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Old 05-26-2015, 01:24 PM   #1
tracop OP
Joined: Oct 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Oddometer: 8
Portland to Boise

Portland to Boise
May 1 - 4

When my mother passed away a few years ago, she left me the piano she had received as a gift when she was a kid. It sat safely in the garage of my mother in law's house for a few years, until this past weekend when I rode my motorcycle to Boise and picked it up.

To do the trip, I determined I would need a motorcycle capable of traversing the dirt roads between here and Boise. Picking up a family heirloom is nothing to be taken lightly and I was hopeful that I could plan and execute a ride that would add significance to the spirit of the journey and serve as a memorable adventure to attach to the legacy of the piano.

The search for a bike seemed pretty straightforward; pick up a 90's Honda XR600, which are plentiful in the states, easy to repair, hard to kill and capable of going almost anywhere. I began scouring craigslist searching for the right bike, but most bikes were too expensive, too rough or some combination therein. When a 1986 Yamaha XT600 showed up for the asking price of $1400, for sale by a member of an online forum that I frequent, I opted to have a look in person. The bike was very beat up, but the seller, a mechanics assistant at a reputable shop said that the bike was a good runner and needed a few minor tweaks to be a solid dual sport machine. Knowing my abilities, and understanding that I was capable of addressing those concerns, I offered him $1000 for the bike. We met up and after riding it home, I felt satisfied that I had paid a little more than I should have, but given that most of the work it needed was cosmetic, I'd get over the money.

The next morning, I decided to ride the bike to work to 'shake it down.' Within a mile of my house, it died. After 20 minutes of roadside inspection and tinkering I had it running. 8 blocks later, I was on the side of the road. This happened for about 90 minutes as I limped the 7 miles from my home to work. Over an hour late, sweating, dirty and angry, I arrived at work prepared to read up on the bike, sort out the issue and ride the bike home later that evening. Based on the behavior of the bike, I determined that probably the engine was fuel starved due to a leak in the intake side of the engine, where the carburetors attach to the air box. When my shift ended, I took an old bike innertube, some safety wire and a bit of electrical tape and did my best to seal things up. I made it as far as across the river and the bike would not run. The complication in this part of the story is that I had dropped my phone, so in addition to having a 400lb paperweight stuck on the side of the road, in the rain, I had no way to call my wife or a cab.

After walking most of the way and catching a bus near the end of the trip home, I drove back downtown and picked up the bike.

I took a half day off of work and dug into the engine. The valves were tight, the spark plug was old and foul and the oil was surprisingly low. Also, the gas was the color of rust and the tank didn't vent properly, which ended up being the problem that had left me stranded for 5 hours the previous day. The fuel just couldn't flow to the carburetors, so the engine wasn't firing. By the time I sorted all of that out, I had ridden the bike a total of 8 miles, and never further than 2 miles in a stretch. I contacted the mechanics assistant and told him that his account of the motorcycle was false and that I'd be happy to drop it off and retrieve my $1000. He wasn't cooperative. I'd spent several hours stranded, had purchased the bike with the understanding that if I had any major problems right away I'd be in touch. He was amenable to that at the time, but apparently 22 hours and 8 miles wasn't "right away" enough.

The half day off worth of wrenching had the bike running pretty good. It was still experiencing a lean condition, but I had sealed up the intake pretty well and the bike was pulling strongly. The lingering problem was smoke., lots of blue smoke was exiting the tailpipe. I checked the oil, having just changed it and noticed that it was significantly lower than the 2 quarts I had just added. Blue smoke is generally a sign of burning oil and at the rate I was losing oil, I knew something was wrong with either the piston rings, or the valve seals. For two weeks I rode the bike to work and home to monitor the other issues that I was trying to sort out, and for two weeks the bike continued to run, but was smoky.

I ordered new piston rings and a few odds and ends such as gaskets and oil seals. I repaired the tachometer and attempted unsuccessfully to fix the speedometer. I also had a lot of fun riding around town. Two weeks before the trip, I couldn't sleep on a Friday night, so at 3 am I walked outside and began disassembling the engine. 4 hours later I was holding a piston that was really in bad shape and rings that were so out of spec that the ring end gap, which should be around 12 thousandths of an inch, was over an eighth of an inch. I performed a leak down test on the head, which suggested that the head was actually alright and not leaking oil into the cylinder. The 1/8" gap in the rings, though was a red flag. With a gap that large, it's likely that oil was just spraying into the cylinder and getting blown right out the exhaust valves.

