A Springtime Ride in Western Oregon (a dry WetLeather adventure )
I put out a ride call to WetLeather at the end of March. There was supposed to be five of us this Sunday, April 6th, but two failed to show, leaving just a trio. I suspect the no shows forgot to set their clocks ahead and showed up an hour late…we didn’t wait around.
There was an interesting assortment of bikes on this ride — myself on the 650cc Honda HawkGT, Mike with his black 883cc Harley Sportster, and Bjet on the Honda CBR1000 Hurricane. The WetLeather email list makes for some interesting combinations, don’t it?
This particular ride is a “figure 8” ride with Philomath, OR, at the center. We left Philomath (Latin for “lover of science”) and skirted around the northwest edge of Corvallis (Latin for “heart of the valley”). What was it with these Oregon pioneers and Latin? Victims of classical education? The weather was slightly nippy, dry with a high cirrus haze. Oregon is a palette of green this time of year, from the dark green of the fir trees, to the mixed tones of greens from maples, oaks and alders, the dusty pale green of the moss hanging from the branches, and finally the bright green of the fields of recently sprouted grasses.
The trio makes interesting music — my HawkGT has a Supertrapp exhaust and a V-twin rumble. The Hurricane, a 1,000cc in-line four, has a 4-into-two exhaust and dual ‘Trapps. It makes a sound a bit like tearing cloth when reved. The Sportster, of course, sounds just like a Harley – potato, potato, potato…
Leaving Corvallis we headed northwest on twisty Sulphur Springs Road up through MacDonald State Forest, over the Lewisburg saddle and down into Soap Creek Valley. The western end of this valley is narrow and forested, and the road snakes through the tall fir trees. It’s a narrow two-lanes-no-shoulders road that runs along the southern flank of the valley and stays hilly and slightly curvy even as the valley flattens out and opens up. Reasonable and prudent speeds through here are in the 45-50 mph range, with a couple of true 20 mph turns tossed in to catch those not paying attention.
As the valley begins to open up toward the northeast end, the road clears the trees and nice views of farms and ranches are available. We pass the Soap Creek School, a classic one-room schoolhouse, in barn red with white trim of course, no longer in service but preserved as an historical site. In the damp lowland fields to our left we see a couple of great blue herons rise up and strain into the air as we approach. They seem annoyed by our noise more that frightened.
Soap Creek Road ends at Coffin Butte Road, and our route passes the county dump (phew!) and turns north on highway 99W. A major highway, busy, flat, straight, boring and regularly patrolled by the State Police, we exit as soon as feasible, heading west on Airlie Road after three miles.
Airlie road runs east-west through open pasture and farms, a fast stretch, mostly straight with some gentle hills and a few sweepers. There’s a lot of grass grown here, for seed, and the land is green as far as we can see. We crank up to about 75 mph and motor for a few miles. This is a favorite area for hawks (the avian kind, not Hondas) who hunt rodents in the grass fields on either side of the road. We spook a big one, perhaps a red tail, but instead of flying away from us it takes off in a nearly parallel and intersecting course. I’m in the lead, watching as I get closer and closer, wondering when the bird is going to veer away. He’s flying at head height and we’re catching up to him, and when he’s about 10 feet away I stick out my clutch hand to ward him off, and he finally dodges as I flash beneath him at 70 mph. Bjet, who was right behind me, said the hawk made a “flare” and instantly rose 10 feet as it realized our presence.
We reach the foothills of the coast range and head south-west on Maxfield Creek Road. Cropland gives way to woodlots, ranches (cow, sheep, goat, and llamas) and Christmas tree farms. Maxfield Creek Rd connects to highway 223 which runs north-south through King’s Valley, a very pretty valley nestled in the eastern part of the Coast Range. Hwy 223 is as well maintained as hwy 99W, but shares almost nothing else in common. It’s not flat, not straight, not busy, and seldom patrolled. A fun motorcycle road, with fast sweepers connected by short straights and enough up and down to work the suspension some. We maintain our 70-75 mph speeds, heading south, passing through areas of small farms, pastures, and forests.
