Continuing the Journey Through the Pacific Northwest with the Mild and the Wild
Topography and Temperature Contrasts
Tuesday began with packing, cleaning up the beautiful Prairie Rose, fueling, then rolling out in the direction of Fossil and Antelope, two big goals for the day. Heading west on State 26, we rode through the canyons and high hill country of Malheur National Forest, breathtaking country. Truly reminded me of the landscapes in so many old westerns I watched in my youth. We rolled through the tight canyon of the John Day Fossil Beds, then into the little town of Mitchell, just a turnout on 26. We met a few locals- a guy who owns a 22 year old, 700 lb black bear, a sweet cafe owner named Terri who poured me a delicious cup of coffee, and Patsy, the town ghost who haunts the old Oregon Hotel. Well, we didn’t actually meet Patsy, but Terri advised I be respectful and not leave a mess in the back restroom when I requested use of the facilities before we pulled out. This was Patsy’s town, anyway. I wiped down all the proper surfaces before stepping out. I think Patsy was pleased.
After Mitchell the group split up, the Mild Hogs heading out first, and the Wild Rose Squad later, me in tow. We swung north on Route 207, Service Creek Pass, on undulating tarmac that was dry and grippy. The ST took the curves with delight. I had to stop on several occasions for photos, as each turn revealed a vista that could have been pulled straight from John Ford’s old classic, “The Searchers”. We finally rolled into Fossil, another quaint western beauty of a town. We dined on huge burgers at the Korner Cafe, chatted up some friendly locals for a few minutes, then saddled up for the trek over to Antelope.
The road to Antelope is called Route 218, and it was more left-right-left-right curves for miles across high open, rolling prairie. Suddenly, across a small creek bridge, we encountered “chip-seal”, a compound used often up here for paved roads off the beaten path. The guys had warned me about it, told me it’s characteristics, but I still was taken aback when I rolled onto this. Apparently, a tar/oil base is laid down over the previous surface, and while still hot and wet, small gravel is poured over, and as the compound dries, automobiles rolling over it compress the mixture, eventually flattening it out. What I discovered is, even when compressed and hardened, it still felt slippery like rolling over loose gravel (of which there was still plenty of), and combined with tight curves, made for several “pucker” moments in corners as I felt the rear tire step out in shifting compound. Another reason so few ride through this particular area.
We arrived safely in the town of Antelope, if it can still be called a town. So few residents still live here, with no shops open that we could see. Antelope is (in)famous for what happened here between 1980-85 particularly, when masses of followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh moved in. What ensued practically destroyed the little town, which has never recovered even decades after the huge commune eventually left. If you want the whole story, check out the Netflix 6-part miniseries “Wild, Wild Country” for the bizarre details. It was sobering to stand where it all took place.
We rolled out of Antelope toward Shaniko, then north on State 97, upon the high plains. Across these vast vistas, we witnessed massive thunderstorms miles away, dumping rain in great dark sheets. Above Kent, we exited west onto 216, virtually deserted, making for the Deschutes River. Descending off the high plains, we ran into one of those storms, which proceeded to pelt us with small hail for the next 8-10 miles, and even down the tight, twisting road into the canyon. I couldn’t see beyond my windshield, being battered with ice pellets as well as on my face shield. So my pace slowed to crawl on the wet, now slippery road, with steep drops into the canyon below, being beaten mercilessly by the hail. We safely reached the bottom, and then the rain/hail let up, of course. That, was fairly terrifying.
We jumped north on Hwy 197, and rolled through Dufur on our way to The Dalles on the Columbia River. This large city on the border with Washington covers the Columbia River Gorge, and is booming with commerce and community. We all arrived at Fun Country Powersports, a dealership these guys have used on numerous occasions in past trips, to get a new front tire for Trevor and to check on some electrical “gremlins” several bikes were experiencing, probably due to all the wet we had been slogging through. These folks were so helpful.
Back Into Washington
It was here we said our goodbyes to Oregon, as we crossed the mighty Columbia back into southern Washington. We picked up some groceries in the riverside town of Lyle before continuing north up winding WA 141 (very fun road) to our turnout of Morning Song Acres outside Klickitat. This gem of a hermitage is owned by an old Lutheran preacher and his wife, and it is the epitome of PNW (Pacific Northwest) charm and “hygge”. Overlooking the majestic Mt. Hood to the south, Morning Song is the perfect ending to a long, eventful, tiring day.
