Part 5: Two Weeks in Idaho (mostly):
a Motorcycle Adventure
Introduction and Part 1 (Hell's Canyon drive from
Oxbow Bridge along the Snake River to the Hell's Canyon dam and then back
over Oxbow dam to Cambridge, Idaho, and everything up to Part 2)
Part 2: Silver City, Idaho
Part 3: Bruneau Dunes State Park, City of Rocks
National Reserve, Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Sun Valley and Ketchum
Part 4: Custer, Idaho
Friday, Day 8
Back on state Road 75, after a fantastic visit to Custer,
Idaho, heading from Sunbeam to Challis. And I kept hearing Kurt Cobain
in my head, singing "Jesus don't want me for a sunbeam..."
We were 8 days into the trip. We were more than half done, and we'd already
seen and done SO much. Wow.
We weren't sure where we would end up for the night - but we rarely are. We
didn't think we could make it to Missoula, Montana that same day. Heck, we
didn't think we could make the Montana border that day. We saw the sign for
and the Land of Yankee Fork state park, but it was so early in the
trip, we didn't stop. After checking the interwebs after we got back, I'm
glad we didn't - there's not nearly as much to see there as there was back
road was really lovely until the connection with 95. It's not that it got
ugly, but just not as beautiful as it had been. It was was threatening rain
and had cooled off quite a bit - and was getting colder. We stopped for
lunch in Challis, I got biscuits and gravy again (all day breakfast!
Wahoo!), and we chatted with the super friendly waitress. We also
encountered a super snobby biker. Motorcyclists tend to be friendly people,
eager to share information about weather and road conditions. Not this one.
I asked her if she came from rain and she just looked annoyed at me and said
no, then went to her table and buried her head in the menu. Okay. To make
matters worse, when she walked outside, Stefan was moving my bike for me -
I'd parked in a weird way - and she freakin' SMIRKED AT ME. Screw you and
your BMW, asshole.
We stopped in Salmon, birthplace of Sacagawea, for gas, and saw
more firefighters deploying for fires somewhere. They wished us well,
and we did the same. We pushed on North and somehow missed the campground we
were aiming for - suddenly, we were going up up up up on oh-so-winding 93
from Idaho into Montana. It's the Lost Trail Pass Rest Area on US 93/MT 43
S, and it is STEEP and CURVY. We were here many years ago, when we went to
Yellowstone. It was really cold and threatening rain - at
the rest stop, I put on a long-sleeved shirt and a rain jacket over my
mesh jacket. Stefan said we should get a hotel room that night, and I
agreed. We decided to push for Hamilton, Montana. We'd
been that way before, in 2011, going up and down the road twice trying
to find a place to camp or find a hotel. Back then, everything was
closed - motels, stores, gas stations - including the
Spring Gulch campground. We'd had to backtrack quite a bit to find a
hotel. Now, everything was open. It's amazing the difference a few years can
make for a region, good or bad.
In Hamilton, Montana, the chain motel was full, so we stopped at Deffy's
Motel right next door. I loved it - old, almost historic, worn, clean,
very hospitable and affordable. I got the last room, which I think was the
last available hotel room in Hamilton! It was the start of Labor Day weekend
- I knew the next two nights would be really hard in terms of finding
accommodation without a reservation. We took showers, washed underwear,
charged our cell phones, did some research on sites related to the Big Burn
of 1910 (great Internet access at this hotel!) and caught up on the news. We
walked around the historic downtown - yes, there is one, and it's small but
cute, like Forest Grove's - and then headed for supper at a very nearby
restaurant (pizza - great crust, but otherwise forgettable). Had to wear my
earplugs that night to sleep, but oh, how I slept...
Saturday, Day 9
In the wee hours of morning, I went online before Stefan woke up and
answered email: I responded to a high school student doing a project for a
class, and a friend that wanted me to go to Portugal with her (in October,
it would have been possible... but not September). There was also a text
message about mail piling up at my front door - my dog sitter had forgotten
to check the front door for mail. It turned into a whole, huge drama trying
to coordinate. Will I ever find that dog and house sitter that I know is
really taking care of everything?
Didn't check social media. I do NOT do social media whilst on vacation!
We packed up and headed to Missoula. I'd found a place to visit: the National
Museum of Forest Service History. Sounds great, right? Stefan's GPS
took us to the address listed in the Internet: in a sad part of town, down a
lonely residential street to a dead end at a chain link fence. Huh?
