September 24th Maupin to Joseph Oregon:
As I write this, the Deschutes river calmly roles by before daybreak. A faint and constant rush of water interrupts the silence, only to be broken by an occasional chirp of a bird, passing car or fall of a crab apple on a wooden deck. We are now in Eastern Oregon. It is a cool autumn morning and the cloudless sky lights up slowly.
Our adventure began two days ago. We are on a “Scouting Trip” of the “Trail of Lewis and Clark.” We all met up in Portland, Oregon. We are a small group made up of mostly Americans, including Lee from Alaska, Dave and Ellen from Washington State, Steve from California, Scott from Maryland, and Miles from the UK. To help on the tour, MotoQuest guide Lynn Brown rode over from Boise, Idaho. Lynn usually guides our Laos, Vietnam and Isle of Man MotoQuest tours, but, having been born and raised in Idaho, his knowledge of that area by motorcycle is hard to beat.
Riding all over the world is good, but this Stateside motorcycle trip is special. I spent much of my childhood in and around Longview, Washington. It seemed that you could not go far without finding some sign marker or geographical point without Lewis and Clark attached to it (Lake Sacajawea was the main park in town). So, in a way, I feel I grew up with them, but never really got to know them.
A few years ago, I picked up the book “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose. It was an amazing detailed account of the entire expedition from its inception in Jefferson’s mind, to the harrowing 3 years of the expedition across the North American Continent. From reading the account, the idea blossomed: Why not follow their trail on motorcycle?
So, here I am, the first morning of the trip, and it is simple: we start out in Portland, OR and plan to cross the path of Lewis and Clark several times on our way out east to Great Falls, Montana. From there, we will pick up the trail wholeheartedly, and follow it all the way to their winter destination and halfway point at Fort Clatsop, near Astoria, Oregon. All of the group has either read or holds a copy of “Undaunted Courage”, and we are off, for 12 days, to relive Lewis and Clark’s harrowing journey to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Our first day was spent gathering in Portland: airport pick-ups, meeting up in the hotel, going to dinner, and getting acquainted with each other. Like many of my rides, some of the group knew each other from previous trips, or meshed well at their first meeting. Lynn and I, with the rest of the MotoQuest crew prepared for the trip: washing and going over the bikes and support truck, pouring over maps, checking tools, buying snacks, reviewing hotel lists and the other myriad of things you need to do to make a motorcycle trip, or (pun intended) moto quest run smoothly.
We laughed around the table at our first group dinner. I could tell we would be getting along well. MotoQuest trips like these are great for camaraderie. From time to time we would, as a group, talk about Lewis and Clark, and it was clear to me that this was the draw. I could feel the excitement of the fact that we were going to retrace the journey of the Corps of Discovery, and, with each rider having the book fresh in their minds, added to the anticipation of what was to come.
The next day we headed out of Portland. It was relieving to get out of the city and into the country. The constant thunder of the I-5 corridor, the thousands of people, cars, buildings in all directions – I could not help but wonder what Lewis would have thought at all of this. Within minutes, we were from I-5 to the 205 to 26 out of Clackamas, and suddenly, bliss. Traffic and buildings dropped off and we were quickly engulfed in a canopy of trees and skirting the clear Clackamas River. The road turned to two-lanes and the forest took over. Our mission was the small town of Maupin in central Oregon.
It had been raining for two days previous, but the sky held the water and the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s. The road turned better and better. Our goal was to stay on as many side-roads as possible, until Maupin. However, at one point, we came to a roadblock: a forest fire had closed off the road ahead, and we had to make a detour. We backed around this, and climbed up to Mt. Hood. It was lunchtime when we rolled into the Timberline Lodge parking lot.
The unobstructed view of the mountain, the ski lifts, and its glaciers was a welcome delight. You could see for miles over heavily forested hills off in the distance. The lodge itself was a test of time, an enormous wood-beamed goliath of an edifice. We made our way to a dining room and suddenly we were surrounded by classy elegance: wine glasses, wooden tables and chairs, and a hearty and healthy buffet. We all kind of giggled for a moment: Should we not just stay here for the week?
Then it was off the mountain, and down a side road headed pure east. The road was littered with pine needles, and that could only mean it did not get used often. The trees went turned to long needled pine and the area grew more and more arid. At one point, we went through a smoldering field of smoking stumps…the remnants of a forest fire, left for dead. Courageous squirrels darted out in front of us. Then, the trees stopped altogether, and hey fields started. Rolling fields of grain and cattle took over the land. The grass was dry and tan. The clouds had parted and the temperature climbed. It was amazing how fast the climate had changed, and this little known road tied it all together neatly.
