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Headed to Gerlach, NV for the weekend. What goes on in Gerlach…used to stay on Gerlach. Now that they have WiFi and 4G….the revolution will be televised on a time delay. I was going to leave early Friday a.m., but sitting at work Thursday and I have the smell of playa dirt in my nose and may leave early afternoon and hang a hammock for the night in some forested stuff closer to Gerlach…maybe near Lakeview, OR or Alturas.
Planning to be in charge of a scavenger hunt as well called 9 Ball.
Leaving Friday afternoon and planning to camp in Blue Mountains east of Pendleton that night.
Saturday wander through LaGrande and head to Dixie Butte (picking up friend George Z along the way) NE of Prairie City. I guess we’ll have cell reception up here, but not sure. Staying Saturday night, Sunday through whole day, watch eclipse Monday morning.
Ride back via 395 to home and hopefully make council meeting Monday evening.
My first memories of the Columbia Gorge to Grandma’s house in Astoria center shotgun at the age of 5 or so. A big red and white 1974 Chevy Crew Cab, stopping to gas up the thirsty big-block 454 in Biggs, Oregon (it wasn’t a “Junction” back then), and family friend, Gary, securing Screaming Yellow Zonkers to snack along the way.
As we aimed west though The Dalles and past Hood River I remember being told that it was beautiful and to look at and take in my surroundings as much as I could. Maybe it was an adult off-hand comment to fill the look of a bored 5 year old, keep me from becoming carsick, or some other thing that seemed dumb to somebody with whole half a decade of life experience under their Toughskins belt. But I did like the lush green and everything being just different from the brown dusty desert my life was centered. The reality was I was short kid in a rig with tall windows, the driving rain smeared pretty much every glass surface, and swaying of the burly truck getting 7 mpg fatigued a kid beyond all measured.
I just wasn’t wowed. Sorry.
And future trips I remember stopping at Multnomah Falls and being marginally interested, stopping at Bonneville dam in the 80’s to see Herman the Sturgeon and being enthralled….for at least 10 minutes. Truthfully I was more enamored with stopping for a burger at Char Broil food bar in Cascade Locks.
The view just didn’t ever do it for me for some reason.
Somehow over the years The Gorge became stretch of scenery change along a long drive to get to Portland, Vancouver, or other points beyond. It was a 7 to me…at most. More often a 5 or a 6. Which made no sense since friends, family, and about every tourist guides makes out the stretch of river to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
I still didn’t get it.
But on Sunday, June 16th, 2017 I ended up rediscovering the fundamental magnificence of this incredible stretch of river they call The Gorge. I finally got to experience its beauty, complexity, and western rawness at a completely different angle, literally and figuratively. And it took a combination of not driving, going a different route unavailable to cars, and sitting 90 degrees to it as it went by. And the tidbits of books and history I’ve read in the years to understand it better.
At 3:30 p.m. I sat in the Amtrak station in Vancouver after camping the weekend in the Mt. Adams area. My ride had business in PDX during the week, so I paid $42 to take the four hour trip back home and the train was late.
The Amtrak Empire Builder starts in Portland at 4:45, but was announced it was going to be late…which seems the norm from chatter of nearby train regulars. At 5:15, “the train has left Portland and should be her in 15 minutes”.
At 5:35 it finally arrived and I was assigned a seat number. Once one the upper deck I quickly figured out I was relegated to a left-side seat, stashed my carry-on, and lumbered to the lounge car as another disembodied voice announced the café was opening. I bought a $7 sandwich, $3 bag of chips, $7 beer, steeled myself refusing to be bothered by the high price. I chose a seat facing to the right waiting for what I expected to be a fun ride in the long summer evening.
Rolling out of town I remember what was interesting about train riding in urban areas….you’re inevitably going through people’s back yards all the time and seeing a view of the world that’s just a bit different than the main road. Through Camas and Washougal you see the industrial sector that gets things done and local municipal taxes plussed up. You crisscross back and forth under and over Highway 14 flirting with the river shore and myriad of pleasure boats squeezing that last bit of the weekend out by water skiing, island sunning, and all interspersed with terns, ospreys, gulls, and whatever else trying to go about their daily bird business of surviving.