Confused, we headed to Fort Missoula, a historic site, to see what they
might have regarding the Big Burn of 1910, and the wonderful volunteers in
the gift shop told us the sad news: there is no National Museum of Forest
Service History. "Did you come to that fence, the way the others have?" she
asked. Um... yup! She said people regularly come in, including retired
forest service employees, expressing frustration at not being able to find
the museum. We asked if there was anything anywhere about the Big Burn of
1910 - Stefan had recently read the book The
Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America
and we'd both seen the
PBS Special on it. They didn't have anything anymore - they'd had a
big exhibit back for the 100th anniversary, but it was gone by 2012. What
about Wallace, Idaho? The man said, "Well, I know they got a bordello museum
there, but I'm not sure about anything on the Big Burn." I called the Museum
of North Idaho in Coeur d'Alene to see if they had anything - other
than a display case, they didn't, and she didn't think what they had was
worth rushing to see.
spent an hour or so on the grounds of Fort Missoula. There was a small shack
outside a shortened, historic fire watch tower, and inside was a
small exhibit on the history of fire watch towers - which was
surprisingly interesting. I didn't know that fire watch tires were sold and
shipped as kits! Then we went up the restored watch tower, moved from
elsewhere. I've always wanted to go up a fire watch tower. You can't go
inside, but you
can see inside. It has lots of vintage instruments and even vintage
food and supplies. But when I saw the vintage
National Forest Service porcelain plates, I LOST MY MIND. I WANT THEM.
GIVE THEM TO ME. A search of the Interwebs when I got back found NONE for
sale ANYWHERE. That freakin' museum better have replicas available in the
gift shop someday...
The other thing I want is the
library train car on display. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company
lumber department’s library car served as an early bookmobile for loggers in
camps throughout Missoula County from 1921 to the late 1950s. After serving
as a dormitory and storage shed at the Lubrecht Experimental forest, it was
brought to Fort Missoula in 2005. Today it houses an exhibit about the
Lumberman’s Library. I want one in my back yard. More
info about this wonderful creation here.
The volunteers at Fort Missoula had told us about the Smoke
Jumper's Visitor's Center, which is at the airport. Stefan said we
were going to have to get on Interstate 90 next to the airport anyway, so we
might as well go. He didn't seem all that enthused to go. We got there and
the tour had just left, and wouldn't be back for an hour. The center was
otherwise all closed up and we couldn't see any of the exhibits. So he
some photos, and we left. FYI, if you take the tour, you get to
see inside the
parachute loft and training facilities.
Then we got on Interstate 90, which we would be on for a few hours at least
to get back into Idaho. Ugh ugh ugh. I hate the Interstate. Even if I went
the 80 mph speed limit, it wouldn't have been fast enough for most people.
Luckily, traffic was much lighter than I expected. We stopped for lunch in
tiny, tiny Alberton, Montana, having a very satisfying meal in a small cafe.
And as Steve Earle blared from the kitchen, I thought, "Yeah, you've got no
problem with Steve Earle, but I bet you hate the Dixie Chicks." If you don't
see the sexism in that whole controversy from way back then, you really are
had suggested we stop at Wallace, Idaho, for our final effort to see
something in association with the Big Burn of 1910, and so we did - and that
picturesque, historic town was HOPPING. They were having their annual flea
market, and the town felt like it was flourishing. I loved it immediately.
We parked on the street and I went into an outdoor supply store to ask if
there was a museum in town - there is, the Wallace
District Mining Museum, right around the corner from where we were. It
was 4:30 and we power walked around the block. The museum logo is awesome,
celebrating firefighting. The museum staff found me so amusing that they let
us in for free!
The museum is small, but worth a visit. No, they don't have much about the Big
Burn of 1910, but what they have is interesting: what is probably the
prototype for the Pulaski firefighting tool, and a binder of old
photos and information about the Big Burn. In case you don't know (I didn't
until the PBS special), the Great Fire of 1910, also commonly referred to as
the Big Burn, was a wildfire that burned about three million acres,
approximately the size of Connecticut, in northeast Washington, northern
Idaho (the panhandle), and western Montana. The firestorm killed 87 people,
mostly firefighters, and it is believed to be the largest, although not the
deadliest, forest fire in USA history. The aftermath of the fire highlighted
firefighters as public heroes and raised public awareness surrounding nature
conservation. The most famous story from the fire is probably that of Ed
Pulaski, a U.S. Forest Service ranger who led a large group of his men to
safety in an abandoned prospect mine outside of Wallace, just as they were
about to be overtaken by the fire. At one point, one of the men announced
that he was getting out of there. Afraid others would follow him, and
knowing that they would have no chance of survival if they ran, Pulaski drew
his pistol, threatening to shoot the first person who tried to leave. In the
end, all but five of the men survived. The mine entrance, now known as the
Pulaski Tunnel, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pulaski is widely credited for the invention of the Pulaski hand tool, still
commonly used in wildland firefighting and now called a "Pulaski tool".
museum notes that the 1997 film Dante's Peak was shot on location in
Wallace, with a large hill just southeast of the town digitally altered to
look like a volcano. Heaven's Gate was partly filmed there as well.
Lana Turner is from there. The museum has a lot of mining tools on display,
as well as other items from the boom times, like a
massive bank safe and this
really does have a bordello museum. It also has a
brewery, and we bought a six pack of the beer from the local grocery
store. We also found
this hilarious door sign. Had there been a place to stay in town, we
might have that night. Later, I found that, in 2004, the town proclaimed
itself the "Probalistic Center of the Universe," marked by a sewer access
cover at the intersection of Bank Street and Sixth Street. It was declared
in a public celebration to poke fun the Coeur
d'Alene Basin Record of Decision, something having to do with Lake
Coeur d'Alene, the Coeur d'Alene tribe, the EPA, the EPA's
Superfund, and who knows what else - I tried for 30 minutes to figure
it out, but never could.
