A Short Ride the Long Way

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

It's 6:30 on a July Saturday night in The Dalles, Oregon, a tidy lumber town on the Columbia River. Snagged in a street festival, we crawl the stop-start traffic, boiling inside our leathers, engines pinging, clutches slipping. I spy an outdoor time and temperature display: 102 degrees! We've committed to camping, but the air-conditioned Budget Motel beckons, and only sheer inertia prevents me from pulling in.

"There's camping in Dufur, ten miles up the road," says Geoff. "I asked in the Safeway."

I'm thinking: Yeah, right. What does Safeway know about camping? But up the road we go. South from the Columbia, 197 climbs toward high plateau, and soon it's tolerably cool. A tiny farming town, Dufur, hoves into view across golden wheat fields.

We swing into a faded trailer park of plastic trellis works and kitschy garden ornaments, and a cheery sixty-something woman soon arrives to size us up in a Kawasaki golf cart.

"You'll be better off in the city park," she says. "I'll show you."

This is too bizarre. City Park? Four Norton Commandos trailing a golf cart through an Oregon hick town? But the park is a gem: lush grass, a pool, fire pits and picnic tables - for eight bucks a night! A tingling shower, sub sandwiches, a couple of Sierra Nevada ales, and all is right with the world.

British Columbia
The International Norton Owners Association awards an enameled pin to those riding a Norton 1,000 miles to their annual rally. But the 2003 rally in Lumby, BC is only 250 miles away. A group of us from Vancouver's British Motorcycle Owners Club decided we could easily qualify by going the long way round - via Polson, Montana - to collect a fellow Nortoneer, Maggie.

So five of us assembled at the Canada-US border, all on Commandos - except for a sheepish Dave, who, having grenaded his engine the week before, arrives on his Paris-Dakar R100GS.

Border interrogation completed, we cross into the US. Our route takes in the North Cascades Highway, a lazy snake sidling through the Skagit Valley, whipping over the 6,000-ft Washington Pass and just skimming the snowline. The vegetation changes from dense cedar and Douglas fir to straggly ponderosa pine up there where it becomes clear why Washington's coastal strip is the only justification for the name "Evergreen State."

We lunch in faux-western Winthrop - all boardwalks and livery stables - and head into desert proper. This is the Okanogan Valley, a subduction ripple in the North American plate that runs from Canada to Mexico. Here, the hot, dry winds blown up from Death Valley toast the lake-watered orchards and sear the nostrils.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2004 back issue.