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Posts Tagged ‘Heppner Highway’

Highway 97

There was fun, sun, cerveza’s and of course a dash of rain.  Mixed in along the way was some imperfect weather, but what can a person expect living in the northwest in June?!  It’s an imperfect world and besides, many riders revel in the glory of making it through adversity.  Not me… I like perfect weather versus keeping track of the number times I had to dawn on rain gear.  But that’s me.

At any rate, the opening sentence pretty much describes the high level summary of the ride situation to Baker City for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally (HCMR), but if you’re the kind of person who reads the manual, ferrets out all the details and amazes friends with all your product knowledge then read on…

The posse started this ride on Interstate 84 to pick up a buddy in “Googleville” (aka The Dalles) then at Biggs Junction we rode south on Hwy 97 to Wasco.  From there we traversed Hwy 206(Wasco-Heppner Hwy) to Condon.  This stretch of road offers up a lot of sweepers and depending on which type of bike you ride it could be fast or a mental exercise to stay alert.  You’ll never get lonely on this stretch of road, not because of the number of RVs or automobiles – there are none – but because squirrels frequently run out across the road to challenge your dodging skills and if you’re real lucky you’ll get the occasional mule deer to snap you back to reality.

Clarno Unit -- John Day Fossil Beds

From Condon we rode Hwy 19 to Fossil where we took a detour on Hwy 218 to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil and is just under a couple thousand acres in size.  It’s a remote area and Hwy 218 is a real joy to ride.  There is nothing which explains the exhilaration of roaring out of tight corners and setting up for the next hairpin.  There is an odd trend in this area of marking an entire set of 6+ curves with one single sign marked with the speed of the slowest and tightest of the entire bunch of curves.  The first 5 corners are truly 45MPH then the last one is a 20MPH right angle with gravel on the apex.  Good to see the state saving money on road signs!  The views of Central Oregon’s near-desert environment are astounding and this highway was nearly empty of anything other than a variety of grasses, sagebrush and juniper.  The cliffs of the Palisades are the most prominent landform in the Clarno Unit and the trip wouldn’t have be complete without a photo op.

We back tracked the 18 miles to the junction of Washington Street and Seventh Street (Hwy 19)… street names in Fossil make it seem like a big town – it’s not.  We then proceeded south to Service Creek then to Mitchell and picked up Hwy 26 east (essentially follows the Oregon Trail) to John Day, Prairie City and then we veered off at Bates onto Hwy 7 (Whitney Tipton Hwy) toward Sumpter.

Prairie City

Along this area we unfortunately came upon a motorcycle accident between Sumpter and Baker City just after Philips Lake.  The rider failed to negotiate a sweeper and laid the bike down.  The footboard and engine guard made deep grooves into the asphalt as the motorcycle and rider slid off the right shoulder of the road down an embankment onto some soft brush.  The rider narrowly missed hitting a guard rail and survived with only minor injuries.  Very fortunate.  The motorcycle was towed away.  Traveling this route was basically going from one mountain pass to another separated by valleys, small towns and river valleys.  The passes were over 5000’ and the changes in temperature were notable until we arrived in Baker City.

After 400+ miles we arrived at the Best Western Motel and were greeted with smiling employees who got us checked in and on our way to dinner at Arceo’s Family Mexican Restaurant.  It was awesome!

And speaking earlier of accidents… the following day (Friday) we learned and responded to voicemail’s from people who were concerned about a motorcycle accident on I-84 which happened around noon and whether it involved other members of the posse who were in route to the rally.  It didn’t, but sadly a 63-year-old Albany man was killed and a 50-year-old Lebanon man was seriously injured about four miles east of Troutdale.   The two were part of a group of 12 people, aboard 10 motorcycles, heading for the HCMR rally.  Michael Pamplin, 63, was riding a H-D in the middle of the group when he lost control and crashed to the pavement.  Even worse was the fact that he was run over by another motorcyclist in the group, 50-year-old Keith Corbett, and died at the scene. Corbett was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with serious injuries.  It’s unclear what was the main precursor to causing this wreck…

Postcard From Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken by editor.

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This past weekend I rode the OR HOG (Sage-Snow-Surf) Motorcycle Rally.  More than 300 motorcycles arrived in Pendleton, OR.  We started our day from Vancouver, WA and headed East on State Route 14, also called the Lewis and Clark Highway.    It winds its way through the Columbia River Gorge along the river then up over steep bluffs, forest and finally makes it way into grasslands.  It’s about 180 miles and two-lane road after you depart Camus, WA.  You end up at the junction of I-82/395 just across the state line from Umatilla, OR and about 40 miles from Pendleton.

