Posted by: fergy1008 | June 26, 2011

Baker City Here We Come!!!!

This report is for our first, and maybe annual, pilgrimage to Baker City, Oregon for the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally. 

Leaving Thursday after work we had an easy ride east taking Hwy 18 to I-90 into Ellensburg.  As we approached town Angela went to work in the co-riders seat using my iPhone and GPS to find us a place to eat. She checked distances, read reviews on Yelp, and also had a place in mind recommended by a friend. Sometimes technology is great, other times it seems like a burden to use. But in this case it was very helpful. 

We decided on the Palace Café, a restaurant with roots in Ellensburg dating back to the turn of the century. The food was what we expected – decent diner food at reasonable prices. Before arriving at the restaurant, we checked out some of the historical building for which these small towns are often known. The town was pretty quiet, especially for being home to Central Washington University, but we arrived either on graduation weekend or maybe a week after. I’m sure with school in full swing this town is pretty busy.  For the first time ever we had left home with no reservation for the night waiting for us.  We had decided to simply ride east and stay either in Ellensburg or Yakima.  Since we reached Ellensburg just before 8pm we decided to stay the night.  We could have driven further to Yakima but there was a dam to snag along the way and we didn’t want it to be too dark to get the picture.  While at dinner we used the iPhone again to call and book a room at the Quality Inn. After finishing dinner, dessert sounded pretty good so we asked a waitress how to get to Winegars, an ice cream shop suggested by Angela’s co-worker. Being full from dinner wasn’t going to stop us from our dessert quest. As luck would have it Winegars was less than a mile away.  Tricia had recommended them for having the best ice cream and she was right!  It was awesome!  I decided after a single sample but Angela had to try three different flavors, one of them twice, before deciding on bubblegum.  I went with my first choice of chocolate – not chocolate with brownies or chocolate with walnuts or marshmallow fluff – just plain chocolate.

We then traveled back through town to our hotel, arriving about 4 hours after we’d left home, covering 128 miles. The room was great and we had a good nights sleep.  We slept in the next morning, both of us really enjoying this trip which was so different than our others.  We love riding no matter what, but being part of organized rides means you always have to be somewhere by a certain time.  For the first time we had traveled with no initial plans and now we got to sleep in without it impacting any sort of schedule.  We left just after 9am and headed south for #4 on this year’s Washington dam list, Roza Diversion Dam, on the Yakima River.

The route is a road that winds through the absolutely beautiful Yakima Canyon! It was sunny with wonderful views of hills, the river, and open blue skies. We found the dam easily, took our pictures then headed to Toppenish for breakfast and a nearby Wing WA shot.  We ate at Pioneer Kitchen which Angela had found on the Toppenish website listed as having been voted the valleys best home-style cooking. Touting best homemade food is quite a statement in my opinion and I would be the judge of that. The place was small but quaint and the food was good – not mom’s homemade good – but decent and filling. And the stop gave us time to figure out the next leg of our route. In our planning stage, with maps spread across the table, we plotted a way to our first Wing WA of the day, the Toppenish Wildlife Refuge, then on to ones in Richland and Kennewick, staying off the interstate as much as possible.  We also figured out how we would get to another location in Walla Walla and down to a GT in La Grande all by using a paper map, which would make our grandma proud!  And the fact is, the GPS and iPhone are only so useful.  Neither allows you to see the big picture while still viewing minor roads like a paper map does. Route notes recorded, we headed out. Along the way we noticed some flowering vines growing low to the ground in roadside fields. Like always we wondered, “what is that?”. Spotting a familiar red, white and blue sign I proudly said “Hey, those are peanuts!” I know because it looks just like the bag of peanuts we always have in the shop. Being pretty proud of myself we proceeded to our destination. Finding the WW location was no problem due to the fact that Angela had pre-programmed all the sites we were going to visit in the GPS. After successfully taking the required pictures we set off to our next destination.

