Monday, March 29, 2010

A wet ride to the world's longest beach

The Pacific Northwest offers a lot of outdoor recreational activities, several of which lead to tasty meals. One such endeavor is digging for razor clams at Long Beach, Washington. The coastal peninsula in southwest Washington, immediately north of the mouth of the Columbia River -- the infamous Columbia Bar, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world -- is home to the world's longest beach. 30 miles of uninterrupted sand is also home to a very large number of razor clams.

Myself and three others booked a cabin in Long Beach for the weekend. They drove a truck with our clam digging gear while I rode my bike and met them there. The route I chose took me through the coast range of northwest Oregon. Leaving my home in Sandy I took the freeway into Portland then turned north on highway 30 to the small town of Scappoose before heading inland on back country roads toward Astoria.

It was raining off and on but I didn't care. In fact, I enjoyed it. If you're dressed appropriately riding in the rain is actually somewhat enjoyable. The road from Scappoose runs in a northwest direction and takes me past tiny communities like Birkenfeld, Mist, and Jewell. The latter is home to an elk viewing area, Jewell Meadows. It's not uncommon to see a very large herd of elk lingering in the fields, usually close to some designated pull-out viewing areas. I only saw a half-dozen elk, laying down about 200 yards away. A sign admonishes viewers to behave themselves.

Earlier, biology beckoned and I pulled over at the Scaponia county park. Presumably the name is a contraction of Scappoose and Vernonia, another small town in the area. It was deserted. There was a break in the rainfall so I had a dry chance to get off the bike and stretch a bit. Up to that point I had been riding through urban areas for well over an hour, which is tiring in its own way. The chance to take a break, and dodge the rain, was a welcome one. Within minutes of getting back on the road the rain began again in earnest. Lemon Pledge furniture polish on my helmet's face shield makes the rain bead up and run off while shaving cream wiped on the inside prevents fogging.

The road gets narrow and rough past Jewell. It passes through dwindling settlements and soon I had nothing but clear cuts and dense rain forest to keep me company. I took my time and maintained a slow pace because there was a lot of gravel and wet needles on the roadway.

My stomach was growling by the time I emerged back into civilization so I stopped at a Dairy Queen on the south side of Astoria for lunch. There was a moderate breeze and cloudy skies but the rain had stopped and I even saw some brief glimpses of sunlight outside while I ate my chicken strip basket. Knowing that gas was at least ten cents higher per gallon across the river in Washington, I filled up at the Chevron in Astoria before crossing the high and long bridge over the Columbia River.

Once in Washington I picked up a clam digging tag at Ed's Bait Shop in the port town of Ilwaco, then checked into the Akari Bungalows in Long Beach. Our lodgings were a block off the main drag, right by a main road out onto the beach. A large archway over the road proclaims Long Beach is the "World's Longest Beach". I could see the archway from the back window of our bungalow, in between two hotels. Once unpacked we geared up and headed out onto the beach to dig our limit of clams (15 per person).

Saturday was more of the same, although we had to move to two different spots on the beach to get our limit. Dinner was at the Crab Pot on the south side of town, a rich dish of dungeness crab fettucini with a cup of chowder and a Drifter Pale Ale to wash it down.

Although we had dry and very pleasant weather Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, by the time we went to bed Saturday night it was a blowing rain storm outside. My bike rode out the storm parked just outside our front door and weathered it just fine -- although it was very dirty from the road grime of the ride on Friday. Sunday morning we packed up and headed to the 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview (highly recommended) and fortunately had cloudy but rainless skies as we went our separate ways -- they drove the truck back home via the most efficient route available (highway 30 to Longview, then I-5 home) while I headed back the way I came, the back roads through Jewell and Mist.

My ride home had quite a bit more rain than when I arrived, but I enjoyed it anyway. When I got back to Portland I was feeling somewhat hungry so I pulled over at a Well's Fargo bank branch and parked under the drive-thru overhang to snack on a Snicker's and chug a frappucino (motorcyclist's snack of champions). It got me out of the rain and is a great trick to remember when traveling on weekends. Once finished, I got onto I-405 for the crossing over the Willamette River, then hit I-84 for the ride east toward home.


