Journey-man’s Journey

by John Cooper

I’m reminded of the quote by Robert Burns that even “the best laid plans…often go awry”. It seems so fitting as I contemplate our recently completed adventure ride through and around the state of Oregon. That of course was not the original plan, as painstakingly outlined over the last several months, but it was the journey nevertheless.

The original plan was to ride motorcycles with my best friend of 35 years, from Northern California to Southern Washington, largely on the dusty, but beautifully scenic backroads of the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route, or “OBDR” as it is commonly known. Route 5, to be more specific, would take us through 750 miles of eastern Oregon’s backcountry, across the high desert plains and through the mountains, which are well known for their clear mountain streams, lush green meadows and amazing vistas. To experience the best that Oregon has to offer, we needed to explore it off the grid and away from the comfortable paved roads. 

For the last several months, we researched the topography and looked over maps of the area. We studied the weather and scoured the internet for tips on riding the route and what we might encounter. I even purchased a new motorcycle, a KLR650, the motorcycle equivalent of a pack mule, specifically for this trip. Then I spent weeks outfitting it with all the necessary equipment, upgrades and accessories. After all, we would need to be self-reliant and carry our own food and water, fuel and gear for a week long journey.

Following weeks of preparation, we saddled up and began our ride early Saturday morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Just hours into the ride we were met with 109 degree heat as we approached Redding, CA. We pulled over for a quick break and to rehydrate. While sitting on the curb outside a local fast food restaurant, we sat motionless as a wind blast blew one of our bikes over, causing it to smash violently against an adjacent car, leaving a massive dent in the door. After exchanging insurance information and cross-eyed looks with the owner of the car, we set off in a somber mood. Strike one.

Hours later while powering up the foothills, my bike began to experience power surges while the RPM indicator bounced around and fluctuated wildly. Anxious and nervous we pulled off the road to see if we could diagnose the issue. We sat beside the road with no cell coverage, no internet access, and no ideas. With few other alternatives, we decided to carry on and we rode into the evening while my headlight flickered on and off for the next several hours. Strike two.

In the morning we determined my bike was experiencing an electrical problem, which we easily fixed with a little duct tape (yes, it’s true that duct tape can fix just about any problem).

Shaking off the prior day’s troubles, we made our way to the trailhead near Goose Lake just short of the Oregon border. We were excited to finally begin our adventure in earnest.

 We hit the trail and immediately began to climb in altitude, but we only made it about four miles before catching our first glimpse of snow. After a particularly active winter, we should not have been surprised. Then it got heavy. The snow was deep, slippery and eventually non-penetrable. We were brought to a complete stop, but not before I dropped my bike for the first time during our trip. We had to turn back. Strike three.

We ran up the highway another 50 miles before catching the trail again hoping that the conditions would be better at a lower altitude. Although the snow was no longer the issue, we found instead a muddy, soggy mess of a trail. Slipping and sliding and moving at a snail’s pace, we made our way forward. Making very little progress over many hours, and dropping another bike into the muck, we decided to stop and reconsider our strategy. Strike four.

Once again we rode up the highway another 50 miles before catching the trail, this time at a much lower elevation. As we fueled up in a nearby town before turning to the dirt trail again, an old man at the local general store (who coincidentally is a local search and rescue driver) said, “oh it’s a bit rough out there” when we inquired about the trail conditions. When we pressed him for more specificity on the word “rough”, he stated “well, some folks have gotten through, but it’s real rough out there”. We later learned that was the understatement of the year.

For the better part of a day, we rode only a handful of miles bouncing among boulder-sized lava rocks. Our bikes banged and bounced from side to side as we rode white-knuckled and hanging on the best we could. And perhaps we would have continued had we not noticed that the bolts that held the engine to the frame were bent and warped and ready to pop at any moment. We were in a predicament once again. Strike five.

Enough is enough we finally acknowledged as we slowly exited the dirty, hard trails and limped into the nearest town to reset our attitudes and tend to our bikes.

You can say I’m a slow learner I suppose. While most people would have recognized that they were out after three strikes, it took me five to learn the lesson.  Ultimately we accepted our fate and decided that flexibility would be the key moving forward. We elected to stay on the paved roads for the balance of the trip, but we would take the roads less traveled.

We spent some time in central Oregon’s Bend, before riding north to the Columbia River, and then west to the old fishing town of Astoria, located in the upper northwest corner of the state.

Our new plan was simple, we would hug the coastline and ride the length of the Oregon coast from Astoria to northern California’s Crescent City, stopping along the way to sample the many small town breweries.

Seven days and two thousand miles later our trip concluded. It was not the original plan we prepared for. We were shut down, put out, and sent away. We didn’t do it, and we couldn’t do it. However, our trip was much better than that. Instead, we slept out under the stars each night beside a bonfire swapping old stories and creating new ones. It was sometimes serious and many times comical. We got to discover the awesomeness of the Columbia River and the spectacular beauty of the Oregon coastline. Or bikes were beat and we were tired, but it was another great adventure.