We stopped briefly near the town of Durfur, to collect the group. It was out of an Americana Coffee Table book: cows layer around, chewing their cud, tractors sat idle in fields and grain storage and farm houses were the order of the day. We had to go through the town, just to check it out and enjoy the old brick buildings and country feel.
We were but a couple miles from our destination, and stopped briefly at the White River waterfalls, then down to the Deschutes River.
The road along it was simple with views of this clear river as we traveled along it at the bottom of a shallow gorge. A few miles along it, taking in the rapids, fishermen and high dry-grassed bluffs, the temperature was almost perfect and the sun was on its way to setting as we pulled into our destination. The hotel was right on the river, with a manicured lawn and swinging wooden chairs right on the river. We sat out, taking in the serenity. This was a far cry from the busyness of the city, and a welcome relief!
That night, we slept to the soothing sound of the Deschutes River.
September 26th: Maupin to Joseph Oregon
We awoke to clear skies and mild temperatures, with leaves falling and the Deschutes rolling by. We had a big day ahead of us. Not a gigantic day, but 325 miles of back roads in Oregon would take most of the day. We aimed to cross almost half of Oregon this day, choosing only secondary roads, most you never heard of. As we climbed out of the Deschutes Valley, with the curves being perfectly dry, canted and with no traffic, you could only smile. What a way to start the day and as we looked upon Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams of the Cascades and the blue sky in front of us, that smile did not go away. Nor did it for the rest of the day. Each segment of road, from the Antelope highway to Ukiah – Dale corridor…was just bliss. It was a day of farms, small towns, open, arid country, pine trees, curves, river valleys and absolutely no traffic. We would go for two hours and pass only a couple of cars coming the other way. For most of the day, we never rode behind traffic.
Eastern Oregon is one of the unsung heroes of motorcycling. Scott said it best: “What would people think of motorcycling if they had a day like this: no traffic and the traffic we did come across, pulled over and let us by!” It was like living a motorcycle traveler’s dream. We only passed by a half dozen motorcycles all day. Truly, these back roads of eastern Oregon offer some of the best riding anywhere, and you never hear about it! It had to be one of the top 5 rides in my life.
After hours of small towns, open country and farmlands, we pulled into the little crossroads of Long Creek. There was only one restaurant, so we decided on that one! It was so small town: a trailer full of firewood being raffled off out front, and it was a mixture of a restaurant, general store and feed store. It had it all, and the people who worked there were cheerful and friendly.
We stopped in one town because there was a herd of cattle being moved through. The whole day was filled with magnificent views and farm town Americana. You just could not beat it!
We finally pulled into Joseph and made our way to the south side of Wallowa Lake to Wallowa Lake Lodge. It was an old hotel, nestled in a pine grove, within sight of the lakeshore. Above, lofted peaks surrounded us. As we were parking our motorcycles, deer wandered by, grazing, their pie-plate ears pricking up inquisitively. That night, we met for dinner in the main hall, to the sounds of live piano music. The food was excellent and although we were all tired from the day, each person was in awe of the beauty they had witnessed. What a special day!
September 27th: Joseph to McCall, Idaho 180 miles
Wedding cakes made of rock, clear flowing rivers, Ponderosa Pine, tan, dry grass, fat cattle and sweeping curves. This has been the theme of the first days of riding. It was just about to continue, and even get better! We headed out of Joseph for a small road, which took us from the rim of Hells Canyon to the bottom of it. We stood at the rim of Hells Canyon and gazed down at its enormity. Peaks drifted off into the distance. Far below, the Snake River meandered through. We were in rugged country, wild country. The road was narrow, paved and twisty with walls of fir trees lining the way. There was seldom any traffic and a clear mountain stream carried its way along the road. You could stop your bike, turn off the engine, and experience complete silence.
We arrived at the Snake at Oxbow. We stopped for a while and lay out on the grass next to the river. Vaulted canyon walls surrounded us. Dry grass carpeted the scene broken up by clumps of pine trees and rocks. We had not traveled far, but the serpentine nature of the road kept us in third gear the entire way. After a spell of rest, we headed into Idaho. A one-hour time change and a new river valley to discover.
Our entire journey so far had been riding along rivers, and here we went again. The road was curve after curve. There was little or no traffic. We were drinking up the road, the scenery – all of it.
We pulled into the small town of Cambridge for lunch. We enjoyed hot sandwiches, hamburgers and spud munches. Fast friendly service with local flare, you got to love it! Cowboy hats were everywhere and passed cattle ranches and hey fields all day long.
The slow cantor of country life was the order of the day. Our last push to McCall took us through more cattle ranching, pine trees and finished with a steep, winding climb to McCall. This town was on the shores of Payette Lake and has some glimmer to it. It was a destination both in the summer and winter to up scale tourists and featured a boat harbor, shops and nice restaurants. In the winter, it had 2,900 residents. In the heat of the summer, it had over 10,000. It was also the center of fire fighting and as we passed the airport, with its fire fighting planes, you could see a smoldering smoke patch on the hillside in the background. We checked into our hotel, and met up for dinner at a restaurant right on the lake. As the sun set, and skies turned red, the lake surface turned to mild ripple and we talked and laughed around the dinner table.