We pushed on, hoping for national park camping, but it was getting late, and
our prospects were fading. We ended up at a
campsite right on the Coeur d'Alene river and right next to I90. I'm
not going to say the name because it wasn't so great: there are no
designated sites for tents, only the first three or so tent campers get a
picnic table (or something kinda resembling such), and the bathrooms stunk
badly on the outside from a leaking septic tank. Plus, I watched the
campsite owners' dog take a big dump in the campgrounds and then run back to
the house - no one cleaned it up. The only good things from the evening: (1)
we had a camp site before dark on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend
and (2) the
1910 Black Lager from Wallace Brewing Company was delicious.
Sunday, Day 10
Bad news in the night: the zipper on the outer door of our tent broke. It no
longer keeps the zippered parts together. We could still use the inside mesh
door, which keeps bugs out, but the outer door keeps the tent surprisingly
warmer on cold nights. And we were in cold weather now during the night. The
tent, bought from Aldi grocery store in Germany, about 10 years ago, is
beloved by both of us: a three-person tent, which means it has plenty of
room for our stuff and us inside, plus it has a large vestibule on the rain
fly, allowing us to keep stuff outside the main part of the tent but it will
stay try. And the rain fly can come off for dry, hot nights, but the mesh on
the inner tent isn't entirely see-thru, unlike modern tents. WE LOVE THIS
TENT SO MUCH. Unless we can come up with an easy repair, the tent is done
after this trip. Sad face.
Good news: other campers that were leaving brought us hot coffee. It was so
good. I also cooked a big breakfast, my first since our first morning out.
We were out by 10:15, barrelling down I30, and exiting for Lake Coeur
The drive around Lake Coeur d'Alene is an official Idaho scenic bypass. It's
a nice drive, but you don't see the lake much, and there are few
opportunities to park and look at it. It's not an easy ride - lots of steep
inclines and sharp turns. Luckily, there was very little traffic. That was
shocking, as it was Labor Day weekend, and the lake is thickly populated
with ultra nice houses... mansions... castles. Big wealth around that lake.
finally found a place to pull off and look at the lake. We
continued South, on state road 3, then 6, then 9, through Harvard and
Stanford and near Princeton (ja, rly), and then stopped for a very good
lunch at Big Racks Barbecue in tiny Deary, Idaho. But had we known at the
time, we would have stopped at Firefighters' Circle at Woodlawn Cemetery in
Maries, Idaho along the way. 57 men who died fighting the 1910 fire
are buried there, in addition to other FS firefighters who died fighting
fires in later years. The memorial is on the National Register of Historic
Places, and may be the only federally-owned cemetery plot that has nothing
to do with the military. Here is a
list of all known burial places of firefighters who died fighting the Big
Not sure if it was before or after Deary, but we saw some firefighter trucks
going in the opposite direction of us, trucks that service encampments of
forest firefighters. Shortly thereafter, on the left side of the road, we
saw such an encampment. It was our impression that the encampment was
closing. It looked like that, just a few days ago, it had been HUGE, and on
both sides of the road.
The drive south, on the
White Pine Scenic Byway, was lovely, and I noticed that between the
small towns of Kendrick and Juliaetta, there was a paved bike trail. It's
more than five miles long, and is a former Northern Pacific Railway line. I
was so jealous! My dream is for a bike trail from Atkinson Park in
Henderson, Kentucky, across a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across highway
41 that descends into the old Big K parking lot, goes along Barrett
Boulevard, then goes along highway 60 all the way to the bridge over the
Green River in Spottsville. It would be 10 miles long. Bike trails
revitalize small communities - just look at what the
bike trail did for Vernonia, Oregon!
went around Lewiston on 95 South and stopped at the Nez
Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center. The ranger was talking
to other visitors, and was on a tirade about the treaties the USA government
has broken again and again, and the ever-shrinking Nez Perce lands. He was
so passionate - it was a great talk! We picked up a brochure and noticed it
said something about petroglyphs. The ranger raved about them, and I got the
impression they were quite close, so off we schlepped in the heat to see
them. Welp, it takes well more than an hour to get there and see them. I'm
glad we did - the drive through Lewiston was a big pain in the ass, but the
drive along the Snake River to the petroglyhs was lovely. And the
petroglyphs are plentiful. There
are some really beautiful images. The tribe no longer allows the
images to be reproduced on t-shirts or other products, so you aren't going
to see these everywhere the way you see Kokopelli. Are the images sacred? It
depends on how you define sacred. They may or may not have been religious.
They were most definitely expressions of what people were seeing,
experiencing and dreaming of.