But in a small error we promptly headed 20 miles in the wrong direction on the wrong road!  For whatever reason, I, thankfully, glanced at the GPS and realized it said we were heading south on Hwy 97 when we were supposed to be heading East on 22. We should’ve known something was wrong because we were passing a lot of big rigs. And Hwy 22 is a two lane highway only local drivers would be on. After figuring out we were on the wrong highway we made a u-turn and headed back to town to see where we made the mistake. It was no big deal since we weren’t on any kind of time table, plus I needed to fill the bike anyway. Still confused, because when we had left the restaurant we had been on the right road, we realized upon retracing our steps that at a major intersection 22 had turned left while we had stayed straight to our WW refuge destination. After our photos we just continued on that road assuming it was still 22 but never confirming it. Oh well, lesson for the day. On most of our road trips there are always at least one of these road lessons. Maybe in a few years and with a few more thousands of miles under our belt we’ll finally get the hang of it. OH! Remember those flowering plants? Well, while retracing our steps and again passing those fields, Angela took a picture of a sign and zoomed in to find…they were potatoes!  Not just any potato…potato’s proudly grown for Tim’s Cascade, a Northwest snack company. Thank goodness for the sign! 

We have often discussed that it should be a rule that you have to have a sign saying what crop is being grown.  We ignorant city folk can’t tell the difference between peanuts and potatoes or cherry trees from those growing hazelnuts!  We were pretty confident in our guess on corn (especially with my Kansas background) and the mint we passed was obvious because of the wonderful scent in the air. Anyway, back in Toppenish we topped off the tank then tried again.

This time we made the correct turn and traveled through more beautiful farmland. In Kennewick we followed our directions up through a few neighborhoods to our second WW of the day, Badger Mountain Vineyard (www.badgermtnvineyard.com). While taking our pictures, one of the people who manage it came out to get the mail and offered to take our picture together.

Because this location had been listed in the “green” section of our Wing WA list, we asked him about it and he proudly educated us on the history and current practices they adopted to earn their green certification. In 1988 they became the first certified organic winery and vineyard in the state. Today they are additionally “green” using solar panels and making bio-diesel. Planted in 1982, the vineyard was converted to organic in 1988, by a man who was in his 60s and had been using conventional farming methods and farming type chemicals his entire life. But he switched because it was “the right thing to do from a people perspective”.  Houses had been being built closer and closer to the land and an elementary school was built over the rise, right in the wind path from the vineyard.  Today, of course, being green and organic is good for marketing purposes as well.  Now 84, he and his family still lives on the land in a house next to the winery in the shade of giant sycamore trees.

From there we visited the Columbia Point Marina Park in Richland for another bonus Wing WA location. Arriving in town we had a hard time finding the location.  Well, we did find it, but Angela didn’t think it was the right spot so we drove around for a few more minutes before I finally stopped at a hotel and asked if they had heard of the place (no, I’m not too proud to ask for directions). They knew where it was and pointed just down the road.  Taking their directions we quickly found ourselves back where we’d been initially – Angela apologized, we took the picture and headed East to Walla Walla. It was hot in Walla Walla and the location was open by appointment only so we quickly took our pictures and got back on the road and into the breeze.

As we traveled our route we entered Milton-Freewater. I think Angela and I had the same thought almost simultaneously and Angela exclaimed “Hey! We’ve been here before!” And sure enough, we started to recall having passed through the town once before, early on a Sunday morning, seeing almost no one except for some firefighters setting up for an outdoor pancake breakfast. With its collection of frogs, Milton-Freewater is not hard to recognize.

As we continued along, we realized we had taken this whole route before – “there’s where I stopped to put on my Gerbing”, “there’s the WalMart where we stopped to buy a flag!”. We knew we’d been to Baker City before, but didn’t recall that we had taken any of these roads to get there until we were on them.  Should we ever take it again, we’ll have another “that’s where we stopped to put on our Gerbings” spot… in Walla Walla it had been a very warm 82 degrees but as we went over the Blue Mountains summit we hit a low of 52. And 52 feels a lot colder after having been so warm just an hour before.  

