Eastern Oregon Trip:
An adventure with conspiracy theories, a cult,
the Google Streetview car, screech owls & so much more...

May 2012

Scene in Antelope, Oregon
Three days, 685 miles.
Stefan and Jayne's May 2012 motorcycle trip in Eastern Oregon.

Map of our May 2012 Eastern Oregon tripWe went the long way around through Sweet Home, Sisters, Antelope, Shaniko, Fossil, Condon, Heppner, Ukiah, and back (here's the route) - Stefan via his Honda Africa Twin and me via my Kawasaki KLR.

It was my first camping trip via the KLR - and with my new boots (more on that later). We chose the weekend before Memorial Day for this trip because most camp sites would be open, the weather would be good, but the crowds wouldn't be around yet.

We were on the road by 10 a.m. on Friday, which was essential to get to where we wanted to be. Riding I5 is never, ever fun, but it had to be done, so we could get South as quickly as possible. We left the highway just south of Albany, onto state road 34 for just a bit and then onto USA Hwy 20. We stopped for a lack-luster lunch somewhere along the way - it's always super disappointing to eat at a charming roadside café and have the food be really boring.

We continued west through Willamette National Forest. It was, as always, gorgeous: we learned a bit about America's First Transcontinental Automobile Race (in 1905), with spectacular views of Mt. Washington. I did Highway 20 on my Honda Nighthawk two years ago, and remember being absolutely terrified of the heights and speed. This time, I enjoyed it much more, though my heart was racing a few times... We would loved to have gone over McKenzie Pass (242) to Sisters, but we had a feeling it was closed - I still haven't ridden it! We stopped at Lost Prairie Campground for a break, and there was still a lot of snow on the hills that don't see much sun (so much that the campground was still closed).

It was unfortunate that we did not have time for me to stop and take a photo of the hand made sign that said,
1/2 Pig

We road from Sisters to Redmond, then turned north on US Hwy 97, which has to be the ugliest, most boring US Highway there is - we have ridden it in Oregon and Washington, and all we have seen is straight road with not much scenery - but a highlight of the road was, in Madras, seeing the Google Streetview car! It was coming from a road on our right, turning left to go South on US Hwy 97, so we were unable to get a photo. And I don't think it was filming at that time, so we won't be in a photo, even as a blur. DARN!

Jayne on the road from Shaniko to Antelope, OregonWe turned onto 293, the Antelope Highway, and the scenery turned beautiful again, the road winding. We came to the teeny tiny town of Antelope, and stopped at the café, which had an "open" sandwich board sign out near the road. Note to restaurants: being obviously open, with more than just a discreet "open" sign in the window, leads to a LOT more business! We went in and asked where the nearest camping was and the nearest beer was. The very friendly manager said the nearest camping was the field next door, and the nearest beer was a convenience store in nearby Shaniko, up the oh-so-twisty 218. The road did NOT disappoint (see photo at left)! Shaniko turned out to be an old-West town that, sadly, is largely abandoned. There's a beautiful old hotel there, for sale, and a really nice camping spot - looks like it's also for sale. Lots more interesting buildings as well, most of which look like businesses that were closed relatively recently. Someone, please, buy Shaniko! The hotel in particular! I hate to see such beautiful history die - but big, ugly strip malls and franchised motels survive.

We bought beer and some items for the morning, then headed back down to Antelope via the lovely, twisty 218.

Campground in Antelope, OregonWe stopped at the café in Antelope again to make sure we really could camp in the unmowed field next door, that there really was a bathroom there - she assured us we could, and told us that the guy that lived there... let's call him Mark... that Mark would clean out the bathrooms for us. So, we paid her $10, and road into the field and started unpacking. Mark came out of his small trailer to greet us and make sure we'd paid at the café. And then he did, indeed, clean out the bathrooms - which were much better than I was expecting on the inside, because on the outside, it looks like a shack on its last days. Maybe I have really low standards for bathrooms, having been subjected to some really horrible bathrooms all over the world. He put in a fresh propane tank so we could have warm water (to me, while camping, that's a HUGE luxury) and spent a long time in both bathrooms cleaning them. He came out to announce there were no more bugs or frogs inside and they were ready to use.

Noticing Mark's "Don't Tread on Me" flag, I covered the UN flag sticker on the back of my top box with a shirt, and hoped Mark wouldn't see it. There were no picnic tables, so we used an old cable roller for a table and our panniers for chairs. We really wanted to take that cast iron skillet we found, but it would have been too heavy on the motorcycles.

We walked around and took lots of photos of Antelope, which is a mix of old-west buildings and houses from the turn of the century and trailers. The little community church is quite pretty. You know you are in a small town when the city council meeting minutes are posted outside the firehouse, no last names are used at all, and one of the items is Status of fixing ceiling lights in gym - Caroline's nephew or hire an electrician.

