“Shit!… are you kidding me?!? I don’t know about this. Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!” (Or possibly stronger oaths.)
Those are the words I gasped in my headset to my dear man as the pavement suddenly deteriorated to something formerly known as asphalt. The sand and gravel covering it didn’t help matters. The unexpectedly unruly terrain had my bike dancing over its surface like a slapstick comedian trying to walk on ball bearings and banana peels.
This was my introduction to the Coos Bay Wagon Road in Oregon that he had joyfully selected as part of our route earlier that morning.
“Do you want to turn back?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said as my motorcycle wriggled like a restless toddler underneath me.
I took a few deep breaths and got rational. No. Backtracking was counter-productive. Suck it up. Ride. In spite of my confidence issues since last year’s crash, this isn’t that big of a deal. I reminded myself that I know how to do this. The situation is simply a surprise. How far could it be on this old logging road anyway, right?
The ball-bearings on glass scenario shifted to dirt and gravel. But with tight twisties. And then I found myself staring wide-eyed at a massive logging truck barreling at me around a blind corner on the narrow road.
More epithets ensued, of course, as I quickly corrected for the situation.
Those were only to myself this time. To my dear man, it was a calm “There’s a logging truck coming. Watch out.” That was the mom instinct kicking in. Finally. Project calm while internally freaking out. And not letting on how dicey the situation was for me.
It was then that I realized I was outriding him. He was not in my mirrors. I slowed to close the gap but he was way back, something that’s never happened before given his level of riding skills compared to mine. But on a new bike not equipped for this riding; a low sport-touring beast with no skid plate and a wide rear tire that might as well be a bouncy-ball on this terrain. My BMW F700GS was the better bike for the job, in spite of my lesser skills.
But that was more than mid-way through a 1,300-mile trip that started 4 days earlier.
A change of plans
So what do you do when your original plan for a motorcycle trip is waylaid by extreme temperatures and wildfires? You reroute, of course. That’s how I found myself wandering through northern California and Oregon instead of moseying my way south through the eastern Sierra.
The Independence Day holiday was approaching and we anticipated increasing traffic as the weekend approached. Our goal was to escape the brutal desert heat but avoid the building holiday traffic.
Not having ridden much in the west, this is all very new and challenging for me. I’ve been working on my skills on day trips in the eastern Sierra but the intensity of a seven-day trip of twisties and grades far more intense than in the east forced me to up my game considerably.
My lackadaisical trip (yes, only 1,300 miles in seven days) wound from Carson City, Nevada to Eureka, California up to Coos Bay, Oregon, then back east around Crater Lake before returning to northern Nevada.
All in all, an excellent riding route. The Coos Bay Wagon Road was initially daunting but I eventually found my groove and ended up enjoying the ride. My dear man was having less of a good time. When we reached pavement again we felt triumphant. Then the road reverted to living up to its name, and we had to make a decision.
After chatting with a local and finding out we were looking at 20 more miles of slow-going, messy terrain, my partner gave that route a big thumbs down. By then, my tune had changed and I was kind of digging the idea of some more dirt. But it wasn’t worth risking damage to his bike, which isn’t designed for this kind of riding. Its low clearance on a rough road made the likelihood of busting his oil pan very high. And that would put an end to the trip. So we ended up backtracking to stay on more established throughways.
Keep in mind, this is the guy who looked at his 10-year-old map and said, “Hey, let’s try the wagon road. It’s probably paved by now.” We did consult Google Earth and saw plenty of blacktop. But we didn’t check the entire length of the road. Adventure travel. 🙂
You know I’ve got some serious road-trip cred in my trusty Subaru Forester and while there are some overlapping challenges, motorcycle trips require an extra level of badassery. Contending with exposure and vulnerability make a two-wheel adventure a very different beast from a car journey. The truth is it doesn’t matter what kind of trip you’re on, there are always challenges. This is life, yes?
For this particular excursion, beyond still getting familiar with western riding, here are some of the more “memorable” challenges:
- The heat in the valleys in the first two days made every mile feel like three or four. We fought to stay hydrated and keep our minds sharp in the numbing heat. It was soul-sucking.
- We hit a number (ok, a lot…) of construction zones. The kind where you can wait up to 30 minutes for a pilot car. On scorching black asphalt in full gear, you can imagine the discomfort. At one point we had to park our bikes on the shoulder and scramble to the paltry shade of the only pathetic, scrawny tree in sight for a scrap of shade so that we didn’t roast.
- Oh, Oregon, you do know how to blow a motorcycle around. I’m no stranger to intense weather and wind on the bike but the Oregon coast takes the cake on unpredictable, erratic winds. Gusts shifting around you constantly means you don’t know which direction the next blast is coming from. That kind of riding takes its toll. By the time you’re off the bike for the day, you feel like you’ve been in a boxing ring getting pummeled for hours on end.
- My western bike, a gorgeous BMW F700GS, isn’t quite yet dialed in on ergonomics like my darling Moto Guzzi (“Nina”) in Georgia. That means fatigue from poor positioning; mainly throttle hand cramping and numbness. That will tire you out quickly. Hence the only 1,300 miles in seven days.
- The heat and fatigue contributed to exhaustion that kept me from being productive at night. I know that’s not an issue for most folks out for a jolly trip, but it’s a reality of my blogger life and it became a point of frustration.
Of course the reasons we adventurer-types do this is for the rewards; the groovy discoveries along the way.
- It was my first visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park. This not-well-known park is breathtaking and includes some seriously fun riding. I’m bookmarking it for much more exploration in the future.
- This trip also took me to Crater Lake National Park for the first time. By the time we arrived, the holiday crowds had already descended on the park. It was a madhouse. Another bookmark set for better timing.
- We found several charming mom-and-pop motels. Complete with actual, honest-to-goodness keys to the rooms and owners running the front desk. And a retro mountain resort where time appears to have stopped in the 1970s. Very old school but fun.
- We found unique, yummy places to eat. Local breweries, hamburger joints, cafes — they were ripe for the picking. I will admit to putting on a few pounds on this trip. Totally worth it.
- All along the way, we met great people. Being on motorcycles just seems to make you more accessible and both riders and non-riders always love to chat about where you’re going.
- The riding was phenomenal. I love my mellow, southern roads but the exhilaration that comes with the terrain here makes the heart pitter-pat.
Would I do it again?
Yep. Absolutely. Great roads. Great riding. On a second go, I would either compress this trip down to five days or add on some miles to make it a fuller seven days. And just know what I’m getting into on the Coos Bay Wagon Road in advance. Then attack it with gusto!
Some more random images from a crazy motorcycle adventure!
George Jacoby says
Haven’t been out there since ’65 – you make me want to go back!
Excellent. Do it. 🙂
Steve Zigler says
That sounds like a ton of fun. I’m glad you had yourself an adventure and I enjoyed the read. I’ve never been to Lassen (yet). I’m glad you finally made it to Crater Lake. The night skies can be awesome there. 😉
Lassen is over-the-top gorgeous. I was blown away.
I’ll leave the night sky fun to you, my friend. 😀