Monday, June 27, 2011

24-hour Bike Camping Trip

I had a 24-hour window of opportunity this past weekend to go for a quick bike camping trip. I loaded my gear on the V-Strom and set off by noon. The sun was shining and it was in the upper 60's, quickly climbing into the lower 70's. I fueled up in Estacada, then headed up the Clackamas River highway to Ripplebrook, where I continued east on NF58 past Harriett Lake. The road turned to gravel for about 10 miles before crossing the earthen dam at Timothy Lake's outlet.

I followed the road around the southern shore of Timothy Lake before hitting Skyline Road (NF42). It was a quick 8-mile jaunt to a brief run south on Highway 26 before continuing east onto NF43. This road connected to NF48, and soon was I zooming past Rock Creek Reservoir and hitting the long straight into the tiny community of Wamic.

I grabbed two snacks, ate one and saved the other for later that evening, then chatted with two guys from Hood River riding tall off-road bikes with large home-made sidecars as they stopped to fuel up. Soon I was backtracking to Rock Creek Reservoir where I followed some narrow forest service roads to a particular campsite within the Mt. Hood National Forest.

There was another group set up about 75 yards away, but despite smoke still coming out of the campfire, no one was home. I wanted to ask permission first before I made camp, just as a courtesy, but in their absence I made the decision to go ahead and set up anyway.

I soon had my tent erected and my gear stowed inside. I propped my bike up on its center stand, sat aboard, leaned back against my top case, and pondered the sky while listening to several different species of birds arguing about the various disposition of seeds in light of recent changes in the world economy.

Weary from the ride and mentally relaxed from contemplating the heavens, I retired into my nylon and aluminum structure, struck a face-down horizontal pose, and remained inert for over an hour. My slumber was disturbed by the return of my neighbors. I decided it was dinner time anyway so I emerged and began making dinner.

The freeze-dried beef stew was unappetizing but wasn't foul, either; it served its purpose. Once I got my mess kit cleaned up, I returned again to the comfort of my tent and pulled out my iPad to watch a movie. iPads are fantastic for travelers and I highly recommend them. You can watch a movie, read a book, play a game, compose a blog, etc. When you have Wi-Fi or 3G access you can plan a trip's route or check the weather forecast.

By this time it was getting dark so I brushed my teeth and prepared for bed. Just as the last hint of light was fading, I heard "Huff! Huff!" outside my tent. Thirty seconds later I heard it again. I figured it was a cow, although I had never seen any cow pies in that area. I wondered if it was an elk, as the noise was fairly loud and actually seemed pretty close by. I heard the creature stomp the ground twice, then walk around. It sounded as if it was close to my bike, parked about 20 feet away from the entrance to my tent.

I grabbed my small flashlight, unzipped my tent, and peered outside. I saw nothing. No bodies, no glowing eyes. I knew I had heard a large animal of some kind but couldn't find any physical evidence of it, so I zipped the tent back up and crawled back onto my sleeping bag for some iPad solitaire. Less than 5 minutes had gone by before I heard another "Huff!" accompanied by a large animal walking around close by. I grabbed a different flashlight, with a broader, brighter beam, unzipped the tent, and looked outside. Standing 20' away was a female deer. She was grazing on some grass on the edge of the creek and seemed completely unfazed by my sudden emergence from my tent.

I was getting annoyed by the interruption at this point so I began to make my own huffing noises back at the creature. She gave me a look bordering on contempt, then returned to her grazing. I grabbed a pine cone and threw it at her, but it wasn't very heavy and fell short. The deer remained unimpressed. I put my sandals on, stepped out of the tent completely, and began looking for a rock. The doe adopted more of a "Bring it, homeboy!" expression. The rock I found was at least as big as a grapefruit. I heaved it underhanded toward the doe. It struck the ground a few feet short, bounced up and smacked her in the rear flank. She leaped at least three feet straight up, then bounded a quarter of the way around my camp before heading into the woods up the hill and out of sight. That will teach her to mess with a top predator!

