To Hell... and NWMF 2010

Each year as we are planning our vacation time, the question of North West Mog Fest comes up.  We know we *want* to go - we know we'll *likely* go - what vehicle(s) will we take?  We have driven our UniMoG to NWMF several times, but its slow speeds across the Rocky Mountains and the hot part of Washington in August do tend to make us stop and think about whether we want to take it *this* year.  NWMF has become somewhat of a "family reunion" for those of us that have been there many times.  We all enjoy the funky trucks, but it has become more about seeing people that we only see once a year (at most) that we met due to the funky trucks.

Ever since an impromptu side trip to Imnaha, Oregon on our way home from last year's NWMF we have wanted to go back there with little bikes so that we can enjoy the unpaved roads in the Hell's Canyon area.  Checking the calendar, we decided that we'd start the week in Eastern Oregon & finish it in Western Oregon.  Since we have no desire to ride 250cc motorcycles over the Rocky Mountains, we loaded up the WR250X's into the Sprinter & headed out.

We left home in good time on Saturday the 21st of August.  We got to Helmet Outlet USA in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho about 1/2 hour before closing due to a desire to check the fit on different models of dual sport helmets.  Keith found a couple that fit, Sharon did not.  Sharon was, however, able to purchase padded shorts & dual-sporting pants for a decent price (trying on pants before buying is awfully nice to be able to do, especially when you have a girl shape & are buying men's pants!).

We spent the night in Spokane at the Ruby Hotel & ate at the Steam Plant Grill

We've eaten there before and wanted to get some pictures inside the restaurant.

The next day we carried on to Enterprise, Oregon via non-interstate routes.  We hadn't booked anything ahead, as research had not produced a place to stay that jumped out at us as "the one".  We know that eating establishments are more plentiful in Joseph, but hotel options are limited.  When we checked out Enterprise, we found a Mexican Restaurant right next door to a motel with an acceptable room rate.  We were set for Dinner & a room for the next four nights.

We had time for a quick ride to Imnaha & back before dinner, so off we went.  Isn't it funny how roads that are rather twisty on a bigger bike tend to straighten out on a motard :)

We have ridden Rattlesnake Pass on (loaded) highway bikes more than once, always from South to North, as it turns out.

We plotted out a nice route from our staging point at Flora, Oregon.

It included a twisty gravel descent into Troy,

a pleasant meander along the Grande Ronde River,

and a seriously rough rocky ascent that led to some guy's remote cabin.  Leaving there we had to exit the trail over a barrier (you think we're turning around NOW?!) & found ourselves at a good road with a horse corral in the clearing.

The road carried us out to the highway, where we were able to enjoy Rattlesnake Pass from North to South on unladen 250's.  We had a great day!

Checking maps of the area around Imnaha, we discovered that Dug Bar Road to the North leads to the Snake River.  Theoretically anyway, as we didn't make it the last 3 or so (estimated) km to the river.  We staged at a clearing by the river just South of Imnaha & headed North.

The narrow twisty pavement lasts for about 10km then it turns to gravel.  The first 25ish km are passable by Sprinter, at that point there's a bridge & an outhouse.

People have set up camps there and there's also some sort of observation equipment set up on the river.  We carried on to the North & the road deteriorates a bit to two tracks with grass growing in the middle.

Plenty of spots in the area are steep and/or rocky, but still plenty enjoyable on the WRX's with street tires.  Before we left home, we were supposed to change the tires on Keith's bike.  He was down to the wear bars & they didn't behave as well as usual on the last track night he'd done on them.  Time ran out & his tires didn't get changed, so we tossed the new set in the back of the Sprinter (we carry spare tubes & tire levers anyway), just in case "something happened".

Somewhere close to 15km past the little bridge over the river, Keith managed to pick up an 8" screwdriver blade in his back tire.  The handle was already broken off.  We'd both spent plenty of time riding in the grass in the middle of the trail, as it was a fair bit smoother than the wheel tracks - that's probably why he didn't see it before it found his tire.  We were on the descent into the river valley at this point, but decided not to have one of us take Sharon's bike & the camera the rest of the way to the river to see how close we could get.  The tire/tubes/tire levers were back in the Sprinter & there was no shade to be found in the area - we'd been looking for some to eat our lunch under for some time.

We made the decision to have Keith ride his bike with the flat rear tire out to a spot that we hoped the Sprinter would get to, and that had some shade to wait under.  He was able to make it back to the treed area at the bridge without losing the tire or damaging the rim.  There were spots where he ran alongside the bike (in MX boots!) to make it up loose steep climbs, but he made it.  After lunching under a tree, he took Sharon's bike back to the Sprinter while she waited in the heat & contemplated why it was called Hell's Canyon & how nuts we must be to visit it in August!  Meanwhile, Keith motarded back 35km, stripped off his riding gear, loaded up the bike by himself, and Sprintered back as quickly as he could.  Some 2.75 hours later, Keith arrived in the 38'C heat and we were able to load up his bike & head out.

That ~25km back to the pavement took an hour with the Sprinter, but at least we had air conditioning (when we didn't have to shut it off to keep from overheating on steep climbs).

You find interesting things alongside roads like this, including abandoned corrals & cemeteries with two occupants.

We've never seen so many snakes as we saw on this trip.  We learned that the snakes come out on the pavement in the evening around the same time that the deer come out to feed - we suspect that the pavement has reached a temperature that they find pleasant, after the heat of the day.

