June 29 2010 by Jason Fogelson
Never take a beautiful day for granted. I finally got one, from start to finish today. Temperatures ranging from the low 60s up to the low 80s, clear skies and a light breeze. Perfect motorcycling weather.
I wolfed down a quick breakfast at the Best Western Pendleton Inn, loaded up the Electra Glide and checked out of the hotel. Did I need those biscuits and gravy? Well, at least I skipped the waffles this time.
I rode down the hill into Pendleton's downtown, on my way toward Route 395 and Pilot Rock. But what should appear on Main Street in Pendleton but a car show! The annual June Cruisin and British Invasion is a classic car show that's been held every year since 1995. Four blocks of Main Street are closed off, and classic American and British cars line the streets. I saw some great MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healeys, along with GTOs, Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes and classic American cars. The quality of restoration and presentation rivaled anything I've seen in big cities, even if the quantity was more manageable. I guess long winters are great for car collectors and restorers.
With visions of muscle cars dancing in my head, I saddled back up and rode south out of town. I had planned a route that would take me into the heart of the state on country roads, rather than the more direct route that would force me to ride on the Interstate, I-84.
The ride today was worth the entire trip. At Pilot Rock I headed west on Route 74, the Heppner Highway. I don't know if economic stimulus monies were responsible for the new asphalt that I traversed, but if so, it was money well spent. Perfect, smooth blacktop greeted me at every turn. The road was perfectly graded and banked, and took beautiful turns around hills and through passes. The high desert landscape was lush and green with late spring foliage, and happy cows grazed in relaxed splendor. For much of the ride, I had the road to myself, with little traffic in either direction. It was absolute motorcycle Nirvana, a route I hope to return to again some day soon.
I stopped for lunch in the tiny hamlet of Condon. I chose Country Flowers, one of three restaurants on Main Street, mostly because they had tables outside, where I could enjoy the glorious weather and watch the world go by while I ate my tuna sandwich.
Back on the bike again, I continued west. A few miles along, I was stunned when I went over a rise and found myself on a high plain. In the distance, like a picture postcard, was Mount Hood. Still snow capped in June, it rose above the plains like a vision. Mount Hood is actually a dormant volcano, and at over 11,000 feet high, it is the highest mountain in Oregon, and the fourth highest in the Cascades. I don't know how far away it was -- but I think it was at least 60 miles in the distance. And it was a vision. I caught more glimpses of it as I rode west, but it never seemed to get closer.
I continued on Route 206 to Wasco, where I met up with Route 97 for a jag to the north. At Biggs, Oregon, I crossed over the Columbia River into Washington State where I picked up Washington Route 14. Route 14 follows the path of the river, high above the water and above the Columbia Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon that runs 80 miles long, separating Oregon and Washington. The views are spectacular. The biggest riding challenge was simply keeping my eyes on the road ahead, and not staring off into the distance. The road travels alongside the railroad tracks, snaking across and beside and ducking through tunnels through the hillside. I started to see more and more motorcyclists out on their bikes. It was a beautiful Saturday for a ride, and everybody seemed to be taking advantage.
Finally, I reached the Bridge of the Gods. The Bridge of the Gods is named after an ancient Native American legend about a natural stone bridge that was built by the Gods to help the people cross the river. The modern bridge was built in 1926 and improved in the 1960s. It is a steel cantilever bridge that soars 140 feet above the water, with a length of 1858 feet. It is beautiful and delicate, and crossing its metal grate surface on a motorcycle can be a little hairy. I have learned by experience that a very smooth hand on the throttle along with a light grip on the bars is the best way to deal with the oscillations that the grate can cause. You have to trust your bike, and you'll be fine.
I paid the fifty-cent toll on the Oregon side, and glided in to the parking lot at the Best Western Columbia River Inn, which sits in the shadow of the Bridge of the Gods. The nice woman at the front desk welcomed me and my motorcycle. She pointed out the Inn's dedicated bike parking, but told me that I was welcome to park the Electra Glide in any space. I chose a convenient spot right near the front entrance, where the Electra Glide looked particularly fetching. My room overlooks the river, and I have a beautiful view of the bridge as I sit here writing. What a glorious spot for a hotel.
My friend Jeff Zurschmiede, a writer and Corvette expert, drove over from Portland to join me for dinner. Portland is about 45 minutes west of Cascade Locks along Interstate 84. We went back across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington to the restaurant in a nearby lodge in Stevenson. I had a fantastic pork tenderloin, and Jeff had a cioppino. Since Jeff was driving, I indulged in a draught pint of Full Sail Ale, Mt. Hood's local brew. I couldn't help but be a little smug when we left the fancy-pants lodge, knowing that a river view room at the Best Western Columbia River Inn costs over $150 a night less, and the view is at least 150 times better.
Jeff and I drove down to look at the Cascade Locks, remnants of the actual river locks built in 1896. The locks were built to help steamboats bypass the rapids on the river, but were made obsolete when the Bonneville Dam was built during the WPA projects of the 1930s. The locks are now a popular fishing site and public park.
Back at the hotel, I bade Jeff farewell and sent him back to Portland. I have to plan my final day of riding for this trip, back to Bend to return the Electra Glide. The forecast calls for rain again, but maybe I'll get lucky.