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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Sidi Canyon sport-touring boots

My Alpinestar Ridge motorcycle boots have been looking long in the tooth. They've served me well for 28,000 miles of smiles but it was time to upgrade to some new riding footwear. After doing a lot of research and reading countless reviews, I decided to get the Sidi Canyon sport-touring boots.

Sidi is an Italian company, and their products aren't necessarily easy to find in local stores. I was nervous about buying a pair of boots site-unseen, without being able to try them on first. If I limited myself to just boots carried in local bike shops my selection would be rather slim. Knowing I could return them, I placed my order with Motorcycle Superstore and paid $300 with free shipping. The boots arrived less than 24 hours later -- I lucked out as the boots shipped within an hour of placing my order and came from a warehouse within my own state (Oregon). Even if I didn't like the boots I'd be writing a kudos review to Motorcycle Superstore.

The combination of suede and smooth leather, especially across the top of the forefoot, makes these boots look somewhat striking. They'd appear to be a pure street boot if not for the ankle adjustment mechanism a la motocross style. The sole is a semi-lug type for better traction on slippery mud-covered foot pegs and while walking around off-bike. There are no zippers so two large hook-and-loop flaps are the only thing holding them on.

My first impression is they feel great. They are relatively easy to get on, compared to most motorcycle boots, and have a good fit without feeling overly soft or too stiff. That's nice because it means no long and painful break-in period.

Note: If you ever have to break in a new pair of leather boots, put them on as tight as you can get them, stand in warm water, then wear them the rest of the day until they dry out.

I wore them on the ride home from work. The foot pegs on my V-Strom have a rubber surface and I noticed the Sidi Canyon's caught on the rubber a bit more than the smoother-soled bottoms of my Alpinestar Ridge boots. They are also slightly thicker in the forefoot so I have to angle my left foot forward a bit more to get under the shift lever. Every boot will feel different in this regard once you're on the bike, so by the time I get 100 miles in I'll be used to them and won't even notice the change.

Another thing I noticed is they are quieter when walking on hardwood floors. Presumably the sole is made of a slightly softer material than my Alpinestars. The more aggressive sole and softer compound will undoubtedly give me better traction on slick or wet road surfaces when I have to put my foot down at a stop sign.

My definition of value is getting more than you pay for. Although these boots are not necessarily cheap, I've learned over time that it's never a good time to buy cheap footwear; you'll regret it every time and with every step. So far I would say these boots are at least equal to what I paid, and based on the reviews I've read and how they feel on the bike, they'll probably exceed my expectations with every mile.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the mountain's shadow

I've lived in the Sandy area my whole life and for the first time this morning saw a sunrise behind Mt. Hood unlike any I've ever seen before. In theory it should be a frequent occurrence. High clouds gave the sunrise a palette to paint upon, pink and orange. Beautiful but far from unusual. What made this sunrise special was the shadow the mountain itself cast upon the clouds above.

A dark black cone of shadow was cast from the sun rising behind the mountain. It seemed to be standing on its point on the very tip of the mountain and angled up and away onto the clouds above. It would make sense that this would occur often. All that's required is the sun rising, the mountain standing there, and clouds for the shadow to fall upon. But for some reason I've never seen this event until today.

As I was pulling out of my driveway and making my way through my neighborhood to the main street on my way into work, I saw the pink clouds of a beautiful sunrise in my mirror. When I turned right and began riding north I looked over my right shoulder and caught a glimpse of the mountain shadow on the clouds. As soon as I got to highway 26 I headed east -- instead of west, toward work -- and got onto Bluff Road heading north. There were a half dozen cars at the Jonsrud Viewpoint checking out the same scene I sought. I pulled over, blinkers going so a distracted cager wouldn't rear-end me, and gazed at the sunrise behind Mt. Hood, and that unusual cone of shadow on the clouds.

It was sublime.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Around the Willamette Valley

I've lived in Oregon my entire life but never truly appreciated the beauty of the Willamette Valley. What you see heading down I-5 is barely the tip of the iceberg. I took a day off of work and clocked nearly 200 miles hitting the back roads of the western Oregon countryside and was amazed at what I saw.

