One thing that I love about the High Desert climate is that no matter how hot the day is, once the sun goes down, it’s nice and cool. Yesterday was a scorcher, touching triple digits. Today promises to be just as hot. Last night, I was able to turn off the air conditioning in my room in the BEST WESTERN Skyline Motor Lodge. I opened the windows and enjoyed the cool desert air, and I slept like a desert log. This morning, I feel great. I wolf down some of the free hot food in the breakfast room, and I study my maps.
Even though motorcycle touring is a lot about spontaneity for me, sometimes I nail down events that are tightly scheduled. I’m riding west to Medford, and on the way, I’m going to stop in Ashland, Oregon and see if I can get a ticket to a performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a professional non-profit regional theater that has been in operation since 1935. Every year, the OSF presents an 11-play season (four by Shakespeare, seven by classic and contemporary playwrights). The OSF has three theaters, one of which is an outdoor modern replica of an Elizabethan playhouse. The OSF will present 790 performances in 2012, employing nearly 575 theater professionals. It is right in the heart of downtown Ashland, and acts as the anchor for a very literate and artistic little town.
Most of the OSF’s tickets are sold in advance on subscription, but I know that there are always last-minute cancellations and odd availabilities at any theater. So I slide in to the box office, and I’m delighted to discover that a single ticket has just become available for tonight’s 8:30 pm performance of Animal Crackers, a play with music adapted from the classic 1930 Marx Brothers movie. With a book by George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind, and music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, how could it be bad? I am really looking forward to seeing how they handle the Marx Brothers — will they do impersonations or will they create new characters?
After picking up my ticket, I ride through Ashland and ride 15 miles north to Medford, where I check in to the BEST WESTERN Horizon Inn and check in to my room. I’ll be staying here for two nights, which is really unusual for me on my motorcycle trips. But there’s so much to see in the area that I’m going to need to stick around.
It’s really hot in Medford today — it has been hot all day. So I change into my swim trunks, and take a dip in the big outdoor pool across from my room. A nice clean
pool is such a great luxury on a motorcycle trip. I’m so glad that I remembered to pack my suit, as I emerge from the cool waters refreshed and ready for the evening.
I’m at one of those creases in time right now. I know that there are plenty of fancy restaurants in Ashland, but I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and if I head to Ashland now, I’ll be wandering in the heat for hours. I decide to have a simple dinner at the Black Bear Diner, which shares a parking lot with the BEST WESTERN Skyline Inn. The Black Bear Diner is part of a small western chain of restaurants, with 50 locations and growing. I’ve eaten at one before, and if you’ve got to eat at a chain, this is one of the good ones. Traditional, straightforward American food at reasonable prices — just what I’m looking for this evening. I have a turkey club and some fries, and I’m ready to attack Ashland.
Oregon Route 99 connects Medford and Oregon, paralleling Interstate-5 in a much more sedate fashion. There’s not much to see between the two towns — just some industrial parks, mobile homes and car repair shops. Ashland nestles in some hills, and is a pastoral, lovely little city of 20,000. Ashland Creek runs right through downtown. People of all ages are out walking, bicycling, sitting and enjoying the tree-shaded streets.
I’ve arrived early for my show, so I find a convenient parking spot for the Electra Glide and set off on foot to explore downtown. I discover two great — and I mean GREAT — music stores, each with astonishing selections of new and used CDs and vinyl records. The Music Coop at 268 East Main Street has one of the best blues and early rock sections I’ve perused; and CD or Not CD at 343 East Main Street specializes in Punk and Indie Rock. I’m sure the students at nearby Southern Oregon University are thrilled to have these great stores in their town.
There are dozens of antique stores, book shops, boutiques and art galleries downtown, too, and I wander in and out of the ones that catch my eye. I wind up buying an antique Art Deco pin for my wife in one store — she’ll like that, and it won’t take up much room on the bike.
Finally, it’s time to hike across to the August Bowen Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I spend the next two and a half hours laughing at the exploits of Captain Spaulding. The production is great; an inspired interpretation of the Marx Brothers’ style, not a slavish impersonation. I had a great time. I’d go see it again, and that’s saying something for me.
It’s eleven o’clock when the curtain falls on Rittenhouse Manor. I collect the Electra Glide, gear up and ride back up to Medford. I decide to take the dreaded Interstate route, because I noticed lots of places along OR-99 that would be prime locations for a deer or elk crossing, which I have no desire to deal with this evening (or any evening). Deer and elk are abundant in Oregon, and they are most active after dark. They have the nasty habit of jumping out in front of a motorcycle and freezing when
they see the headlight, and they can be very difficult to avoid. Given the option of riding along a dark, tree-lined rural route or a well-lit interstate highway, I’ll choose the highway for a quick 15-mile blast. It’s much safer, even if it’s not much fun.
I arrive safely back at the BEST WESTERN Horizon Inn, and collapse into my room. This was a long, hot satisfying day. Tomorrow promises to be another animal altogether.
Miles Ridden: 228.3
NEXT: Central Oregon Motorcycle Trip, Day Four: Medford