Star Gazing

The truck, a Nissan Patrol, was cruising through the Iranian night at a casual pace and the world was filled with stars, clouds, and tree tops rushing past my eyes.  My 8 year old eyes hadn’t seen the world just yet, but the sky was always the limit and it was clearly visible that night.  An unbroken gaze with it would reveal more stars with the lack of light pollution in my periphery.

The motorcycle, a Ducati Multistrada packed with camping gear, was cruising through the mist laden narrow road, cutting through the Cascades.  My 37 year old eyes had seen the world, and in the wet road ahead things cleared up, one mile at a time.  Miles, a Navy vet who I work with, led the way at a safely brisk pace on his Multistrada.  There is something soothing about the symphonic melody of the Italian built L-twin motor and, if you’re not careful, it can put you into a trance. 

Miles, not afraid of the rain!

Miles, not afraid of the rain!

The Nissan Patrol hummed along the highway and my father would, from time to time, look back into the truck bed to see me blissfully star gazing.  Creedence Clearwater Revival was barely audible over the noise of the inline-6 work truck engine.  There were no bills to be paid, or deadlines to be met.  There were fleeting thoughts of what the future might bring, easily distracted by the Milky Way’s appearance across the night sky.  I bundled up, more, in my make-shift bed of comforters and pillows that my dad had arranged in the back of the Patrol.

The rain wouldn’t let up nor be agitating enough to complain about and our rain proof gear was doing a good job keeping us warm and dry in the cool early June Oregon morning.  The freedom of coming to peace with a situation is empowering.  Miles pushed along and missed the turn-off for Rte 242, McKenzie Pass.  I laughed in my helmet because I knew just the sort of zone he was in, looking forward and through the trees that lined the very green Cascades.  Two gears down and I passed him and motioned for a U-turn.  He let me lead us through the pass, but I had to stop.  The Douglas Firs were like green and brown giants, towering over these two small and seemingly insignificant mortals.  Miles understood the zone I was in, in full admiration of what’s above.

The bottom, west entry, of McKenzie Pass. 

The bottom, west entry, of McKenzie Pass. 

The ghost of my past isn’t an angry apparition brimmed with war filled rage, as it should be.  It’s a wraith, warm with memories of blankets and pillows in the back of pickup trucks, classic rock’n’roll and the crisp voice of my dad, telling me stories of riding motorcycles in the open roads of pre-Khomeini era Iran with a pretty girl on the back.  The pretty girl who I dreamt about, nightly, as a distant memory of a mother’s embrace. 

At the top of McKenzie Pass, the scenery shocked our senses and took the shape of what I imagine the moon would look like, if I somehow managed to ride Archie, the Multistrada, through its rocky terrain.  Miles and I, tried desperately, to communicate through wild gesticulations and gestures that there’s a sight to behold ahead.  The Dee Wright Observatory, a seemingly medieval guard tower on top of the moon, stuck out above the fog and mist and we had to dismount to discover.  The waterproof motorcycle gear proved a sanctuary of warmth while the wind and fog blew around us, undeterred and impervious to its nagging.

The cab of the truck cut through the wind and kept me oblivious to the highway wind.  Snuggled, as a kid shamelessly does, in my fort of pillows and blankets I wondered about my dream girl, angel of American toys, and motherly beauty.  I worried about atomic bombs and schools that were ruled by stick and ruler wielding nuns, who’d hit you if you didn’t eat your meat and veggies.  How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  Pink Floyd wasn’t a name to me.  Just a sound that felt good in my ears.

Down McKenzie Pass we went, the pace picking up as the tight switch-backs gave way to lazy turns, best enjoyed in accelerated motions, and the fog and rain slowly gave way to warmth and sunshine.  Welcome to Sisters, Oregon, full of trinket laden store fronts being browsed by trailer dragging, SUV driving retirees.  The sensation of dryness, and the lazy comfort it brought, led us to an instantaneous desire for sustenance.  Pizza and soda is a great way to celebrate sunshine and tourists.  On the other side of my phone was the sweet voice of my Valentine, Ann.  She was glad that we were safely eating pizza in a town she’s never been to, but promised to see it all with me.  That’s the sort of promise I can get behind.

The Nissan Patrol came to a squeaky-brake stop and I woke up to the sound of my dad.  The trip was over and it was time to go to bed.  The sweet warmth of my truck bed camp-out was so good that I remember not wanting to leave, but got up and went to bed.  Or I was carried.  The next day, I woke up and immediately missed being on the road.  The stars are so much brighter on a dark road in the middle of nowhere. 

Miles and I worked our way through the sunshine of central Oregon high desert, looking to pitch a tent near a body of water.  The destination was Cove Palisades State Park.  On the map, it looked like two bodies of water that converged together making it look like someone drew an upside down peace sign hand gesture.  In the middle of the desert, any shaped water feature seems like a good idea.  Greeted by the sight of the grandly carved canyon filled with the green-turquoise waters made us audibly laugh in our helmets.  My old friend, the Milky Way, showed its face that night and I forgot about my bills, my deadlines or responsibilities for a few hours.

Cove Palisades State Park.

Cove Palisades State Park.