I live in Sandy, on the foothills of Mt. Hood. When I left the house just before 8 am it was under cloudy skies. I headed south through Estacada and continued on Highway 211 toward Molalla. A few light sprinkles dotted my face shield, but the road was slowly drying out as the clouds struggled to break up. When I got to Molalla I headed south on 213 toward Silverton. This route is familiar and I've ridden it dozes of times (it's open all year).

Once I got to the quaint town of Silverton I told my GPS to take me to Pratum, a community I had never heard of until hitting the maps the prior evening. Normally I would continue south toward Stayton but this time my route took me more to the west, about halfway between 213 and I-5. The area is predominantly rural, with small farms of all types everywhere. There was fog in patches and the low clouds overhead were breaking up, giving me striking glimpses of the sun rising behind massive oaks and other deciduous trees. The feeling reminded me of the English countryside.

I made it to Pratum, and it was barely big enough to qualify map-hood. I'd call it a community rather than a town. I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Mcleay, southward. Similar to Pratum, it was small and quaint and more a community than a town. The small two lane roads passed through green farm fields and clumps of oak trees, still devoid of leaves during this late winter ride.

At Mcleay I repeated the process. Pull over and tell my GPS to take me to my next waypoint. This time I was headed for Turner, which was a small town just east of the busy interstate. So far I had visited three new towns and would bag several more before the day was through. Turner marked the southernmost town on the day's tour and once there I turned west. I crossed under I-5 to the community of Sunnyside, one of two such named communities in Oregon (the other near Clackamas to the north). There was quite a bit of fog so riding at a slower pace was appropriate. So far I hadn't seen a single other motorcycle and had been thankfully free of Anti-Destination League members as well.

I was now west of I-5 and in new territory. My next destination was Independence, Oregon but I didn't have a safe place to pull over and program my GPS, so I trusted my instincts and headed due west on Hylo road (aptly named). I came to a T intersection at Liberty road and was unsure which way to go, so I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to Independence (I already had it, being on two wheels).

My Zumo took me north through the community of Rosedale (like the song) and into the city limits of the state capital, Salem, before pointing me west again on the twisty, narrow gravel Vitae Springs Road between very expensive houses tucked privately into copses of trees. The gravel was no problem for my dual-sport V-Strom but I was a little concerned about my GPS' route choice. It wasn't 30 seconds before I dropped down onto River Road and continued west. I crossed over the Willamette River for the first time that day and entered the town of Independence, Oregon.

Independence was founded in the mid-1800's. It still kept its old time charm, with 2- and 3-story brick buildings on a classic American main street. The trees lining the streets were full of white early Spring blooms. I half expected Steven Spielberg to be standing on a street corner shouting directions to his film crew. It was such a dose of Americana that it almost looked artificial. I pulled into the parking lot of a mortuary of all places and told my GPS to take me to Monmouth, home of Western Oregon University. When I was a senior in high school I wanted to study economics at what was then called Western Oregon State College, but I studied computer science at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls instead, at my father's urging.

Telling my GPS to take me to Monmouth wasn't worth the effort because I was already on Monmouth St. and the town itself was only 2 minutes due west.

My fuel gauge showed 135 miles and although I can go over 200 miles on a tank of gas, I took the opportunity to pull into a Chevron and fill up. There are gas stations in many of the smaller towns, but the quality of their fuel is suspect and my butt needed a break anyway. After fueling up, I headed into Monmouth proper before ending my westward travel by turning north on Highway 99W.

Highway 99 are twin roads. Both run north and south, like all odd-numbered highways, but 99W is on the west side of I-5 and 99E is on the east side. I have traveled most of 99E but had never spent much time on its western twin until today. Once again I pulled over and told my GPS to take me to my next destination, this time a town to the northwest called Dallas.

Dallas is another small town, about the same size as Sandy, my home town. It seemed I was on the truck route as I never saw the downtown proper. Repeating the process of pulling over and programming my next destination, I was soon heading north on Perrydale road.

On my ride so far I had noticed a growing trend. Farms on the valley floor with modest homes surrounded by modest or less-than-modest fences, big fancy houses on the numerous hill tops surrounded by expensive white fences and accessed by gated paved driveways lined with trees. I wondered what the hilltop dwellers did for a living. The amount of land and the size of these homes undoubtedly pushed their purchase price well into the millions of dollars. I didn't see just one or two of these estates, either. I saw dozens. Basically every small hill had a large fancy house on top. It made me wonder how California's famous Napa Valley compared in topography and economic demographics. Regardless, the verdant valley views (sorry, I couldn't resist) were incredible.

