Adventure Riding Through The Fire Season
Hi. I’m new around here so thought I should introduce myself. My name’s Jesse but some people know me online as ‘Onelostmoto.’ I’m a dual sport fanatic who loves adventuring through the wild woods of Oregon on two wheels. I’m excited to be partnered with Next Adventure to bring you trail updates from the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Hello. Nice to meet you
It was an awful summer for fires in Oregon. It felt like the entire state was going up in flames. No place was safe. Even the Columbia River Gorge, one of Oregon’s most cherished outdoor wonderlands, was torched by the devastating Eagle Creek fire. All told Oregon’s 2017 fire season burned 9 million acres. That’s the area of New Jersey and Connecticut combined. I know what you’re thinking: why couldn’t it have just been New Jersey that burned to the ground?
All that smoke made for unpleasant riding over the summer. Riding in smoke is not fun. I got to try it earlier this August on a ride to Central Oregon to view the 2017 solar eclipse. I was riding my mostly off-road route from Portland to Bend when somewhere around Mt. Washington the smoke set in. I knew there were fires in the area, but assumed roads would be closed if there was any real danger.
Smokey warnings on the horizon. Ignore at your own risk
Despite my stinging eyes and burning lungs, I pressed on through the thick blanket of smoke. When my fuel gauge indicated I’d passed the point of no return, it dawned on me that this was probably a bad idea. What if I’m already behind the road closures and am riding straight toward a raging inferno? What if I run out of gas and am overtaken by flames? My mind raced as fast as my bike.
I pinned the throttle determined to avoid becoming One BBQ’d Moto. As I raced out of the smoke the sky turned an eerie orange.
That was months ago. Lesson learned. Don’t play with fire.
Now it’s autumn in the Pacific Northwest and the returning rains have doused the flames. The smoke is gone and the air is fresh again. Perfect weather for a ride.
It was a cloudy afternoon that I set out to Tillamook Forest for some nature-time. I reached Diamond Mill staging area around 1pm. It had been raining for days. The ground was saturated and every last log in the Tillamook was soaked. As I pulled on my helmet, I thought I smelled smoke but figured it was impossible for anything to be burning in these conditions. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
A few bike tweaks later and I was rolling down Cobmaster - a scenic trail that climbs through moss-covered trees and Jurassic ferns.
For the curious, I’m riding a 2011 Husaberg FE570. It’s usually tarted up in the summer months with a larger tank, fairing, and cush wheel, but I have it back in trail mode for the winter. It’s the perfect do-it-all bike for me and I’ll be chatting more about its mods in upcoming posts.
2011 was the last year this model was made
Back in the Tilly, the Husaberg and I thumped up the trail. The temperature was perfect, the traction was excellent, and the forest was dressed in yellows and reds.
It was a lovely scene. So lovely in fact that I paid little attention to growing smell of smoke in the air. Someone’s campfire, I reasoned.
I topped out on the trail and the rain clouds returned. Figured I had time to pick up one more climb before I got soaked to the bone.
Classic Tillamook loam
On the next climb (Deer Fence) autumn was really out doing itself. The trail had turned into a Yellow Brick Road of leaves and more leaves were falling through the air - like the trees were throwing confetti. It was magical.
I stopped on a small bridge to soak in the scene. It was almost laughable how beautiful it was. Ten seconds later I rounded the corner and found this:
Yep. A smoldering wasteland. The whole hillside was on fire. I was floored. How was this smoking scar lurking just yards away from a vibrant trail?
Total smoke show
I circled back and approached the hill from the other side and confirmed with some workers on site that this was a control burn.
At least I was warm
I stood for awhile watching the flames swirl and leap. Seemed like a fitting close to a never-ending fire season. So much beauty burned up this year. And while it’s easy to think of fire as nature’s mortal enemy, the truth is it’s a necessary agent of change. Many of our ecosystems have evolved to depend on fire as a source of vitality and habitat restoration.
I headed back down the yellow-leafed trail and thought about Tillamook’s own tumultuous history with fire. 80 years ago this forest all but burned to the ground in a series of record-breaking fires (ever heard old-timers call it the ‘Tillamook Burn’?)
Now look at it; it’s a wooded wonderland - a testament to nature’s resilience.
It was pouring rain now. I pulled my face shield down over my goggles and rode toward home. “I be back,” I thought. I bet Nature was thinking the same thing.
P.S. Thanks to all the men and women who tirelessly battled fires up and down the west coast this summer.
P.P.S. The forest is our friend! Please consider donating to the Eagle Creek Restoration Fund here: www.nationalforests.org