September 28th: McCall to Salmon 275 miles
We had a sizable day today ahead of us, but one that would be very memorable. The entire day would be spent on Scenic byways. We would be either going down a river valley, or up one. It was an entire day of curves, forests, wild rivers, and mountains. Idaho boasts some of the wildest, most remote regions in the continental United States. Entire sections of the state are so rugged that a road does not belong there. The only way to cross this impossibly mountainous area by road is by following a river. And, that is what we did. If you like curves, rivers, mountains and open roads, you would love northern Idaho! We spent 5 hours riding our way across the state.
The beautiful scenes were too numerous to remember them all. We pulled into Stanley and had lunch. It had been a full half-day of great riding, and we were about to follow the Salmon River north. As we followed the river, the landscape grew more and more arid. The river grew in size and character.
At one time, profound salmon runs used to come to this place. With all the dams on the lower Colombia, it has all but stopped. Salmon was the birthplace of Sacajawea. We were to spend two nights here and explore the surrounding area. We pulled into our accommodations, right on the Salmon River. Fall was in the air and the trees were turning and there was a crisp coolness outside. The sound of the rushing salmon entered our room. After checking in, we sat outside, riverfront. We sipped beer, water and Pepsi and talked about the day, tomorrow’s activities and whatever else came to mind.
We walked to a downtown bistro and enjoyed an excellent meal at the Junkyard. At nine o’clock, we went back to our hotel for some rest. It had been a world-class day of riding and with a great group.
September 29th: Salmon Free day
We were in the birthplace of Sacajawea. Back in Lewis and Clark’s time, the Shoshone Indians lived in this valley, fishing for salmon, searching for roots, and would migrate east to hunt buffalo. They were at war with the Blackfoot, and were rich in horses. Sacajawea had been taken from here by the Hidatsus, and brought far, far east to the Mandan Villages. When she returned with Lewis and Clark, she was reunited with her brother and was able to help the Corps of Discovery trade for horses, so they could pass the Bitterroot and Sawtooth mountain ranges, before taking to water once again. Without Sacajawea, it is doubtful the Lewis and Clark Expeditions would have made it past this point. It was late September when they finally crossed over the continental divide at Lemhi Pass.
We were forming our own style of the Corps of Discovery: Lynn and Phil were the guides, Steve brought light to the group with his laughter, Miles brought dry wit, Lee was the IT guy, Ellen was the wagon driver, Scott was the king of good attitude, and David was the turkey hunter. I tried to imagine what this valley looked like in the days of Sacajawea. What would she have thought of the farms, fences, roads, towns and cars?
We first went to the Sacajawea Discovery Center, where we walked an outside circuit through fields and along the Lemhi River, reading different interpretive signs about the native people and animals of the region. There was a moving statue of Sacajawea near the parking lot. To think that she, as a teen-ager, with a child, crossed the continent and back! She only lived to be in her twenties. What a life she had had. The walk around the circuit gave you time to take in the area and what it was. There is a special type of energy you can get from actually standing in the place of historic actions and, with to the backdrop of the Bitterroots and to the gurgling of the Lemhi River, this was no different.
After reading Undaunted Courage, standing in this very valley where the Corps of Discovery came through, made the journey, in my mind, come full circle.
We procured some sack lunches and decided to head for the top of Lemhi Pass, just south of town. We road 20 miles south to the “town” of Tendoy, and picked up the Lewis and Clark Back Country Adventure Route. This was a circuit of dirt roads that went from the bottom of Lemhi Valley to the top of the continental divide. Both routs connected the actual L and C party’s trail into the valley. The dirt road went up and up, and went from scrub brush and broad views of the valley below to thick forests.
Once in the forest, it was just corridor riding for several miles before we rounded a corner and could see far below the top of Lemhi Pass. In all directions, mountains could be seen. We went to the very spot Lewis stood and declared that he had finally found the source of the Missouri River, and would be passing into the waterways that would lead him to the Pacific.
The pass was a modest 7,600 feet in height, but the Corps had dropped their boats and was carrying all of their gear. Late in September, there was an air of desperation for Lewis, as the weather was turning colder, and it was in doubt that they could make it through the Rockies before the snows came. Standing there, at the pass, as author Stephen Ambrose wrote, is very much like it was when Lewis was there: there are a couple of dirt roads, and there are no buildings in sight, no sign of timber being cut, nothing. Only a cool wind and silence hosted us as we took in the scene.
TO BE CONTINUED…