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2009 Oregon Birthday Trip, Day 2

  • Posted on May 12, 2009 at 7:41 am

Day 2, May 12, 2009. Lava Hot Springs, Idaho to John Day, Oregon.  452 Miles.


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The next morning I noticed that one of the screws had fallen off of the passenger backrest; I needed to replace it before heading out or else the whole backrest would vanish somewhere along the way. Walking around town, I found a busy but unassuming restaurant with a lot of pickup trucks parked outside.  According to conventional wisdom, that’s the clue for a great place for breakfast; go where the locals eat. I went in, and was greeted by sudden stares followed by silence from the patrons. Was it my age? That I was a stranger in town? My motorcycle pants and jacket? I sat down at the counter (yes, they had a counter) and told the guy next to me that I was riding to Oregon, that I thought Lava Hot Springs was really nice town, and wondered where I could find a metric bolt.

Ah, a metric bolt. After several of the regulars wondered why I wasn’t riding a Harley, they finally decided that the place across the street was the most likely place to score a metric bolt, but it didn’t open until 9.  So I went back to the motel, packed up and stopped by the shop.  Indeed, he had a metric bolt and it fit; he even put it on and didn’t charge me.  The day was off to a good start.

It went downhill fast. I stopped at the rest area where US 30 meets the interstate, and discovered that Idaho has some really strange people:

The road west to Boise is not very beautiful; to relieve the monotony I though I’d get off at Jermone and find the country’s newest national monument, the site of the WWII Minidoka Japanese relocation center.  I wasted an hour driving around Jerome, Idaho, without luck.  In the course of the trip, I bounced around some potholes which – although I didn’t know it – broke the ham radio transceiver that was beaming my location back to Georgia.

The wind picked up.

Even though my bike is heavy and pretty stable, the wind started to really get to me; the windshield whistled, and the bike was being buffeted from side to side. As I came down to the bridge over the Snake River gorge, I looked at the guard rails, which weren’t all that high, and began to get very nervous. A truck driver behind me saw what was happening, flashed his lights at me, straddled the two lanes with his 18 wheeler, and slowed down to about 40 mph and drove with his blinkers on so that I could ride across the bridge in the middle of the interstate in some safety. Thank God. I like truckers.

Boise just before the rush hour is not a pleasant drive, and it’s worse if there’s massive construction. Had I only realized that Georgia’s cousin’s daughter lived nearby …

But onward to Oregon.

First state with mandatory helmet laws.

Oregon has a silly law that prohibits self service gas pumps. Instead of letting you do it yourself, you have to wait until some kid comes by, takes your credit card, and fills your tank. It’s a really bad idea to let someone else fill a motorcycle tank, though, because they can easily scratch the chrome or overfill it and get gas all over your seat. So the law was recently amended; now the attendant has to run your credit card, turn on the pump, hand you the nozzle and stand by watching while you fill the tank. The kid at the first gas station in Oregon didn’t know that, and managed to spill quite a bit on the gas tank.

It was getting late, but I still figured that John Day would easy to reach. Only one small mountain pass and about 175 miles. Piece of cake. Right.

The map of US 26 north from Vale shows several towns along the way. Well, they may have once been small towns, but now they’re mere crossroads, with no people to be seen. It was getting colder, and there was an ugly black cloud ahead. And no cars. None. I stopped at one of the crossroads and put on my jacket liner and proceeded up the pass. Where it started to snow. Big, thick, wet flakes that stuck on the windshield, but fortunately not on the road. My pavement tires are not made with traction in mind. Pretty soon the highway ahead was invisible through the windshield, so I stood up on the floorboards – and got smacked by snow that covered my visor.

There was a campground ahead, and I stopped for about 15 minutes to warm up and regroup. In the only shelter available – the Forest Service toilet.

After a few minutes of seriously wondering why in the hell I was doing this, I got back on the machine and proceeded up to the crest of the pass and then down the other side.  Fortunately, the weather improved as I rolled down towards the faded old mining town of John Day.  I hadn’t made reservations, and didn’t need them, and picked a place based upon the fact that there were two motorcycles out front.  Bad choice.  From the goth high school girl at the front desk to the strong smell of antiseptic in the room, it was not good. But it was a bed.