The new morning brought a slate of new adventures. After a leftovers breakfast of potato salad and beef burritos, the group rolled out of Morning Star on the Appleton Highway, with sections only recently paved. Rapid sweepers, fantastic pavement, and we got in a rhythm, dancing the bikes left-right-left at speed. A thrilling morning ride. We passed a military veteran in a wheelchair, randomly on the left side of road, way up near one of the curves. No one else around, no driveways nearby. Very strange. Appleton Hwy boasts tight switchbacks, banked corners, remote locale, and very good tarmac. Speed limits are very conservative. This road is regional favorite for canyon carvers.
*I had a “butt-pucker” moment in a 15mph left uphill switchback: came in a bit too hot for my comfort, was tempted to grab a handful of brakes but didn’t. I forced my head and eyes completely over left and up, and suddenly Terry’s V-Strom filled my vision, straightening himself and accelerating forward. Instinctively I lightened the throttle slightly, gasped some expletive under my breath, but kept the line, grunted through the hard lean curve, then rolled on the gas again to straighten up. By that time Terry was well ahead setting up his next corner, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Trevor had been behind me on his VFR Interceptor, and witnessed my moment. He exclaimed later, “Man, it looked like you sucked up some seat vinyl for a second!” That’s the truth. A rider coach once advised- “Trust the bike, trust your tires.” Sound advice. There were several more corners like that on the stretch, but I hit them all at a better speed, looked and leaned hard into them, and the big heavy Honda followed, tracking through those corners with aplomb.
Twelve miles later, the view opened up to our left, and I had another “gasp” moment, this time in response to stunning beauty. There was Mt. Adams in all its glory, massive in our sight, seemingly close enough to touch. It took my breath away. At an overlook, we stopped for photos, and I stood agape at the gigantic semi-dormant (?) volcano filling our vision. “We’ll get closer,” Ted said. “Can’t wait,” I replied.
We rode into the tiny town of Glenwood, gassed up, then rode west on the Trout Lake Hwy to the Ice Caves, an old Mt. Adams lava tube that holds natural ice sculptures year round. There’s a staircase entrance to an open chamber on one side, but for the brave and flexible, a smaller opening about 50 yards away can be navigated, if you watch your step and your head. We of course, chose that entrance. The dirt road in/out of the Ice Caves was muddy, pot-holed, and lumpy with gravel. Just another of those several occasions that I had to motocross a top-heavy sport tourer.
We rode south to BZ Corner on the 141. These are well-maintained, grippy roads, with beautiful vistas across the landscape. Several guys said the BZ Road was their favorite to ride. It ranks in my top three on the trip, for sure.
We swung east on BZ-Glenwood Hwy back to Glenwood, then headed east on the Glenwood Highway. Tight switchbacks ascend to an overlook of the Klickitat River Gorge, one of the few rivers in the region that never has been dammed, still all natural. And all in the beautiful Yakama Indian Reservation, I might add. The sun was high, the temps were low 70s, and the views from this wide overlook are magnificent. One of Ted’s favorite photos was snapped here last year, of two bikes and riding buddies along the edge, the light of a sunset to the left, and a double rainbow stretched over the canyon. It’s one of my favorites too.
We rode back south on Hwy 142 to Lyle, then east on Hwy 14 which follows along the Columbia River to The Dalles Bridge. We crossed briefly back into Oregon on OR 197, and Dave found the Holstein Coffee Shop, a great stop. We then took U.S. 30 out of town to traverse the famed Rowena Curves. If you buy a set of Butler Motorcycle Maps, this beautiful 1930s era series of climbing hairpin turns is on the cover the Oregon map (or on the previous edition). The guard rails are blocks of set stone. They are exquisite, but don’t hit them. They won’t give. At the top, the Rowena Overlook is windy, open, and gives a spectacular view back up the Columbia River Gorge to the Dalles Dam. This section of the river is world famous for wind surfing. Looking out across, we saw dozens of surfers tacking their way back and forth across the windswept whitecaps. We talked with several Harley riders who had ascended the Rowena Curves as well, no doubt scraping floorboards, then we dove back down, enjoying the descent even more than the climb. For a huge sport tourer, second only to the legendary Goldwing, the ST1300 is remarkably buttery and flickable in curves. We made our way back across the Dalles Dam into Washington, and back up to Morning Song for supper, beers, and stories of the day. What a day it was.