I brushed the dust off my hands, took off my sandals, and crawled back inside my tent. I put my iPad away, undressed, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Another five minutes went by before I heard two different deer walking around outside my tent. One even pawed at the corner of my tent fly, as if to say, "Oh, no you di'nt!" I decided to ignore them, treating them like I would a semi-crazy person trying to engage me in conversation about UFOs on a crowded subway train. Eventually they wandered off and I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke at 5 AM, daylight beginning to filter through the trees. Although I normally get up around that time, I had no reason to this particular day and didn't want to disturb my neighbors (who had stayed awake quite late into the night playing music and even shooting guns). I allowed sleep to return and awoke again two hours later. The sun was hitting my tent broadsided and lit it up so bright I had to squint.

Once up, I made coffee and ate a granola bar as I took my time packing up. I refilled my water bottle with my Katadyn filter down at the creek, checked that everything was tied down on my bike, then mounted up. I rode back up the same gnarly, rocky, dirt road that brought me there, fortunately without any mishaps. Back on the pavement, I boogied back into Wamic where I had a more substantial breakfast at the Sportsman's Pub-n-Grub. The decor was nasty and the waitresses were friendly but slow. The food wasn't half bad, however. Fed, I mounted up again and headed west along NF48. I passed the spot where my wife and I had gotten stuck in a snow drift just a few weeks earlier, this time the pavement was dry and clear. At the junction with Highway 35 I was flagged down by one of six riders parked nearby. He spoke with an Australian accent and wanted to know if the road to Wamic was clear. I assured him he and his BMW-riding buddies could make the route just fine as I had just come from there. He thanked me with a smile, I wished him a "Shiny side up!", and I merged onto 35 and headed back over the mountain to home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Take Him To Detroit!

On the third try in a month, the NF46 road from Ripplebrook to Breitenbush / Detroit is finally clear of snow. They even swept the tree debris! On Sunday I had a fantastic ride to Detroit and back, scraping my left peg on a hard hairpin just below the pass. My new Shinko 705 radial tires are fantastic, providing excellent grip on wet pavement and confidence-inspiring cornering with increased lean angles.

They posted speed limit signs from the pass south to Detroit varying between 40 and 45 mph, which is ridiculous. Those twisties are excellent and the road surface is in great shape.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snow in June?

We left the house Friday afternoon and rode back into town before crossing the swollen Columbia River via the I-205 bridge and catching SR14 eastbound. My wife, Corina, hadn't been on my bike since last summer and our planned overnight trip to my sister's house outside Goldendale, Washington was a great way to get back into it.

The sun was shining and it was forecasted to be the warmest day of the year so far after what has been an unusually wet and cold Spring. We stopped at a gas station/market in North Bonneville for a snack break, then continued to Lyle where we turned north onto highway 142. Riding through the small community of Klickitat, we continued up out of the river valley and onto the breezy plain west of Goldendale.

We stopped at the 76 station in Goldendale for fuel and were joined by 10 guys on BMW and KTM adventure bikes. Fueled, we continued east on Bickelton Highway another 30 minutes before arriving at my sister's house.

The next morning, after a relaxing but far too short visit, we backtracked to Goldendale before heading south on 97 for ten miles, then SR14 west to Dallesport where we crossed back over the mighty Columbia. The water was roiling and turbulent in the spillway under The Dallesport Dam, letting out a massive volume of water every second.

We rode south on 197 into the tiny town of Tygh Valley before heading west toward another tiny town, Wamic. The only store and gas station in town was abuzz with locals celebrating the store's 25th anniversary as well as a large group of off-road motorcyclists. They were fueling up during a large rally organized out of Hood River.

Rolling through town, we cut off into the woods at Rock Creek Reservoir. Our destination was an unmarked campsight used during deer hunting. The rough gravel road was rutted and washed out in several places and interspersed with many large mud puddles. After a little slipping and sliding, we made it to the campsite. Off the bike, we explored the trees surrounding the camp, looking for a cross we mounted to memorialize Corina's father who had passed away two years prior. We were pleased to see the cross was still there, no worse off despite the passage of both time and weather.

We mounted up and headed back up the gnarly road and made our way back to the highway westbound. Our intention was to ride NF48 to where it linked up with Highway 35 next to White River. About a mile shy of the junction we came to a large patch of snow across the road.

