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Same State, Different Worlds

It was an early morning departure. Dew was still clinging to the blades of grass and wide maple leaves. The quiet was briefly interrupted by the Vintage engine coming to life as I pressed the starter button, then the low rumble chug chug that took over seemed to be a perfect match with the rising sun.

I was riding north and west. As the sun at my back warmed my spine, the road ahead unfolded and warmed my anticipation for the day. I’d chosen a smaller and more meandering Oregon highway, and riding along I got thinking about how diverse and how many different worlds were contained in this state.

I’d just completed the last Rose City Grand Tour checkpoint earlier that week in a barren, yet beautiful section of Eastern Oregon, and was winding my way back home. Just days ago leaving the harsh spectacular wide open spaces down there I was smelling sagebrush and miraculously not squashing little fuzzy tailed rodents darting across the asphalt. Breathing in deep the arid desert wind felt therapeutic.

Most bridges spanned, what looked like, long forgotten and abandoned rivulets, dry channels with rounded rock, the only evidence of rushing water once upon a time. Perhaps this was only because it was summer, and everything will be transformed, turn alive and energetic when the winter snow melt from the distant mountains makes its annual flowing migration towards the sea.

I rode by the estuaries of many such accumulated waterways a week or so earlier, starting with the mouth of the Columbia as I crossed the border bridge into Astoria. I heard foghorns and saw seagulls feeding from the brackish water. Gaps in the fog revealed brilliant patches of blue sky and then were swallowed up almost magically only to reappear in a different shape in a different place. Later that afternoon seeing the mouths of the Alsea River at Waldport and the Siuslaw River in Florence empty into the ocean made me think they too had their diverse sights and meandering journeys along the way.

I soon turned inland taking Hwy 126 leaving the coastline and following the Siuslaw. Within a half an hour, everything was different. The briny air had transformed into to the rustic, earthy scent of a river and wafted pleasantly up into my helmet. Any trace of the sea was erased, and 30 minutes more, the fragrance was of forest, and the sights were of tall Douglas fir trees and leaning into the corners flanked by the river, I had ridden into another world.

I maneuvered over the Coast range and into the southern end of the Willamette Valley. It was thick with vineyards, hops, and Christmas tree farms.  I crossed the I-5 corridor quickly and was soon gaining altitude on the western slopes of the Cascades and hugging the curves of the McKenzie River right alongside me.

In what seemed like no time, I’d crested the pass, and Highway 242 was traversing blacktop cut through ancient lava fields, unchanged and frozen in time for 80 thousand years. As I descended, spread out below, as far as the eye could see, was the high desert landscape of Deschutes County. The snowcapped Mt Hood rose majestically in the distant north. It was crystal clear. Pine trees were getting fewer and being replaced by Junipers and sagebrush. Could this possibly be the same state of foghorns and seagulls I remembered from what seemed just a short time ago?

Having left that beautiful barren area of my last checkpoint of the season, an area where sparsely scattered little towns and clusters of trees were a welcome oasis between the vast and wide open distances, it was time to point the Vintage towards home. Soon, the world beneath my wheels changed once again and I was weaving and echoing my way through great canyons and ravines carved by powerful water that satisfied the thirst of the far-reaching acres of farmland I next encountered.  Later, I was beginning to recognize roads and certain favorite corners. The days and the diversity behind me solidified my appreciation of this multifaceted state. As I continued to ramble home, that earlier glow of warm anticipation seemed to renew itself thinking of next year’s yet undetermined and different worlds that lay ahead.

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Borderlines

It was 20 or 30 miles before I really got situated. I caught the Bremerton ferry out of Seattle and before the one hour ride was up, I was pacing, both mentally and physically, anxious to get under way. Rolling off the boat ramp and giving a nod to a row of bikers waiting to load, I was finally in charge of this ride.

Hwy 3 across the Kitsap peninsula and down through Shelton, things were loosening up and I finally found myself in road trip mode. The Jim Brandes Memorial Campout was my destination for the day. This route was about 250 miles…my first real distance ride of the year, the sky was clear and the wind was warm.

101 out of Cosmopolis and on down to the Astoria bridge. Always impressive and always in a slightly different mood, this 4 mile span is a friend of mine. Looking east up the river and west out to sea I try and imagine the journey these waters have seen since their Canadian headwaters. Almost like a road trip of its own, passing cities,canyons, and deserts. Right now though, I’m pointed south, having crested the bridge,I crossed the Oregon borderline…

I don’t need to remind these readers of the sweeping beauty of this part of the coast. Leaning through the bends and curves from Cannon Beach through the tunnel and hugging the cliff at the very edge of the world then floating back downward to sea level coming into Twin Rocks.

Pulling onto Whalen Island and seeing many of the Guzzi contingent already set up was a welcoming sight, as was the reception by the hard working Gerri and Gary Jenkins.

