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Butt Rider Award

Butt Rider Award

Before the final rider had packed up the saddlebags and rumbled out of Hells Canyon a couple weeks ago the local press were reporting on the arrests and accident stats.

Fortunately there were no fatalities, but several riders were severely injured and a few have a long recovery ahead of them.  I hope for the best!

As background, there were about 5,000 riders who converged on the surrounding area of Baker City.  I’ve already reported how there were widespread thunderstorms with heavy rain alternated with sunshine throughout the weekend.  There were two rally-related arrests which resulted from an intoxicated rider trying to move his motorcycle from the street lineup and crashed into 3 other motorcycles.  Yeah, that would aggravate me too!  George Twardus (Portland) was arrested for drunk driving.  Compounding that situation was one of his new friends from Baker City who decided to sneak off with the motorcycle and was arrested for unlawful use of a motorcycle and tampering with evidence. According to the reports police showed significant restraint as the riding group with Mr. Tawardus were acting out and expressing their freedom of speech.  I have dedicated a “Butt Rider” award to them!  In addition, there were a couple of other local residents arrested over the weekend for fighting outside a bar, but it was described by Police Chief Lohner as just part of a typical Saturday night in Baker City, and had nothing to do with the rally.

Baker City had 13 calls related to the rally, including eight motorcycle crashes.  The weather likely contributed to some of the motorcycle crashes, but rider skills certainly had a part too.  Four of the injured were flown out either by helicopter or plane.  In addition, there were a couple of motorcycle accidents reported in the Richland area including the hit and run accident with Rick Meigs which I reported on previously.  It turns out that this year’s rally was comparable to the number of accidents in 2007, but much worse than 2008.

And speaking of “Butt Rider” awards… as a visitor to eastern Oregon, I have a couple observations to pass along:

  1. Uninvited Guests — If a group of 4-6 riders are clearly in a group together then other riders not part of that group shouldn’t cut in to ride as if you’ve found your long lost riding buddies.  Often without warning we saw people dart/cut into our group vs. go on around – even with plenty of passing space.  Sure some riders were looking to pass and wanted to make sure there was clearance, but others cut in and behaved as if they planned to join the group?!  I know the skills of our riding group, but I wouldn’t know if the “cutter” has been riding motorcycles for 30 years, or 13 minutes — who knows and that concerns me.  I’m more than okay in sharing the roadways, but there was some stupidity being displayed and on several occasions we were forced to brake heavy to make way.
  2. Secret Motorcycle Wave — To me it is amazing to see folks waving or trying to wave at all the fellow riders when there is a big rally in an area.  And I’m not talking about the two-finger flip or the helmet nod, but the left hand high in the air “Hi Mom, I’m so excited to be out here and one of the gang” type waves!  Great way to avoid accidents on wet S-curves with 100’s of participants on the road.  Not!
  3. Hunting Season – is it me or is it you?  It must have been the time of year as I observed several riders (namely Idaho plates) displaying holstered firearms for all to see.  Sure, Oregon has a rich hunting heritage, but packing “heat” at a motorcycle rally should not be encouraged and certainly does nothing to promote conversation or relationship building.  I’m not anti-gun and own firearms like many of you.  I treat all firearms as if they are loaded and these guys were twitchy.  I don’t know these characters or what the potential target was and felt as though I should put on a blaze orange vest so as to not be confused with any live animal!

I’m of the viewpoint that a motorcycle rally has a couple of purposes beyond vendor booths and the camaraderie of enjoying wind in your face with friends  I’m sure there are others, but one is to raise awareness with the general public, that they are sharing the roadways with motorcycles.  Another might be to promote motorcycle safe riding practices and that as a large loosely aligned group of motorcycle enthusiasts, we can and are well behaved.  Some more than others I suppose…

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HellsCanyonOR_mapAfter what seemed like an endless night of chatting voices and the occasional AC/DC rocking through the school ground all was quiet and I settled into the two-man tent and mummy style sleeping bag.  With the rain showers and 45 degree temperatures everything was slimed with dew even with a rain fly.

