Hells Canyon – Portland to Hood River (June 12th)

Even though I was living in the woods, I still managed to get wifi in town often enough to keep up on the current happenings with the Hells Canyon gathering. John (asrvivor) had posted that he had a small group that were going to ride to the gathering together, and I figured I would tag along. After I managed to get my laundry done and scored a free shower (I figured they probably weren’t partial to smelly forest-dwelling hippies), I headed over. I thought that two hours would be more than enough to get through Portland traffic, but I was wrong.

On the way there I got a bit turned around. I frequently get off track in my travels, but I have a good sense of direction so I always end up where I wanted to go eventually. This isn’t usually an issue, as long as I’m not running late. I missed a turn off and had to turn around, winding up at a poorly-designed intersection where I had to go from a stop sign to 70+mph highway traffic during rush hour with no merge lane. I revved my engine in anticipation of gunning it, and WHAM! I was suddenly jolted forward several feet. What the fuck?! I looked behind me and the stupid lady in the cage behind me had rear-ended my bike. I parked the bike, took off my helmet, and surveyed the damage. Luckily, my bike is tall and her car was short, so the only damage was some paint transfer from her fender to my tire, everything else was fine. I asked her what the hell she was thinking, and she said that she “heard my engine rev so she thought I was going”. Good job lady, apparently you’ve never heard of a manual transmission. I told her to be more careful and went on my way.

Eventually I found John’s house, and everyone was already mostly geared up and ready to go. Somebody had to flag me down from the road, because I drove past it several times (it was tucked back away down a gravel road). I didn’t get photos because I was already the slowpoke. Someday I will figure out how to make it work. Maybe I just need to ride faster…

We headed out into the rain, gassed up, and headed toward Hood River. I went slow, I don’t like the rain to start with, and the chosen route was full of awesome little twisties. Very fun, but I don’t corner that fast even in optimal weather. On top of the corners and the wet pavement, the hiccup returned with a vengeance. The bike was Not A Happy Camper, and it stalled more times than I could count as I let off the throttle to slow for a corner. I ended up just using the clutch to slow myself, keeping the throttle at a steady level. This didn’t eliminate the problem, it was sputtering, backfiring and bucking, but at least it stalled less. It was downright terrifying to ride with the ever-present fear of stalling at the wrong time or breaking down and inconveniencing a pack of people I barely knew.

The path wound out of the dense forest and up along a ridge, and I was reminded of Highway 1 in California as I snuck quick glances over the sheer cliff to try to glimpse the scenery below. Almost everything was obscured by a thick layer of fog, and the rain started coming down in sheets. I kept on the throttle and hoped for the best.

Suddenly, there wasn’t a road anymore.

Now, asrvivor assured me later that he’d made it perfectly clear that there was going to be dirt involved, but I didn’t pay attention or something, because this took me completely by surprise. I’m sure if I’d lived in this area a while I’d know that “Lolo pass” was made out of dirt. So I began my second real dirt ride, in the rain, going down a mountain pass. (I don’t count the stuff where I dinked around in the woods, most of those roads you could easily drive a passenger car down, not very challenging even at my low skill level.) I waved everyone ahead of me, because I knew I was going to be riding my brakes and white knuckling it the whole way, but one person (I believe it was Mark/s1marks) decided to stay behind me and make sure I made it okay, for which I was very grateful, even as I felt bad for slowing him down.

The road was not very long, maybe 7 miles? but I was dealing with gravel and some mud. I’d never dealt with gravel, particularly inch-sized pieces before, just well-packed graded stuff. Water, finding the path of least resistance, turned the track into a small stream, and after a bit of terrified experimentation, this seemed to be the area with the most reliable traction. Luckily for me, the rain let up, and as it did, my bike ran much smoother, so at least I wasn’t wrestling both nature and machine. After crossing one of those disconcerting bridges which has two tracks to the outside and no center, I eventually caught up with the rest of the group. I was tense, but proud that I’d managed to make it through, and vowed to return at some future point when I had more skill and better weather, as it seemed like a gorgeous place to visit.

We continued along our way to Hood River, where a stay at the Lazy Lodge had been arranged!

I was the only one who parked out front, too chicken to park in the sloped grass out back as I knew I’d drop it if the grass got wet.

Somebody brought me a beer, which I slowly nursed as I set up my tent. I didn’t take too many photos as I wanted to try to socialize and I still hadn’t gotten used to the idea that random photography was acceptable and expected at these gatherings. Chris and Marti were awesome! Lots of great stories were shared, and delicious kebobs were had by all. They really bent over backwards to make sure that I had enough vegetarian food, and Marti insisted I take about a half gallon of roasted potatoes and veggies with me for the road. I also really enjoyed the gigantic chubby wolves Chris keeps as pets, and they shed furry tumbleweeds in response to my scratching.

As the night progressed, I got more tipsy, and for some reason I found the sign over the shop to be quite funny:

Eventually I went to bed, around 3 am. I think I was the last one up. And we were supposed to get an early start…

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