We were most fortunate as the wind was behind us with blue sky and mid-80 temperatures.  We rode past the Stonehenge, the Maryhill winery and near Goldendale we got a great view of the aluminum smelter.  I made a mental note to do a bit of research on this plant as I recalled it belching smells in full production a few years ago, but on this day it looked abandon.  It turns out that Brett Wilcox purchased the plant in 1996 for $67M.  It needed to be temporarily close (as the workers were told) in 2003, however, the owner of the plant sold off the power it purchased from producing aluminum on the open market at a hefty profit that went directly into the pockets of executive management.  Everyone was laid off and retirement funds disappeared. (Source: HERE)

Finally we arrived at the Red Lion in Pendleton and picked up our HOG packet, signed the release forms and then headed downtown.  Pendleton is located in Umatilla County and is situated along I-84.  For reference it’s south of the tri-cities (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick) area of Washington.  Beside being labeled by the National Drug Intelligence Center (PDF) as a major distribution stop for many drug traffickers en route to the tri-cities from the Southwest Border it’s also home of the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT) and home of the famous Pendleton Roundup.  

Pendleton got its start as Goodwin Station in 1865 as a stop on the Oregon Trail.  The town’s name was changed to Pendleton in honor of Ohio senator, George Hunt Pendleton.  The Rainbow is Pendleton’s oldest continuously open and operated bar and restaurant and the oldest doing business at the same location.  Many know that that the Chinese came to the area to work the gold mines and many were employed by the railroad.  As the area grew, they soon became an integral and somewhat hidden, part of the local economy.  The Chinese operated laundries and underground opium dens and were relegated to Pendleton’s seedier side. But I digress.  Back to the OR HOG Rally…

We parked the bikes on main street near Hamley’s Steak House for a little grub and some refreshments.  I introduced myself to Larry (HD head tattoo above), met JT (regional HOG director) and took in some county music in the courtyard.  We headed to the restaurant and order up some fresh Salmon (yeah, go figure!) in this truly amazing steakhouse.  Most notable besides the Western stylized décor are the nude photo’s of famous Western outlaw wives!  We received a Pendleton hat for drinking some and Linda/Lynette of the Kiwanis introduced us to the “save-the-date” for the 2009 Bikers in the Blues motorcycle rally.

Up early Friday and headed South on US 395.  I like to think of this route as Oregon’s “mother road”.  US 395 is a 1400-mile stretch which runs from the Canadian border in Washington state to San Diego, CA.  We rode out through Pilot Rock then in the middle of one of the small gorges there is a junction to OR74 which enters Morrow county and then Heppner Hwy.  Heppner has upgraded from years ago when I passed through on Eastern OR hunting trips.  With the Willow Creek dam you’d think it was a major water recreational resort.

We separated from the “official” OR HOG Rally route which veered off to Condon then on to Welches, OR for an overnight in the “snow”.  Instead we headed directly to the “surf” part of the trip, arriving in Seaside in time for a well deserved happy hour and to meet some friends who rode directly to the coast.

On Saturday we were treated to a one-in-a-million type day on the OR coast.  Mid-70’s, blue sky and NO wind.  Did I say there was NO wind.  Incredible!  It was a rare t-shirt riding day and Santiago invited everyone over to his Manzanita “Villa” for breakfast…there we were…perched high on the sand dune above the valley in the hills we were treated like royalty at the Hotel Piccolo Mondo in Acquappesa, on the Calabrian coast in Italy.  Very Tuscany!

For now I’ll reserve another post/rant about the “Goin’ Coastal” aka the Seaside Biker Fest.  Suffice to say it was most lame.  Sure there was a tattoo artist, bike builder and a couple t-shirt vendors…but, I’ve seen more activity at Taco Wednesday’s than in Seaside.   We manage to have a lot of fun even without vendor booths to spend our money.

Here is what I’ve learned on the OR HOG Rally.

  1. It’s HOT in Pendleton and cold in Seaside.
  2. The smell of wheat fields and ocean air isn’t something you get in a car
  3. Harley riders cannot be stereotyped.  There is the rich and famous to trailer trash and all in-between!
  4. Harley riders are some of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet.

The event was well planned out and Cindy (HOG Director) Wayne Schumacher and the HOG Rally Committee deserves a shout-out.  The rides were long, scenic and PERFECT weather.  There’s no pleasing everyone and I say get out and ride, whether your doing a poker run, rally or just on your own this is the time of year to get into the Northwest riding zone.

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