I have had some folks ask me to post up re: good roads etc from my trip to Oregon and Washington State. I don’t have the time or energy (or talent) to post up complete trip reports like Jeckyll or GSP (BTW, awesome reports guys with amazing pictures), so here is a brief (kinda brief?) summary with some tips thrown in for folks thinking of longer trips this year or next. Unfortunately, I don’t tend to take a lot of pictures when travelling – I tend to be more of a ‘get there in a hurry’ rider without picture stops. Some of the group pictures here are courtesy of www.vfrdiscussion.com. I also didn’t track my mileage – but there were some long, but very enjoyable, days. Any reference to a DH # road is from the Destinations Highway book.
Day 1 (Thursday) – Vancouver to Hood River, Oregon with an afternoon around Mt St Helens
Mt St Helens venting a little steam.
I am sure there is a bad road around Mt St Helens, but I didn’t find it. After a quick slab down I-5 to Woodland, Highways 503 and 25 from Woodland to the entrance to the Windy Ridge road (DH 51 and most of DH 4) is a great road – one of the best I’ve ever ridden… constant variety of corners with the occasional hairpin thrown in. The Windy Ridge road (Highway 99) up to the lookout (DH 2) is an amazing road that demands attention and features some intimidating drop offs - and some scary motorcycle skid marks too – one that I saw went into a rock face, one into a ditch and one went right off a cliff! Pic below is taken in twilight - a skid mark off a cliff!
The balance of DH 4 (Highway 25) from the Windy Ridge entrance north to Randle is OK, but bumpy an a little boring after the previous stretch.
The best stretch for me was part of Highways 51 and 30 (DH 19), from Northwoods south to Carson – specifically a stretch on Wind River Road (part of Highway 30) where in the middle of nowhere 52 perfect, banked corners (counted by DH, not me!) are crammed into 6 miles. Instead of the usual '30 mph corner ahead’ sign, you get a ‘30 mph for the next 6 miles’ sign. It is as if some crazy tire engineer decided to put a bike tire test track in the middle of an old growth forest – I turned around and did this stretch twice. For the second rip down this piece of heaven, I switched my Ipod over to Mozart’s “Ode to Joy” (London Symphony version from the ‘Immortal Beloved’ soundtrack) and cranked the volume and the gas. The result was truly one of those once in a lifetime “thank God I am alive moments” that only the perfect convergence of time, place and the total sensory overload that only a ripping bike can produce. After the burning in my legs died down and my pegs cooled off, south the Hood River.
TIP – If you are going down to Mt St Helens, make sure your tires are in good shape. I basically wore out a pretty good Diablo in one afternoon. Also, gas up at Cougar when you pass through. I gassed up at Woodland, went up Windy Ridge and limped back to Cougar on fumes. The VFR has good range too – the gas station guys there said bikes are always running out of gas trying to make it back to Cougar. When in the mountains, I always gassed up even if I had half a tank or more. For some reason, on these roads I got lousy gas mileage.
Day 2 (Friday) – Hood River to Newport, Oregon
Highways 15, 42 and 22 were all good roads with beautiful scenery and some nice curves, but the highlight of the trip was an amazing ride through FS 11, from the Highway 22 junction through the Middle Santium Wilderness to Sweet Home, Oregon. Blink and you will miss the turnoff. It is basically a one hour ride on a deserted one and occasionally 2 lane back road with trees growing right to the edge of the road, unmarked corners, bumps and some rocks (envision a single lane Duffey Lake Road) and virtually no traffic. I led our little group (5 bikes) through this stretch and felt like I was doing some bizarro version of the Isle of Mann. Leaning into blind corners with bushes whacking your shoulders every now and then – not everyone’s cup of tea, but a technical and challenging road. A couple of the newer riders also enjoyed the road immensely at a slower pace. After that bit of hooliganism, Highway 34 west to Waldport is excellent, with some fabulous twisties around Alsea. Did this road again on Saturday too.
Days 3 and 4 (the weekend) – around Newport, and up to Portland on Sunday
Some nice backloads around Newport, but they pale in comparison to the roads around Mt St Helens. Had a VFR get together in Newport and parked the bikes Saturday night in the Rogue brewery in Newport. Had a blast with a great group of riders – and sampled way too much of Rogue’s products.
