My stomach fluttered with nerves, which was odd. I was packing for a camping trip to Central Oregon, which I’ve done dozens of times in my life, but this trip was different.
I was riding my new motorcycle.
I loaded camping gear on the bike and strapped everything down. My wife, Shelley, and I do a verbal checklist because I’m too lazy to write one, and even if I did, it would change each time depending on where I am going and what I am doing.
“Do you have your sleeping bag?” She asks.
“Tent? Pad? Pillow?”
“Clothes?” (I once left my duffel bag at home and didn’t realize it until I had driven hours to camp.)
This went on until we we’re both satisfied I hadn’t forgotten any necessities.
So why was I nervous?
Last October, I bought an 800cc dual-sport motorcycle with trips like this in mind. It’s the latest in a long line of motorcycles dating back to my preteen years.
I wasn’t crossing Africa or bushwhacking Baja, just making a simple solo ride across eastern Oregon. I planned to meet my buddy, Don Richcreek, and his son, Max, and camp at a lake near La Pine, Ore., about 350 miles from Boise.
But I still had niggling doubts. Would the bike run correctly? Would my back hold up? Would the weather cooperate?
These are not worries when I drive my pickup. Weather? The heater or AC takes care of that. My truck runs like a steroid mule, so reliability is not an issue, and it has a back-friendly adjustable seat.
Traveling by motorcycle has a whole different vibe.
The twist of a throttle has an irresistible allure. It ranks up there with other adrenaline moments like feeling power build and water exploding as you plunge into a big, frothy rapid.
Riding a motorcycle also has a Zen quality as your body and machine blend into one. The twisty roads that I force my truck through become a playground as I lean the bike from side to side and carve corners like a giant slalom skier on freshly groomed corduroy.
A mental command of “accelerate” makes it instantly happen, and I zoom across the landscape and watch the horizon grow closer, and within moments a distant ridge becomes a blurred memory in the rear-view mirror.
But there are pitfalls with two-wheeled transportation. An afternoon thunderstorm can turn a pleasant day into frigid air biting bare skin and blasting chilled gusts through clothing that never seems thick enough or warm enough.
And the eastern Oregon desert can be a vast plain of monotony, with gas stations few and far between.
Riding solo meant I would have to deal with any mishaps I might encounter or create, from mechanical problems to navigation errors to overestimating my riding ability.
Which gets back to that nervous feeling I had.
I had plotted my route to include gravel and dirt roads, which is the point of an 800cc dual-sport motorcycle. You can ride freeways, highways, backroads, gravel and dirt roads, and even some singletrack or ATV trails.
There are plenty of all the above in eastern Oregon.
My first leg took me through familiar territory on Oregon’s Highway 20. I refueled in the tiny oasis of Riley, about 25 miles west of Burns.
The stretch of highway from Burns to Bend is one of the loneliest places I know. It’s about 125 miles of blacktop with little in between the two towns except lava rock, sagebrush and juniper trees.
Midway between the two towns, I dropped off Highway 20 onto a gravel road that cuts cross-country toward La Pine.
I had never traveled this route before. It was a random squiggly line on a map, and you never know what you will actually find on a backroad across eastern Oregon’s desert.
You might encounter a washed out bridge, a locked gate, or a missing sign that sends you spiraling off course on some other nondescript backroad headed in the wrong direction.
I know this from hard-earned experienced.
Fortunately, I found my way without mishap. But I realized my nervousness wasn’t unfounded after I traveled 50 miles on backroads between Highway 20 and La Pine and only encountered a single vehicle traveling in the opposite direction.
It’s a lonelier place if something goes haywire.
I rolled into La Pine about 9 p.m., wolfed down dinner at a Mexican food joint and headed into the mountains as the sun settled onto the peaks.
I was nearly to the lake where we planned to meet when darkness arrived and drops of rain started dotting the face shield on my helmet.
I ducked into a campground, pitched my tent and lay there listening to drops drumming on the rainfly.
I had been on the bike for more than eight hours. I expected to be sore and tired at this point, but I felt strangely fine.
The next morning, I woke up and called Richcreek, who was having problems with a boat trailer that had to be repaired. He was going to be a few hours late.
No problem. I went for a ride to kill time. There were so many backroads left to be explored.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors
Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Sunday. Look for Zimo next week.