Death on the Devil's Tail

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by PapaYolk, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    Riding up to the Hell's Canyon Rally, Friday, I crossed from Idaho into Oregon and spotted a pack of cruisers down on the freeway. The weather report warned of freezing rain and strong winds in Baker, but thousands of bikes will show up to run the devil's tale. One of my boys gifted me $20 and I had $25 travel pay stashed from my last trip to the VA hospital, beer in the saddle bag, steak in the ice chest and coffee in the galley. It would be a good weekend.

    Not wanting to buck the gusting winds doing 70mph on the slab I took the scenic route, old Hwy 30, up the valley then along the Snake River to Farewell Bend. Didn't see any other bikes.

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    Farewell Bend is where the Oregon trail leaves the Snake. It's on the freeway, but the gas station, restaurant and hotel are all derelict and deserted now. There is a state park but services are up the old highway and over the hill in Huntington, a left over from the hay days of rail before the highway; an old brick building with pressed tin ceilings and a caboose. A few miles of gravel road lead back to the Snake and a BLM campsite with a nice shaded fish cleaning station and berry picking in season.

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    I ride a few miles along the Burnt river following the old road toward the bombed out looking ruins of Lime, an old cement plant. The bridge is out. There is access to the freeway but only going south. I ride south until I spot a place to cross the median and turn north. Lime flows past on my right and I run the high-speed turns (posted slow to 50 or 55) through the narrow valley to were it widens at the new cement plant that looks like a moon base then pick up the old highway again.

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    In Durkee, more sagging boarded up prewar shops, garages and cafes, I spot a Willys-Rambler hybrid.

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    The last town I pass through before Baker is what's left of Pleasant Valley, once sporting a modern new pre-neon sign. No vacancy, no problem. That's why I pull my bed and kitchen along behind.

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    #1
  2. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    This is my first trip to a rally. It's a riding rally with hundreds of miles of loop rides; up to the old mining towns in the Blue Mountains, or the Wallowa Valley north of Eagle Cap or the Devil's Tail up the Snake to Hell's Canyon Dam. Getting to and from the area affords many great ancillary rides. Yes, it is mostly the loud pipes crowd, but Baker is also a great staging area to scores of duel-sport loops.

    It's raining off and on in Baker. The rally sign-up area is small with a dozen venders for an event that draws over 5000. Forty bucks gets one a t-shirt, rally pin, and set of maps. I check out the map on the tourist information sign. Lots of stuff goes on downtown. I find the high-school where there's a camp with hot showers and park along side a row of tents, pull Spud open and throw a steak into my cast iron frying pan. The winds a-kicking and a huge black cloud hangs over the snowy Elk Horns threatening the promised freezing rain tonight. I do a little channel surfing on the TV then drift off to sleep on my heated bunk while knots of bikers pass by on the way to the free shuttle bus to the bars.

    I don't mind the deep vibrato of a nice vee-twin, but I'm woken up after dark but some buck pulling in and giving a few twists to a set of pipes that are set up to sound like cannons. Sets off the alarm on a BMW. Assholes. The wind has stopped after drying out the grass, Cool. I'm up at 4:59. WTF. I usually get up at 6:00. My phone had switched from mountain to pacific time. Spud's top is made of an old sail and with the dire weather forecast I had strapped on a cheesy blue tarp in good redneck hobo fashion. It's cold out, but I'm snug.

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    I set on the edge of my bunk and drape my electric bunk pad over my shoulders then pull on my leg brace and boots. I'm surrounded by the buzz of old duffers snoring. In the bathroom there's a long extension cord run out the door with a note saying don't unplug. Around the corner, from a tent trailer, I hear the sound of a CPAP helping some one get air. Good for him. Don't let a little life threatening ailment keep you from camping out. After coffee I chat with a young fellow with MS who has a cane carved to look like an M1 Garand. He caries it in a WW2 rifle scabbard mounted on an old school chopper. When he finds out I'm a vet he gives me his address and offers to carve me a custom cane of my liking. Nice guy. I'm surrounded by nice guys, finding I have parked spud among a group of “Bikers for Jesus”.

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    #2
  3. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    People watching can be fun; biker watching can be funner. I do a little site seeing in Baker. Every time I park, bystanders come up and ask about spud, I demonstrate her secrets and they shower me with praise. “Wow, Bro. That's too cool.” I find an Idaho trailer manufacturer. His rigs are sweet. His wife loves the concept of spud and keeps bringing people over and having me pop it open for show and tell.

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    Inertia brakes, 150lbs, $4k, less without paint.

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    Spud feels like an ugly stepchild. We skulk away and head toward Hell's Canyon. looking back I see the wet clouds still hanging over Baker and the Elk Horns.

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    #3
  4. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    After a run across the scrub sage, OR 86 drops along a valley of the Powder river and greens up. Then into a winding canyon. Strong tail wind makes for a fun, quieted ride. I drop into the Eagle Valley and the small town of Richland. The road is lined with bikes at the bar. I've stowed my camera and am just enjoying my ride. I spot a Moto Guzzi and Triumph Tiger roll past. Checking my odometer tells me I must start back to Baker to keep within my gas budget. I buck the headwinds back through the canyon then stop at a historical marker, pop Spud open and sit to sip a beer and watch the bike parade. The Bikers for Jesus clump of riders pull in. “You're pointed the wrong way, Tim.” says the brother I camped next to. “You already been to Hell's Canyon?” he asked with raised eyebrows.

    Having learned years back that honesty trumps pride every time, I answer jokingly, “My wife budgeted my trip and I don't have the gas to go all the way to the canyon.” A rider introduces him self as Rick and I stand to shake his hand. He presses a twenty into my palm and asks if I really don't have the gas. I begin to protest, realize he is blessing himself by blessing me, stop and give this stranger a hug.