Wanderlust – noun: A strong desire to travel.  And maybe see more stars, in the sky, than I possibly could in crowded cities of lights, horns and loud music.  Thanks for the truck rides, dad.  They fill my dreams with memories of the wind, the hum of an engine and miles of stars.  

Archie the Multistrada, my favorite form of transportation, and stars as far as the eye could see in the Oregon high desert. 

Archie the Multistrada, my favorite form of transportation, and stars as far as the eye could see in the Oregon high desert. 

Portland to Astoria – Day Trip!

From Northwest Portland to Astoria, the way we think is most fun and rewarding.

From Northwest Portland to Astoria, the way we think is most fun and rewarding.

Location: Portland, OR > Astoria, OR

Roads Used: 30 > Scappoose Vernonia HWY > 47 > 202

Total Distance: 99.1 Miles (160 Kilometers)

Food: Fish and Chips


This is a common route for local Portlanders but we still meet motorcyclists who reside in the greater Portland, OR, area that haven’t discovered it, so here it is:


There are times that a quick getaway isn’t quite enough but your work/life schedule doesn’t allow the luxury of packing it up and going away for days, either, so what better way to unwind than a healthy dose of day tripping? For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, day trips are those rides that you can finish in one full day, 6-10 hours of relaxation, exploration, or just mindless wandering. 


The Portland to Astoria and back ride is a prime example of a proper day trip.  There are many roads that are fit for this but we tend to enjoy the ones without clutter of cars, trucks and trailers.   First things first, to get this ride started, get out of Portland.  Find your way to Highway 30, which heads northwest out of the city through a colorful array of industrial buildings, train depots full of locomotives, and the lovely St. John Bridge.  Once past the big green bridge, you’ll notice that the scenery starts turning green and the road opens up a bit.  There are a handful of gas stations on the way to your first destination, Scappoose, OR, which is roughly 20 miles north of Portland.


At Scappoose, we would suggest fueling up as there won’t be another gas station for about 78 miles.  The road and scenery changes, altogether, once you enter the Scappoose/Vernonia Highway. Train tracks and dual lane highways give way to trees, curves and two lane heavenly side roads that are resplendent with every shade of green as far as the eyes can see.  Traffic is typically non-existent on this road and so is cell phone reception (at least if you’re on the T-Mobile coverage) so keep your wits about you as the curves and corners increase in quantity and quality.  Scappoose Vernonia HWY dead-ends at Rte 47.  For this ride’s sake, take a right turn and head north towards Astoria.  You’ll barely notice as the road changes designations from 47 to 202.  You could keep on Route 47, if you like, and enjoy some of the most curvaceous tarmac, this side of the Mississippi, which will take you all the way back to Highway 30 at Clatskanie, OR.  If you do this, turn left at 30 and enjoy a leisurely ride to Astoria.  We suggest staying on 202 for a more scenic ride along the Nehalem river with a pretty big chance to see some wild elk along the grassy flatlands that come into view, once in a while, through the otherwise never ending canopy of trees. 


As you delve deeper into Route 202, you’ll notice the curves getting tighter, with suggested speeds of 25MPH.  Take your time and get to know the road and, if you’re in a group, keep the pace at a safe distance and don’t rush each other.  This road is too beautiful to rush through, at least the first few times you traverse through it.  Just as you wonder to yourself if there’s any more curves, the road opens up to the beautiful Youngs River which feeds into Youngs Bay at the south side of Astoria, at the very peak of North West Oregon where land meets the mighty Columbia River as it pours into the Pacific Ocean.  Follow 202 towards 101, as the signs will suggest, and into Astoria.  You’ll be treated to one of the most PNW-ish sights, which is the beautiful town of Astoria with its coastal style homes, perched on the hills with their views of the Columbia River, the amazing Highway 101 bridge that connects Oregon to Washington State.  You’ve made it and are likely ready for a bite to eat and the Pacific Northwest is well known for its incredibly fresh sea food. 


Astoria is well known for the cult classic movie, The Goonies, but loved by some as home to the very well-known roadside Fish and Chips restaurant, Bowpicker (1634 Duane St, Astoria, OR 97103 503-791-2942).  While there are plenty of other choices in town, equally as tempting, we suggest parking your motorcycle next to the makeshift food cart, which spent its previous life as a boat in the waters of PNW.  The fish is perfectly seasoned and fried to a golden-brown delicious, accompanied by perfectly salted chips and will not disappoint.  Take a walk around town, towards the Columbia River, and check out all of the neat shops which are shockingly un-touristy, run and filled by the locals who very clearly love their beautiful town.  Say hi to the seals that fill the air with their barks!


There are a few options for coming back to Portland, from Astoria.  One is to retrace your ride into town but we’ve been told that after a few hours in town, enjoying the wares and foods, hopping on Highway 30, south, is the simplest and easiest route home.  We’ll let you be the judge on how to end your ride.  We like the curves, so we might take HWY 30 down to Clatskanie to hop on Route 47, south, towards Scappoose/Vernonia HWY, back towards Portland through the first half of the ride that got adventure started in the first place.


Let us know how you liked this ride and any other suggestions which might enhance it for everyone else.