Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route
Contributed by: Pete Stace-Smith (Ambassador- High Road Vancouver & Langley)
Planning and doing a multi-day trip on an adventure motorcycle is all about having fun. After riding the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route a year or two ago, as well as numerous other multi-day moto camping trips, Oregon had been on our minds and our “wish list”. It was time to just go do it.
Dates were set months back so that time off could be scheduled. We figured that a total of one full week plus the 2 weekends should allow us to cover the distances and terrain that we hoped to ride. This would let us simply enjoy the adventure without rushing the experience. As usual, an initial list of up to 8 or 9 riders quickly dwindled down to solid 4 keeners as the start date approached.
If you haven’t heard of Backcountry Discovery Routes, go to www.ridebdr.com and learn more about these beautiful mainly backcountry gravel road routes through 9 USA States currently (they are always working on adding others). Note: Oregon is actually not officially part of the BDR pre-set routes, but the Oregon Off-Highway Vehicle Association has mapped and has routes similar in spirit to the many other BDR routes now completed and they are all available in detailed map and GPS track formats.
Our rough plan was to ride – as much off-road as possible – from the California State Line up through the heartland of Oregon to the Washington State Line. Basing our plans on some of the Oregon Routes already pre-mapped and documented we decided to begin our expedition in Doris California, with a goal of finishing our trip in Walla Walla Washington… a route and distance of roughly 1200 kilometers (or 750 miles) of riding. Getting to our start point from Vancouver British Columbia added another 1100 kilometers or so, and the return route back home through Washington another 600 kilometers plus, making the overall door-to-door total 3300 km.
To even start our OBDR trip we had to initially get down there, and we hoped to do as much of this as possible on non-interstate smaller back roads. We decided to break this southerly ride into 2 days and chose Hood River Oregon as our first night’s stop. We rode the #I-5 south to Tacoma, then smaller roads from there south to the mighty Columbia River. The small twisting back roads from Randle to White Salmon were unbelievable, truly awesome motorcycle riding roads. Try to ride these someday!! You will NOT be disappointed.
Visiting Crater Lake for the first time was awesome
After camping about 30 miles south of Hood River Oregon we continued south to Bend, and had a fun lunch break stop at Crux Brewery, followed by a detour off the straight south route to explore Crater Lake… a beautiful gem with still a lot of snow lining both sides of the road despite it being late June.
After this most worthy detour, we continued south and camped just north of Klamath Falls at a state park near Chiloquin. After 2 days of playful road riding, we were all excited about officially starting our OBDR and the back road riding the next day.
California State Line, time to U-turn and head north
After an easy couple of hours ride south to the California State Line we stopped in at the sleepy cowboy town of Doris California for one last fuel top-off before turning west and then north – our OBDR trip officially started – now on gravel and back across the state line into Oregon. We were rolling north, and all grinning ear to ear.
Cruising some of the pretty forest service roads in Southern Oregon
This initial off-road adventure bike excitement didn’t last long before we had our first setback. The 1200GS bike, unfortunately, suffered a double puncture/rear flat within 10 kilometers of crossing back into Oregon and on our OBDR route. Geeze… I’d hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come… Between the group of us, we got the bike all fixed up (tire plugged and aired back up) and we were on our way again.
Beautiful peaceful camping spot on the shores of Hyatt Lake. This is why we ride.
The day ended on an awesome note with a beautiful free-camp spot on the shores of Hyatt Lake. All of our smiles were renewed with a refreshing lake swim and glasses of wine around a campfire, watching the Full “Strawberry” Moonrise over the horizon.
Sadly, while en route the next day this big GS bike was plagued with yet more flats. It seemed that because of the location of the tire cut/puncture that the plugs were either getting torn out or pushed in… we just couldn’t win. Finally giving up we ended up removing the complete wheel from the moto, breaking the bead, removing the tire pressure sensor assembly and installing a replacement tube (which our group also had).
Once we ran out of tire plugs, the wheel/tire had to come off and a tube put in
Sadly this harder/longer tube replacement process was repeated another 2 times over the next 24 hours with a total of 7 flats! We diverted our route back through Bend, to a great moto shop which installed a new tire and re-stocked our tire plugs and spare tubes. This new tire solved all the flat grief and once again we were back on the northern OBDR route. WhoooHooooo
Smooth forest seldom used 2-track, it doesn’t get any better.
Rolling north-east out of Bend once again the smiles returned to all our faces as did the gravel tracks which got smaller and even more beautiful.
We never got sick of alpine meadow 2-tracks
Between maps, GPS tracks, and even a cool phone app, we managed to piece together some creative routes. These linked up everything from tiny seldom used old tracks through meadows, fun smooth 2 wheel tracks with grass growing in between them, right up to faster wide and groomed logging roads and even smooth paved roads devoid of traffic.