*postscript to the day- Rocky, a rugged country gal who helps take care of Morning Song, offered to take a few of us up to a pair of beautiful overlooks down into the Columbia River Gorge on ATVs. Ted, myself, and Aaron obliged, and hopped into the back of her old pickup for the short ride down to her house. Rocky gassed up her 2 ATVs, and we hopped on, me hanging on for dear life with Rocky at the wrist, Ted and Aaron bouncing along behind trying to keep up. Bursting out of the woods, the overlooks she brought us to were indeed spectacular, especially at sunset over the mountains. It was a magical moment, the views from those overlooks. Perfect ending to perfect day- and on an ATV!
The End of the Road
Thursday was our last day at Morning Song, and the groups’ last day together. We packed up, cleaned up the place, said goodbyes, and everyone rolled off toward their respective homes. Ted and I rode north on Centerville Hwy out onto a flat high plains, into the map-dot called Centerville. We found and stopped at the town’s 100 year old schoolhouse/community center. The school’s sign had the 8 names of their graduating 8th graders on one side, and the appeal “Students Wanted” on the other. The admins and teachers had set up a “safe social distancing” graduation on the front lawn, and I know kids and parents appreciated the effort.
We rode through Goldendale, eating breakfast burritos in the parking lot of a McDonald’s after literally walking through their drive-thru and ordering at the window. Still feeling the effects of the pandemic in south central Washington, the seating area of course was not open yet. We rolled north on State 97 back into the Yakama Indian Reservation. “In their territory, it’s their rules,” Ted had advised, so we took it easy and rode rationally. Crossing through the Horse Heaven Hills, I was again struck by the contrasts in environments, plains to mountains to forested hills, and on. We stopped in Wapato for a snack/drink break then continued north to Route 821, the Yakima River Canyon Road. We linked up with three of Ted’s other friends, Bill “Mots” Motsenbocker (who had so graciously let me borrow his ST), John Beard, and Milt Herman, who rode a pristine 1998 Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird. We rode the canyon together, as much as we could with the cager traffic on it, but the sweepers were exhilarating. Too bad it’s the last day, as I was by now really feeling the big ST. In Ellensburg, Ted’s hula girl ditched him, bouncing down the road across my path. Poor Mindy. Sorry Ted, but Darla stuck with me. She’s going home to Georgia.
We rode 97, called the Blewette Pass, through the Wenatchee National Forest, with so many contrasts in so few miles. Tall pine forests, then open, barren prairie hills, through verdant green valleys, all on grippy, seamless pavement. God help me, I could get used to this. Swinging east through Cashmere, Ted’s buds peeled off and we continued down into the Wenatchee valley, paralleling the Columbia River back into town. Ted’s and Vicki’s place is across the river and up the in the hills of East Wenatchee, and we pulled in and shut down, 1554.5 miles since we left that same garage. After a soak in Vicki’s sister’s pool, we unwound and began to recount the trip’s highlights. What an amazing adventure.
To cap off the wondrous road trip we’d all taken together, at sunset Ted and I hopped back on the bikes and rode to the top of the ridge overlooking the whole valley and mountains beyond. We began where we started on the first day, when we ascended that hill for a check ride on the ST prior to the next day’s beginning. We shot some photos, some footage, and reflected on an epic week. We had ridden through drastic temperature changes, 36-91 degrees, from deep valleys to mountain peaks, through rain, sleet, hail, and snow. And abundant sunshine. We’d traversed perfect, grippy asphalt, as well as mud and pot-holed gravel forestry roads, and everything in between. Aside from some funky electrical gremlins and a new tire, everyone stayed upright and safe. Well, except for Trevor, who grazed a deer on his way back home. No damage to bike, rider, or deer, he told us. He credited the grip that new front tire gave him, and an apparent front brake adjustment the folks at Fun Country must have done gratis. Saved his bacon, for sure.
It was time to repack and return to the Deep South, and my own home in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians. But I must confess, I left a part of my heart in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere up there in the high country, on those curvy mountain roads Ted and his boys call “God’s Own Racetrack.”
God willing, I’ll return, and ride them all again someday.
*Photos and video footage by Ted Edwards, Aaron Whiteman, and Rob Brooks