Hwy 223 ends in the village of Wren, where a short side trip on a gravel road takes us to the Harris covered bridge, an historical site but one that is still in service. Just wide enough for the three of us to ride abreast, we slowly roll through the enclosure. Oh my, the SOUND! Three healthy motorcycle exhaust notes bouncing and reverberating off the walls and rafters and roof! We stop here for a photo opportunity and a chance to stretch our legs.
From Wren it’s five miles of State Hwy 20 back to Philomath. Hwy 20 is usually pretty busy so we cool it and just drive with the flow back into town. End of the first loop, about 50 miles under our wheels since we left the McDonald’s parking lot. We turn south to run the second and longer part of this figure eight tour.
We ride south from Philomath on Bellfountain road. The first 12 miles of this is mostly flat and straight past fields and pasture. The road gets into some low hills, cresting a 570 foot mini-summit, and then drops into the villages of Bellfountain then Alpine. This next part is one of my favorite rides. Turn right (west) in Alpine and head toward then coast range and Alsea Falls. In six miles the route climbs 1000 feet to a 1305 foot summit.
The road is two-lane without shoulders, and painted in typical yellow center line with two solid white lines marking the pavement edges. As we near the summit the road gets quite twisty. The center line ends first, then the edge lines, leaving an unmarked black asphalt path. The road has narrowed to about a lane and a half. The twisty part ends and there is a long straight just before we reach Alsea Falls, 10 miles from Alpine. The area is densely forested and the tree branches from either side often touch. We are occasionally traveling through a green tunnel with speckled light for visibility. We stop at the falls for a cup of coffee (yes, I brought a thermos) and a leg stretch — it’s been 30 miles since we left Philomath, including 10 miles of fairly tight roadwork.
Leaving the falls we continue west on South Fork Road. This road runs along the south fork of the Alsea River and is quite twisty as it wends its way through some steep terrain. After a few more miles on this lane-and-a-half track we come across a sign — “Road Narrows.” As I read it there’s a funny sound. What’s that?! Oh, I’m giggling inside my helmet.
South Fork Road ends at the Alsea-Deadwood Hwy. We turn right and it’s a straight shot into the small town of Alsea. It’s 11:30 and time for lunch at the Farmer’s Kitchen (I think that’s the correct name). Lunch fare is burger/sandwich type stuff, very good and reasonably priced. Also the restaurant, converted from an old house, has some charm — a big step up from McDonalds. Bjet tells me over lunch that the 20 miles of almost perfect motorcycle road we just passed over is quite similar to the legendary Smith River road. The Smith R. road runs for nearly 100 miles, starting near I-5 just south of Eugene and ending at Reedsport on the Coast. I tell myself that I will try to make that ride sometime this season.
After lunch we head north east on Hwy 34 back toward the starting point. Hwy 34 is OK, low traffic for a major arterial, with some nice curves. Eight miles out of Alsea we turn left onto Mary’s Peak road, and climb rapidly (2800 feet in 10 miles) to the 4,000+ foot summit. A very nice twisty road but one to ride with caution, like any mountain road. There are lots of fun corners but many of them are blind. There are a couple of waterfalls on the way up, and a turnout with great views to the west toward the ocean. Three Harleys are parked here, one rider apparently adjusting something on his engine. We exchange waves as we pass the trio.
Near the top we hit a short stretch that apparently never sees the sun and still had a layer of ice left over from the winter. The Hawk was suddenly converted into a 650cc powered trimaran without sails, as both my feet extended outward to steady the slithering rear tire. Made it!
There’s still large patches of snow around the summit parking lot, and kids are sledding one one of the bigger ones. There’s some bicyclists, picnickers, and sightseers with binoculars – a happy crowd. It’s a little hazy today, but not enough to totally obscure the view of the Cascades. We can see, from N to S, the snow covered peaks of Hood, Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack, Washington, and the Three Sisters.
Back down the mountain, then east on 34 back to Philomath. Sadly, we get stuck behind a van on one of the nicest parts of hwy 34 — the three miles between Mary’s Peak Road and Decker Road. It’s a tight, twisty stretch through the woods, with a couple of fall-away hairpin turns. Double yellow line the whole way, so we chug along until the road levels out and we can pass the van. Back to our starting point at 1:30, my trip meter shows 150 miles
Four and a half hours, 150 miles of two lane or narrower blacktop covered, and lunch.
It was a good day.