In LaGrande, Oregon, just a few miles out of Baker City, we got our GT passport books stamped at Hought’s 24 Flavors, a quaint ice cream/burger joint.

You know the kind of place that has been run by the same folks for years and where everyone goes to get a burger.

Arriving at the place it had a few patrons waiting in line, but Angela secured a table by the window while we decided on what we wanted to order. We chose to split a burger basket and shake and, as we sat by the window, we smiled as bikes continually streamed past, knowing they were headed the same place we were. Seeing all the bikes heightened our excitement for the adventure we were about to experience. We arrived in Baker City just before 8pm, gladly discovering the events ride center was located just across the freeway from our hotel. We ended the day having covered another 346 miles. And, as it turns out we were lucky to have made them at all. After checking in I drove the bike to a parking spot at the end of the building where several other bikes were parked.  Approaching the bike from behind on foot, Angela noticed something wasn’t right about our rear tire. After she informed me, I examined the rear tire and it turns out, somehow, we had ridden through the rubber and the white cords of the tire were showing in a stripe about an inch wide almost all the way around.

Angela recalled a message from the HCMR team about having a brake/tire/oil crew onsite so, after our long enjoyable ride to the event, we figured we’d just deal with it in the morning.  In the meantime, after unloading the bike, we spent a little time online – me trying to figure out why these tires, just 6 months old and with less than 5000 miles on them, were toast and Angela trying to find a local dealer who might have a replacement on hand.  Sadly, while searching, Angela found a story that a motorcyclist, riding with a group to the rally, somehow lost control of his bike. He died at the scene and one of his fellow riders, traveling behind him, also crashed and was taken to the hospital where his spleen had to be removed but he was expected to make a full recovery. An officer witnessed the incident and it turns out the fatality was caused when the rider raised up, as I’m sure he had done thousands of times before, to adjust a sheepskin seat cushion beneath him. Somewhere in that action the rider lost control of his ride and went down.  

The next morning, Saturday, we gingerly drove the bike to the event center and showed the tire to the onsite vendor.  Unfortunately he didn’t have any Gold Wing tires with him.  But he said if we could find one, he would mount it for us.  Unfortunately, the local dealership didn’t have any either.  Steve F., one of the organizers of the HCMR, is familiar to us because he also created DamTour!  We talked with him and he recommended another vendor who might know where to get a tire. We located the vendor in question and he called back to his shop which 70 miles away, and they did in fact have one but no one to bring it down.  Not knowing how I was going to get to the location Angela and I were researching where to possibly rent a car, or whether I could rent one of the bikes at the event, to ride to the store and back. While we were busy trying to figure stuff out Steve F. introduced me to Chip, an Iron Butt Rider manning the IBR table next to DamTour’s booth at the rally.  Chip, hearing of my dilemma, actually offered to take his rear tire off his Gold Wing and put it on mine so I could go get my desperately needed tire. I insisted that was way too much to ask.  He then shoved his keys toward me and said “then fine, take the whole bike!” Flabbergasted but out of options at this point I accepted Chips offer. I was comfortable enough taking his bike since it was exactly like mine, air bag and all, just a different color. Steve F. got us some tie downs, Chip handed me his keys and off I went.  Angela walked back down the street to our hotel and began typing up our adventures so far.  She said as she wrote she would look out the picture window at a highway interchange where she could see and/or hear bikes constantly passing – getting on or off or simply passing by. It was awesome to be somewhere where there were so many bikes all around! 

At 11:32 I texted her that I had the tire in hand 

and I arrived back at the ride center at 1:13. Once back at the event center the tire vendor, along with me and a few Dam Tour riders in tow, helped change the rear tire to salvage the day.  

Although the anticipated rainstorm arrived around 2pm our spirits were not extinguished. We’d had a great ride to this point and this was just a bump in the road. We headed over to a local Boy Scout Troops BBQ fundraiser at the high school cafeteria where we had tableside service of a full meal, beverage and dessert with live entertainment by a high school flutist. After relaxing in the room awhile, we wandered back to the Ride Center’s beer garden for a little evening entertainment. We don’t generally do beer gardens but the atmosphere was festive and after the day we’d had what was it going to hurt? As expected the beer was cold, the live band was awesome and the BBQ’d Polish dogs were astounding.  