I know my way around the outdoors, but I’m in no way a boy scout or survivalist camper.  Motorcycle camping is much more comparable to bicycle camping than car camping due to the limited storage capacity.  Often the same equipment as backpackers is used because of lighter weights and compact dimensions associated with the backpacking equipment.  I had one saddle bag allocated to tent, rain fly, mat, sleeping bag, torso air-mat, mini-chair and compression pillow.  The magic is called stuff sacks!

HalfwayMy plan was to be just comfortable enough and since I had previously purchased most of the items for other activities it wouldn’t be expensive to pull together this camping gig. I wasn’t traversing Mt. Everest, or hiking the 3 Sisters Trail and food/stove/cookware were left at home because in my simple world… coffee and food was picked up along the way. Because in the Northwest it tends to rain, a good tent is important. A sleeping bag that is comfortable below freezing is important too. However, the mummy bag was like a restraint.  I kept thinking would a sleeping bag that weighs 2 pounds vs. 3 really have mattered?  No!  Space was the key and I could have fit a square bag.  The old school Therm-a-rest air pad provided some comfort, but not nearly as cushy as the oversized Outdoor Research thick air mats.  The good news is that in today’s compression sack world everything is about twice as small as a few years ago.

Rick Meigs Accident

Rick Meigs Accident

Note to Steve and the HCMR planners… make sure next year there is coffee in the high school gym.  They could have paid for 3 teachers salary had they set up a coffee stand even with 3-day old donuts from Safeway!  Nothing worse than a karaoke hangover and no coffee for miles!  Okay enough on the camping adventure.

We broke camp, re-packed the bikes (interestingly after everything gets wet it doesn’t compress as well – go figure!) and headed toward the McCafe’ and official event booths at the Best Western.  Our plan was a casual ride on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and overnight in LaGrande.  The ride follows Hwy 86 a national designated scenic byway. The route circles the Wallowa Mountains by way of Halfway and Joseph then north through the small towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa.  There were thousands of curves and plenty of motorcycle traffic.

Hells Canyon Lookout

Hells Canyon Lookout

Between Hole-in-the-Wall-Slide and Richland there were two motorcycle accidents within a quarter mile of each other.  Neither of them related, but both made everyone take a moment of pause.  The first was a lady that failed to negotiate a curve and rode off the road and down into the ditch.  Not life threatening, but she was taken away by ambulance.  The second and much more serious was Rick Meigs getting clipped by a vehicle that “crossed the center line.”  It was a hit and run. He was taken by ambulance to Baker City where they performed emergency surgery to stabilize him then he was flown by Life Flight to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise Idaho, where he is now, in critical condition. I don’t know Rick and researched this accident on the web after coming up on the scene.  Nonetheless, send your prayers and/or follow updates on his progress HERE.

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

"Posse" at Hells Canyon Lookout

Beyond Halfway, the road becomes a paved Forest Service stretch as it climbs over a pass toward Joseph. This road has a lot of switchbacks and ‘over-the-cliff’ moments so you’ll want to be most alert through the area.  We took a break at the Hells Canyon Overlook, but was unable to pick out the Seven Devils on the horizon due to the approaching rain storm.  Within 15 minutes there was solid rain so, we moved on and continue toward Joseph in full rain gear.  It was wet and slow going in the canyons.  The big corner preceding Joseph is one of those turns you typically never forget as The Wallowas come into view behind Joseph like a movie scene out of the Swiss Alps.  We stopped for lunch and to dry out a bit.  After Joseph there is a great stretch of motorcycle road through the Wallowa Valley and the mountain towns of Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. We finish the loop on I-84 in La Grande, Or., as the Historic Baker City bars were no longer calling our name.  Neither were the tents!  We checked into a motel and proceeded directly to the hot tub to warm up.

Hells Canyon Rally Wrap Up – Day 1 HERE and Day 3 HERE.

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