We went back towards Lewiston, stopping at a gas station to gas up as we
continued to gas up, and a biker pulled in on a BMW. And, unbelievably, it
was snobby snearing biker woman. We were stunned. And didn't speak to her -
just looked at each other incredulously. What are the odds we would end up
at a gas station well off the beaten path at the SAME TIME? She had a
Montana license plate, so I was pretty sure she would be taking 12 East and
heading back home and we wouldn't have to see her snide face anymore.
We headed South on 95, through the Nez Perce reservation, and I was nervous.
Where would we stay that night? It was Sunday, still a holiday weekend. I
thought our odds were good - but you just never know. About an hour later, I
saw a sign for Winchester State Park, and I took it. I seriously doubted
they would have any camp sites available, but I knew it was probably our
only chance for a long while. Holy cow, there were places available! We got
a great campsite in the lesser camp sites which don't have flush toilets,
near the yurts. Most of the other campers were in RVs, and loved running
their generators (ugh). Someone had left their camp site and left a lot of
wood, so Stefan cobbled together a camp fire for the night. We really needed
it - it was cold, though not freezing. We passed many signs that said the
fire danger was "high" or "extremely high", yet, we only went to one camp
site where fires were forbidden. We could see the lake at the bottom of the
hill below the campsite. I walked back to the closed visitor's center to pay
for our camping, and as usual, people tried to pay me the entrance fee as
they came in, even though I didn't have a safety vest on. I could make so
much money! A loud group of campers were singing nearby - Stefan thought
they were a juvenile offender group, but I thought they were a church group.
Yeah, it is easy to confuse the two. I was so tired, and could have gone to
bed at 8:30, but I stayed up, determined not to go to bed before the two
young girls at the camp site next door.
Oh, mensch, I was SO glad to be in this campsite. We were so lucky there
Monday, Day 11
Happy Labor Day! I expected campers to start leaving super early, but
most seemed in no hurry at all to leave. We walked down to the lake, which
is pretty, but nothing particularly special. We went to the visitor's
center, now open, just to see inside. There was a wolf rescue center
nearby, and I asked about it. She said that they are down to just two
wolves at the sanctuary, and I decided I really didn't want to disturb
them. We packed up and left later than usual.
South had this incredible, dramatic, steep decline, and it was terrifying
and exhilarating, all at the same time. I was so thankful for the semi
truck in front of me, which had to go as slow as I really wanted to go, so
the long line of cars behind us blamed him, not me, for the slow down. I'd
read online that 95 was a really nice drive, but based on our earlier
experience, riding it from Cambridge, Idaho to Jordan Valley, Oregon, I
had given up hope for it. But to Cambridge, it's LOVELY.
Just as the very intense ride down into a canyon on 95 was getting not so
scary, I saw a sign that said "Picnic table ahead." It turned out to be
much more than that: it was the Skookumchuck Recreation Site, a grassy,
shady area with picnic tables, changing rooms and pit toilets, all
next to beautiful white sands on the Lower Salmon River. Had it been
hotter, we would have finally used those bathing suits we brought. We so
would have loved to have come to this site the week before!
Before Cambridge, we stopped in Riggins for lunch. Riggins clings to the
side of a canyon, and I was super scared I would be having to make some
crazy turn into or out of a restaurant, into or from a slanted parking
lot. That didn't happen. What did happen was seeing a KLR, just like mine,
passing in the opposite direction as we had lunch. It always seem likes
motorcycles are going in the opposite direction as us. I don't mean while
we're riding, I mean when we stop for a rest or for lunch. Also, we saw a
LOT of KTMs this trip, probably more than we saw BMWs - that's never
We had a cloud burst - the rain looked so intense up ahead that we pulled
over and put on all our rain gear. But we were through it really in just a
few minutes, and it wasn't going our way on the road, so we stripped it
all off at a gas station soon after. It has started to get windy, and I
could see dust devils ahead, but the wind, while annoying, was mostly
constant, rather than gusting, so I did just fine.
then we were back in Cambridge, where we'd been on day 3 of our trip. Just
like then, there was a regular parade of motorcyclists through the town.
What we didn't see on that first visit, but saw this time, was a
giant chalk board outside the grocery store that said "Before I die,
I want to..." and had slots for 24 people to respond. You can probably
find my Stefan's entry ("Ride in Chile") and mine ("Meet Benedict
Cumberbatch"). I carefully erased a giant penis someone had written on the
board before we wrote our entries.
it was back the way we'd come a week before, now in the opposite
direction: back to Hell's Canyon, back over Oxbow dam, to Copperfield
Park campground. I was super nervous about the ride, but did just fine,
even keeping it together when a guy came around a corner somewhat in my
lane. The hill after the dam didn't seem nearly as steep as it had before.
But an uphill 20 mph curve framed by sheer rock just before Oxbow really
bothered me - I can't imagine making that turn if a big RV or truck had
been coming from the other direction.
