usage.  You’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than positive ratings.

Another bit of advice from your motor-camper extraordinaire… before entering your portable nylon estate I suggest having a plan.  Are you taking all your stuff and storing it in the tent or just the items you’ll need for the morning.  For example storing your helmet in the tent will avoid moisture and critters accumulating.

Photo courtesy of Napier.

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C&D Drive In

C&D Drive In

It was so easy to wake up this morning in LaGrande.

In the tent the night before inbetween the trains, the rain, the camp “traffic”, and general mummy bag discomfort I didn’t get a lot of sleep.  A couple times in the morning I just sat there in the tent, staring at the wall, not wanting to jump into the day, but today it was different.  Sure I obtained a very small taste of what those early pioneers had gone through to travel across this land, dealing with the weather and the harsh landscape, but today it was a shower followed with coffee in the motel lobby – sweet!

It wasn’t as cold this morning, but the rain followed us.  Over coffee we obtained guidance from the weather channel and called up some web sites on the iPhone.  It was dismal everywhere with large sections of intense rain.  We all agreed that riding most of day in rain was just not going to sit well so, we took our time departing with a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s.  Then with a gorge head wind in our face we drove toward the sunset for the most direct route back to Portland.

Big_HorseBy the time we arrived in Boardman the rain had stopped and the sun was making it quite humid.  We pulled off exit 164 at the C&D Drive In, on I-84 and gassed up.  The posse wasn’t hungry and passed on the famous blackberry milkshakes, Walla Walla sweet onion rings and famous BOZO Burgers.  It’s odd that the drive-in is linked to an espresso bar and pizza place, but little has changed since it opened in the 1950s.  We stored our rain gear and rode on to Hood River where we stopped for a late lunch.

Big Horse Brew Pub

Big Horse Brew Pub

Riding in the warm sunshine felt good after a couple days of riding in off/on rain.  In Hood River it was downright warm with temp gauge registering 80 degrees.  We decided to take in the Big Horse Brew Pub.  We were a group of thirsty visitors and made the steep climb up the steps to this brewpub and restaurant.  It overlooks most of Hood River and makes for a good non-participation windsurfing view point. Inside there are billiards and micro-brewed beverages of choice that are made in the building’s stone cellar. Lunch and service was excellent.   Thanks Holly!  We made our way down the stairs and headed to Portland.

All in all, the rally was a lot of fun.  The people/hosts in Baker City are terrific! The ride over and back as well as the rides and time in the canyons was incredible.  I certainly plan to return.  I’m on the fence about a re-do of camping and having now done it means I’ve worked it out of my system.  I’ll likely make plans earlier in the year to score a motel and then do more rides out of Baker City toward John Day and into Idaho.  Thus avoiding the larger crowds on the Hells Canyon byway and hopefully the rain too!  If you’ve yet to experience the Hells Canyon Rally I suggest you add it to  your list of to do’s.

Hells Canyon Rally Wrap Up – Day 1 HERE and Day 2 HERE.

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HellsCanyonOR_mapAfter what seemed like an endless night of chatting voices and the occasional AC/DC rocking through the school ground all was quiet and I settled into the two-man tent and mummy style sleeping bag.  With the rain showers and 45 degree temperatures everything was slimed with dew even with a rain fly.

I know my way around the outdoors, but I’m in no way a boy scout or survivalist camper.  Motorcycle camping is much more comparable to bicycle camping than car camping due to the limited storage capacity.  Often the same equipment as backpackers is used because of lighter weights and compact dimensions associated with the backpacking equipment.  I had one saddle bag allocated to tent, rain fly, mat, sleeping bag, torso air-mat, mini-chair and compression pillow.  The magic is called stuff sacks!

HalfwayMy plan was to be just comfortable enough and since I had previously purchased most of the items for other activities it wouldn’t be expensive to pull together this camping gig. I wasn’t traversing Mt. Everest, or hiking the 3 Sisters Trail and food/stove/cookware were left at home because in my simple world… coffee and food was picked up along the way. Because in the Northwest it tends to rain, a good tent is important. A sleeping bag that is comfortable below freezing is important too. However, the mummy bag was like a restraint.  I kept thinking would a sleeping bag that weighs 2 pounds vs. 3 really have mattered?  No!  Space was the key and I could have fit a square bag.  The old school Therm-a-rest air pad provided some comfort, but not nearly as cushy as the oversized Outdoor Research thick air mats.  The good news is that in today’s compression sack world everything is about twice as small as a few years ago.

Rick Meigs Accident

Rick Meigs Accident

Note to Steve and the HCMR planners… make sure next year there is coffee in the high school gym.  They could have paid for 3 teachers salary had they set up a coffee stand even with 3-day old donuts from Safeway!  Nothing worse than a karaoke hangover and no coffee for miles!  Okay enough on the camping adventure.

We broke camp, re-packed the bikes (interestingly after everything gets wet it doesn’t compress as well – go figure!) and headed toward the McCafe’ and official event booths at the Best Western.  Our plan was a casual ride on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and overnight in LaGrande.  The ride follows Hwy 86 a national designated scenic byway. The route circles the Wallowa Mountains by way of Halfway and Joseph then north through the small towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa.  There were thousands of curves and plenty of motorcycle traffic.

Hells Canyon Lookout

Hells Canyon Lookout

Between Hole-in-the-Wall-Slide and Richland there were two motorcycle accidents within a quarter mile of each other.  Neither of them related, but both made everyone take a moment of pause.  The first was a lady that failed to negotiate a curve and rode off the road and down into the ditch.  Not life threatening, but she was taken away by ambulance.  The second and much more serious was Rick Meigs getting clipped by a vehicle that “crossed the center line.”  It was a hit and run. He was taken by ambulance to Baker City where they performed emergency surgery to stabilize him then he was flown by Life Flight to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise Idaho, where he is now, in critical condition. I don’t know Rick and researched this accident on the web after coming up on the scene.  Nonetheless, send your prayers and/or follow updates on his progress HERE.

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

Beyond Halfway, the road becomes a paved Forest Service stretch as it climbs over a pass toward Joseph. This road has a lot of switchbacks and ‘over-the-cliff’ moments so you’ll want to be most alert through the area.  We took a break at the Hells Canyon Overlook, but was unable to pick out the Seven Devils on the horizon due to the approaching rain storm.  Within 15 minutes there was solid rain so, we moved on and continue toward Joseph in full rain gear.  It was wet and slow going in the canyons.  The big corner preceding Joseph is one of those turns you typically never forget as The Wallowas come into view behind Joseph like a movie scene out of the Swiss Alps.  We stopped for lunch and to dry out a bit.  After Joseph there is a great stretch of motorcycle road through the Wallowa Valley and the mountain towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. We finish the loop on I-84 in La Grande, Or., as the Historic Baker City bars were no longer calling our name.  Neither were the tents!  We checked into a motel and proceeded directly to the hot tub to warm up.

Hells Canyon Rally Wrap Up – Day 1 HERE and Day 3 HERE.

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