I looked out of my window at the Best Western Columbia River Inn this morning, and you’ll never guess what I saw: Rain. How’d you guess? I huddled in the breakfast room over my coffee and maps, trying to figure out what my best alternatives would be. I had to be in Bend, Oregon by 3:00 pm to return the Electra Glide, so I didn’t have time to linger too long waiting for the weather to clear. My trusty iPhone app, WeatherBug, didn’t hold out too much hope, anyway. So, I resigned myself to a wet, foggy ride.
I wish I could have spent more time in the Columbia River Gorge area. It really does seem like a fantastic place. There’s world-class wind surfing, which I’ve always wanted to try. There’s great salmon fishing, and fly-fishing nearby. There is hiking, mountain biking and camping up at Mt. Hood to the south, or exciting volcano watching to the north at Mt. St. Helens. The Mount Hood Railroad runs excursion trains with guides giving history tours. There are several museums, including the Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal, Washington, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson, Washington and the Maryhill Museum of Art, each with world-class collections of art, artifacts and historical materials. It would take weeks to explore the Gorge, but all I could do was ride through in the rain.
I did make time for one stop — at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon. And wow, what a stop! WAAAM has only been open for about three years, but they have put together a collection of over 60 classic aircraft, 100 classic automobiles and 17 classic motorcycles, all displayed in two adjoining airplane hangers. This museum is totally volunteer-run, and is a must for any gearhead. I’m not an airplane buff, but I was fascinated by the gorgeous aircraft, engines and parts on display. The Wright Brothers’ flight over Kitty Hawk was barely a century ago, but there is rich history in aviation. Looking at classic planes, you can really see the human touch in the wooden propellers, the carefully skinned wings and fuselages, and the hand-painted details. The car collection isn’t too shabby, either, and the select motorcycles are also cool. The cars, bikes and planes are all displayed together, with some interesting juxtapositions of vehicles from similar eras. I could have spent all day at WAAAM, but I had a mountain to get around, and it was raining.
Back on the Electra Glide, I carefully zipped all of the vents on my FXRG jacket closed. I would be climbing back up close to 5,000 feet, and I knew that the rain would bring the temperature down even more than the elevation. I took Route 35 south toward Mt. Hood for one of the hairiest rides of my life. The rain came down hard, accompanied by thick fog that obscured my view of the road. I had to keep riding at or close to the speed limit so that I wouldn’t become an obstruction to traffic, and I clung to the wake of a big RV to make sure that I’d be visible to anybody coming up fast behind me. Even though conditions were dangerous, some drivers still sped through at 20 mph over the limit, which seemed crazy to me.
Finally, I reached the turnoff for Route 26, and rode through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. The road became much less challenging (and less interesting), but I’m not complaining. Much of the Reservation looks more like the classic high desert that I was expecting — fewer trees, more scrub and low vegetation, and rolling hills with mountains in the distance.
I stopped in the town of Madras, population 6,600. In need of some sustenance, I chose the Black Bear Diner, part of a Northwestern chain of diners. I’m pretty firmly against chain restaurants when I’m on a motorcycle trip, but the Black Bear caught my eye, promising great food and a relaxed atmosphere. I was not disappointed. I sat out the rain for about a half an hour while I ate my lunch and read the Warm Springs Indian Reservation’s weekly newspaper, Spilay Tymoo. On the “Letters to the Editor” page, local residents published apologies. Individuals who had broken tribal laws wrote letters explaining their transgressions, and apologizing to the community for their bad acts. They promised not to break tribal law again. Though the crimes were minor and in some cases embarrassing, I was quite taken with the concept of public apology. I wonder if it actually promotes more accountability and better future actions? I hope so.
A brief break in the rain gave me a chance to hop back on the Electra Glide for the final push into Bend, still about 45 minutes away. The closer I got to Bend and Cascade Harley-Davidson, the more I wished I could keep on riding. Sure, I needed to get home. But Oregon had so much more to show me, and WeatherBug told me that the rain was about to go away.
I dropped off the Electra Glide, dropped a few dollars in the Motor Clothes area of the dealership (if you don’t get a pin and a hat, did the trip really happen?), and repacked my gear into my suitcase, which I had left behind on the first day of my trip.
Troy Clark, General Manager of the Best Western Prineville Inn, was kind enough to pick me up at the Harley dealer so that I could stay at his inn for the night. Troy’s wife Rachel, and Prineville Assistant General Manager Jennifer Dunn rode along, too, keeping Troy company and welcoming me to the area. I felt like a king. I can’t promise such elegant treatment for every guest at the Best Western Prineville Inn, but I can guarantee that the staff will make you feel welcome and cared-for. On the way to Prineville, I learned that the Clark family and the Dunns are big dirt bikers, and that there is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) property with great trails and rides right near Prineville. There’s also a track for practicing, and a supportive dirt biking community in the area. Some riders make Prineville a destination, using the Best Western Prineville Inn as home base for their off-road adventures. Sounds like a blast.
For fishing and boating, there’s the Prineville Reservoir, an Oregon State Park that’s about 14 miles southeast of town. Formed by the damming of the Crooked River, the Prineville Reservoir supports trout, bass, catfish, crappie, and crayfish, and can be fished year-round, including ice fishing.
Smith Rock State Park is another Oregon State Park with great views, hiking, mountain biking trails and rock climbing areas. Athletes come from all over to experience the world-class climbing and beautiful scenery.
For the less outdoorsy, it’s fun to explore Elkins Gem Stones on Prineville’s Main Street. They sell everything from raw agates to fully polished quartz stones, and the chance to make a discovery is part of the adventure.
I checked in to the Best Western Prineville Inn, joined by my old pal, the rain. My comfortable room had a Jacuzzi tub in the corner, the perfect antidote to five days on a motorcycle. I filled it up with hot water, climbed in and let the jets soothe my weary bones while I watched Sports Center on the television. Simple pleasures are the best.
When it came time for dinner, I walked down 3rd Street to Club Pioneer, an old-fashioned western steak house a few hundred yards away from the Best Western. I settled in to a booth, where I was treated to a delicious, medium-rare porterhouse steak that completely satisfied my hunger. I saved some room to sample the delicious berry cobbler desert, before waddling back to my room at the hotel. I spent a few minutes organizing my gear, and preparing to leave tomorrow. Troy Clark is giving me a ride to the airport in Redmond, where I have an early flight. I’ll be back at my desk before noon, with memories of Oregon to sustain me until my next ride.
Thinking back over my trip, it’s not the rain that I’ll remember. It’s the scenery, and it’s the clean air, and the limitless potential that I felt in Oregon. The spirit of the West really does live in Oregon, where I felt closer to the cowboy myth than I have anywhere else, even in Texas. I never felt rushed or pressured for one minute in the state, and I always felt welcome. I could have explored any one of my stops (Sisters, John Day, Pendleton, Cascade Locks and Prineville) for a week each, and only scratched the surface. I will definitely return to Oregon, but I’ll give it more time, and I’ll really explore.
But now, it’s time to start thinking about my next new ride.