When it’s going to be hot, get on the road early. I keep moving my alarm clock earlier and earlier this week, as I am caught in the middle of a heat wave that threatens to break records. It’s very tempting to shed the gear in the heat — lose the heavy jacket, lose the Kevlar riding pants, swap out the full-face helmet for a shorty. Don’t do it. Not only is it risky, leaving you unprepared for a crash, it also makes you more vulnerable to the heat. You get hot, you sweat, and the hot wind speeds evaporation. You get dehydrated more quickly, and your body never gets cooled off the way it’s supposed to with perspiration. Before you know it, you’re looking at a case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a very dangerous condition made even more dangerous by the fact that you’re operating a motorcycle. Gear up. All The Gear All The Time. End of sermon.
I drink a few extra glasses of water with my breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Inn at Horse Heaven, and I make sure to buy a couple extra bottles of water for my TourPak when I stop for gas. I’m too early to do much exploring in Prosser — none of the shops or attractions are open when I cruise through town. Prosser strikes me as a very unpretentious alternative to California’s Wine Country. The vineyards are smaller, more intimate, and the tasting rooms less fancy. The hotel has tons of brochures for wine country tours — really the smart way to do it. Driving from vineyard to vineyard on your own seems like fun, but you’d better have a designated driver with you, because even a few sips of wine here and there can get you blotto in a hurry. A tour company can chauffeur you from tasting to tasting, and deliver you back to your hotel safely. And the tour companies know where the best wines are being made, and who has the friendliest tasting rooms.
I ride south out of Prosser on WA-221. The road rises quickly into the Horse Heaven Hills, revealing a high plateau of grassland and vineyards. Prosser stays behind in the valley below, and I’m riding through a high desert landscape, with hardy native plants scattered between beautiful flat meadows of light brown grass swaying in the wind. Occasionally I pass a few horses out in their pasture, a few hardy cattle lolling in the heat, and lonely farmhouses surrounded by clusters of shade trees.
After about 25 miles, the plateau falls off, and I see the Columbia River in front of me, a half mile expanse of water that separates Washington from its southern neighbor, Oregon. I head east on WA-14, and ride along the high river bank. To my right, the high desert; to my left, the lush Columbia River. It’s a little surreal to ride this tightrope between the harsh environment and the rich bounty of the river.
I imagine how all of this must have looked to Lewis and Clark. You can never travel too far in the Pacific Northwest without running into these guys. WA-14 is part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, tracing the explorers’ route along the Columbia. I’m not going to get sidetracked into the Lewis and Clark story during this trip — it would be easy to spend a lifetime retracing their travels. History buffs can discover riches all along the Columbia, with historic markers denoting significant locations all along the way.
I do get sidetracked by a road sign, however. I’m riding along toward Maryville when I read “Stonehenge” on a sign, with an arrow pointing toward a small road leading south. I put on the brakes, push on the left bar and make the turn. About a half mile away, the road rises to a bluff, and there is a full size reproduction of England’s Stonehenge, as it might have looked when it was first assembled. The Stonehenge Memorial is made of poured concrete, and was dedicated in 1930 as a memorial to Klickitat County’s World War I military casualties, 13 young men who gave their lives in the service of their country. There’s no mystery about who built this Stonehenge. It was a local businessman named Sam Hill, who is buried near the site. A few tourists wander the site, jaws agape. I realize that my mouth is hanging open, too. The American Stonehenge will do that to you. I take some pictures, then saddle back up and ride on.
I ride along the Columbia River. Soon, the high desert landscape on my right changes to a forested wilderness, and I glide along smoothly. The Road Glide is a wonderful companion, serene and quiet when cruising, lusty and bold when accelerating. I enjoy pushing it a little when the road rises, feeling the power of the 103 cubic inch V-Twin engine working to eat up the road.
As I pass the Hood River Bridge, I have to pull over again. The wide river is crowded with kite surfers and wind surfers, some on the Washington side, and some on the Oregon side. These daredevils zip along the water, carried by the wind that funnels in from the Columbia River Gorge. Some of the surfers are towed behind parachutes, and gusts of wind take them up in the air like hang gliders. It’s wild, and there are so many of them it’s a wonder they don’t all wind up in a big tangle. Mount Hood looms over the scene from a distance, a dominating snow capped peak that seems to contradict the summer action below.
I pass through a series of five tunnels that have been carved through the granite hills in an amazing feat of engineering. I’ll bet Lewis and Clark never imagined this when they were blazing their trails.
Finally, Washougal appears on WA-14. The BEST WESTERN PLUS Parkersville Inn & Suites is just south of the Lewis and Clark Trail, overlooking the Columbia River and the Port of Camas and Washougal. I check in to the hotel, drenched from the heat, and revel in the cool air conditioning in my fourth floor suite. I can look out of my window and see the river and the modest Dolphin Yacht Club below. It’s a very relaxing view.
The front desk clerk tells me that there’s a restaurant down in the marina, a short walk from the hotel, and that it’s quite good. Close and good — I’m in. I stroll down to the Puffin Cafe. It’s a delightful little place on the water with a very eclectic menu. I enjoy a local draft beer with my steamed clams (a weakness of mine), and I devour my fish taco entree. I never stopped for lunch today — it was just too hot. I’m making up for that oversight now.
Back at my room in the BEST WESTERN PLUS Parkersville Inn & Suites, I study my maps and check on the weather reports. They’re predicting record heat in the coastal regions, right where I’m heading tomorrow. Oh, well. More hydration. I’m ready. I’d better rest up for another hot ride.
Miles Ridden: 186.7
NEXT: Western Washington, Day Four: Washougal to Chehalis