    “Thanks, brother,” I smile. No preaching, no condensation... just a man of faith walking the walk. The BFJ boys roll out. Finishing my beer I mount up, look up and thank the Lord, then turn back toward the Devil's Tail.

    After climbing a pass I drop into the Pine Valley of the Pine creek.

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    There is an orange Detour sign at a junction on the highway with a paper stuck to it that says motorcycles. It runs the bikes through town where about 50 bikes are stopped for the a biker barbeque lunch. I gas and head on. The lush valley is fed by water from the glaciated peaks of Eagle Cap Wilderness to the north.

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    I stowed my camera and soaked in the beauty of the twisting pine lined canyon creek running down to Oxbow on the Snake. Fun.
    #4
  5. Loud Al

    Loud Al .

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    #5
  6. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    Thanks Al.
    Wish I had the resources to run my ADV cruiser from Oxbow up to Enterprise. I passed the Klinschmidt Grade this weekend and was thinking, maybe about five or six more teeth on my back sprocket and I could climb out of Hells Canyon and visit Cuprum.
    #6
  7. PapaYolk

    PapaYolk happy camper

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    The “tail” is a private road owned by Idaho Power. Crossing the Snake it starts on the Idaho side running north up the canyon. It doesn't have many flip-flop turns or any hairpins, but the rock face and drop to the river easement are very unforgiving. It does have longish squirms that tempt a blast of speed ended on tight blind curves (the devil is subtly seductive) and rocks that pop up on the return trip that weren't there headed up. The most dangerous element during the Hells Canyon Rally would be novice riders stuck in the middle of a long string of fast moving bikes, feeling pushed.

    I start my run about a half mile behind the last string to pass and have fun reeling them in after about six miles. I enter all the blind turns hugging the cut. Spud pulls like a rock in a sock and never wags at downshifting. Most riders are from WA and OR and don't know Idaho has no skid-lid law. I don't see any of the loud pipes crowd going topless. Now the bike in front of me keeps straightening his line by cutting into the oncoming lane. I'm thinking, “No need for that, too many riders today.” I'm following, going the same speed and nowhere close to scraping pegs. About two minutes up the canyon oncoming riders are giving exasperated “slow-down”' hand signals. Shit. The looks on their faces say, "wreck". We creep past a couple laid out in the road under silver space blankets being tended to by fellow riders. The two smashed bikes, front ends twisted off to the sides, tell the tale of a head on. Double shit. As we continue on, the bike ahead of me stays in his own lane.

    I park on the dam.

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    And run into my sponsor, Rick.

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    I am a spot of textiles in a sea of leather. These BFJ boys get this old fart to smile.

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    Water impounded behind the dam:

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    River below the dam:

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    The end of the road at the jet-boat ramp below the dam.

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    I headed back a half hour later and the road is closed. Took that long to get things sorted out and move the most injured to the helicopter pad down the canyon.

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    Sadly, one rider died, the one who didn't cross the center line. Good ride, but..the Devil's Tail takes a life. Kinda took the wind out off my sails as I started the run home.

    http://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/local/article_f47d4f50-b2c6-11e1-9617-0019bb2963f4.html

    I called my wife to let her know I'd met a pole dancer up on the Snake.

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    #7
  8. Loud Al

    Loud Al .

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    That is so sad about the fatality, I was almost taken out by a Harley in my lane on FS 39 a few years back. I keep thinking what if I had been in a pickup there would have been no place for that guy to get past me.
    #8
  9. bomose

    bomose Long timer

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    Great report up until the death. I pretty much quit riding Deals Gap because of people crossing the center line. If you can't stay on your side ,you're going too fast for your talents! Slow down and enjoy life.
    #9
  10. bonneville53

    bonneville53 kiwi

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2012
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    Location:
    newcastle nsw aus
    Great write up popa
    We are headed up there in 5 weeks
    Any suggested routes
    We are headed for the lolo over to Missoula
    Any local knowledge would be appreciated
    Thanks
    Five Aussies riding the blacktop
    Paul
    #10
  11. crowe2815

    crowe2815 kenoath

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    Nice report, and good to know there are still decent people about willing to lend a hand or 20 bucks to help a fella out. :clap
    #11
  12. Dillard

    Dillard Seeker

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    Great report. Your writing reminds me of Jim Harrison.

    Well Done.
    #12
  13. Rutabaga

    Rutabaga Been here awhile

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    Southeast Lower Carolina
    Thanks for your Service, brother. And thanks for the ride report.
    #13
  14. AustinJake

    AustinJake DR650 - Versys

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    I always read your reports PapaYolk, they are always good, thanks for posting them.
    #14
  15. ricochetrider

    ricochetrider MotoMojo

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    Nice RR.
    Scary stuff tho.
    Sometimes riding amongst a large crowd of strangers (like at a big rally) has its bad sides. Fer instance a few years ago, a couple I know on a full dresser HD got taken out by some squid, as they came into a fairgrounds during a big MC event. Dude turned left and rammed them- trying to keep up with his buddies, who had cut left in front of a line of incoming bikes, leaving the event. My friends were moving at about walking speed and squid dude punched the 800 (?) pound bike right out from under them. Hurt them both, but not devastating or anything.

    Other times, especially if you know everyone- and their riding habits/skills-
    riding in a group can be real fun.

    Glad you had a good time. You got a little blessing. Nice to know there's folks out there who can and will help another out. :norton
    Gratitude is everything IMO. Glad you didn't get snake bit.
    #15