Several rides were planned for Saturday depending on interest and riding style. Jessica and I had made no plans. Finding ourselves stumbling around with coffee cups early in the morning, we fell in with the “Steep and Rocky” crew who were trying to get an early start at a technical route. We were assured we’d probably be fine two-up. Perfect.
Jessica and I have been in casual morning mode with the supplied coffee and donuts and hadn’t told anyone we’d definitely go on their ride. Thus, our intended group rode off without us. After some pouting, we realize we’re glad for more casual morning time.
While loafing about, we hear of a ride Ryan Cantrell is leading with the general goal of circling the snow-capped mountains but with no definite route. There might be snow, there might be downed trees, there might be dragons. Perfect.
Jessica and I continue to sip at coffee and nibble at donuts while keeping a close eye on the rest of the ride crew while they make important motorcycle preparations. We won’t let this group leave without us!
Phil, Ryan, Jim and Toni carefully dial in tire pressure, chain tension and the like … which tells me I should probably have another jelly-filled donut to ensure I’ll have energy to get through whatever it is we’re facing.
Faced with a ride of indeterminate distance, everyone loads up with as much fuel as their bike can carry. Being in Oregon means waiting in turn for the attendant to give permission to touch the pump. Thane gets in trouble for dawdling.
We head out under optimistic blue skies on Highway 82 toward La Grande. Jessica and I settle in comfortably behind a generous windscreen as our eyes wander around the passing landscape.
After thirty miles of highway,¹ and having survived a maniac in an SUV willing to risk all our lives to save two minutes, we come to the genesis of our adventure, a gravel road we hope will lead us through the mountains. We pass several miles of beautiful pasture land before the road narrows and begins its climb to evergreen altitudes.
A jeep trail on the left is our first opportunity to pursue a truer state-of-nature. Ryan stops to consult his map. When it offers no objection, he and Thane splash across a creek to scout the trail before we all commit.
In a moment, others chase after them until we end up with more riders “scouting” than waiting. Just as I’m wondering if we should also join the scouters, Thane reappears to offer a thumbs-up. It’s a go. Good! I’m excited for a little water crossing. I answer Jessica’s question about getting off by twisting the throttle. No need to overthink these things.
We enjoy navigating mild rocks and ruts with a bit of speed, trailing behind Ryan, until a fence marking private property puts an end to the fun. The map comes out. Conclusion: full reverse. Fortunately, we’ve come only a short distance from the main road.
starPhoto by Ryan William Cantrell
We continue up the gravel road a few more miles until confronted with something of an intersection, meaning it’s time for another map break. Uncertain direction should keep this ride from becoming one of Ryan’s famous death marches.
Eager to find something more challenging than the road, we stop again when we see a narrower track to the right. It looks promising except for the snow. Thane, Ryan and Phil speed ahead to investigate.
Receiving the all-clear signal, we push carefully through the snow to follow. Just as we’re settling into a pleasant forest road pace, however, we encounter what looks like the front edge of a glacier coming down the mountain. Retreat.
We notice an ATV trailhead farther up the main road but it looks like it could get too sketchy for middle-aged adventure riders so we opt to continue on the main road.
When the main road abruptly ends fifty yards later, contrary to the map, our hand is forced. There is some concern that those in our party who chose to ride two-up (no need to name names) might be defeated by a wet ATV track. But we don’t seem to have much choice.
The trail isn’t too bad. We weave around logs, splash through some mud and smile for the camera.
The pleasant ride in the woods grows more demanding. At least for us. Perhaps it’s still a leisure ride for others but this fast first gear and dry clutch (no slipping) likes to hurl our front end into trouble. It’s a lot of fun but feels like work too. Jessica has had to dismount for roots and rocks a few times.
Everyone is getting some exercise. We stop to shed extra clothes as soon as the trail levels off.
After one last hill, we begin to descend through new growth back to civilization. This part of the trail is rocky. Quick clutch and throttle work is needed to coax the heavy machine through. In spite of my best efforts, the skid plate takes some hits and breaks loose for the third time.
I lost the first plate going over a knee-high cattle guard when the bike was fairly new.¹ I misjudged our clearance, didn’t slow down, and we hit hard. The stock rubber mounts tore loose. I replaced it with an “extreme” plate² which in turn was smashed beyond recognition while descending Squaw Butte.³ Over the winter I banged it back into shape and reinforced it with steel strips I torched into shape — even painted it up nice and pretty.
We stop and zip-tie the skid plate back into place where the trail opens onto a wide view of the valley and La Grande. I’m surprised after thinking the whole time we were traveling the opposite direction.
The group considers how to continue and decides to go into La Grande for an adventurous lunch. We’ll think more there.
GPS tracks shows Ryan tried three routes to take us in the planned direction. It just hasn’t been warm enough to clear the way.
Ryan, Phil and Thane plan to continue the mission of circling back around the mountains. The rest of us decide to take highway back to camp to relax and enjoy a potluck dinner.
Jessica and I are the only ones who’ve driven from here to Enterprise so after Toni’s inexplicably lengthy preparations, we lead down the highway.
Clouds building on the horizon make us wonder if the quick return is fortuitous. What’s in store for Ryan, Phil and Thane?