I immediately ordered a larger piston and dropped off the cylinder at the shop. They bored it out to accept the new piston and at 2 am 4 days before the trip, I was sitting on a running bike in my carport. I rode the bike about 20 miles to break in the new rings and parked for the night. The next morning I fired the bike up and rode it to work. It was running great, pulling really hard and not smoking! At the end of my shift, I came out to find several ounces of oil puddled beneath the engine. The base gasket had blown straight out the front of the engine on the ride to work. I was able to ride the bike home and after doing a little research I realized that there was no way for me to get a new base gasket for this bike in time for the trip. Old Harley guys used to use cereal box cardboard to make single use gaskets. I considered that but opted for a high heat rubber gasket maker that comes in a pressurized can. The hardest part of making gaskets with that stuff is that it's tempting to lather it on and immediately assemble the engine. The gasket maker squeezes out of the seams and can be wiped away leaving no trace of the rubber - except the problem is that the same thing happens inside the engine, and then you've got a bunch of rubber bouncing around the engine fouling things up and clogging oil passages. So I was patient and didn't use too much. 3 days before the trip and 3:30 am I was sitting on a running bike in my carport once again. 20 more miles to break in the rings and then to bed, but I noticed on the ride, that when I turned right, there was a palpable grinding happening in the rear wheel. I had intended to install new rubber, but for that I needed to drop the wheel off at the local shop. Within 10 seconds of taking possession of the wheel and the new tire, Joe at Vicious Cycles says, "this wheel is toast, I'll be lucky if I can remove the axle. Your bearings are definitely garbage and I might not be able to remove the internal bearing race without destroying it. I've got 17 bikes in the yard that have been here for weeks, so if we have the bearings in stock and if I can find time, I might be able to get this done by the end of the weekend." So 1 day before the trip, I had a bike with 1 wheel.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
I spent the evening of Thursday April 30th playing with my son and inspecting and refining my camping gear. Trimming unnecessary items and paring it down to the essentials, I had my tool roll down to just 8 or 9 pieces. My sleeping bag, pad, tent 1st aid kit and water filter sat on the homemade rack I had fabricated out of 1/2" tubing. 2 genuine military MREs and my spare clothing as well as a few comfort items attached to the right side of the bike, A 1.7 gallon auxiliary fuel tank attached on the left. A Tenkara fishing rod slipped into the spaces between the camping gear and I wore a hip pack over my shoulder which carried tackle, stove, pot, water bottle and of course a little whiskey.

At 2:30 pm, just 7 hours after I had intended to depart, I was sitting in my carport, next to a rigged to flip motorcycle, which was fueled up and ready to go except that it was missing the rear wheel.

