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Four strong winds

September 16, 2009
At the Dalles dam

The GTS is enjoying the view of The Dalles Dam, near The Dalles, Oregon (Orin O'Neill photos)

The trip on 395 seemed easier. Maybe because it feels like it goes downhill more often southbound. Or maybe because there weren’t so many trucks, it being a Sunday.

I slept like a log at Rob’s (a long ride on a scooter is quite conducive), and hit the road early. Rob gave me directions to WA 14 that avoided the freeway (available on a new map on the World Famous Scootin’ Old Skool Maps page. Also new is a way to get from Tri-Cities to Spokane without using 395, created by Rob’s brother Rick). I was ready for a nice, scenic trip.

Being a city boy, when someone gives me directions I’m used to the scale of Portland, or Seattle. Go this way, turn left here, turn right here, distances being measured in blocks, or maybe a few miles.

I’m on Leslie Road, which goes on. And on. And on. I’m expecting a “T” intersection to appear momentarily, and it doesn’t. I also notice it’s really windy.

Wind is not unusual in the high desert of south central Washington. But there wasn’t any on Friday. I enjoyed that. Now the wind is blowing hard.

I find the “T” intersection and turn. The road leads out of town through the McMansion-on-10-acres district. The wind is really blowing now. I’m left-leaned into it at least as far as you’d lean on an old-skool scooter because of the weight of the engine. I’m getting blown around. “Irondad says you’re a Warrior,” I say to myself. I can deal with this.

In fact, I’m pleased to realize these roads are familiar, being part of the group rides on the last Bacchus Raucous rally. That rally didn’t happen in ’09, which is a shame. You can ride them on your own, of course.

Left at another “T” (Rob, the name of the road is Plymouth), I’m headed due south. The wind is coming from my right now. This road really goes on. But there was a sign just the intersection that said “14” with an arrow.

You’ll notice from the map that the length of the route is a bit over 31 miles. You’ll also notice eastbound 14 runs into I-82/US 395 a very short distance past Plymouth Road.

In fact, when I turned right, there was a sign saying Vancouver was 180 miles distant. I probably wouldn’t have saved much time by continuing on 14. Especially since I didn’t know about Plymouth Road, et al.

There are good-sized waves on the Columbia River, and they’re coming at me. I always thought the winds in the Gorge were easterlies. I was hoping for the wind at my back that’s a part of the famous Irish blessing.

All the trucks that were off the road Sunday were out and about on this day. Luckily, the road is wide and smooth, with plenty of places to pass. Better still, all the truck drivers saw my invitation to pass (move near the fog line and slow down a bit) and gave me plenty of room as they went by. I wish more of the cagers were as aware. And thoughtful. 😦

I was mostly going 45 mph, with occasional bursts to 50. Not only was it not really possible to go much faster, I was worried about fuel consumption. A sign next to the one showing the distance to Vancouver said “Next Services 83 Miles.” I did not want to run out of gas.

As had been the case this entire journey, opportunities to refuel appeared at just the right time. In this case, it was seeing the wind turbines on the ridge, which meant US 97 was not far. The turbines’ blades were spinning; eastbound, they were still.

A sign noting Bend, Oregon was southbound made the left turn mandatory. Not because I was going to Bend, but because I knew the oasis named Biggs was just across the river.

I had lunch at the restaurant, then studied the map. It would take quite a long time to get back on 14, and it’s all uphill to boot. I-84 is right here, so I could go west for a spell, then cross the river at The Dalles or Hood River if I wanted to resume travel on 14.

As I merged onto the freeway, I realized I’d forgotten to refuel the GTS. A sign said, “The Dalles 19.” The low-fuel light came on just as I arrived in Biggs, and the light comes on when there’s half a gallon left. Plenty of places to get gas in The Dalles, I say to myself, no problem.

Except the wind is blowing much harder. I-84 is well away from the hillsides, completely exposed to the gale forces. And the speed limit is higher, so the aero wash from trucks and buses is much worse.

I notice something as I’m (kinda) speeding along at 55 mph: when hit by a gust, I crank the throttle a bit harder. And the bike calms down a bit. This is a bit of knowledge from the racing days; you push a little harder on the throttle if you feel the car getting squirrelly on you. It’s a bit of an epiphany.

Not enough of one to transform my low-level state of dread to a zen bliss, but enough to crank the dread down a notch or so. I also realize the vibration of my non-round front tire contributes mightily to the feeling of instability. I have got to replace that tire, soon.

Fueled up in The Dalles, I decide to cross back over to the Washington side. Highway 14 has a lower speed limit, less traffic and occasional shelter from the wind.

The rolling hills of the desert become mountains hard against the river’s edge. The wind’s intensity increases. The newfound knowledge offers a degree of comfort that allows the occasional “WOW” at what I’m seeing. Gotta get a picture!


Unfortunately, this one doesn’t do justice to the green of the water, which the waves made look like polished marble. Nor does it capture the sheer size of the mountains on the Oregon side.

I’m making good time, but my arms ache. I know I shouldn’t, but I keep finding myself exerting a deathgrip on the handgrips, and I’m constantly having to consciously make my arms relax. Damn wind!

Having realized that WA 14 begins in Vancouver, I can make use of the mile markers to gauge my progress. Numbers in the 70s, the 60s and finally the 50s pass in the distance.

A good-sized town appears. It’s Stevenson, Wash. This is the beginning of the Gorge. There’s the general store, the one where I stopped headed east. The GTS needs gas, and I need a snack and something to drink.

Back on the road, I realize there’s no more wind. I can relax, and enjoy the curves that on Friday I negotiated half asleep, with the sun in my eyes. And go faster.

Photo op

Oh, there was another photo op I couldn’t pass up. Favicon


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