Copperfield Park campground was more than half empty now, but looked like
it had been used absolutely every night since we left - the tent area
grass looked like it might never recover. We camped in the same place we
had more than a week before, and I walked around looking for leftover fire
wood in fire pits. Since it was Labor Day, I was sure there would be
plenty. But there was barely any at all - someone had already raided the
fire pits. As there was only one other set of tent campers at that point,
and they had only full, unburned wood stacked and ready to burn, I knew it
was one of the RV folks, and it made me mad. We can't carry wood on the
bikes, at least not easily, but they can carry wood super easily. No wood
was for sale at our camp site. Damn it! Still, we ended up somehow putting
together a fire with what we could find. We each took much-needed showers,
and watched the far nicer campground host, someone different than when we
were there before, helping a group put up a tent.
Tuesday, Day 12
We changed our watches the night before back to Oregon time, and were
leaving at 10:30, which meant we were actually leaving an hour later than we
ever had. But we obviously needed that sleep. We headed out on state road
86, turning off on National Forest road 39 for the Hell's Canyon Overlook.
The road was much more difficult than I was expecting - VERY curvy and
steep. By the time we got to the turnoff for the overlook, I almost bagged
out. I was afraid it would be even more difficult. But I dug deep and did it
anyway, and it turned out to be the easiest part of the entire ride.
was cloudy, but the view from the Hell's Canyon Overlook was still splendid.
Sadly, the pit toilets were not so great - obviously not serviced since the
Labor Day weekend, and obviously used by people with not much respect for
public lands. There was a guy there on a xxx motorcycle, not at all meant
for long-distance travel, but there he was, going across country. I really
admire people like that. Unfortunately, he had a slow leak in the back tire,
and I insisted we wait until he had pumped it up and used fix a flat and
left himself before we left. While we were waiting, some guy gave me a bag
of watermelon. Not sure how I looked as though I needed watermelon, but
clearly, I did.
We headed back down on road 39, towards Joseph. And upon arriving - what a
charming town! We'd never been before. It's a town where there is Western
art for sale, where there are bistros and down home cafes, and where
tourists and ranchers come. We ate at a corner cafe and, as it served
breakfast all day, yes, oh yes, I once again had biscuits and gravy. Then we
took a stroll through town. I would love to come back to Joseph! But we
never saw any places to stay in Joseph. The interwebs says there are three
places, but I'm skeptical.
On our way back to La Grande, there was a little rain, but not enough to
need rain gear, and a little wind, but it was constant rather than gusts,
and not too bad. Still, it was cold, and the night would probably be quite
cold. So we decided to hotel it one more time. We went away from the
interstate, where I knew the hotels would be $100 a night, at least, to the
Motel farther in town. It was half the price. We really appreciated
the owner putting us in the room right next to the office, so that our
motorcycles could be parked with an obstructed view from the street. I got
caught up in several episodes of Parks and Rec, and kept waiting for
Stefan to go out to the nearby Safeway and get beer, but apparently he was
waiting for me to go with him, and we ended up not going anywhere. Communication!
I ate at least half of the sweet, sweet watermelon I was gifted earlier...
Wednesday, Day 14
There was a place to get breakfast right next door, so we walked over. And
guess what I had. GUESS WHAT I HAD.
We walked over to Safeway and got bread, then packed up and headed out. We
got on 84 West very briefly, then got off on state road 244, and the
ride was lovely, quite an unexpected delight. And there was a
vast amount of camping everywhere. At first I regretted that we'd stayed in
a hotel that night, but I talked to some hunters that camped and they said
it had rained a LOT the night before, and that it was quite cold, so I
changed my mind. Added bonus: I saw a coyote in a farm field, watching us
drive by. He was beautiful... but I started to see something I didn't see
much of at all in Idaho: junky homesteads. On backroads in Oregon, we see a
lot of shacks, old trailers and falling-down houses surrounded by junk. It's
turned South on 395, and had lunch in Long
Pine, then pushed on to Mitchell, which seems to have fallen on harder
times than when we stopped here for supplies a few years ago - more
businesses were for sale or closed. We did see an awesome retro-style poster
for eclipse viewing in August 2017 in the Painted Hills of John Day National
Monument. That would be so awesome.
speaking of the Painted Hills, that was our goal for the evening. We'd been
to Sheep Rock Unit and the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center before, as well
as the Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum, so we skipped it this trip. We
stopped at an overlook of the John Day monument we'd stopped off years
before, then we turned off Highway 26 to the Painted Hills.
I've no idea how or why it's taken us so long to visit it. There's abundance
of fossil remains of early horses, camels, and rhinoceroses in the Painted
Hills, which get their name from the delicately colored stratifications in
the soil-yellows, golds, blacks and reds. And in the late afternoon, the
hills were quite beautiful. If you can, you do want to see them at different
times of day, because the colors really do change. And when those hills are
red, they are RED. It's gorgeous.
We went to the Painted Hills information center, to see what there was to
see - we knew that if it was staffed, it was already closed. While we were
there, a site worker came by to get something from inside, and per our
comment about looking for camping with a pit toilet, he suggested we camp at
Priest Hole, about seven miles away. He said the road was as easy as the
gravel outside the information center.
was mostly right about the road: it was easy until the last two miles. Then,
at the turnoff for the campground, the road was narrow, single lane, with
few places to pull over if another car was coming, steeply downhill, with
huge dips marked with 10 mph signs, big gravel pieces, and big rocks in the
pathway. It was one of the most difficult roads I'd ever done. I was
terrified. If I fell this time, it would hurt me AND the bike. I was
terrified all the way to the camp site parking lot.
