Winding Road for the Next 1,000 Miles

Story by Jeff Davison// Photos by Jeff Davison
July 2 2024

Riding the Rockies and Ranges of the U.S. Northwest.

Two hours of riding upriver had not narrowed the Columbia in the least. Interstate-84 hugged the south shore as cargo ships, cruise ships, barges and sailboats skimmed a surface so wide that they could happily ignore one another. Rounded hills of tawny grass like a lumpy threadbare rug rose on either side of the gorge. And my sense of their size only shifted when I spotted a kilometres-long train inching its way along the far shore. These mountains dwarfed all human activity.

Even on my quite-comfortable Suzuki V-Strom 800DE, it was time for a break. The exit for Pendleton, OR., led to a once-Wild West boomtown filled with saloons, opium dens and brothels. From 1928, when twentysomething Stella Darby opened her “Cozy Rooms,” until it was shut down in 1967, Stella’s was the rowdy town’s favourite bordello. During that time, the unusual madame encouraged her girls to get an education, save money, and learn etiquette so they could improve their station. Under new management, “Working Girls Hotel” now offers tours that paint a sympathetic portrait of the women who worked a demanding and dangerous career.

From River Valley to Open Fields

Beyond town, the route swung away from the river and up out of the gorge. Irrigation produced big round fields of hay and, farther still, stubble covered every hulking hill. Like tiny green toys, tractors and combines trundled in the last of the wheat harvest. Had I not seen the hydraulics that allowed the machinery to remain upright on such steep slopes, I would not have believed they were arable. I crossed into Washington just before entering Walla Walla and then, at Clarkson, came suddenly upon the Snake River, where I crossed another state line into Idaho.

In a Lewiston café, I treated myself to a hot meal and set out for a wild camping spot I’d found on iOverlander. Barely halfway there, however, the skies opened, and the temperature dropped. And then, because of the overcast, darkness fell sooner than expected. In retrospect, I should have turned back, but foolishly I pressed on, hunkering down in my cockpit, grateful for my heated grips and jacket. It was the first I’d needed them.

Looking for Shelter

Riding at night, of course, is never wise but adding the rain and the cold only heightened the challenge and I rode slowly through winding forests and past glowing lights inside warm ranch houses. I soon gave up any intention to camp and began dreaming of a Cozy Room of my own (no company required). But the nearest town was an hour away and to make it more fun, the rain triggered my phone to begin switching screens — a bit of a wrinkle for navigation.
Without touch-screen fingertips, I had to keep stopping to pull off my gloves and correct the display. Perhaps you have had the experience of wriggling a glove onto a wet hand and…


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