Monday, July 1, 2013

Oregon Motorcycle Diaries

By Kevin Max

Therekindling of a rocky road love affair with two-wheeled adventure from behind the throttle of a dual sport bike.
Therekindling of a rocky road love affair with two-wheeled adventure from behind the throttle of a dual sport bike.
Heaven couldn't be much farther above Hells Canyon on a motorcycle journey through northeast Oregon.
Heaven couldn't be much farther above Hells Canyon on a motorcycle journey through northeast Oregon.
Motorcycling through the canyons of northeast Oregon is about calculated risks, lots of maps, real self-assessment, camping, and at the end of the day, bathing in the cool riffles of the Wallowa River.
Motorcycling through the canyons of northeast Oregon is about calculated risks, lots of maps, real self-assessment, camping, and at the end of the day, bathing in the cool riffles of the Wallowa River.
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This is a story about taking time, slowing down and changing your life on Oregon's back roads. It's about stopping at restaurants, shops, roadside markers and parks you'd never consider if you were just blowing past in a minivan. In the end, the motorcycle is a vehicle for change unlike any other.

I once owned a motorcycle, but our relationship was immature and hell-bent. It was college, and we were more interested in the surface, looks and mutual abuse. That was more than two decades ago. The risk parameters seemed fuzzier, friendlier. Tires, I'm sure, had more traction then. They went faster and seemed more stable at higher speeds. Weather conditions were never a factor unless they prevented more forward progress than sideways progress. Motorcycles had wings, and they were magical.

At some point, though, I had a not-so-magical landing that led to a long estrangement from and resentment of motorcycles.

When the topic of rekindling my unsuccessful relationship with motorcycles innocently arose one day, my wife most sensibly laid down the over-my-dead-body threat. "Think about your kids! Think about me," she said.

I did, and then enrolled in a motorcycle safety class that would allow me to become a more sensitive partner in my relationship (with motorcycles), a more responsible husband and father, and ultimately join the Oregon Discovery Rally, a three-day ride into the bosom of beauty.

Through the kindness and blind faith of Billy and Stacie Benedict of Oregon Dual Sport Rentals & Adventures and gear guru Brian Price of Atomic Moto, I was able to procure a bike, get protective gear and learn from experienced riders who would soften the blow at home.

Dual sport bikes are hybrid bipolar innovations that are comfortable on paved roads but yearn for gravel on a mountain pass, sand in a desert crossing or a combination thereof. They are designed to take you from the relative safety of civilization to something a little more bumpy, uncivilized—adventure.

"When you drive a car, it's like watching a movie," Stacie explained. "When you ride a motorcycle, it's like starring in a movie."

These bikes are much quieter and lighter than Harley Davidsons and, frankly, many of their operators, too. They don't seek groups of twenty for recognition, are rarely found in meaningful numbers in Sturgis, South Dakota and seldom host an intentionally-sleeveless rider.

With the exception of a few events, dual sport riders are mostly found in pairs, riding and camping along the path of adventure. The Discovery Rally is no exception—an excursion into the unknown. This event began in 2006, when Scott and Madelyn Russell of European Motorcycles of Western Oregon brought together their passion and a few riders in a state with enough dirt, gravel and stunning vistas to make for endless possibilities.

The rally involves camping, navigation, maps (lots of maps), true self-assessment, calculated risks, a balance of the mechanical and the romantic and, at the end of the day, bathing in the cool riffles of the Wallowa River.

The candidates for rides range from winding paved roads to rugged off-roads. Some bikers were keen on dirt roads that don't show up on most maps. Others were more content with scenery, greenery and pavement.

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