As a bonus I caught ten seconds of three 20-something drunk shirtless guys holding each other up on the shore Bro-style. They were lobster-red from sun, Coors Lights, and a pile of empties shining in the sand nearby. No way they made it home that evening without risking DUI, dehydration, blisters, and/or scorn from women they probably groped ham-handedly.
It was a cliché college novella Amtrak offered at no extra cost.
The open terrain gave way to encroaching basalt cliffs and the train scooched closer to the water as it entered the Gorge proper about Vista House. The view changed drastically. Everything was more intense in color and I started to see things I’d never noticed before. The basalt grain seemed deeper, the shoreline more wildlife, the light shifting to deeper yellow, and shadows lengthening. The view looked like a hyper-saturated HDR image, but through a glass and Lexan window a few inches in front of my Heineken and gobbled sandwich.
It had been at least 40 years since I’ve seen it this way….if I ever had. The view was an 11 and my rods and cones worked overtime to process the visual feast. I was a born-again newbie viewing the The Gorge for the first time and I was gob smacked by the beauty of all.
Things ramped up in intensity as I spotted Multnomah through the trees distantly across the river. It was a view I’d never seen before…impressive even though I was miles away on the Washington side of things. And in a bit of blog dissonance..it’s actually the top photo of this piece from my iPhone, but it just doesn’t do it justice like the HDR photo example above. Since it seemed like a 70’s snapshot from a 110 camera I grained it up a bit to go that.
But trust me. Being there was FAR more impressive.
We cruised by Bonneville Dam and things get marshier, more lush, and I was stunned to find the river bank littered with fishing platforms. They looked just like the black and white photos I’d seen from history…except in color.
Near them people camped…or maybe living for extended periods. The usual blue tarps of Tiltin’ Hilton living looked like they’d been there for weeks or months. And I’d find out later Bonneville is a designated fishing area for 40-75 people, and a few more similar sites exist on both sides of the river. Who knew? I sure didn’t ever see them before this trip and have traveled the Washington side many dozens of times.
We stopped in White Salmon/Bingen, picked up a few people, and were off again in just a couple of minutes. The town seemed like it was doing a good job reconnecting itself to the river with a nice little park and boat launch.
Kite surfers littered the water near Hood River and from the train you really got a sense of the how the river and Gorge interact with each other. Weather prevailing from the west as turns into a rip-roaring perpetual gale as it funnels through this section turning to whitecaps in a section as it bend towards the southeast. At the same point sand bars pile up where the mighty Columbia rolls on like a big bully towards the ocean and Hood River punches above its class at an oblique angle like a welterweight a summer-swollen upper cut of current.
To switch from a sports to traffic metaphor, the Gorge is perpetually in conflict like a badly designed traffic circle of chaos, confusion, and sediment. But kite and wind surfers are like savannah hyenas (to introduce a completely unneeded third and fourth metaphor) getting away with something stunning in the ultimate video game cheat code.
Much happens in Hood River and it fades away as the diesel-electric locomotive drags us miles farther east.
The Dalles sailed by offering my third or fourth different view of Mt. Adams and the 90 degree construction of the dam stood obviously out from the train route’s vantage point. This point-of-view is from a plane, but you can imagine the view as the tracks are on the left near the shore.
And the shadows became even longer as we crawled down the steel tracks to all points towards Chicago. Lush firs and cedars gave way to hearty pines and beyond Hood River clumps of green trees become distant landscape islands, while at the same time the sheer walls give the river breathing room to spread out and slow down. We’re in that boundary layer between rain-soaked and windy, green and brown, vertical eye candy to horizontal vistas to discern. If I have appreciated anything in the past 40 years it is this area of the Gorge, but watching it while on BNSF tracks just made it more poignant and personal. An eastern Washington kid was coming back from points west.
As we approached Wishram the conductor announced an extended stop to “get off, breath fresh air, stretch your legs, and have a cigarette…….for three minutes until we depart again.” Notwithstanding the hollow promise of being on time there was a sign it was 2017 and not 1973 anymore in his follow-up announcement, “3 minutes for a cigarette or to vape…….but I have to remind everybody that Amtrak is a FEDERAL organization and even though marijuana may be legal in Washington State…it is not on our platform. Period. And I’ll be honest, we will leave violators behind…..and being left in Wishram in the middle of the Gorge on a Sunday night to find another way to your destination…..isn’t any fun folks.”