On our walking tour of the town, we saw a flag that commemorated Antelope's 25th Anniversary. But Antelope, Oregon is more than 100 years old, so the flag confused us - 25th anniversary of what? Then we stopped at a bulletin board across from the cafe, and there was a story about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. CLICK! We didn't realize Antelope was THAT city! You remember, right? In the 1980s, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh took over Antelope, Oregon. The cult's followers were able to take over the city council and change the town's name to Rajneesh. Once the Bhagwan and his lead collaborators were arrested on various charges, the cult members went away, and the locals were able to reclaim their town. There's a plaque commemorating the resistance to Rajneesh on the flag pole next to the post office. And the café owner is happy to show you old newspaper clippings and the bits of red paint still showing in various places in the cafe, which served as the post office during the "occupation."

I spent the evening giddy over being in Antelope - I love coming face-to-face with history. I so remember "The Bhagwan", as my mother called him - her high school class president, Charles, had become a member at some point - I've never forgotten her talking about it. I cooked a huge meal - so huge that, for the first time, we didn't finish it. We had enough to feed two more bikers! I had made Zatarain's rice, and put in half a can of tomatoes and an entire Hillshire Farms Turkey sausage into it. TOO MUCH FOOD. It was good though... As the sun set and we stood outside our tent drinking our beer, Stefan noticed at least one white owl, maybe two, diving here and there around us.

The sun went down and it started to get COLD, so we retired for the evening - and froze. SO COLD. Not as cold as Yellowstone last year, but still cold! At some point in the night, I needed to pee, so I got out of my sleeping bag and unzipped the tent entrance - and there on the rain fly was the shadow of a massive, headless person, arms outstretched, ready to pounce and kill me. At least that's what I thought for about a second, before realizing it was just the shadow of my KLR handlebars, perfectly back lit by a light over the bathrooms. I unzipped the rain fly and headed over to the bathrooms, hoping I wouldn't be greeted by any frogs or snakes inside. Returning to the tent, I stopped for a moment in the cold to look up at the beautiful night - so many stars, so very, very bright. And then I heard a loud, piercing SCREECH and I ran back into the tent - clearly the Screech Owl is well named.  

I did NOT consult my pack list before the trip, trying to pack from memory - I thought, hey, it's a two night trip, I don't need to look at the list. I was wrong. Lesson learned... again. So many things forgotten. I tend to not be as meticulous when I pack for short trips, and I always end up forgetting things I really want/need. Like the charger for my cell phone. Hence why I tweeted during the trip only on Friday.

Mark came out to greet us in the morning and to tell us so many things: about how the solar eclipse on Sunday would bring solar flares that would burn up all electronics as well as universal peace and harmony, how "the bankers" would be arrested in the coming weeks and tried at the Hague, how we need to be very afraid of Agenda 21, and how he invented the Internet in the 1960s but, sadly, didn't promote the idea well enough, and a different system than what he created is now used. He has at least three web sites that detail all this and much more - contact me and I'll be happy to send you the URLs.

Jayne & KLR at Fossil, Oregon

We had a breakfast of very watery scrambled eggs - we had forgotten to buy milk the night before. We also discovered that we had brought decaffeinated instant coffee. And there was much sadness...

We gathered ourselves as best we could, packed up and said goodbye to oh-so-charming Antelope. We continued on 218 to the West, passing John Day Fossil Beds - Clarno Unit - there's no visitor's center there, but the scenery is dramatic and beautiful. Although the rock formation did remind me of that creepy movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, where the school girls go into those rocks and disappear... both our time crunch and the movie made me reluctant to hike any closer.

We stopped in the small town of Fossil for real coffee and an early, light lunch, sharing a chicken nugget basket, and meeting a lot of other motorcyclists - a man and a woman (on her own bike!) from Bend, two women on their own bikes from Canada, and a guy from Portland. Stefan joked that we really should receive a commission for all the business we bring restaurants - we park out front, and within 30 minutes, more bikers start showing up.

Then we headed North on state road 19 to Condon (which Stefan kept calling "condom" - I'm sure that joke never gets old among the school kids there), and stopped at the Twist & Shake Drive In for shakes. A hand-made sign was posted that said, "No chicken strips today. Bill messed up." There was a group of bikers from Canada inside, and they could NOT stop giving Bill a hard time. Hilarious. After the shakes (yum), we went into downtown Condon for gas, and met the most interesting gas station worker EVER - he'd been to Norway, all over Europe and Australia, worked on a Kibbutz in Israel... why can't we have him as a neighbor?!

We pushed on to Heppner via 206, then took Willow Creek Road to National Forest Road 53 through the Umatilla National Forest. Fantastic road - smooth, lovely scenery, just patches of snow here and there on the side of the road. We pushed on to Ukiah, and stopped at Granny's Country Store for some milk and beer, and the cashier noted that they had free maps of the best motorcycle routes in Eastern, Oregon. The maps are fantastic! The map also notes where to camp (though it doesn't note the camping site in Antelope). In addition to this one for Eastern Oregon, there is also one for Central Idaho and one for North Idaho & Eastern Washington that includes part of Western Montana (we'll be ordering those soon!).

We turned around and went back to Highway 395 and headed South, to the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor campground, an Oregon State Park, to camp for the night.