Stopping to regroup
Bikes in the Rogue Brewery
Day 5 – (Monday) Portland to Yakima (via Hood River & Mt St Helens)
Portland eastbound to Hood River offers nice scenery along Highway 84 as it skirts the Columbia River, but the treat is the famous Rowena Curves about 10 miles east of Hood River. I put on a new Diablo Corsa rear tire in Portland Monday morning (at this point the old rear tire was slip, sliding away) and needed to break it in… no better place than Rowena. The curves are amazing but the ride is over in a couple of minutes… but well worth it.
An equally good road is from the Rowena lookout to Mosier to the west. Then back to Hood River across the Hood River Toll Bridge (50 cent toll for bikes) and back to Mt St Helens, where my brand new rear tire got two punctures simultaneously near Carson, Washington. Never had two punctures at the same time before.
TIP - Always have a patch kit with you, and a small little bicycle hand pump if possible. After patching the first, easy-to-spot hole (an obvious piece of what looked like very sharp slate pierced the tire), I wanted to make sure the patch held so I used the hand pump before using the CO2 cartridges. The hand pump revealed a second hole we couldn’t see near the first one. Patched that one too, and then re-checked with the hand pump – got the tire up to 15 psi with the pump. Once it held that pressure for a while, then used the CO2 to pump it up enough to get the tire repaired. If you need a tire repaired in the area, good ol’ Bob the owner of The Skamania Tire & Auto Centre at 1881 Windriver Rd in Carson unmounted the tire from the rim, replaced both my plugs and internally patched the tire - did an amazing job for only $8. But beware: you have to remove your own wheel from your bike (ol’ redneck Bob don’t remove dem bike wheels) – not a problem with the VFR, with a centre stand and 4 lug nuts from the single-sided swingarm, it couldn’t be easier (insert smug VFR owner comment here).
I tested Bob’s repair job with another rip up Windy Ridge around 6:30 pm, this time with no traffic. The only vehicle I passed on the way up was a guy on a BMW GS, who said that as I passed him and exited a very tight corner, I left a very nice black arc on the road. I have a feeling the Corsa is not going to last too long at this rate – although I did have the loaded hardbags on and a lot of weight over the rear tire.
A night ride up to Yakima on Highway 12 going through White Pass (DH 7) at night was fun, although you don’t get to see the stunning scenery at night. The lights on the VFR are amazing – the stock 4 big halogens lit up the road very well and I could keep a steady 80 mph clip at night – slower when the dreaded “wildlife” signs were around. Luckily, no wildlife to be seen. Lotsa fun flicking the bike through corners and watch the lights sway left and right through the curves. I pulled into Yakima around 9:45.
TIP – When travelling by bike, I will often stay at motels for comfort and a good night’s sleep, but I will camp and tent it occasionally as well. When choosing a hotel, my first question is how much, and my second question is where can I park the bike. I have found Holiday Inn Expresses to be the most accommodating – on this trip they twice allowed me to park the bike near the hotel’s front door in a well lit area where the bike was visible to the desk clerk all night… nice and as secure as possible. I also got them to match the price of the cheaper, less accommodating hotels.
Bike parked for the night at the hotel front door in Yakima
Day 6 – (Tuesday) Yakima to Vancouver
After picking up a new puncture kit at Les Schwab in Yakima, a morning run through the Yakima River valley on Highway 821 (DH 38) offers some nice views but a frustrating 45 mph speed limit with cops evident. The rest of the trip to Winthrop is boring but the gravy is a quick and lonely trip through the Cascades on Highway 20 (the fabled DH 1) – very little mid-week traffic and no police from Winthrop to Marblemount – thank god! Home for dinner on Tuesday.
One last tip – If you plan to ride in the States, you may want to invest in a Nexus card. After a long day riding, zipping through customs with no wait while passing a 40 to 45 minutes line-up is priceless.
If you plan to ride around Mt St Helens, the roads there eat a lot of bikes each year, so be very careful you first time around, and enjoy some of the best roads (and best maintained roads!) you will ever ride.
PS - I meant to add pictures in the text and ended up with links instead - oh well, you get the idea!