He seemed apologetic, firm, and the train erupted in laughter.
You wonder where Wishram is don’t you? Unless you’re a Washington State history nerd or railroad buff, you probably don’t know about this place even you’ve driven the Washington side many times. You have to want to come to this little shithole. To be fair it used to be a much more important shithole when trains were the default travel method to points east of Portland and I’ve deliberately turned off the main highway on my motorcycle at 2 a.m. on The Big Money Motorcycle Rally documenting an arcane bit of trivia about steam locomotives.
I also learned in high school Washington State History that Wishram was was native for “species of flea or louse” and would concur that’s what it generally looks like today. Generally uninviting and only a place you’d want to go to if you’re a railroad employee deadheading for a job or if it’s 1949 and your mother had a nutty moving from Longview to Pasco from the dust and bundled up the kids to take the train back home. The latter is a true story of my two-year old mother after Grandma couldn’t stomach anything dustier than Battle Ground and vainly put wet towels underneath doors of their Pasco home in a vain attempt to keep dust from coming in. My three year old mother vividly remembers eating a sandwich in Wishram.
I’m reasonably sure no cannabis was smoked and/or discovered in the three minute stop and about six minutes later we were underway again. The folks next to me included a Portland attorney, a graphic-artist wife that witnessed the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption while climbing Mt. Adams, and a random dude from Lynchburg, Virginia that seemed just about half a bubble off. Regardless, they tossed up a softball of a question to each other about Columbia vs. Mississippi and I went Cliff Claven on them with two little-known-facts that the Columbia has less water volume but contains more energy that dams like as well as noting that most of the dams were run-of-the-river types that wasn’t so much about water storage as it was about cheap kilowatts.
I ended up talking with them most of the way back home. I come to find out the couple had pretty left-leaning renewable-energy views of the world and I did my best not remember how we were on a diesel that drank dead dinosaurs, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt about just how rabid they might be and they seemed like smart folks I could find common ground with.
Biggs Junction inched by and I dredged up more colorful factoids as we went by a side-tracked train full of canvas covered hoppers with “Republic” and “Rabanco” on the sides. This one included personal details of how I surveyed the giant regional landfill in Roosevelt as a college student. Memories of walking up, down, across, and every angle possible of the 7 miles up the hill came back like a ton of old Redwing work boots. I also learned recently in my night job as mayor that they still have a hundred years of capacity in this place. Cool. I got to go by that too on this train ride.
We then crossed into Benton County. Not because I could see any sign on the train, but motorcycling I always felt like I was close to home when I saw the familiar road sign and Cow Butt State Park across the water. Actually it’s Crowe Butte State Park, but for most the 80’s the sign had somebody creatively scuffed key letters so it reflected “C ow Butt ” at night. Many times heading back from Tigard in the 80’s with Mom, sis, and temporal step-family guaranteed sniggers at this.
It’s a big island in the middle of the Columbia and takes a bit for the train to navigate around. There’s an austere beauty to the sagebrush I’ve lived most of my 49 years in the middle of. I don’t justify it anymore or really try and explain it, but I do know that if I spend too much time in forested parts of the world I get antsy not being able to see the horizon for extended periods. Not seeing 20+ miles feels weird to me. It’s who I am now.
On past the island you move farther from the river to let the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge to do its thing and we see thousands of birds, river otters flopping around, and also green again in the form of big irrigation circles with attendant shoreline pumps gobbling up kilowatts and not crowding salmon flows (there’s my political dig for the blog). Over my shoulder I can see the ridgeline and grapes doing their southern exposure thing making phenomenally good wine.
Paterson with a single t goes by….childhood home to a few people I know that moved to Tri-Cities for a life after high school. I note I know precious few that actually live there still…yet the collection of rural houses endure.
Plymouth goes by shortly after and relay a story to my new friends about a native artifact looting operation getting busted decades ago that stole “more native artifacts than the Smithsonian has in their entire collection”.
Which then leads to the attorney asking about Kennewick Man and after reporting that he was recently turned over to the Colvilles, Stories flow from me as this is all now personal and in my sphere of experience. I also relay my extended story of my friend Ryota Yamada kayaking the Columbia on a multi-season journey to Japan, point to the freeway that is the quick way home, hydroplane races, and so many aspects of my life that are affected by the Columbia.
