Oregon Motorcycle Back Roads – Eugene to Medford
Oregon motorcycle Back Roads – Eugene to Medford is the first of a series of ride reports for those seeking, “The road less traveled.” In motorcycling I have found my niche, ultimately an escape from work, phones, life….I’m not exactly sure what I’m escaping, but out on the road is my happy place. I love my job and my life, but there is something so different riding, it’s comparable to a drug. I ride when the weather allows, even with heated gear. I ride after work and have some, “loops” that most riders in my area hit now and then. On weekends, up to 3 & 4 day trips allow us to go as far as some of Washington and all of Oregon.
On this two day ride, I set out to make my way down the Willamette Valley from Eugene to Medford with as little use of I-5 as possible. Starting at home in Bend, I took a familiar route across the Cascade mountains, Hwy 20 (Sanitam Pass) and Hwy 126, known as the, “Clear Lake Cutoff” and I’m not going to talk about that well worn stretch.
My first goal was to get lunch at Cornbread Cafe, a pure vegan eatery calling it’s fare, “Vegan Comfort Food.” On a nice summer day we make the 280 mile (round trip) to have lunch. With great anticipation I rode into town (Home of the Oregon Ducks) only to see sidewalks filled with people wearing the bright Green & Yellow jerseys……Hmm, I thought, “there must be a game this weekend.” I failed to connect that in Eugene lots of people equates to lots of vegans……damn, where else does that become a problem. After battling too much traffic, I arrived to find Cornbread Cafe packed, with a line out the door. Since I barely had enough time to run in for a quick lunch and hit the road; sadly I had to pass by thinking, “why are there so many vegans?” Irony. Anyway, I was now starting my back-roads tour of the valley, riding through towns I had never seen on roads I had never traveled, a new adventure.
I use BaseCamp by Garmin for trip planning and by placing many waypoints I can follow even these unknown routes after uploading it to my GPS. I had to really trust that it was telling me the right places to go (I have a hard time really trusting GPS) since I had no idea where I was. This stretch had me following a path through some of Oregon’s wine country and I must have passed 20 vineyards. Springtime in the Willamette Valley is unbelievably green, (there may only be Fifty Shades of Grey, but there are at least 100 shades of Green) with pastures and fields bursting with new growth under the bright sunshine. It was in fact sort of unusual to have such a dry, beautiful day on the tail-end of April.
Oregon has some weird laws; marijuana is legal, self-service gas is not……but there are exceptions, like I have a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) so I’m federally required to be in a random drug testing pool…..for me marijuana is NOT legal….Self-service gas is legal for motorcyclists, sort of…..the law says the attendant must hand you the nozzle, you pump your gas and then the attendant must hang it up……that’s kind of weird. Or if you’re in a county below a certain population (mostly far eastern Oregon) and the station is closed, you can insert your credit card and pump your own gas, even in cars. It would appear that the people who write laws in Oregon, do not have CDL’s. Now, on a motorcycle, in many cases in a small town they will just tell you to go ahead and get it yourself. This is NOT the case in Lorane, OR. I waited for what seemed like quite awhile and no one came out to help me, so I got my measly 3 gallons and went inside to pay.
The little old lady behind the counter looked like a friendly type, in a town with only one building I don’t expect a lot of formality, simple rules all that stuff. When I told her I had already gotten my gas and offered a card to pay……..she came alive! “You don’t got nothing, unless we’re there to give you the nozzle!” I had to think for a second……response: smart ass mean or beg forgiveness, I mean she did look like my grandmother. So in a split second of processing, I decided to take the middle ground, I simply replied, “it’s a little late for that.” She changed from my grandmother into my third grade teacher (who also looked like my grandmother) and the lecture began, she didn’t grab my ear, but I thought that was next. I decided to make friendly just to cut this short and apologized; I wondered how long I was going to be doing CPR waiting for Paramedics if I pushed it further. After a lengthy conversation showing her my humbleness and regret for my serious lapse of judgement, I mounted up and headed off.
The road out of Lorane was shielded from the sun by huge roadside trees and must have been designed by a sport bike rider. For about 10 miles riding, “Territorial Highway” I enjoyed a twisty series of curves that eventually connected me to Hwy 38. Looking at the map, I had come very close to Interstate 5, but it was never in view and I felt deep in the countryside. The, “Umpqua Hwy” if followed another 50 miles would land me at the Oregon coastal town of Reedsport. But I was working my way more South than West, after a quick stop in, “Drain, Oregon.”