Old friendships renewed and new ones made. What a great way to start the riding season! Plenty of tire kickin’ and Guzzi talkin’ ensued into the next day,but when the morning came, I saddled up and I was on my way. There were still a few days and a thousand miles to this outing yet to come.

30 degree swings in temperatures and 180 degree differences in landscape. Feeling relief at the cooling ocean air going down Hwy 199 past the California borderline where the pine trees turned to redwoods. Back up and east around Crater lake there were still snowfields alongside the highway, responsible I think  for the alternating pockets of warm and cool as I climbed in elevation.

By the time I met back up with the Astoria Bridge, its mood had turned dark and all I could see of the other side was big black low clouds full of rain. Cinching up my rain gear and taking a deep breath, I headed north for several hours of a wet ride home after crossing the Washington borderline…

Many Rivers to Cross

It was high noon when I reached the north side of the Astoria Bridge. The old girl was getting a make-over and smelled of paint and turpentine. A flock of supervisory seagulls drifted above. I crossed the Columbia and spiraled down to street level Astoria then pointed my front  tire towards Tillamook.

It was still a week before the national rally in John Day, but I had a full agenda ahead of me prior to, then following that event involving Grand Tour checkpoints and other towns riding a large, crooked, counter clockwise circle covering Oregon’s four corners. Astoria was corner 1 and there were barely any bugs on my windshield or whisker shadow on my face.

This was the 4th summer with the Vintage and the ride kept getting better and better. Leaning into and powering out of the coastal corners, it was clear what this machine was made for. Sometimes entering a small patch of fog that hadn’t yet or wouldn’t ever burn off, I’d feel a power surge when the motor smiled and breathed in that slightly moist air.  The ocean on my right stretched out as far as the eye could reach. Beyond that were sea-faring tales that I couldn’t imagine. Ahead of me, the road was unwinding like a story told in real time.

The next few days, my wheels kept on turning. Past the Holsteins and Jerseys of Tillamook, the tourists of Lincoln City, and the dunes near Reedsport. There, I turned and rode east over the coast range on OR38. A beautiful and meandering road following the Umpqua River past one blink burgs with names like Murphys Camp and Green Acres. Ordinary people calmly and smoothly going about their business  – like the water flow next to them.

Nearing the I-5 corridor it was getting quite congested, and hot too. The Vintage was running like a champ, but I could tell it wanted some more elbow room. I quickly checked off a Grand Tour site in Sutherlin then looked for a back road outta town. Barely showing on a map was Flournoy Valley Road turning into Reston Road, then meeting up nicely with OR42 at another one of those tiny settlements –Tenmile. We headed west again back over the coast range ending up at Bandon Beach just in time for the sunset.

A cup of hot coffee the next morning was enough to get me warmed up and down the road to Brookings for breakfast –Corner 2. It wasn’t long before I was across the border and catching whiffs more and more frequently of the Eucalyptus groves of Del Norte County.

I passed through some redwoods and swung back up into Oregon on 199 along the Smith River. Rafters, fly fisherman, and bathers all enjoying the summer sun, as was I, weaving and watching it go by from above.

Summer in southern Oregon can get real hot real fast, but I avoided it  by climbing quickly from the Rogue River valley where the temps cooled just as fast, and nearing Crater Lake, snow was still alongside the road. Continuing east then north on OR97 I saw an unassuming line on the map referred to as the Silver Lake Hwy cutting across to OR31 not far from Summer Lake – another checkpoint.  A very peaceful, seemingly deserted road, it’s elevated above marshland filled with cattails, lillypads, grasses and some ponderosa pine trees. Cranes, eagles and pelicans were above. This part of the state is always full of surprises.

OR140 out of Lakeview the road climbed again, almost imperceptibly except for passing a ski area at Buzzards Gap about 6100 feet. The Vintage never questioned and was with me however and wherever I wanted to go. I Dipped down into Humbolt county Nevada before going north again on OR201 to Fields – Corner number 3. OK, not technically a corner, McDermitt would have been truer..but I had a rally to get to!

From there it was north to the rally to enjoy the two days of festivities. Sunday morning I packed up again, turned north and crossing the John Day River, I was on my way. By early afternoon I was watching the Wallowa mountains diminishing in my mirror as I rode north on OR 3 out of Enterprise, heading toward corner 4 and beyond.

There’s a bridge over the Grand Ronde River, just north of the border where OR 3 turns to WA129. A pull- off and a small café sits lazily on its bank. It’s at the bottom of a 15 mile set of sweepers and hairpins. North or south, up or down, it’s an exhilarating road and there is always a set or two of bikers there with grins and stories.

Later, I’m following the Clearwater River right into Clarkston when it disappears into the Snake without fanfare. Just as the next day, only hours from home now, the Snake itself merges with the Columbia and loses its maiden name forever…