Oregon State Parks and Washington State Parks are great places for motorcyclists to camp, but beware of fee-based parks - those that charge a fee just to visit (as opposed to charging to camp): such parks require fee payment per vehicle, meaning a van full of 10 people pays less than two people on two motorcyclists. Take every opportunity to complain about this fee policy directly to Oregon State Parks and Washington State Parks and any other state park that does this, via their web sites and via any comment cards you find at a state park. I would love to support state parks in Oregon and Washington with a year-long pass, and I would happily pay that entrance fee, but I will not do so until they change this STUPID fee policy!

We pitched our tent and were about to cook dinner, when the camp host came over and said there were three guys in "super cars" who had been asking if National Forest Road 53 was open, and how the road conditions were. So we headed over to their camp to tell them. And there they were: three guys in super cars, taking the weekend to race through Eastern Oregon, making constant jokes, and teasing one of their members they had nicknamed "Captain Slow." Okay, so they weren't the guys from Top Gear, but they were big fans of the show. One of them turned out to be a motorcycle rider we had seen featured in a video we saw in our second week in Oregon - such a small world! They offered us part of their dinner - steak and potatoes cooked in onions - and we couldn't say no, it smelled too wonderful. It was a terrific evening of talking and joking and laughing - it's so rare that we meet other campers like that. So many are in RVs and aren't interested in socializing.

Jayne on the roadThe next day, we needed to make good time back to Portland, but we really didn't want to take 84 the whole way. So after consulting our new map, we headed North on 395, which is boring until the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway - that's awesome! Then we headed West on 74 to Heppner, which we took two years ago on our way back from Yellowstone. The road is oh-so-twisty and is a huge favorite of motorcyclists. Then over to Condon for lunch, and then up a new road for us, with just a bit of rain, to Wasco, which turned out to be quite a cute little town - the Just-Us Inn looks adorable. The most surreal moment of our stop there was hearing a guy talking loudly in some African language - did not expect that in Wasco. The rain had stopped by then, thankfully.

And then we had to get on 84 West. Ugh. I was dreading it. But it turned out to be the best ride we've had on 84 in our almost-three years here: very little traffic, very little wind, and no rain. It would have been great to jump off it and take Historic Highway 30 and various backroads back home, but the idea of getting home just after 5 p.m. was too tempting, so we pushed on, stopping at a rest stop with only TWO working bathrooms and then turning onto 205 South and, as is our tradition, stopping at the Oregon City falls overlook for one last we're-on-a-road-trip moment. While there, a Triumph motorcycle club went by on 99E, and I was reminded yet again of just how diverse the motorcycle riding folks of Oregon are when it comes to what they ride. I love that.

And then home to a very happy, content Albi, who didn't seem at all stressed that we had left her for the weekend with her dog sitter - but did seem VERY happy we were home.

Next trip? Burning Moto Man! It's on the last full weekend of June 2012, June 22-24. It's 40 miles east of Eugene on the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Free camping and no fees - but bring your own food and drink. It's for people who have traveled in other countries by motorcycle - or want to. It will be our third year to attend. Here's a complete list of our 2012 motorcycle travel plans (as well as trips we've done to date).

Last thoughts:

Several places were open range regarding cattle. I understand people love going fast on roads, but on blind corners, you could encounter deer or cows. And that's deadly for the both of you. And it's a myth that deer are out only in the morning and evening - we saw some just after lunch on Sunday running near the road.

We usually stop a LOT more on trips, and thus do far less miles a day. Anytime we spend 200 miles or more a day riding, we're pretty much just riding - no sight-seeing, no hiking, etc. Usually, I hate that kind of travel - it makes me cranky. But this trip was really nice - I needed more practice on the KLR, and the ride really was lovely - it didn't feel like long days of hard riding at all. You truly are enjoying the ride, not just getting from point A to point B.

There are a LOT of different kinds of motorcycle boots out there. Some are mostly about fashion and not about protection for a crash. Some are mostly about foot protection rather than fashion, and of these, some are laced up boots, some use Velcro (or something similar), and some use zippers. Motorcycle instructors and various books emphasize the importance of having a strong boot that fits over your ankle, and that actually fits. I made the choice to wear work boots instead of motorcycle boots, for a variety of reasons: any motorcycle boots I've tried on in a store don't fit me (many have actually been painful to wear), I'm not willing to buy and return the dozen or so motorcycle boots online that I would need in order to possibly find a pair that would fit properly , and work boots not only provide the protection I need, but also are VERY comfortable (something I need as I walk a lot during motorcycle trips) and there's a much, much larger selection to try on and choose from offline, in stores. After trying on a lot of boots, I went with Irish Setter work boots, size 8 for men (extra wide). An added bonus: they give me more height for my motorcycle, which makes riding (especially stopping) even more safe for me. For this choice, I got a firm dressing down on a women's motorcycle forum, so condescending that I no longer contribute to the forum. Never a peep out of them if a woman chooses to wear a leather jacket with no body armor, but heavens, my boots will kill me. That kind of nastiness is usually the domain of ADVRider!

On another, happier note: it was awesome to see so many women motorcycle riders this weekend on such a variety of bikes. I have nothing at all against women who ride as passengers - I still love sitting behind Stefan - but seeing so many women riding makes me SO happy, because I know just how much they are enjoying it.

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