Perrydale Road met Highway 22, the route many people take to the Oregon Coast to dodge the traffic and speeding-ticket nightmare of Newberg and Dundee a little to the north. I got on 22 westbound for about a quarter mile before heading north again on Perrydale. With the many small two lane country roads and lack of proper signage, I was thankful I had a GPS to guide me along. After a few turns and road changes I made it to Amity. I did a slow ride through the tiny town and scoped out the eatery options. I saw Ashes Cafe on the main drag and saw that it was both open and seemingly popular. Never eat at a restaurant that has no customers; it's a bad sign. I saw a few scary-looking houses, too, but nothing worthy of a horror movie. I turned around and headed back, parking in front of Ashes Cafe.

The inside was rather run down and the waitress, Leona, looked like she needs to cut back on the meth a little. The food was tolerable. The coffee tasted burnt and the bacon was a confusion of nearly raw on one half and so overcooked on the other it crumbled when eaten. Two older gentlemen sat at the counter in front of me, one wearing a jacket plastered with military patches and slogans reminding us to remember those who have fallen in prior conflicts. Leona provided good service but her demeanor chilled whenever she came to my table. I never figured out why. Perhaps she only liked Harley-Davidson riders, guessing by the H-D poster on the wall above the kitchen food service window.

I paid the $7.50 ticket with a $10 bill, put my jacket on and headed out into the sunshine. My next destination was Dayton, a town I had visited on a similar day ride in February the year prior. From that point on I would be traveling familiar roads. By the time I reached Dayton, however, my clutch hand was beginning to hurt. The feeling was similar to how people describe carpal tunnel syndrome. It doesn't hurt to hold the clutch in, but the motion of squeezing the lever brought an increasing level of pain.

My intended route home would take me south to Hubbard, back to the east side of I-5, then up a confusing jumble of back roads through Canby and Redlands to home. I knew that the increasing level of pain in my clutch hand wouldn't survive that kind of route so got onto 18 eastbound and followed the traffic through Dundee, Newberg, Sherwood, and Tualatin. I hit I-205 northbound to the Clackamas exit, and came home via Highway 212 through Damascus and Boring.

By the time I got home my left wrist was in a lot of pain with every shift but I still had a smile on my face. As Neil Peart says (I quote him a lot), "When I'm riding I'm glad to be alive. When I stop riding I'm glad to be alive." Despite the seemingly long route, I was home by 1 pm. I rode approximately 180 miles. I began to wonder why I'm able to clock a dozen 250+ mile days back to back on my long summer trips without wrist pain, yet a sub-200 mile day ride makes me cut my trip short. A similar thing happened a year prior when I had to ride through the heart of Salem. It's not the miles, it's how many times I have to shift that gets me. It's the repetition. I'm going to do some research to see if there are some exercises I can do to strengthen and condition my clutch hand. Perhaps those spring-grip exercisers that have been around for decades will help.

Either way, I was thankful for the trip. I saw some fantastic scenery and obtained a new appreciation for the beauty of the Willamette Valley. I also visited several small towns in my home state for the first time. Overall it was a wonderful ride.


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Monday, March 1, 2010

Marmot revisited

It was a beautiful pre-Spring day on Saturday, and after running errands and mowing the lawn, I decided to take a short ride. For the first time since late last summer, I wore my riding denim pants instead of my armored textile pant. The weather was great, with temps around 60 degrees and mostly sunny skies.

I gassed up at the Chevron in Sandy, then headed down Ten Eyke Road, crossed the Sandy River at Revenue Bridge, then headed east on Marmot Road. I followed it all the way to Barlow Trail Road, then continued east until I got to Lolo Pass Road where I turned around and headed back the same way.

It's a short run but it's fairly technical, with several challenging hairpin turns and other odd-radius turns. There are some blind curves and a blind hill as well, and the ride is great practice. There are several stretches that are shaded and never see the sunlight, so traction can be an issue. Other sections get a lot of needles and leaves from overhanging trees and picking a line out of the slippery stuff requires focus.


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