Adventure on the less traveled ORBDR.

By Becky Betty.

I’ve been fortunate to ride the WABDR in 2014, the IDBDR in 2015, and just returned from riding Route 5 of the OR BDR.   My initial impression on day two of the Oregon route 5, was that it wasn’t as difficult for me as Washington, with the exception of Cleman Mountain section, aka “baby head hill”.  After making the statement to my fellow riders who felt the Oregon ride so far had been harder than either of the other two rides, I realized that my riding skill was much improved, and yes, Oregon was a more difficult ride.  After day three and four, I will definitely agree that Oregon route 5 was definitely more technical and challenging than the other two states BDR’s.  My hands will attest to that, they were tired after the second day riding, and sore for at least a week after I got home.

With that being said, here’s what I learned:

First, pack light.  The Oregon ride is much more rustic than either of the other rides.  We camped rough, all but one of our six days.  I didn’t need to bring as much clothing as I thought I would need, and keeping the bags lighter on the motorcycle is better than smelling fresh as a daisy every day.  Use lightweight EVERYTHING…my heavy bulky Keens are not making another trip!  There are great lightweight camp chairs that don’t take up much room, tents that fold down to less than a bed roll, lightweight sleeping bags and pads.  If you can purchase a few lightweight items each year, in a couple of years you will be set.  And if you have taken one of these trips before, and didn’t use something non-essential (does not include your tools and spare parts), in your packs, leave it home.  You most likely won’t use it.

A couple of the nights we camped in areas that we didn’t have water access, so top off your water containers at every available gas stop.  You never know when you might run out!  If you are using dehydrated food for your meals, you’ll need adequate water, or you go hungry at the end of a long day in the saddle.  Going hungry and not getting the needed calories for the following day isn’t ideal. We carried and actually used a MSR water filter on one evening.

Be prepared for all types of weather.  While on this adventure, we encountered sun, drenching rain complete with lightning and thunder surrounding us as we rode, hail storm, only to be followed by the most exciting light show and natures musical thunder minutes after we climbed in the sleeping bags.  It rained so hard we thought the tent was going to collapse but our Nemo Losi did it’s job.

​​Use a Garmin GPS to store the routes, and also carry a map in case your Garmin fails.  I rode with my husband, and three other riders.  Typically, I was second from the last in the group and sometimes the dust is so bad, that you need to hang back in order to see the trail.   If you don’t have your own Garmin (my two previous BDR’s), the ride is slower due to waiting for riders at intersections and definitely dustier because you tend to ride closer if you don’t know where you are going.

The first day was very long.  We moto’ed from Hood River to Walla Walla on the backroads only to find out there is no tent camping allowed at the RV parks in Walla Walla.   We decided to just head to the route and finally ended up setting up camp around 8 pm just off the side of the trail in a primitive hunters campsite.  The first couple of days on the ride were not super challenging but very scenic.  At times we were on switchbacks, only to find ourselves on a ridge line at the top, or a river or stream at the bottom.  One of the riders in the group saw a bear, but there were plenty of cows, squirrels, and chipmunks to avoid on the road. The terrain seemed to change right after we made our first river crossing as we transitioned from Pines to scrub cedar trees and sagebrush.  The Malheur river was running higher than I thought it would, and was rather wide at our first crossing, perhaps 60 yards.  I made it part way, then fell, started again, but didn’t make it all of the way.  The second river crossing, the Malheur Ford, was shorter but deeper.

​When four wheel vehicles exit the river they tend to dig a hole and it was deeper at the exit.   I need to work on river crossings.  The steep climb from the river valley was very rocky and rutted, so I felt that the hill climb was the most technical section that we’d seen up to that point.  You definitely wanted to keep your throttle on, (give it more onion as the trials guys say), and pick your line and keep your confidence up.  It’s amazing what these motorcycles will do.  I ride a lowered KTM 690, with tons of low end torque.  From that point on, you can count on the hill climbs being pretty rocky, as we were warned in a tavern by a fellow rider…”it gets rocky from here on out”.  Other than getting wet, that was a great day – so much fun!  My husband and I ride with intercoms, and after that steep and rocky hill climb he said “isn’t this just about as much fun as you can have?” – absolutely!

The route said 750 miles from Walla Walla, WA to the California border, but I will challenge that.  We live in Stevenson and it’s only about 205 miles to Walla Walla, and our round trip registered 1500 miles.  Also, some of the tracks on the GPS weren’t 100% accurate as quite a few of the lesser used forest roads were no longer there.  I’m not sure when the tracks were last updated, but be warned and prepared for deviations.  On day 4 we spent a good three hours just riding and backtracking through the forest due to non-existent roads the GPS tracks said were there.  Then after about 70 miles, we exited to the highway only 6 miles from where we gassed up and started that section. This is why you need a good map (paper or on your gps), to help plan your escape route.    I estimated we spent about as much time traveling East and West as we did heading south, a very wandering fun route.

The route heading into California was a pleasant surprise.  We expected sagebrush and desert and found ourselves motoring through Desolation Meadow, a lush wetland and the top of the mountain range with cows grazing and patches of snow so close you wanted to hike to them to cool off.  We then continued into steep roads into ponderosa pines and the end of the route.

Must see’s:

Olive Lake – simply beautiful

The Fremont Powerhouse

The gold dredge in Sumpter

Summer Lake Hot Springs is a great place to camp with the added benefit of a soak in the mineral springs.

Final thoughts: Even if the manufacturer states your tent is waterproof, there are some storms that will challenge that statement! Know how to change a tire, my husband picked up a nail in the middle of nowhere.  It was our first flat in three BDR’s.    A helmet with a peak is desirable, and intercoms are also helpful.  Enjoy the ride.  Even the most challenging day riding, or those days you can cover miles in no time, are much better than any day at work!

For more info on the ORBDR

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