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The Ride Day 4 – Serious Goat Trail Riding

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Posted 8th August 2008 at 08:49 by glh
Updated 8th August 2008 at 09:03 by glh (Missing pieces at the end)

This report could also be sub-titled, Smoke from a Distant Fire.

I headed inland from Gold beach on Agness Road towards … well, Agness. I stopped at the RV Park to re-hydrate and buy a map. While I was there a couple pulled up on a factory customized Fat Boy. I heard them asking the folks at the register about this road towards Grant’s Pass. They asked whether it was paved all the way through, and the clerk said “oh, sure”. I didn’t really think anything of it until 20 minutes later when I left the RV Park and immediately recognized the turnoff my buddy from the previous night had described. The name of the road, Bear Camp Pass, was the same one the couple had asked about. It was also marked with warnings like “One Lane Road” and “No Turnouts”.

I pointed my bike up this road, which would turn out to be a 53 mile Goat Trail adventure through 6000 feet of elevation changes. The road started out steep twisty heading up, and was nearly as narrow as advertised, perhaps 1 1/3 lanes wide on average. As I went higher the terrain became more extreme, and the road started getting rougher. I cannot give you a moment by moment narrative, because there were too changes and too many miles, but I can say that as I rode higher it was more and more clear that this road had been cut into the sides of some very steep mountain terrain. There were no guardrails, and I was riding on the drop-off side of the road, often within 2 feet of the drop-off side when making a left hander. The trickiest part was the variation in pavement. The 8 or so gravel stretches that my buddy had warned me about were little problem, it was the places where the pavement had sunken a foot or two, or sometimes sheared off to form a half foot high edge trap.
About a third of the way through the ride I stopped at an overlook and took crappy pictures and changed out the armor in my cold weather jacket for the mesh. The only trouble was the bees. They were all over and quite active and seemed to like the smell of my sweat. I was about ready to bug out (so to speak) when a couple pulling a trailer with a river raft stopped at the overlook. The Lord only knows why, but the bees then left me alone. We chatted for a while, and they warned me that this road was well used by the raft shuttle services that take the rafts upstream on the Rogue River and pick them up downstream. I had already come across a handful of these barreling towards me, which is why I was riding with my tires near the edge of the cliff. They also reminded me of something my buddy of the night before had mentioned, that it was on this road that “the guy from the bay area” died.

I heard the lady say something to her husband as they were getting in their truck that colored my experience of the remaining miles. She said “the smoke is sure getting thick”. Up to this point I had figured that the haze that had obscured my view of distant features was moisture in the air, even though there was little evident in the air that I was breathing. A few more miles down the road I started to smell it; the distinct smell of wildfire. On the side of a mountain ridge you are blind to what might be happening just around the next curve, and so for a number of miles I rode in fear that the fire that was producing this smoke might be nearby, perhaps in the path of this wandering road I was riding. I was sure that I had enough gas to backtrack thanks to the spare canister I keep in my saddlebags, but would the track back be fire free?

I was now headed back down from 6300 ft elevation and I cranked up the speed, even though a downhill stretch through the mountains with no guardrail is the last place I would typically push myself and the bike. This is something of a tangent, but I would warn anyone who is reading to not try this with a stock Sportster suspension. There were places on this road where the road just dropped away and once I was sure I would bottom out my front forks but I didn’t. The places where I had bottomed out my stock suspension were a child’s playground by comparison.

Eventually I rode through enough turns that I no longer feared that the fire causing the smoke was nearby, and chilled out to enjoy the ride. Many miles later I came to a T in the road, but the signs made little sense to me. I kept going straight, and it was a fine decision, but I did have my moment of doubt when I saw the sign warning of a rock fall. I arrived to find a one lane path, with concrete meridians on either side, carved through and honest to goodness rock fall. When the sign said beware of falling rocks I could not help but look up.

I finished my journey on Bear Camp Road in Galise, a drop off and pick up point for river rafters. The helpful sign at the store/restaurant stated “This IS Galise”. There was a nice shaded outdoor seating area, so I plopped myself down and ordered a burger, and Iced Tea, and lots of Water. Before my burger arrived I hear the sound of a big twin and do a double take. It looked like the couple who had headed out 20 minutes before me from Agness. This was freaky to me since I had seen one couple on a big twin passing me in the other direction, and the driver had a silver helmet just like these folks. I was really sure they had turned around and headed back on Bear Camp Road, but here they were.

I was busy doing some stuff at the bike, and they didn’t move my way. When I returned to the patio I spotted them two tables over from mine; sure enough it was the same folk. They recognized me and were equally dumfounded and asked me how long I had been there (about 15 minutes). When my burger arrived I asked them to join me, and we figured out that they had taken the left branch of the T while I had gone straight. None of us know whether they took the longer route or I did, but I have to say I was thoroughly impressed that they had ridden this road. I spent a lot of time and money setting my bike up for "mild adventure touring", and this road was a great example of what I mean by that. They rode the same path on a stock Fat Boy.

I had a great time talking with them. She and I had some similar work experiences, and they also shared some Oregon road advice which I will likely use in the days to come.
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