I called Georgia, who was understandably concerned because I’d been out of cell phone range for hours and my ham radio tracking device showed my last location somewhere near Preston, Idaho.

2009 Oregon Birthday Trip – Day 1

  • Posted on May 11, 2009 at 7:00 am

I have been enjoying reading and vicariously living the ride reports on the Adventure Riders forum, and thought perhaps it would be time to try my hand at one of my own.

May 18, 2009 was a big birthday for my sister, and what better present to send her than — me!  It was a perfect excuse to take off from work (I would not officially retire for nearly a year) and visit her in Oregon.

It took some persuading, but Georgia was finally OK with it, and I packed up my motorcycle and got ready to take off.

Day 1, May 11, 2009: Rifle, Colorado to Lava Hot Springs, Idaho 452 Miles


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When Georgia took this last picture, I’m reasonably sure that she didn’t think she’d ever see me again!

I wasn’t too sure about it either; the longest trip I’d ever taken before then was to visit Danny and Tess Niemann in Pueblo, and I really didn’t know how many miles were optimum for one days’ travel, whether my motorcycle and body could handle it, etc.

Stopped for gas in Rangely. The VTX has a relatively small gas tank and a range of 120-140 miles. Which is just about right, because my body needs a break every couple of hours, too. Rode through Dinosaur, one of the cities Ed Sands represents, and soon entered the first new state, Utah:

Blasted through to Vernal, passing the motel that I’d taken Terry, Jackie and Becky to visit so long ago. Then up towards Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The altitude went up and the temperature went down, and I saw a little snow along the way. Not good. Manila, Utah, was not very remarkable, so I went on and soon arrived in Wyoming:

The road from Manila to Rock Springs, Wyoming was without doubt the most desolate stretch of road I’d been on to that point. The scenery looked like the photos from the Mars Rover, there was a strong crosswind, it was cold, and there was absolutely no traffic. The road was smooth, but every so often I saw buzzards circling over – what, a cow carcass? A foolish motorcycle rider? Needless to say, I was very happy to get to Rock Springs.

Headed west on the “superslab” (I-80) to Little America; got more gas and then pretty soon left the endless parade of triple truck trains for US 30. Very forgettable part of the trip. I was looking on the Google Streetview and don’t really remember much about it.

J.C. Penney’s first store was in Kemmerer, Wyoming. I thought it might be worth a visit.

It wasn’t. Other than the sign outside, it was just a small Penney’s store. I would have thought that they would put a small museum or something to commemorate the history of the place, but they didn’t. Too bad.

Mistake #1: I took the Park Service old person’s free pass and intended to stop at every national park and national monument along the way; because I thought I had to hurry, I passed by Fossil Butte National Monument.

As I approached the turnoff to Idaho, the weather improved, and the traffic picked up.

Third state in one day. As I left Wyoming, I passed up a last chance to stock up on some M-80’s.

The road sign was built in 1940 to mark the 50th anniversary of Idaho’s admission to the union.

I like these sort of signs. They’re much more interesting than the bland ones you see now.

I should have stopped just about here. But I had made reservations at a motel in Lava Hot Springs. The route took me on the same road that Cathy and I had ridden in the Idaho Bicycle Tour some years earlier, although in reverse, from Montpelier to Soda Springs. For some reason, I remembered all of the rest stops, and a really strange high school in the middle of nowhere. It was getting late, and I was very glad when I got to Lava Hot Springs and the beautiful Alpaca Inn.  This was the first time I’d made a reservation based upon the reviews in Trip Advisor, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s an old motel off the beaten path that was meticulously restored and is beautiful inside and out.  I gave it a very favorable Trip Advisor review.

The two ladies who had restored it were very pleasant, more so after I took off my helmet and revealed the balding white hair. The only other guest was some sort of construction worker in a pickup truck. Their restoration included a cool playground. I’d like to come back.

Lava Hot Springs is one of those places time forgot; it was popular 90 years ago as a mineral bath cure for folks from Pocatello and Salt Lake City; when the Interstate and medical science passed it by, nothing changed. There are several places to take the cure, but I avoided them all. It’s a charming little town.

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