I don't remember parking the bike. I don't remember getting off my bike. I
do remember Stefan, instead of saying, "Good job!" or "Wow, what a hard
road!" started telling me how I was too careful and should have just gone
faster. I stripped off my jacket and gloves and walked away to the shoreline
of the John Day River, sat down and tried not to burst into tears. I don't
know how long I sat there, but once Stefan got the tent up, I laid out the
Thermarests, letting them self inflate, and I laid down on the tent floor
off to the side and tried to calm down. I was there for an hour.
I'm sure some readers are laughing. It sounds absurd. But it really was
terrifying. It's just not something any of you that grew up riding dirt
bikes, or that have been riding off road for years, or that are tall, can
ever understand. Also, I'm 50 years old, and if I break something, it will
never heal, not really. That is a really, really scary thought. It doesn't
keep me from getting out and doing things, but it's there, in the back of my
mind. And for those who think, well if you are so scared, why do you
keep riding? (1) I enjoy it far, far more of the time, (2) I'm much
more scared on my bicycle, and (3) I fell walking Lucinda and Jaxson four
weeks ago and a part of my stomach where I hit the ground was so bruised, it
was almost black - so should I give up walking dogs?
gradually recovered, and we sat on the panniers, drank beer and talked about
how it really wasn't that pretty at Priest Hole. It wasn't ugly, but,
really, it wasn't all that scenic. We could tell that, at other times, it
must be WAY crowded. And no way would I get in the John Day River - it was
full of moss and looked disgusting. People swim here? NO WAY.
There are no designated campsites and no fire pits at this site, and
probably not any others - you just find an area that looks decent and stop.
We were shocked at how many campers there were - we'd thought we'd have the
place to ourselves. I'm not really complaining: it was clean and it was free
and it was quiet.
The stars were, once again, lovely. We didn't put on the rain fly - it was
so hot, with no chance of rain, there was no need.
Sadly, in addition to losing my cool, Stefan also lost the rest of the
watermelon - it wouldn't fit in the cooler with the beer, so he'd tried to
strap it to a bag. The gravel had knocked it lose and off. I had really been
looking forward to that for dinner...
Thursday, Day 15
Stefan's 45th birthday. I dug deep and tried so hard to be nice, but I was
still so hurt by his comments the day before. And I was so dreading the way
out of this camp site, I could barely eat breakfast. I told Stefan what I
had been thinking all morning: I can't tour Chilé by motorcycle. I can't do
50 miles of gravel a day, let alone the 100 or so that would be required on
some days, from what I've heard. The “carretera Austral” that leads to the
Patagonia and Tierra de Fuego is mostly gravel. And to think I was mostly
worried about the strong winds in Patagonia. I hate giving up that dream,
but I guess I'm going to have to. What a lousy birthday present.
moved my bike for an easier line to the drive way that lead out of the camp
sites and up to the parking lot. We mounted up, I road out, I road up the
hill, faster than I normally would because of what Stefan had said the night
before, I lost control at the top and I went right off the road and into
sand. I stopped, managing to not fall over, and tried not to cry. Stefan
came over, held the bike while I got off, and moved my bike back on the road
and up to the parking lot. As I walked up to the bike, humiliated and
terrified, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You can do this, you
can." I didn't believe him, but really appreciated this different attitude.
I sat on my bike for a moment, and thought, you know, I've gotten through
awful gravel scenarios my own way, and with one exception - the right hand
hair pin single lane turn uphill at Schafer Switchbacks, I'd made it okay,
with just one minor fall on the way to Silver City that even Stefan said
couldn't have been avoided. Screw this, I'm doing this road my way. So I
did. As it was now mostly an uphill road, so it was a lot easier, and I did
go a lot faster than I did when I went downhill, but that's how I usually do
We went back to the Painted
Hills information center, and I felt more lucky than triumphant. I
told Stefan to go to the
Painted Hills overlook on his own, I was going to stay behind and just
gather my thoughts. It was nice to be alone for a bit and just think and
make notes in my travel journal, but what was weird: no one who came to the
information center spoke to me. Usually, with Stefan, people walk up and
chat. Alone, no one did. Did I look like a scary biker chick?!