When we got back to Enterprise, we decided to go check the hours of Outlaw Motor Sports in Enterprise so that we could swing by there in the morning & see if they'd change the tire for us.  We carry the tools to do the job, but have little desire to do trailside tire changes.  When we got there (at about 8:30pm) we discovered the place wide open & buzzing with activity.  A short conversation revealed that their apparel department had been driven through that afternoon by a full sized Chevy Pick-up!!!!  However, they were still willing and able to take care of our tire the next morning, and we were advised to drop the wheel by about 10am.  So, with that established, it was off to enjoy a Mexican dinner.

The next morning included washing both laundry and the dusty Sprinter.

We concocting a method of removing the rear wheel of Keith's bike, in the back of the Sprinter, whilst keeping the Sprinter mobile.

An hour after we'd dropped off the wheel, we had it back with the shiny new tire installed.  The friendly guy behind the counter gave us some riding recommendations - at higher elevations where we wouldn't be anywhere near as hot as the day before.  We reinstalled the wheel on the bike & headed out to explore.

The Wallowa Mountain Loop Road that connects Highway 350 with Highway 86 is washed out just South of the turnoff for the Hell's Canyon overlook.  They're working on repairing the road, but it is a huge job.  We were advised that the 66 road, which branches off right where they've closed the highway & leads to Halfway, would be a fun road for our bikes.

It was!

They're also doing a LOT of construction on this road, as it was washed out as well but was obviously the quicker road to get open for access through the area.  All of the construction activity means that there are areas of soft dirt with fist sized rocks, and other challenging surfaces for the two wheeled crowd.  We'd been riding for a couple of hours when Keith's bike suddenly wouldn't restart with the electric starter.  It easily push-started, but at a stop just down the road it was idling poorly & stalled while we were sitting there, so we decided the prudent thing to do was turn around & head back to the Sprinter.  Each time he stopped the bike for any reason, it was harder to push-start than the last time, & it soon wouldn't stay running at speeds less than ~40km/hr in second gear.  He realized that he may not get the bike started again if he stopped again, so the last hour was spent riding non-stop at a pretty good clip on a road that was at times rather rough & rocky!  He was slowing down for the stop sign approaching the pavement, within sight of the Sprinter, when the bike stalled for the last time & refused to start again.  Sharon arrived at the highway while he was walking to the Sprinter, so we were able to bring it to the bike, load up & head back to town & our last Mexican dinner in Enterprise.

Thursday morning dawned early and we got on the road in good time.  Galo offered us a place to stay for the night in Beaverton and we chose to head West across Oregon on the I84 so that we could get there in one day.  We arrived in the early afternoon and enjoyed lots of tasty Purple Cow wine, some wonderful Cuban Stew, and the excellent company of Galo & Elena for the evening.

The next morning we and Galo spent some time with the bikes, seeing what was up with Keith's.  We put the good battery from Sharon's bike in & it started just fine.  We took a chance on a battery failure being the only problem & bought a new battery & trickle charger from a local shop.  After choosing some Purple Cow wine to bring home, the three of us headed out for a ride on Galo's lovely local roads.  Galo & Keith traded off riding the WRX and Galo's Triumph Sprint.  Galo enjoyed the little motard immensely - one would complement the Sprint in his garage so well!!!

Mid-afternoon we said our good-byes & headed to Sheridan.  After slogging through the nasty Friday Afternoon traffic we arrived at the farm just before dinner and commenced visiting with all of the other folks attending NWMF.  There were several other Sprinters in amongst the collection of unique vehicles attending, but ours was the only little one!

Saturday morning we decided to use the WR's for transport around the place, including a jaunt into town for lunch at the local Mexican restaurant Asabache.  When we arrived back at the farm we headed down to the fields to watch the goings on in the obstacle pits.  Keith had gotten something like 6 starts out of his bike at this point & when he went to start up again in the lower field the bike was dead again.  Sharon carries a small tow strap in her pack, so we hitched two footpegs together & she towed him up the hill to the farmyard.  THAT was an interesting experience!  Keith's bike was tucked away & he remained on foot for the rest of the day while Sharon rode around.

We spent the rest of the day observing trucks in the pits,

visiting with people, and generally enjoying ourselves.

We made sure that the Sprinter and Sharon's WRX were present at the pits for the aerial group photo.  After the evening's gathering to raffle off goodies we spent some more time watching trucks in the pits, and discovered Eric "Keep it Stock" Messersmith from California had arrived very late on his Ninja, it was nearly midnight!

Sunday morning we packed the Sprinter and said our goodbyes.  Keith had to attend business meetings in Vancouver, BC, so it was a straight shot up the I5.  We haven't been on the I5 in a few years, traffic was worse than we remembered!  Distance-wise, the trip should have taken about six hours, in reality it took closer to ten.  The wait at customs was really not all that long.  The customs official was more than happy to hear that we had two cases of wine to declare.  Note to travellers who purchase wine: cross the border back to Canada in ALBERTA.  From what we can find, you pay just a dollar or two per bottle if you cross over the International border into Alberta, cross into BC and you pay ~40-50% of the declared value of your non-duty-free bottles to the BC government.  We found our hotel in downtown Vancouver, where they valet parked our dusty Sprinter (LOL) in the "overheight parking section" (ie. loading bay) and we headed to dinner.

The next couple of days were spent with Keith working & Sharon exploring Vancouver by foot & by Big Bus before we drove home on Wednesday.

Epilogue: the cause of Keith's defunct WRX was a failed stator.  Through the manual troubleshooting guide & a swap of regulators with Sharon's bike to confirm things, it was diagnosed shortly after we arrived home.  After a two week wait for the part to arrive, the bike is now fixed.