My friend, Brutus (not his real name), got his motorcycle endorsement and first bike, a 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 250, a few months ago and has racked up about 2,000 miles commuting to work. So far, the bulk of his riding experience has been on urban freeways during rush hour. What a way to cut your teeth on a motorcycle! One of his goals is to ride with me on some multi-day trips, so we decided to spend a sunny Saturday on a long local ride to simulate the kind of riding typical of longer trips.
We met at the parking lot of Steigerwald Lake, an animal preserve on SR14 in Washington, just east of Camas. The sun was rising, the air was slightly cool, and there was very little wind. Brutus showed up on a yellow bike and wearing neon yellow jacket and helmet. Only his pants were black. He likes to be noticed! We chatted for several minutes about bikes and the day ahead, then set off. I took the lead at first with Brutus following but lagging slowly behind. I pulled over and waited for him to catch up. Since it was his first major ride on curvy roads, we decided it was best for him to set the pace, so he took off first and I followed.
He showed remarkably smooth form and had excellent body position for a beginning rider. We navigated the curves of SR14 and after 20 miles we pulled over at a gas station in North Bonneville for a snack break. The Columbia River Gorge is notoriously windy but fortunately we only had to contend with a slight breeze. Coupled with the sunshine and moderate temperature, it was turning out to be a fantastic riding day. Since Brutus was doing well in the lead, we pulled back onto SR14 and maintained that pattern as we continued east.
As we neared the bridge to Hood River, I passed Brutus and then pulled into a rest stop for another quick rest and discussion about the route ahead. The next stop would be a private game preserve that offers public access, but it was easy to miss, so I led the way. The forests of the cascades were soon behind us and we entered the grassland of the eastern slope. Just before reaching the junction with SR14 and Highway 197, I pulled to the left into a paved driveway up the hill to the north. The lane was bordered on both sides with high wire fences and it soon became clear why. To our right were dromedary camels and to our left were zebras. In the distance we spotted llamas and bison, and high atop a rocky crag some kind of exotic goat, perhaps an ibex. We turned around at the top and slowly rolled back down the hill, stopping several times to see what other kind of exotic animals might be seen.
It was getting time for lunch and gas. We crossed the pink metal bridge just below The Dalles Dam and fueled up at the Chevron, then crossed the highway for lunch at McDonalds. When both the riders and bikes fueled up, we got back onto Highway 197 and continued south. The road is surrounded by rolling hills covered in green wheat and tan native grasses, with hardly a tree to be seen. The topography and open skies makes for a surprisingly dramatic view, and later on Brutus told me he was blown away by how scenic it was. We eventually descended down into Tygh Valley before climbing back up the hill, and after a few more miles, met the junction with Highway 216. We turned west and began the fourth and final leg of our route. The road is long and straight for several miles before we passed through the hamlet of Pine Grove and entered the forested eastern slope of the Cascades.
Soon we were climbing the last slope up to Government Camp and after passing some slow RVs, we were heading down the western side toward Sandy. Fortunately traffic was very light and we practically had the road to ourselves. I pulled over in Rhododendron and discussed with Brutus the remaining route, and after agreeing to stop in Sandy for a quick fuel fill-up, we continued on.
Our ride into Sandy was uneventful and once our tanks were filled up, we said our goodbyes and rode on our separate ways. By the end of the day Brutus had racked up 275 miles, which was by far his longest ride to date. He showed excellent form and his bike ran like a champ. Later on he told me that he experience both great fear and delight during the day. The excitement of the ride, the wonder of the scenery, and the wonderful tired feeling you have after surviving a long day's ride.