I was thinking about the trip, how we'd successfully avoided all talk of
politics with anyone at all the entire time, and how we'd seen only three
presidential signs - two for Trump and one for Hillary. That's it. In all of
Idaho. Other than local race signs, you would never know an election was
approaching. And the biggest shock of all: no anti-United Nations signs. Not
one. In Oregon, there are three within 10 miles of our house. What did it
Stefan returned, and we went on 26 to Prineville, which we've done a few
times before, but I never have any memory of until we get to Prineville. We
stopped for lunch at TasteeTreat, and I was fascinated by two hunters that
pulled up in a pick up truck pulling a big trailer packed with stuff, like a
massive cooler - far bigger than the one we have in the garage, lots of
things covered with tarp, and cornhole boards. I was one of only two women
customers there. Most of the men were in camouflage, there was a table
forest firefighters, and there was us, the biker couple. I guess I should be
more concerned with what I eat... I don't eat this way when I'm not on
vacation. But, dang, fried food is so delicious.
continued North on 26, seeing
some huge smoke plumes in the distance. We stopped in Madras. Stefan
was convinced there was an ice cream parlor there. I had no memory of it. I
had no memory of ever stopping in Madras. I had no memory of Madras. What an
ugly town. Sorry, Madras. And the wind was blowing more and more. After a
lot of driving around and a surge in frustration, he realized he was
thinking of another town. So we went to the Black Bear Diner, which I knew
just had to have ice cream and pie. Even better: they had milkshakes. Stefan
went out to his bike to get his camera, and while he was gone, I told the
waiter it was Stefan's birthday. So he brought a candle, stuck it in
Stefan's whipped cream on the milkshake, lit it, and he and another guy sang
to him. It was HILARIOUS.
We left the diner, stopped at Safeway, and continued North. It
was beautiful at times, but NOT a pleasant ride: it was windy, and one
gust almost threw me right off the bike (Stefan too!). There was a TON of
traffic, all going way over the speed limit. We stopped at a liquor store
just before Warm Springs, and I had trouble holding my bike up because of
the wind while I waited for Stefan to get beer, ice and cigarettes. We went
through Warm Springs Indian Reservation, passing the packed casino parking
lot, and climbed up through the hills, with a growing number of cars and
trucks behind me because I was going the speed limit. There was rarely a
place to pull over, something I like to do every 50 miles or so. At last, I
saw a sign for a "chain up" area, and though, I don't care if we are going
uphill, I'm going to somehow stop there. And I did. After our break, we
somehow also got a break in traffic, and were able to ride with no one
Our target for the night was Mt. Hood National Forest. We could have driven
all the way home on this day, but I really didn't want to get home early,
despite missing Lucinda and Gray Max. Plus, we had never camped in in Mt.
Hood NF - we've driven through many times, but since it was so close to our
home in Canby, and we wanted to camp farther away, plus that it was always
PACKED with campers, we never bothered. We had planned on camping at Timothy
Lake, but I turned off at Little
Crater Lake campground instead, and I'm glad I did; it was booked
solid for the weekend, but was mostly empty that night. It also would be
closing after that weekend. Stefan pulled into a camp site, I stayed on the
road, waiting for him to park and then I would go in next to him, I looked
over at something else, and when I looked back, Stefan had fallen over! THIS
NEVER HAPPENS. He thought the ground was flat where it wasn't, and when he
put the kick stand and his foot down, there wasn't enough there to hold it
all up. I parked, jumped off my bike and we righted his. I was scared but,
later, comforted: this really ain't easy for everyone.
Something about the camp site we picked wasn't sitting well with us. So we
did something we rarely do - we moved after starting to unpack. Our
second campsite felt a little more open, and we hoped it would get sun
in the morning, because we could feel a VERY cold night coming on. This
time, we cobbled together a very hearty amount of leftover firewood from
other fire pits for a fire. After stacking all the wood for later, we walked
around the camp site and down the Little Crater Lake trail, to what is
actually a small
crystal clear, cold spring-fed pond. It is far deeper than it looks in
our photos, and oh-so-clear. It is considered a geologic oddity, created by
dissolving limestone. It is not of volcanic origin. It remains near 34
degrees Fahrenheit year round. There are some days early in our trip when I
would have really loved to have had this pond around... We walked further on
the trail, to where it meets the the Pacific Crest Trail. For those that
don't: it's a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail, 2,659 mi (4,279 km)
long. According to Wikipedia, most thru-hikers cover about 20 miles (32 km)
per day. I would like to stand
at the trail crossing all day and bother... I mean, talk to... the
hikers that go by. As for hiking it myself: those days are passed. I'm lucky
that my knees still allow me to hike, but I doubt I could carry a pack that
long. What a shame there isn't a network of European-style hostels all along
this and the Appalachian trail...
It was nice to be staying overnight in this national forest at long last,
but, wow, it's a perfect example of public lands being loved to death.
Everything was trampled. The land looked like it could really use a rest for
a long while from hikers and picnickers and campers. When we've driven
through on other occasions, not only are the camp sites packed, but all
sorts of places along the road have campers tucked away. People are playing
music loudly, children are riding their bikes around, often through camp
sites, there's quite a bit of traffic... it doesn't feel like you're really
getting away from anything. I really hope Tillamook Forest never becomes
made the fire, we drank our beer, I saw two does slowly making their way
through the campground, keeping their distance from us, and we looked up at
the stars through the trees. And I was so grateful to be able to do this.
Geesh but I'm lucky.