3:30 pm: I get the call from Vicious. The wheel is ready with new bearings, new rubber and as long as I can assemble everything, should be good to go. When I pick it up, I get the quiet admonition that I "never would have made it on that thing."
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
At 4pm on May 1st, I left my house. The original goal for the first day was to get to the Ochocos. To do this I would ride over the Abbott road to Timothy Lake, then the Barlow road to Maupin. A BLM access road would follow the Deschutes to a jeep trail that would take me over the grasslands and hills to the Ochoco Mountains. From the Ochocos on day two I would swing into Prineville for gas before following the Crooked River to Prineville Reservoir. Heading south through China Hat, and past Crack in the Ground. I would refuel in Christmas Valley before heading east overland to Frenchglen at the foot of Steens Mountain. From there on day 3, I would traverse the dried up Alvord Lake and enter Idaho through the mountains surrounding Silver City, ID. The ride from there to Boise would be through the farming communities that feed off the Snake River.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
The plan seemed ambitious, and leaving nearly an entire day late, meant that I was going to need to be flexible. After fueling up in Estacada I made my way to the Abbott Road. The Abbot Road begins across the road from North Fork Reservoir. After traveling for nearly 45 minutes, I reached a point in the road that made little sense. Pulling over, I inspected the map and sure enough, I had blasted past a crucial turn. Backtracking, I found the correct path and feeling rushed, I rode aggressively and quickly made my way to what many people on the ADVRIDER forums deem a treacherous and potentially un-passable slide. Indeed when I saw the slump, which had been eroded further by knobby tires and roughly applied horsepower, I was nervous. I carefully descended into the slump where I promptly got stuck in the mud. By lifting the front end of the bike and hanging on the handlebars while twisting the throttle, I was able to dig the rear tire down to solid ground and the bike ejected itself from 16 inches of mud. The next obstacle was the 60 degree incline that offered no space to build speed. With the bike loaded, I was a little nervous that the extra weight on the back would cause the bike to flip over backwards, but luckily, I threw it in gear, gassed it and the wheels didn't lift off of the ground until I reached the top of the berm. Tapping the rear brake, I transitioned from a 12 o'clock wheelie posture, to regular riding position. I'm not ashamed to say that I "whooped" out loud. The rest of the road was strewn with mossy rocks, loamy soil and dark green avenues. The overlooks spanned deep valleys of evergreen trees and steep shale rock slides. The only sign of humanity was the road I was on and the single set of motorcycle tracks ahead of me. Having left late, I rode hard where it was safe and made it to the end of the Abbott Road before dark. Knowing that I was running out of daylight, I determined that I would check in at Timothy Lake where I would have cell reception and could let the 3 people I had shared the route with, know that I was safe, but seriously behind schedule. Arriving at Timothy Lake, I pulled over to check the campgrounds. Not only were they still closed for the season, but my wiring harness was smoking profusely from the ignition housing. . . I quickly killed power to the bike and started inspecting the harness. One wire had started to heat up and had melted through the plastic. I started cutting out sections of the harness that weren't in use to eliminate the possibility of any more shorts and after 20 minutes, I fired the bike back up and luckily nothing started on fire.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
At this point, I was starting to feel a little stressed out about my timeline. I was nervous to attempt the Barlow road in the dark, which can be difficult to follow and maybe technically challenging. But I also needed to make some more miles before I bedded down for the night. I decided to bypass the Barlow Road and instead to haul ass on the highway to Maupin where I could camp on the Deschutes. The unfortunate consequence of this decision was that I missed the slow transition from the west side of the range, to the east side. I was excited to see the color change from rainforest to rain shadow. Still, the ride was beautiful and the bike ran smoothly, pulling hard and I made good time. Despite the fast pace, I arrived well after dark. I pulled into one of the campgrounds that line the Deschutes. It was full of fly fishermen who had arrived for the early hatch. Steelhead and Salmon were ripe for the picking thanks to unseasonably warm and dry conditions. The desert air was clean and dry. With the sound of the river to my left I laid on a picnic table and stared at the stars while I contemplated the trip.

Morning arrived soon after I closed my eyes. I packed everything up as quickly as possible, filtered some water and made my way back into Maupin for gas. Folks in Maupin all seem to know each other, so I received several curious looks and listened to the townspeople harass each other affectionately. After a cup of coffee and a couple texts to let people know my plan for the day I headed out. The goal was to take the access road along the Deschutes to a 4 wheel drive road across the grassy hills towards the Ochocos.

The fresh loose gravel of the access road nearly felled me several times, but after several miles I arrived to find what I had not anticipated; a very heavy gate blocking the road that I was planning on riding. I try to respect barriers like this when I encounter them, but this gate had large gaps through which I might have been able to wrestle the bike and lacked a "no trespassing" sign. I decided to hike out of the canyon along the path to see if there were obstructions further ahead. The grass was straw colored and swayed in the breeze as I climbed higher and higher. Sagebrush had replaced the moss covered rocks and dusty dry earth had taken the place of loamy soil trails. Instead of shadowed green sight lines, I looked out over swaying grass and gentle slopes. Arriving at the first of several barbed wire fences, I realized I wasn't going to be able to follow the route. Walking back to the bike, I encountered a 4 foot rattlesnake shaking it's rattle and hissing at me. As a kid, I was pretty accustomed to watching out for rattlesnakes, but living in the wetlands of the Willamette valley for the past 16 years has made me lazy and I was very surprised to be so close to a potentially trip ending obstacle. I backed up quickly and grabbed a couple rocks. After some well placed throws, I had backed the snake up enough that I was able to get around him and I quickly made my way back to the river, all the while keeping my eyes peeled!