Situated between the Cascade range and the Oregon coastal mountain range, these are logging towns. I grew up in a small logging town and I can relate to the culture here. While logging went basically extinct in my part of the state back in the 80’s, it’s still a way of life over here. Albeit, much, much less than the heydays of the 1930’s – 1970’s, you still see log trucks parked in front of houses, and the mountain sides show the results of, “clear cutting.” In my bumblebee yellow jacket & helmet, I am an obvious outsider; but I know if I broke-down or had a problem, these people would stop to help.
I had a childhood friend; Duane had moved to our town and told stories of growing up in Elkton; a town where I would once again turn south, I always wanted to see Elkton. I’ve not seen Duane in over 40 years but I wondered if I was seeing the house where he was born, or the little market he visited on his bicycle. Duane’s dad drove one of those log trucks, and maybe Duane had returned to drive one too. Were one of those trucks I passed in front of his house? You think about funny things when riding a motorcycle.
I generally followed the Umpqua river from Elkton to Roseburg on Tyee Rd. Anytime you can ride close enough to a river or creek with it’s generous supply of life giving water, you are in the right place. Although the entire Willamette valley is green, you can spot the path of a waterway by the outline of trees growing on along it’s banks. And for a bonus, I crossed a few times on bridges that allow a quick glance in either direction, as for the most part all you get to see is a look across the river when there is a gap in the trees.
This was intended as a rural tour and once I came uncomfortably close the the city of Roseburg (pop. 21,000) passing the golf course, it was time to turn west and head for, “Lookingglass Rd. Finding small communities I had never heard of; in the state where I grew up was intriguing. If you were to ask me how well I knew Oregon, I would have confidently stated, “I’ve been all over this state,” but today I realized how wrong I was. Now with a motorcycle underneath, I am determined to explore these areas, pockets of population that are just as important in some people’s lives as the town where I grew up is to me.
Lookingglass, Oregon Pop. 800
The Lookingglass Store built in 1852
Short stretch of I-5 and the, “Tiller – Trail” Highway
In planning, I hit a unfortunate dead end of local roads and was forced onto I-5 at Winston-Dillard. While I wasn’t able to stop, Wildlife Safari in Winston is one of the premier wildlife encounter spots in the nation, with over 500 species of animals and a, “drive through” lion park (not recommended for motorcyclists:) and a world renowned Cheetah breeding program.
I-5 in southern Oregon, as far as freeways go, is a beautiful area…..it’s still a freeway and thankfully I only needed 20 miles of it. At Canyonville, Oregon I split off onto the Tilller-Trail highway. Now this is a really nice road linking two small communities (neither of which anyone cares about) making a short-cut of sorts, but today I’m using it as a, “long-cut” extending my ride…….perfect. Tiller is somewhat in the middle of the trip. Southern Oregon has a well deserved reputation of prime marijuana growing climate and prior to legalization was a popular area for aerial police helicopter raids. From personal experience I can only remember it known as, “Killer from Tiller.” Hey, I didn’t have a Commercial Drivers License in the 70’s !
At Trail, Oregon I hit Highway 62 and if turning left I would be at Crater Lake, but I’m ready for dinner, hot tub and sleep, so I go right towards Medford. Passing through the towns of; Shady Cove & Eagle Point, I soon arrive at Central Point, where I have a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express.
Going home on the, “Green Springs” Hwy 66 roller coaster
There’s not much to say about Medford (pop. 80,000) other than, “Hey we’re close to Ashland (Shakespeare Festival) and Jacksonville (very cool historic town), and they have great weather, seriously. What I notice about Medford is it’s abundance of chain restaurants, I mean they have every mediocre, generally unhealthy establishment you’ve heard of. I’m pretty sure that’s why the economy is based on, you guessed it; Health Care. Rogue Valley Medical Center alone employs over 2000 people. I’m not giving away any secrets, most people who live in Medford will say, “Have you been to Ashland?” OK, it is the home of, “Harry and David” you know the place where you can order a gift apple for $30?
Speaking of Ashland, that is exactly where the Green Springs Highway takes off east across the Cascade Mountains, and this is a motorcycle highway. At one time it was the only crossing and as kids we got car sick 100% of the time on this road……..any road that will make you car sick is one you need to ride on a bike! With both of my parents puffing non-stop on cigarettes with the windows up…….maybe we were poisoned?
Twisty, sharp linked curves with a long drop off for those not paying attention is what makes Hwy 66 one you need to ride. At the other end you’re in Klamath Falls and Hwy 97, so I get gas before heading 120 miles north to home. A fun weekend getaway. Go, ride, explore….Freeways be damned.
Tub Springs where we stopped to recover from car sickness. Now instead of kids puking, there are people lined up filling water bottles with the clear cool spring water.
Mt McLoughlin seen from the south on Hwy 66
Life is Short……..Start Living Now !
Random Dog Photo
Both of my dogs have passed since I started this blog, but Karla’s dog Leia does her best to keep me comforted.