Traveling by motorcycle can be as much about the adventure as it is about the destination. One day of travel is one day of adventure and ten days can be ten adventures. At the end of a day of riding, when I think back about how different things could have turned out, sometimes I think reaching the destination took Divine intervention.
Our ten-day vacation, started when I picked up Donna, my better three quarters and navigator from work in Tukwila, Washington. We had headed east across Washington and into northern Idaho for a few days visiting with some of my family along the way.
White Bird Hill is a motorcycle riders dream. Aside from being a little narrow, it offers plenty of curves and corners to keep riders on their toes.
From my sister’s place in Troy, Idaho we headed south on highway 95. I highly recommend stopping at the top of Spiral hill to look out over the Lewis Clark Valley before starting down the hill to east Lewiston. At the bottom of this twisted decent we head east up the Clearwater River for a few miles. We then turned south at Spalding and head up Lawyers Canyon between Spalding and Grangeville, checking out some of the tallest wood railroad trestles in America and across the Camus Prairie to Grangeville.
Still following 95 out of Grangeville, just for kicks we went down the old White Bird grade going south. I have biked up this old highway before, and that is a fantastic ride. This short piece of highway just north of White Bird drops approximately 3225 feet to the town of White Bird in just a few miles. The old White bird hill is a narrow strip of pavement with a serious of hair pin turns, that turned many a traveler’s knuckles white, and emptied many stomachs of its contents before the new road and bridge were built 40 plus years ago. The ride south of the small community of White Bird along the Salmon River is a motorcyclist dream. With good pavement and lots of big sweeping turns, but be careful, the man with the pretty Christmas lights on his car knows it is a good road to test your need for speed.
The building at the far end of the photo was a cafe 50 years ago
For a few extra miles of low traffic and good scenery don’t get back on the main road at the south end of town. Drive right on through you will stay on the old highway and along side the main fork of the Salmon River and right down main street of Riggins. Farther south in the middle of Cambridge, Idaho we make a hard right off of Highway 95 onto SR 71 which took us into the Snake River canyon and gave us access to the roads along the Snake river and a chance to visit all three dams on that section of the Idaho and Oregon border. We have ridden this before and have many memories of those rides. Highway 71 crosses the Snake River into Oregon just North of Brownlee Dam, and becomes Oregon state 86. If you watch the signs it is possible to go to Joseph and Enterprise Oregon on these back roads. This was the route we chose. Enterprise was our destination where we would find a bed for the night with the my in laws.
We were riding two up on the 1500 Vulcan classic, pulling a small cargo trailer we call Mammas Purse. I won’t go into how it got its name here. We had made it over the Lick Creek pass and had worked our way through the thick fir and tamarack forest on the narrow mountain road to where we were starting to see a few cattle ranches. Now a few things need to be said here. One, this is open range, which means cattle can run free and are often found alongside or even in the middle of the road. Two, if a cow is on one side of the road and she sees you coming, she will wait till the last moment and cross the road. Cows do not normally move fast when they are crossing the road.
My wife grew up on a cattle ranch in this area and we joke about cows doing this. So, when I spotted a small group of them grazing and doing whatever it is that cows do, I slowed down. I slowed down a lot. I had dropped to first gear, as one of the critters decided she would cross the road from right to left. My wife and I both laughed into our headsets, because without saying a word we knew that we were both thinking “she is going to cross the road” which is exactly what she started to do. Yup, she only started. Then she did something I had never had one do before, she turned to face us, put her head down and came straight at us, with that lumbering run only a cow can do. We were only 50 or 60 feet away when she started her charge. There was no way to turn the bike and trailer around on the narrow county road in time to prevent a head on cowllision. The road was not only narrow and shoulder less, but there was a drop off on both side of the road with the barrow pit full of brush and fir trees, not to mention more cows.
The road a few miles from where we met the mad cow. This area was devastated by
a wild fire a few years previous.
Visions of bad things happening to Spooky, the name of the VN1500, and my body, flashed through my mind. She was closer now, maybe 20 feet and closing the gap. I was almost slow enough to put my feet on the ground now. Now the gap is 10 feet, I have my feet off the floor boards, dragging them on the ground and thinking, this is going to hurt. I’m not sure but I think my wife was in the fetal position on the pillion seat and was curled up behind me, thinking the critter would get her first. I did without even thinking about it, have my thumb tapping out some kind of Morris Code message on the Bad Boy horn. The message was being sent to the cow at over one hundred decibels. About five feet from my front fender bossy decided, if I could hurt her ears this much, what could I do to the rest of her. At that point she decided to finish crossing the road and went over the bank on the left side. I am pretty sure she had a calf in the brush someplace along the road and was just doing her mother cow thing. But it caused me to need a change of under wear and a long break at the next intersection.
The junction of mad cow road and Ship creek where we turned towards Joseph.
That intersection is where we turned left onto road 350 which is locally know as Little Sheep Creek Road to Joseph. This road is also a nice motorcycle road, again narrow and twisty until we reach the top of the Little Sheep Creek Hill. As soon as we clear the top of the hill the valley where Chief Joseph began his fateful trek to Montana lays itself out in front of us. Here the road is straighter and wider, but don’t get on it too much, the guys that drive the cars with the funny lights, get bored and love having you entertain them.
The road comes to an intersection at Main street in Joseph. This is where we turn right onto state road SR 82. From here it is only six miles to Enterprise.
The area around Joseph and Enterprise is nine thousand-foot mountains with green fir and tamarack forest wedged in between the top end of the timber line and the lush green Wallowa Valley below. In almost sixty years of visiting the valley, I have never seen the area above the tree line without at least a few patches of snow. We road through this area without stopping to do any looking around, as it is the area where my wife was born and raised and I had spent many years backpacking, fishing and camping, it is full of back roads. A person could spend a life time looking around this beautiful mountain valley.
We made it to Enterprise with no farther challenges and had a good night sleep before continuing on with our trip the next day.