There were just three campers that came in after us, and I strongly suspect
one of them didn't pay. It was really expensive for a camp site with just a
pit toilet and a water pump a bit of a hike down the road - for similar
sites, we'd paid just $10, or nothing, and we were paying $23 here. Still, I
always pay, if there is a way to pay. It's unethical and
disrespectful otherwise. I would no more not pay than I would shoplift.
Maintaining a campsite, even a primitive one, is expensive.
It was getting really cold, so cold that, for the first time, I used my
sleep sack inside my sleeping bag to stay warm. We had the rain fly on, just
to make the tent that much warmer, but as the door was broken, we had only
the screen on the door. Still, I was very comfortable and cozy in that tent.
In the middle of the night, we were both awakened by two birds very nearby -
in fact, I would say they were right on our picnic table - having a
conversation. They almost sounded like monkeys! I thought they were owls at
the time, and after listening
to owl sounds online, I still do. Mensch but the were loud!
Friday, Day 16
All that riding caught up with us - along with the cold, we slept hard
and long. We did not get up until freakin' 9:30 a.m.! I couldn't believe
it. We'd never overslept before on the entire trip, not even in hotels!
The sun wasn't reaching our campsite, so we were still super chilly. We
had our last breakfast of the trip, packed up, and headed out. We went by
the campsites of Timothy Lake, and they were packed. But I guess everyone
else was sleeping in too, because traffic was light. We were supposed to
be taking a gravel road Stefan said I'd done before, on my Honda Nighthawk
(not a dual sport!), years before, to 224 and then to Estacada. We started
out and there was a detour sign. We followed it and, ta da, the gravel was
NOT packed. Oh, I was pissed. I had wanted this day to be EASY. To be FUN.
And here was not-very-well-packed gravel for me to struggle with. I
actually did remarkably well - because it was all slightly uphill and
there was only one stupid curve. But the detour signs were not always
clear about where to go. I ended up going the wrong way once we reached
pavement, to a lookout point we've been to many, many times before.
time, unlike those other times, I had Stefan move my bike into position
for photos of me and Mt. Hood, something he's done for himself, but, for
some reason, I never wanted to do before. Not sure why. We met a guy at
the lookout who does pyrotechnics with the same company Stefan has trained
with for the annual Forest Grove July 4 fireworks. This guy also has done
fireworks for Boise on NYE, and he showed us photos on his phone of the
giant potato they drop at midnight. It seemed appropriate to be looking at
a photo of a giant potato, as the focus of our trip had been Idaho.
We went back on 224 and into Estacada, had pizza, got gas, and headed
home. I felt like the Jesus of Motorcycle travelers did not want us to get
home: we hit construction and had to wait in a long line of traffic before
we were allowed through, we got behind a school bus, we had to take 205
for a while, which was horrible, a stop light in Sherwood was broken,
backing up traffic for a mile, we got behind a cement truck, and traffic
on Scholl's Ferry road was nightmarish. Had we not overslept and had that
stop light not been broken and had traffic not been stupid, we would have
been home two hours earlier. But we rolled into the drive at 5. The
trip was over.
We went into the house, and our dog sitter's dog came bounding to us,
thrilled that we were home. Lucinda stood in the living room, eying us
suspiciously. But within 30 minutes, she was in the floor with me, sitting
on my lap. She did okay, not great: she got left for 12 hours at one
point, apparently, and chewed up some more of my expensive Afghan carpet.
Dang it! But she had done with the dog sitters dog. Max was no where to be
seen - he didn't come home for three days more, disgusted that I wasn't
home and dogs had overrun the yard (he stayed over at Virgil's instead -
we're practically co-parenting these days).
By my estimation, I did well more than 120 miles of gravel on this trip.
To have done 10% gravel would have required 282 miles of such. I would
love to be so good as to do 10% gravel on every trip. There were
opportunities to get that additional gravel mileage on the trip, but I
passed on any gravel road that didn't take me somewhere I really wanted to
be. As I say elsewhere, I know other riders take KLR motorcycles on dirt
roads just a few feet wide, straight uphill, covered in rocks. They stand
in the foot pegs. They wear helmet cams and make videos for YouTube. It's
a fearless bike, and most people that ride it are, apparently, fearless.
I'm not fearless. I'm a 50 year old woman who frequently wonders what in
the HELL am I doing. I have this bike for that 10 miles of gravel and dirt
between me and a historic
old mining town. Or for touring City
of Rocks. I know that makes a lot of other dual sport riders roll
their eyes. Sometimes, the way I ride makes me feel unworthy of this bike.
I accepted long ago that I'll never be an expert rider and that I have to
ask for help sometimes. But I won't let those limits keep me from riding.
I'm much better on dirt and
gravel than I was when I started, and while I'm no Charlie Boorman (hi,
Charlie!) - hey, I've done okay. I've seen a lot of beautiful places
because of this bike, places most other people never will. She never lets
me down on those dirt and gravel roads I dare to do in pursuit of some
incredible place - when there's a failure, it's all mine. I really do love
this bike. She even has a name. No, I'm not going to tell you - it's
personal between her and me.
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