Updated Dec 5, 2015
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A room in Burley, Idaho’s Budget Motel makes long distance sport touring quite feasible considering the surroundings. Position a hot breakfast not fifty feet from guest doorways and you’ve cornered the market for mid-trip rejuvenation. Destinations like this rebuild the focus required for cross-country travel.
Yesterday’s ride consisting of the Utah Rockies and barren valleys has us hoping for more of the same. As careful planning would have it, our plotted route embraces scenic twisties and efficiently at that. Mentally out of sync but equally amped to roll, Travitron and I coordinate our gear before hitting the road.
Out of the gate we’re met with a consistent pattern: ride fast, gas up, repeat. Our initial start pegs us to the I-84 slab for an hour or so. Just before highway 78, our two-lane alternate, we exit for a moment and take a break. It’s surprisingly chilly out even in the direct sun but we know that won’t last. I predict that my neck warmer will go from solution to problem within the hour.
John Day Highway travels alongside mountains before developing a twist here and there. Twists everywhere appear shortly thereafter. This is great riding!
The surrounding landscape is the same as we remember from last night only now it’s complimented by an enormous sky and gigantic sun. Our conversations lull as we note the eminent heat that is about to creep in. With a short nod, we agree and conclude that today’s going to be two things: fast and hot.
Police throughout the Idaho desert are lenient and friendly. Positioned along isolated county checkpoints, they shift locations every so often to monitor traffic with tourist safety in mind. Travel is faster here, which humorously fuels paranoia (eyeballing speedo while passing patrols only to find that you’re moving five M.P.H. below the indicated limit).
One officer, entering the roadway behind us, remains in tow all the way to our next gas stop just so he can chat us up about biking. He’s a cruiser man but remembers his sport bike days well enough. Travis gets a bit more technical, mentioning this website and our goal as I go through a later than intended safety inspection.
Continuing on, the roads are exactly as we’d hoped. While not mountainous, sweeping curves are met with shorter-than-dull straights from start to finish. The heat is building (and fast) but a mild breeze and spirited riding beats any relief that air conditioning has to offer. Gas stations mark our pace. This next one in particular engrains itself into our memory.
There is nothing around this Phillips 66 in Melba. We sloppily coast across their gravel entryway towards the pumps, do the do and pull away for a short break. The attendant isn’t one for conversation, nor are any of the local visitors. Here’s where outsiders might get their first taste of Western cattle ranching.
While “resting” directly under the desert sun, a carload of Mexican cow hands enters to fuel up. Knowing we’re out of our element, they make it clear that we’re the topic of conversation, pointing and laughing in question of our excessive riding gear. I look at the ground and murmur a smirking “yeah, yeah, yeah” which draws more chuckles. That’s when a rusted out 80’s long bed pulls in. We all notice the six shooter strapped to the driver’s hip. Cowboy hat and all, he looks at us and rumbles a polite “howdy” before entering the store. He may as well have been John Wayne.
Back on the road and deep into reservation territory, the desert slowly gives way to arid vegetation. I catch a familiar scent from earlier in the trip. Sage and Juniper complete our five-sense circuitry and after putting another hour’s worth of mileage under our belt, we stop to appreciate the beauty of it all.
Note the old school, digi-70s gas pumps pictured left. I gotta be honest. Remembering to lift the handle takes a moment.
A friendly couple, one of whom is a yooper and an NMU graduate, makes small talk about their own travels. I opt to keep my mouth shut about being from Columbus, OH, wondering if even Travis knows that to be the case. Cue an innocent whistle as I mosey away (only sports fanatics care about it anyhow).
The sky only gets bigger and something’s growing on the horizon. Towering mountain regions suggest we’re crossing the Oregon border. We’re nearing our Pacific Northwest goal! The difference in ecosystems has a strangely exacting division. Looking closely, you can see where Idaho’s more durable plant life makes it’s transition to broad leaf greens.
From 74 to 95 to 201 to 26, each roadway becomes more fun. Travis gets all of the credit for planning the bulk of our ride and today’s constant bettering of itself really stands out. In the heat of our final desert section, off in the distance, we see the polar opposite of our current environment: snow caps.
John Day Highway leads us alongside of them before developing a twist here and there. Twists everywhere take hold thereafter. We’re gladly in the day’s best as the weather begins to cool.
A viewpoint just outside of the mountain forest marks our final rest stop before John Day. Giving the bikes a once over and clearing our helmets of mosquitos, it’s time to stretch our legs in preparation for beer. We all need reasonable inspiration to continue and today’s mileage should be met with reward on arrival.
Below is a shot-by-shot panorama that I’ve pieced together (click the arrows). No camera can encompass the entire greatness of that location. For that, you have to visit in person!
A slow descent out of the tree line lands us in John Day where we book a room at the well known Dreamer’s Lodge. The owner/operator is a quick-to-act, overly friendly man of (I believe) Indian descent who goes well out of his way to appease every customer and for that we’re very grateful. I’m saddened to learn later in the evening (through local bartenders) that travelers often try and take advantage of him. Based on the very same social support, I believe the town of John Day has his back and I look forward to staying there again. It really is a great town.
Note the two Harley’s sitting next to us. They belong to George and Rhonda. The very first words out of Travis’s mouth just after shaking their hands is “Those are the ultimate Harley rider names”. They both laugh out loud and we talk bikes for a few minutes. Their positive review tells us where we’re getting breakfast tomorrow but right about now we’re thinking about beer and pub food.
That leads us to the local brew pub, 1188 Brewing Company, where the equally intelligent as she is lovely Savannah provides many tasty spirits and enlightening information about interesting stops worth considering during our newly started visit to Oregon. One of the pub owners kindly gives us a private tour of their facility which is stellar in it’s organization and cleanliness. Travis brews bourbon beer in his home, so obviously his mind is in a state of sensory overload.
The distance and timeframe for today is much longer than we anticipated, covering just over three hundred and sixty miles, a forty degree temperature gap and three alternate eco/social systems. Following our route during this season introduces morning chills, afternoon burns, desert plains, mountain forests, short “howdies” and long winded brewing secrets. We don’t realize it yet but today may well be the most existential of our entire journey.
Ready for more? Day Seven: John Day to Portland
What’s Your Favorite Sport Touring Motorcycle Route From Burley To John Day?
There are many twisty, scenic travel options connecting the two. Which roads do you prefer and why? Where do you like to stop along the way? Your input is invited. Post an article!