I’d like to say I wrung every ounce of the trip out until I got off at my stop, but rounding the horn into Finley I quickly become a Tri-Citian again. I’m almost home and the train horn blares as traffic density increases. Crossing the train bridge into Pasco it’s past sundown, but still lots of light left and I can see that Bateman Island is on fire….landmarks I’m intimately familiar jolt me back to my regular life and I’m now remembering the Gorge in the past tense again. But a much better memory to be sure.
However one giant thread keeps me tethered to my ride…a thread I am reminded every single day I live here.
I am of the Columbia River. It’s nice to meet you once again mighty river. I grow wiser and older with you every day, for the Columbia is also me.
Update: I found what I wanted and planning to go to Dixie Butte. Good camping within a mile of a prime viewing spot, great elevation and sweeping view to take in the whole experience, and fairly difficult to get to. In fact, I didn’t push the last few hundred vertical feet as there was snow by the summit and wasn’t sure if I could turn around.
I was towards the edge of my personal ability on an adventure bike to get here. I don’t think two-wheel vehicles can make it up and it’s about 5 miles from the nearest pavement.
I was fortunate enough to live in the path of the last total solar eclipse in North America in 1979 and even got to take the day off from school to watch from home with a scientist that brought us special goggles to protect our eys.
And since the next one on August 21, 2017 is passing near where I live and I’m going to take the day off from work and experience my second of my life.
Some are predicting major traffic for it, so I’m going to do some recon and try and observe it away from the potential hordes as well as a site that makes it photogenic. Why not make a weekend of a reconnaissance mission to get ready for those two minutes of totality? So, do motorcycle riding, camping, and explore nooks and crannies of Oregon I’ve not seen.
Eclipse Viewing Criteria:
- Reasonably near home
- Public lands. I won’t trespass for this.
- Private or reasonably secluded from others.
- Nearby place to practice dispersed camping with a hammock Sunday night before. No mass-camping mess for me.
- Elevated place to watch the umbra scream across the planet surface at over 2500 miles per hour.
- Visually interesting foreground for a photo (i.e. mountain lake, a sweeping vista, a prominent mountain, etc.)
So, I’m exploring Eastern Oregon green forested areas Thursday and Friday near the red eclipse center line. I’ve got three or four specific candidate GSP coordinates I’ve researched via Google Maps that have forest service roads (presumably with public access) and dispersed camping should be allowed. I figure there’s gotta be one spot in the hundreds of thousands of square miles to watch.
Ride Pictures 5/30. After the ride, here are a few pictures along the way:
Mileage Summary and Stats:
- Thursday, Pasco – Coulee Dam Area – 182
- Friday, Coulee Dam – Revelstoke, BC – 426
- Saturday, Revelstok – Waterton Lakes – 417
- Sunday, Water Lakes, AB – Powell Campground, ID – 326
- Monday, Powell Campground – Pasco – 296
Total 1647 Miles. Average Mileage Per Full Day (Friday-Sunday): 389. Past Full Day Averages : 325
Memorial Weekend kicks off by taking advantage of the Canadian National Parks Anniversary with a free national park pass. As we’ll be in Canada and my data plan is ugly-expensive…..GPS reports will likely in catch-up mode when I find free WiFi north of the border.
Thursday, May 25
Pasco to Colville Reservation area of Washington via Keller Ferry. Hopefully get there before dark.
Friday, May 26
Morning: Mays and his father are originally from Coulee City and he’s going to honor Mike’s recent passing at Buffalo Lake with some relatives.
Ride north across the border and generally follow the Columbia, ride by several provincial parks, ride several ferries, and spend the evening in Revelstoke, BC. The bar to resident ratio is very high in this former mining town turned winter ski destination. We’ll probably motel it.
Saturday, May 27
Ride Canada Highway 1 by Revelstoke NP, through Glacier NP, and enter Banff NP from Golden, BC. The apogee of this ride really is Lake Louise and the classic “castle on the glacial lake”.