Some of the tracks we got on really were small and seldom used
The most picturesque camping spot on the trip, BMW GS access only
These cool tracks led us to beautiful free-camping sites far from civilization. All we looked for later in the day was a nice spot to put our tents, running water for cooking and drinking (filtered of course) and hopefully a fire ring and nearby dry firewood. Sometimes we were lucky and found all three of these things!
An example of a tiny country store/gas station we encountered on the route
Planned fuel and food stops were in little towns on or near our route kept us stocked up and moving north and easterly roughly on plan. Sometimes we would choose to jump ahead on route a bit using a section of pavement, but much of our route was off -road – using our GS motos for exactly what they were designed to do.
On day 5 we encountered a mandatory river crossing (if you wanted to stay on route and not do a big detour around). It didn’t look too menacing, but it was hard to tell how deep it was or what the river bottom was like without a complete pre-walk (which in hindsight may have been a good idea). Oh well… here we go… I was the guinea pig for this one, making it about 2/3rds of the way across before getting bumped off my planned route with the strong river current and slippery rocks. Stalling and tipping over, I was MOTIVATED to not have my bike go under or get all of my gear soaked, so I was up and running again quickly and finished the rest of the river crossing quickly.
Two out of the four of us made it safely across too but one of our guys – on his F800GS – got bumped off route and fully tipped over, his bike still running… right underwater. This killed his engine and got us all pretty wet running in to help right the moto, then pushing it across and up onto the shore.
Arghhh, NOT what you want to see on any moto tour.
As it was already late in the afternoon, we set up camp right there, at the side of the river and started the process of fully drying out and resuscitating the poor drowned F800. Body panels came off, the air filter was removed and dried beside a fire, the airbox and battery removed, and spark plugs pulled. With the moto laying on its side and in gear, the rear wheel was turned by hand spraying water out of the cylinder heads, clearing out the intake manifolds and exhaust. A surprising amount of water came out! This WAS truly and adventure in the making as here we were more than 60 kilometers from any mechanical aid!
Open heart surgery on the F800GS
But… our plan worked and after it’s partial re-assembly the moto sputtered a few times and fired to life once again. WhooHooo….. After it’s complete re-assembly and a short ride to the nearest town the next morning, an oil change was in order before we were truly rolling north again (as water had got right into the main crankcase and contaminated the engine oil).
I liked the sun and heat better than single-digit temperatures and snow
The last few days seemed to get colder and wetter as our temperatures dropped too low single digits and we encountered snow, sleet, hail and light rain in our travels. We were also quite high up, with much of the last few hundred kilometers ridden in the 4,500 to 6,000 feet of elevation range, compounding the coldness factor. We were all looking forward to getting lower and warmer. Also, as it had rained and snowed higher up, the roads we were riding on were quite slick and mucky, NOT easy riding. But motivated to finish and get warm, we persevered and rode onwards…
Recent rains made our tracks extremely mucky and slippery, not easy riding.
We had a hard push on the last day official day of our route in order to descend out of the high country down into a warmer and drier climate zone. We rolled across the Washington State line and camped 20 kilometers outside of Walla Walla in a farmer’s field. Our short term goals were met as the temperature rose 14 degrees in the last hour of descending… whew… AND… our trip goals were accomplished as we had officially completed the OBDR route, riding Oregon’s beautiful backcountry tracks and roads from state line to state line.
Motorcycles take you to the most picturesque places.
Getting home; Our route home was an easy one, riding diagonally back through Washington, from the south-east corner to the north-west corner of the state. Once back on pavement we tried to stay off all the Interstate highways as much as possible. A parking lot burrito from a Mexican taqueria food truck in Yakima added icing to the cake. Our last free-camp spot was up a cool old logging spur road near Lake Wenatchee. We then had a most scenic ride over Stephen’s Pass before popping back down and onto the #I-5 at Everett for the last northward leg of our route.
OBDR Summary and highlights:
- 3000 kilometers of fantastic adventure bike riding with other like-minded buddies
- Finding and staying in some remote – off the grid beautiful free-camping spots
- Visiting the local stores, gas stations and diners and meeting the most incredible people
- Learning to change/plug/repair a tire when things go sideways.
- The river crossing – despite the challenge was again true adventure
- Stripping a moto down and salvaging it post water immersion and then get it going again was an amazing experience
- The sweet single and double tracks and pretty alpine meadows on our route
- Mexican roadside taqueria burrito and beer stops along the way are always a highlight
- End of the day meals – the ones we prepped and cooked and even the freeze dried ones
- Hanging out at the end of a great day around a campfire with your riding buddies
OK, enough reminiscing, time to repack the now-clean clothes and gear, add some food and head out again.
Do enjoy your moto’s my friends, and don’t be afraid to get them dirty.
Rubber Side Down,