September Loop in the Pacific Northwest
The first weeks of September are my favorite riding time of the year. The Pacific Northwest sun is usually still shining, but the temperatures are chilly in the mornings and evenings. Leaves have just started to turn colors but are still in the trees. Motorcycling is comfortable as you get a variety of temperatures and great smells through the countryside.
When my buddy Greg suggested a 6-day weekend ride, it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree. There was no route planned, just some time away from work, riding through the upper northwest corner of the U.S..
Our route wound up being just over 1,600 miles through Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Thanks to the Cascades, Rockies, and Sawtooth Mountains, we got plenty of elevation change.
Greg and I set out on September 15th in hopes of extended summer sunshine and no fall rains. Our first leg took us across Washington toward Idaho. One of the nicer stops on this route was at Lyons Ferry State Park. In the middle of the week (Thursday), there was nobody else there except a Washington State Parks attendant.
We rode to Lewiston, Idaho and learned that a big U of I game left no open hotel rooms. Thinking we might reach Yellowstone, we continued east with plans to stay in the small town of Orofino, where “Lumberjack Days” was being celebrated. We got two of the last rooms in town at the White Pine Motel. We’ll just say at the White Pine was not the highlight of our trip.
Though our plan was to continue east toward Lolo Pass, a GPS programming mishap took us northwest. It turned out to be an excellent mistake, though, because the road we took climbing up out of Orofino was one of the best roads of the entire ride. We were treated to incredible views of the Clearwater and Potlatch Rivers, plus beautiful rolling farmlands up on the plateaus.
We continued south through the afternoon across the Nez Perce reservation, the Bitterroot Wilderness, and into the Payette National forest. Around 17:00, we rolled into McCall, Idaho for the night, a resort town with great restaurants, breweries, and a beautiful lake.
We shared an outdoor dinner table with a local couple and their enormous, but very sweet labradoodle. As often happens, the locals knew all of the best routes for bikers. Over a second bottle of wine, we formed our plan for the coming day: South into the Sawtooth National Forest, over the Sawtooth Mountains, and eventually into Sun Valley.
Nearly every mile of this route was scenic. Most of it was along rivers or through mountain passes — a motorcyclist’s dream. Severe wildfires had left some of the hills scorched; we had lunch near a fire control encampment. The continuous elevation changes made for an exciting ride.
Sun Valley was true to it’s name. Under blue skies on a reasonably warm morning, we began tracking east. Ninety-eight miles on Interstate 84 got us quickly into Oregon. The 80 m.p.h. speed limit in Idaho is nice for that.
Not many photos from this day, because we only stopped a few times for gas and coffee. But the terrain was beautiful as we went from Idaho into Eastern Oregon.
It was after the coffee stop at Flick’s & Java — which was closed so we drank gas station espresso at their tables — that I nearly hit disaster. My fuel range seemed fine rolling out of that small town of Vale, Oregon. But I didn’t realize that a combination of desert, repeated mountain passes, and a strong headwind would bleed off 3/4 of a tank (about 180 miles of range) much faster than usual. At one point, I checked the remaining distance to our target town of Burns and it was about 100 miles, and I had only 110 miles of range. That should have been OK, but…
Headwinds and climbing dragged my range down much faster than I was traversing miles. At 45 miles, they were even (45 miles to go, 45 miles of range). By 38 miles, I had only 33 miles of range. During this time the bike began warning me about fuel.
When my particular model of motorcycle senses a limited fuel range, it displays warnings on my GPS screen, with one-touch assistance to route me to the nearest gas station. It’s a super cool feature; a light comes on, I tap an icon, and instantly I see the nearest petrol stations with one-touch routes to them. Except in this case, the nearest station was about ten miles beyond my actual range.
There’s nothing one can do in this situation except ride on, and hope for downhill stretches. I was riding with a buddy (who has about 75 more miles of range than me) so I could always send him ahead to bring fuel back, or ride with him to a station. It’s still unnerving, though.
As my range hit 12 miles remaining and we summited yet another pass, the downhill stretch brought a sight for sore eyes and low tanks: a single gas pump in front of a museum / souvenir shop that apparently wasn’t in the GPS’s database. We rolled up and not only filled the tanks, but got some beautiful Native-American crafted gifts for our families. Oards Indian Art Museum, run by locals, was great.
Burns, Oregon is home to the Horseshoe Inn, which gets the nod as the coolest place we stated. Their $59 rooms are clean, include a kiss from the resident German Shepherd when you check in, rooms have an accompanying horse corral, and the inn is actually shaped like a horseshoe!
Day five took us north into the Malheur National Forest, where we unexpectedly stumbled upon the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, tucked into the Painted Hills. What an amazing find! We probably could have spent an entire day here, hiking and exploring their museum. They have active fossil recovery labs on site.
This national park facility also happens to be right in the middle of the path of totality of next year’s total solar eclipse. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected in eastern Oregon for the event. Hotels have been sold out for years. But thanks for some friendly locals, I rented a spot to watch from.
We saw a herd of bighorn sheep as we continued north. They’re a bit hard to see, but they’re nearly centered in the photo. We almost rode into them, as the heard was on the road when we came by. When we circled back to get a photo, they had already retreated to the ridge.
Our final night was spent in Goldendale, Washinton as we planned for a quick ride home. Even a quick ride through central WA includes a run up Yakima Canyon Road, though.
We rang in at about 1,620 miles over the six days. Never did see any rain aside from a few drops in the Sawtooths. It added up to a perfect September ride that also served as a great reminder that the Pacific Northwest is amazing this time of year.
Those 1,620 miles brought us a lot of fun, and a lot of bugs. Here’s the before and after shots in Ellensburg, WA, where we wrapped up the ride: