By Bryan Hall
People always say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Most of the time that’s true, the joy of being on the road is just being on the road. Sometimes, however, the journey has a purpose, a reason, a destination.
I have family who lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and I go visit them every eight weeks or so. Now that I’m living much farther away from them than I used to, I had choices of how I would make the trip: fly, drive or ride. OK, it wasn’t really much of a choice, because I’ll almost always choose the ride.
I headed off in the predawn darkness and sailed smoothly up I-84 into Eastern Oregon with plans to meet up with a friend in the Richland area for coffee. Riding at sunrise has always been one of my favorite things to do. I watched as the sun crested over the Owyhee Mountains and climbed into the morning sky, feeling the warmth start to build for the day.
This journey was going to be different than most of my rides, as I was traveling almost exclusively on the freeways of Oregon and Washington. If possible, I prefer riding back roads and secondary highways, but as I mentioned before, this was a “destination trip.” I climbed up and over the Blue Mountains and down into the valley near Pendleton, then turned on to I-82 and made my way to our meeting point in Richland. I was ready for some gas and a break, so the visit with John and one of his friends was just the break I needed.
Back on the road, I headed up I-82 through Yakima and toward Ellensburg under blue skies dotted with puffy clouds, with the temperature stubbornly hanging in the low 60s. I decided I would grab a bite to eat once I was in Ellensburg so I stopped at the Red Horse Diner, a converted (and expanded) 1936 gas station that has become a favorite of bikers and travelers.
I topped off the gas tank after lunch and hit I-90 for the ride over Snoqualmie Pass into Tacoma, where I was staying the night with friends. The clouds were turning an ominous dark grey and the weather gods were saying rain was “possible” starting at about 5pm. Since it was only about 1pm at that point, I figured I could blast over the mountains and avoid the rain. I should have known better.
Shortly after Easton the first drops began falling in a light drizzle. I was still suited up in full leathers so I kept rolling, again optimistically thinking this was the extent of the rain I would encounter. Boy was I wrong! Halfway up the hill, the skies opened up in a true Washington springtime deluge. I pulled my bandanna over my face and rode up and over the summit, turning onto Highway 18 toward Auburn. The rain had let up some but didn’t stop until I crested Tiger Mountain and started down toward Black Diamond. By the time I got to Covington, the sun was out, I was wet and it was time to shed some of the soaked and now heavy leathers. I hate riding over Snoqualmie Pass at any time, it’s just one of those roads that drives me crazy. Riding in a downpour makes it even worse.
The next morning, I had made plans to meet my friends for breakfast and then meet later for a ride out to the Scatter Creek Winery in Tenino. Heavy grey clouds were suspended in the skies but it stayed dry as we headed out in the afternoon for the run into Tenino. It was a great time visiting with everyone and catching up, capping off the day with dinner at a killer little Mexican restaurant in town.
My next day started early, as I was on the road at 4:30am to ride up to Port Angeles, where I would catch the ferry across to Victoria, BC. The MV Coho, part of the Black Ball Ferry Line, is a 341-foot-long passenger and vehicle ferry that makes the twenty-mile crossing between Port Angeles and Victoria daily. It was built in 1959 and can carry up to 1,000 passengers and up to 110 vehicles. Since I made it to the ferry dock before they opened, I decided a quick bite to eat was in order, and I walked the block or so to the Cornerhouse Restaurant. I love this place! Old school diner, good food, and a waitress manning the place who has probably been there since the 60s. My usual breakfast of choice is their half-order of biscuits and gravy (can’t you just hear my arteries slamming shut?) for about $3.65. Big fluffy biscuits and a thick sausage gravy will keep you full all day.
The crossing to Victoria was uneventful and I capped off the day with visits to my parents and my brother Larry. He had told me about a shop that had opened up in a suburb of Victoria that sells biker gear and the next day we decided to check it out.
After spending a bit of time there we headed back to visit with my Dad. The next day was clear, sunny and warm so Larry and I decided to walk around Thetis Lake Regional Park in Victoria. The park is one of my brother’s favorite places, a 2,000-plus acre nature conservancy park established in 1993. It surrounds the 86-acre Upper and Lower Thetis Lakes, and has trails, swamp and lake ecosystems, old growth forest, picnic and beach areas. Motorized boats are allowed on the lakes but only with electric motors. It is a popular park for cyclists, hikers, canoeists, paddleboards, and fishermen. We hiked around the lake and reveled in the peace and quiet of the surroundings for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, it was all too soon that I had to head back toward home, and the next morning I boarded the Coho once again to make my way back to the US. From Port Angeles I headed straight down US-101 to Olympia to have dinner with my daughter and granddaughter. My friends Craig, Lori, and Laura had decided to ride back to Idaho with me for the long weekend, so we all met up in Tacoma and headed out. Other than having to dodge the immovable object that was I-5 traffic on a Friday afternoon (of a holiday weekend, no less) we were finally sailing smoothly down I-5 toward Portland under mostly blue skies and warming temperatures.
After gassing up in Portland we headed east on I-84 into the Columbia Gorge. As I’ve said before, I prefer riding anything but the monotonous concrete slab of a freeway, but I-84 along the mighty Columbia River is one of the nicest Interstates to take. The scenery can be breathtaking at times, and traffic, once east of Troutdale, is light. Our trip across the northern tip of Oregon was pretty uneventful, with just gas stops and a dinner break in the small town of Arlington.
Since we had started late from Tacoma, the last leg of our trip was going to be in the dark, but we knew we could crest the Blue Mountains at dusk and make the last two and a half hours to Idaho with ease. That is, until we saw the thunderheads building in the distance. I wasn’t too worried about them, we were still on the west side of the mountains and I figured the other side of the summit would be drier (it usually is). Oops, wrong again.
We sailed up Cabbage Hill past Deadman Pass and into the heart of the Blue Mountains, only to have the skies get meaner and darker as we went. The first fat heavy drops of rain started just as we approached the 4,200-foot summit and began heading downhill. By now it was fully dark, thunder rumbling, lightning streaking the sky, and raining so hard our headlights couldn’t illuminate more than about twenty feet. We had planned on stopping in LaGrande for gas, and the last ten miles or so was some of the worst riding I have ever done. I could barely see the fog line on the road to keep us on the pavement, my friends could barely see my taillights, and the big rigs passing us were drenching man and machine with road spray. I had not seen or ridden in rain like this since I was in Sturgis years ago, and this was worse since we were in the dark. Not to mention, I had no desire to become a human lightning rod as I rode.
I took the first exit I came to as we approached LaGrande and followed it for about a mile to the gas station…and an Econo Lodge motel right next door. A command decision was made to call it a night, and I sloshed my way over to the office, praying they had a room available. The desk clerk said they did, a double queen room for $75, and as I dripped gallons of water all over the lobby floor, I got us checked in. She even gave us permission to park the bikes under the overhang in front of our room!
Once checked in, adult beverages were consumed while we all tried to find places to hang our soaking wet leathers and clothes in the miniscule motel bathroom, all while the storm raged furiously outside.
Fortunately, the next morning dawned mostly clear and partially sunny as we headed out to make the last 150 miles home. The ride down I-84 from LaGrande to the Idaho border is almost always an easy run: very little traffic, smooth road, and a 70 mph speed limit.
Sometimes the focus of a ride is NOT the journey, but one of the great things about being on the road is never knowing what you’re going to encounter!
Bryan Hall is an experienced rider and author based in Nampa, ID; and his stories have appeared previously in Quick Throttle. His book “Life Behind Bars” was published in 2013. You can read more on his website at “hiwayflyer.com”