Backtracking to Maupin, I turned south on Highway 197. I noticed along the way that the road that would've brought me out of the canyon was blocked where it was supposed to feed onto the highway. The road that I was supposed to cross onto was also blocked. When I turned west at Highway 97, I had my eye on the right side of the road for the jeep trail that would take me south past Trout Creek. Again, it was gated and locked, so I made my way into Shaniko, OR. From Shaniko to Antelope, the road is twisty and nicely paved. On a street bike, it would have been incredibly fun, and it wasn't unpleasant on the XT600, but my knobby tires didn't want to be pushed through the turns, so I took it easy. From Antelope, Tub Springs Road would take me to Lower Tub Springs Road, which would shoot through Ashwood, OR towards the Ochocos. Tub Springs Road offered a beautiful ride through desert ranch land, with irrigation and cattle on every down hill side of the path. It was dusty and dry, and cattle guards crossed the road every couple of miles where one ranch's property ended and another's began. At one point Tub Springs was supposed to turn into Lower Tub Springs, but alas, another gate blocked the way. This one wasn't locked and didn't feature a "no trespassing" sign, so I let myself in and made sure to close the gate behind me. Riding over the ranch land on an overgrown jeep trail, I started to descend rapidly. At one point, I was on a very narrow road, strewn with boulders and rabbits. Trout Creek bounced off of the rocks a few hundred feet below me. It was mildly treacherous and incredibly beautiful. Coming out of the steep canyon, The ranch land stretched out below me. the canyon was bordered by steep slopes and all of the bottom land was given over to pasture or irrigated and full of alfalfa. Various shades of green contrasted sharply with the lighter tints of the unirrigated slopes.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
Arriving at the bottom of the canyon, the road crossed through Trout Creek. My speed was a little to high and I failed to notice a large very slippery boulder. The crash happened slowly, and I managed to keep my head out of the water, but the bike fell over and immediately sucked a bunch of water into the cylinder. I hopped up and wrestled the bike to the other side. I pulled the spark plug and pumped the water out of the engine by kicking the kickstarter. After reassembling everything, I flipped the key and went to grab the front brake before starting it up. The brake lever was gone. It had sheared off when I went down. No front brakes is sort of a big deal. Looking at my watch, I had time if I hurried, to get to Prineville to pick up a new lever. Making sure the bike was in neutral, I stood up on the kickstarter and dropped my weight to start the bike. The sound of metal breaking is a funny thing. I had heard it muffled by the sound of wind back on the Abbott Road when the lightweight rear rack I fabricated for the trip snapped under the load of my gear thanks to the aggressive riding I was doing to make up time. I heard it when I crashed into the stream, but the sound had been muffled by the water. When I dropped my weight onto the kickstart lever I heard it loud and clear. There wasn't anything but the sound of the creek flowing gently past to mask the sound of my kickstart lever snapping. I'm not certain the XT600 was offered with an electric starter in 1986.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
An hour later I was pushing the bike up a very dusty road towards Ashwood. The sound of sprinklers to my left contrasted sharply with the barking of a Heeler mix to my right. Sara the dog wasn't alright with my presence, and I was keeping my distance. As I passed the barn, I heard the voice of a man ask me to "hold up, now." As he approached, he asked if I was out of gas. "No" I said, "i've got plenty of gas. What I don't have is a kickstarter." He looked down at the bike and asked if it was an old XT. I was impressed that he recognized it. I had replaced the tank, the air box, and the headlights; the side covers were lost, the seat isn't original and it was covered in mud and dust. It isn’t the most popular bike either, since most have long been retired to scrap yards and overgrown fields. We both agreed it could be bump started, but when I told him the piston was brand new, he changed his mind. Single cylinder bikes with high displacement and good compression are notoriously hard to bump start. My compression was great. Half jokingly, I asked if he had a welder I could borrow for half an hour. His response was funny. He sort of slumped his shoulders and asked if I had come over the hill. I said yes, and he quietly mentioned that "we prefer you not do that anymore, but you’re here now. Let's see what we can't do about this," and we headed towards the barn.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
The high powered rifle in the back window of his truck reminded me of my childhood when my dad and I would drive out to the wilds of southwestern Wyoming to shoot at prairie dogs and empty beer cans. The dog turned out to be very friendly when she realized I like to pet dogs from time to time. The man's wife is a teacher at the one room school house in town (my wife is also a teacher) and he indeed did have a welder I could use. Maybe the funniest part, was that among all these common points of interest, we pulled out the same hat when it was time to weld - a train engineers cap. An hour after he had come out to "read me the riot act for trespassing on [his] land," he told me that now that we knew each other, I should come back some time. I stood up on the kickstart lever and dropped my weight. The bike started on the first kick and backfired the remaining moisture out of the cylinder. I adjusted the idle and asked if I could take his picture. While the bike warmed up, I snapped a photo and mentioned that good people are the people you meet when you're in trouble, cause assholes don't stop to help. He retorted that it's been his experience that "good people are attracted to bad roads."
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
I didn't make it to Prineville in time to get a new brake lever. I had lost several hours of travel time having a pretty incredible experience. No front brake on some very technical and highly populated single track meant I was looking at another compromise regarding my route. I would have to cut out the China Hat/Christmas valley section of my trip. Between Ashwood and Brothers, Oregon I encountered several streams, 100 people and almost that many dogs all terrorizing a raccoon in a cage - I guess it's called a field trial, beautiful views of the Crooked river valley, Prineville reservoir and lots and lots of cows in the road. From Brothers I provided my "search party" with my new plan, which was to get as far as Burns, OR before dark.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
The striking incongruity of water resource allocation in this part of the state is most clearly observed when one side of the road is covered in sage brush and silt, while the other side of the road is covered in knee high alfalfa and sprinklers stretching for a quarter of a mile. Further down the road, flooded cropland at mile marker 5 contrasts sharply with the mini sand dunes and barren ground at mile marker 8. The roads are arrow straight for miles and miles since all of the land is separated in a grid and planted according to the allocation of water and the landowner's rights to that resource. It’s beautiful country.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
Camping outside of Burns, was quiet and uneventful. Nobody would think of having a fire out there, since the land is so dry that fire danger is off the charts. I set up my tent on a piece of flat ground, stowed my gear and rode back into town for a cheeseburger. I texted my wife and she told me I was cheating. I told her I knew I was cheating given how many highway miles I had racked up. She suggested that the cheeseburger was the unpardonable offense.