There were tire tracks and ruts crossing it and the snow didn't look overly deep, so Corina dismounted and let me ride forward. Within 30 feet into the snow the bike stopped. The snow was nearly 2 feet deep and the bike high-centered on the skid plate, reducing weight and therefore traction on the rear tire.

We rocked the bike side to side to create more space, then dug at the snow with sticks and our hands. The temperature was easily into the 70's and combined with the elevation we were both sweating and breathing hard, seemingly without progress despite the intense effort.

Corina got behind the bike and pushed while I worked the throttle and pushed with both my legs. After a great amount of effort and straining, the bike inched forward about 4 feet before getting stuck again. We had at least another fifty feet of snow drift to cross and we began to wonder of it would be possible. We could see another snow drift just like this one waiting for us 100 yards ahead.

With more digging, pushing, heaving, grunting, and groaning, the bike moved slowly forward. We made it through and parked the bike on bare pavement, then took a break to catch our breath. After a brief respite, we rode on to the next drift. Approaching it, our hearts sank. We could see that this drift was even deeper and had no tire tracks through it. Whoever had driven their four-wheel drive vehicle through the first drift had turned around and gone back before attempting to cross the next. Within a mile of a snow-free highway 35, we knew we had to go back across the snow drift that took us an hour to cross the first time.

Corina got off and walked while I slowly rolled ahead to the snow drift. I hoped that the rut we worked so hard to cross would be easier to traverse. With a lump in my throat, I gave the bike some gas and entered the snow drift. Halfway across the bike stopped. I killed the engine, then began rocking the bike side to side. The rut was deep enough that the bike was being pinched on the sides, effectively reducing the weight on the back tire and therefore reducing traction. I wondered if attempting to ride across a section without ruts would have been more effective, but the bike probably would have just sunk into the deep snow and stopped.

As Corina approached the back of the drift, my effort to clear lateral space around the bike and my pushing forward with my legs while working the throttle was just effective enough to help me inch forward. With a loud "Whoo hoo!" I got purchase on the widened rut we dug out on our way through the first time and emerged triumphantly onto bare pavement.

Stopping, I put the bike on it's side stand and located a small stick to scrape off the snow embedded into every cavity on the bike's underside. Corina caught up to me and we smiled, still out of breath. We chugged some water, then noticed three off-road bikes from the rally group riding up the road toward us. We waved them to a stop and warned them of the struggle we had just gone through. Even though their tall bikes with aggressive knobby tires would have no doubt had better luck crossing the snow, they decided caution was the better approach and turned around and headed back the way they came.

The guys said they would try to ride NF43 and connect with Highway 26. Corina and I discussed that route, but I had run into snow on that route in previous years so we decided we would ride all the way back to Wamic, gas up the bike and grab a snack, then backtrack to Tygh Valley where we would continue south on 197 to highway 216. It was a longer way home but we knew that the entire route would be plowed and snow free.

I had just switched from a set of Bridgestone Battle Wing 90/10 tires over to a more 75/25 oriented tire, the Shinko 705. Considering the depth of the snow and the mud and gravel I had ridden so far, the Shinko's had done a decent job. They also perform great on the pavement, cornering very capably.

Back in Wamic, the gas station/store was hopping with off-road rally riders and anniversary celebrants. We struck up a conversation with Sam Cobb, the owner of a small tavern in Tygh Valley, who was present to celebrate the store's anniversary. Fed and fueled, we said our goodbyes, then worked our way back home.

The original route should have been about 160 miles and lasted only four hours. Instead, we rode well over 250 miles and got home four hours later than intended. It was an adventure and we pulled through it together, no worse for the experience. Having a folding shovel on board would have been helpful, but using the most important tool of all - our brains - would have been far more effective. Even if you can see the other side of a snow drift, it can easily be too deep for a motorcycle to cross. Mud puddles are the same way; you can't tell how deep they are just by looking at them.

The funny thing is, when I woke up the next morning, I felt like getting back on the bike and heading right back up into the mountains for another go.