Depending on how we feel for mileage we may come back via Radium Hot Springs to search the true origin of the Columbia River or maybe push to the east side of the Rockies and down south via the eastern foothills of the Rockies. Unfortunately, I believe the Kananaskis Highway will still be closed with snow or would absolutely ride 40. Not sure yet where we’re staying, but assume camping if we did a motel in Revelstoke.
Sunday, May 28
If we’re on the eastern side of the Rockies we’ll visit we’ll go through the U.S. version of Glacier NP, Kalispell, and towards Missoula. I spent 3 months of my life in college surveying the mountains near Alberton, MT and very much want to go through the Petty Creek area and think it will be a great camping area for the evening.
Monday, May 29
Over Lolo Pass and the twisites through Lewiston. Slog our way back from there and cap off the 4 day ride possibly through the Blues. Again, snow is a bigger factor this year than years past and we’re still not even into June.
At the suggestion of a colleague, The Kindness Diaries are speaking to me. Motorcycles, kindness of strangers, friendly British chap, seeing the world, service to others. I think I’m going to enjoy it….
Wandering around British Columbia several times in 2016 I was struck by how many ways there are for Americans to pay for things. We can use cash of course, checks are an option in some cases, automatic bill pay, debit, PayPal, but I prefer credit cards (and not carry a balance) with the benefit percentage off my bill. 2-3% is nothing to sneeze at. Depending on the card you may have to pay a foreign exchange fee every time you use it….perhaps in the 3% range. I licked that one and made sure I have a non-fee card.
But when you want to buy one drink in a Kewlowna bar, a diet coke from a vending machine in Tofino, or spend paper or coin money somewhere….your wallet only has green paper and change that sounds different than the Canuckian stuff. How do you actually get 100% Canadian dollah’?
Yu might be able to put your ATM into a machine and get money out, but you’ll probably be charged an exchange fee, ATM fee of the one you’re using, and ATM fee by your bank. Ick.
On one of those trips I convinced a nice lady in a Canadian bank to convert my American $100 bill to some pretty plastic bills, but it seemed obvious to me that was an irregular service and tried two other times with no luck…even with them charging 2-3%.
So, doing some Googling I found that Schwab gets around this by offering a checking and ATM debit card combo promising that they’ll “refund” any ATM fees that might be accrued as well as a favorable exchange fees. So, I now have a Schwab debit card and will give it an exercise the next time I’m across the border and not sweat having to keep track of myriad fees.
The bonus about trying this in Canada….it should work the same in every other country the same way.
If it works, maybe I should think about exercising the card in some place like Hanoi, Cuenca, or Barcelona.
I’ve always thought of myself as a supporter of journalists and assumed, in large measure, that real journalists naturally believe in the basic principles truth, impartiality, accuracy, and all the adjectives that would describe a solid beat reporter at a local newspaper. It’s only in 2017 that my assumption has been so thoroughly debunked that I actually find myself calling attention to the principles of Ethical Journalism.
- Truth and Accuracy
- Fairness and Impartiality
As I recount a blog that has been largely about motorcycling around the country and proud I’ve tried to inform family, friends, and anybody that would read about my recounting of journeys around one continent– I’m pondering my next challenges in life. And, I wonder if I dare become, call, or fancy myself a blogger-come-journalist….even if an amateur. If I go see the world and editorialize in blog-friendly terms–do I dare aspire to become a beacon that people might want to read, subscribe, or use as a ethical source to inform them about the world?
It’s something I’m pondering and exploring a possible plan for.
Stay tuned for more….
I had to look back to the first time Nooch and I did our first real adventure ride and stunned to realize it was 5 years ago. We didn’t pull off a 2-3 week trip to Alaska this season, but we’re planning a 4 nighter through NE Oregon, Hells Canyon area, McCall, and Riggins.
Thursday 9/1: After work, jet up to the Blues a slightly different way than usual through Helix and the Umatilla Reservation.
Friday: Lake Wallowa and Joseph, cross over at Oxbow and maybe make it to Black Lake, ID This is a remote one that seems interesting to me.
Saturday: McCall, ID. I skiied near hear several times in the 90’s and figure this area would be fun via motorcycle. Maybe camp around Riggins.
Sunday: Make it back to Washington and Tucannon area for camping.
Monday: Back at a reasonable time…maybe dinner with the family.