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