Although the day hadn’t turned out as we expected, it had still been a good day.  You might think this was a disaster but, the fact is, other than home, this couldn’t have happened in a better place. There were plenty of people on hand to provide knowledge and assistance, providing a great support system. Without them, we may have been stuck with no way to get to another tire except riding our own and praying it held.  A total stranger loaned us his bike so I could go pick up a tire. Except he wasn’t a total stranger because he was a fellow rider and that is something that someone outside the brotherhood may not be able to understand.  

Sunday morning we woke up eager to finally ride some of the routes the rally provides.  First was the Gold Rush course.  We chose the 200-mile loop, taking us out of Baker City along Hwy 7, onto roads that change names many times, through Sumpter and Granite on to Ukiah where we stopped for lunch at the Thicket Cafe & Saloon.

 There were a few bikes parked out front when we arrived but that swelled to about 16 as we waited for our meal.  The small place was quickly packed and the staff were overwhelmed but they stayed friendly and reinforcements were soon on the scene.  Lunch was very good and we left satisfied.  We continued on our route from Ukiah onto Hwy 244 through Lehman Springs then a short stint on 84 and right back off onto Hwy 237 through Union, North Powder and Haines back to Baker City.  The roads in this are sparsely used.  At one point we had the entire road to ourselves.  Along the way we ran across this old miners site from years long ago. It made for a nice stopping point in which we stretched our legs and took in the sights and the quietness Steve enjoys so much.

One big road all to ourselves

We returned to town to find most of the Ride Center empty.  We helped DamTour pack up a bit then headed back to the hotel for a rest.  An hour or so later we were back on the road, headed down the crown jewel, Canyon Course, a 182-mile up and back route which takes you along the Snake River, including the 22-mile long Devil’s Tail, and culminating in the Hells Canyon Dam.

The crown jewel of the whole trip...and she didn't disappoint

What a beautiful site....

We had the whole snake river to ourselves

It was a wonderful time and we had the route almost entirely to ourselves since many bikers had already begun leaving town.  As an extra bonus, there was a GT stop along the route where we had our books stamped.  We stopped many times along the way to take pictures and marvel at the landscape.  We rode across the dam and took pics from the other side as well, though the visitor’s center was closed.  Soon I was saying “we’d better head back” and I was right.  Dark comes quick between canyon walls and the route back to town was prime deer country. I had recently purchased some extremely bright driving lights for the Wing that lit up the night allowing us to kept our eyes alert and roaming the illuminated sides of the road.  We thankfully returned to the safety of our hotel without incident.  By this point the town was almost bike free.  We stopped by a restaurant for a quick shared club sandwich then back to the room to relax and reflect upon the day. 

Monday morning we were up and out fairly early with a good day’s ride ahead of us to get home.  We deviated a bit from our planned route home per the suggestion of someone (we can’t recall whom) who suggested taking Old Hwy 30 and Old Emigrants Road.  We are so glad we did!  It was great to be off of I-84 and Old Emigrant Hill Road immediately became a road we wouldn’t forget.  

The rest of the route home was fairly straight-forward with only one other stop for another Wing WA. We took 14 along the Columbia, which we won’t do again – very windy and I-84 on the Oregon side has better views.  We jogged off the road in Carson for our picture in front of their general store,

and, if we had known at the time, could have continued home from there along Wind River Road and NFDR 25 to 12, 7 and on home but we didn’t yet know of this much more pleasant route and so returned to 14 to make our way over to I-5 and get home quick. Overall, the weekend was a wonderful ride and adventure! Even with the problems with the tire this trip showed that together we can make it through the rough patches to ride again another day.

Below is a slideshow of photos that are just a sample of our trip. The rest will be posted to http://www.steveandange.smugmug.com

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