I wanted to see Harney County and take a picture of the Alkaline lakes in the area. Unfortunately, they were so low, I had to take photos from the tops of hills, and even then, the pictures look like desert. I spent the day heading south to Rome and then over to Boise. I spent several hours riding overgrown jeep trails and slippery gravel roads only to encounter more barriers, and then backtracking to the highway. The farmland outside of burns slowly turned to desert on the Steens highway. Miles rolled past without any sign of humanity save for the occasional gravel pit, barbed wire fences and of course the road. I didn't pass a single vehicle between Princeton and Burns Junction.
Piano Trip by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
r1 Border by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
I promised my wife I would be in touch before 5pm and probably from Boise. At just about 4:45 I rolled into town and promptly sat myself at the bar at 10 Barrel Brewing. I sent her a picture of the pint to put her mind at ease. All told I rode about 660 miles from Portland to Boise. The travel clock recorded 17 hours of actual riding time, but I'm certain it was longer.
Owyhee by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
r2 Boise by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
r3 loaded and ready to go by Eric Jensen, on Flickr
Minus all of the backtracking and closed roads, the trip looked just about like this:!3e0

tracop screwed with this post 05-26-2015 at 01:43 PM Reason: added photos
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Old 05-26-2015, 08:14 PM   #2
C'mon Guy
Joined: Oct 2014
Location: California
Oddometer: 150
Very nice!
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Old 05-26-2015, 08:40 PM   #3
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Joined: May 2014
Location: in the Valley of the Inversion
Oddometer: 69
That was a riot!

Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to hearing about the return trip, somehow I can't imagine it was completely uneventful.
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Old 05-26-2015, 08:49 PM   #4
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Joined: Sep 2002
Location: Corral de Tierra CA, Ketchum ID
Oddometer: 2,718
Mmmmm 10 barrel!
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Old 05-27-2015, 07:36 PM   #5
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Joined: Oct 2008
Location: Candler
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Cool report, thanks for posting!
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Old 05-28-2015, 01:16 PM   #6
tracop OP
Joined: Oct 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Oddometer: 8
Originally Posted by JeepDawg View Post
Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to hearing about the return trip, somehow I can't imagine it was completely uneventful.
Well JeepDawg, sorry to disappoint but it was pretty uneventful, until I got to PDX and the Budget office was shuttered and I had to drive all over town looking for somewhere to drop off the truck.
I rode the bike to work the day after I got back, and then the next day, I had no compression. Haven't had a chance to dig into it yet, but I'm looking forward to a top end rebuild and a new wiring harness. . .
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Old 05-28-2015, 03:12 PM   #7
Joined: Jul 2008
Location: Glendale, AZ
Oddometer: 87
Sort of disappointing. The start of the report says, "I rode my motorcycle to Boise and picked it up." The end of the report shows the bike and the piano in a box truck.

Probably a better a solution but nowhere near as entertaining for the rest of us.
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Old 06-02-2015, 11:53 AM   #8
tracop OP
Joined: Oct 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Oddometer: 8
Originally Posted by kniepm View Post
Sort of disappointing. The start of the report says, "I rode my motorcycle to Boise and picked it up." The end of the report shows the bike and the piano in a box truck.

Probably a better a solution but nowhere near as entertaining for the rest of us.
Yeah, I just didn't have enough straps. . .
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