You gotta love a woman like her. It's Saturday and a rare weekend off for me. I was feeling refreshed. Lately there's been too much work and too little sleep. It had been a lazy morning and the level on my second cup of coffee was working its leisurely way down. The weatherman on the KOIN newscast had promised a little sunshine for the weekend. It was beginning to look like that promise would hold true.
White clouds floating high in the sky were tinged with gray patches. Standing outside I saw that we were in a little circle of sushine. To the South and North the clouds looked darker. I looked East to the Cascade foothills and saw no blue sky. The same was true as I looked West to the Coast Range. Both sets of hills still have snow on them. For now the elusive rays of sunshine warmed us. Who knew what the rest of the day would bring?
Katie and I were discussing options for the day. Sunshine and dry grass usually mean lawn mowing. There's some work in the flower beds that's been begging to be done. Katie suggested we go riding. She hadn't been on the bike for a while. Katie's not as addicted as I am, but she's definitely hooked. Yard work would wait. Like I said, you gotta love a woman like her.
Knowing we didn't want to go too far in any direction, I flipped through my mental filing system. I keep a running catalog of back roads in my mind for any particular area. We're fortunate to be surrounded by open farm land and preserved wetlands. One day we'll all be swallowed up into a giant suburb of either Portland, Eugene, or both. For now we have elbow room. Suits me just fine.
Our valley has a little prominence in the world scene. At one time most of the hops for beer production came from here. Not so much anymore, but it's still a significant share. Grass seed is the premier export right now. Hazelnuts, or what us locals call Filberts, are another showcase crop coming out of here. Maybe the emergence of ethanol based fuels will help preserve our farmlands. Corns and grains will become the new cash crop if this takes off. I'll enjoy the open spaces to the full while I can.
As I'm flipping over cards in my mind, the sequence stops at Eastern Benton County. There's a network of small farm roads around a place named Irish Bend that I've been meaning to explore. I tell Katie that we should have an Irish Jaunt. I have some ideas of how to combine food, beverage, and riding under this theme. What more could you ask for? Riding, eating, and being in the company of an attractive woman. Works for me!
If it helps, I did feel guilty. Here we are with temperatures in the upper forties and low fifties. I know that the Mid-West and East is being hammered by one snow storm after another. Minneapolis and the surrounding areas had a lot of folks without power. I wondered if Gary was doing ok back there. Still, worrying about the rest of you wasn't going to stop me from enjoying. My riding or not wasn't going to either hurt or help anyone back there. No sense all of us suffering, right?
Irish Bend is no longer an Irish community. At the time this area was being settled, there was an Irish community here, though. The Willamette River runs through much of our Valley. In this particular area the river makes a wide turn, or bend, toward the East. Thus the name Irish Bend. This is an old Grange Hall. I finally got Katie to pose with the bike but she wouldn't take off her helmet. Silly girl. Maybe it's just as well. We kept being serenaded by the "caretaker and watchman" of the place. It would actually be more accurate to say "watchdog"! The helmet provided some extra hearing protection.
This roads in this area were clearly laid out by someone in no particular hurry. Cumbersome farming equipment had to be moved so there's no really sharp turns. On the other hand, nobody seemed to mind if the road bent around the edge of someone's field. We found the roads to be perfect for just gracefully leaning the bike from side to side as we negotiated its serpentine pathway. Traffic was very light. Just a few pickup trucks and a sport bike rider coming at us from the opposite direction. If you're headed somewhere in particular there's faster ways to get there. Nobody comes here unless they mean to be here. Cows and sheep grazed contentedly or snoozed in the unexpected sunshine. The whole effect was very relaxing.
The one thing we didn't see was the Irish Bend covered bridge. Mostly because it wasn't there anymore. It had been moved to a place on the outskirts of the Oregon State University Campus. Even though we were only about 15 miles away, it sounded a little more crowded than I wanted to deal with on this ride.
The bridge didn't actually span the Willamette River. It allowed passage over a slough. 1954 saw the birth of this bridge. The design, interestingly, was one from the 1920's. Traffic was restricted by the narrow width. Finally, in 1975, some big culverts were put in and a new road built over them. Irish Bend bridge sat neglected and deteriorating until 1988. At that time a group interested in preserving historical things had raised $30,000. This allowed them to dismantle the bridge, replace rotting timbers, and reconstruct it where it now sits. Here's a file photo that shows the bridge in 1957 when it was still pretty new.
After leaving the Irish Bend area with our deepest thanks for a great time, we headed sort of Northeast. Some of the roads were old familiar haunts. In between we weaved those "let's just see where this goes" journeys. One of my old haunts hadn't felt my presence for around eight months. I was pleased to see that the pair of llamas ( or alpacas ) were still keeping watch from their fenced pasture. They always present an air of curiosity mixed with a look that says they've seen it all. Farther along we came upon a flock of wild turkeys. I tried to get a picture but memories of the days leading up to Thanksgiving must have been fresh on their minds. As soon as I stopped and Katie dismounted, the fowl were off to parts farther away from us!
Just South of Brownsville we saw some deer slowly feeding their way up a hillside. Not wanting to repeat the problem with the turkeys, we pulled off but didn't get off the bike. Katie seems to have a particular soft spot in her heart for deer. While we sat quietly watching the deer, several vehicles went zooming by. How many folks never see what's really there in their haste? Speaking of zooming, I try to keep the pace relaxed when Katie's along. She likes to sightsee. I see and notice everything, too, just at a faster pace! On a flat and straight stretch of road, we got passed by a big, black, Ford pickup. How humiliating! The things I do for this woman.
I got a little of my own back on Roberts Road. This is a short stretch of road but has some really awesome curves. There's one tight "S" curve with a lot of visibility at both ends. Seeing that the road was clean and dry, I dropped one more gear than I normally would. Then I gently kissed footpegs to blacktop in the right turn, picked up the bike with a little throttle, and did it again to the left. Not a peep out of Katie. She acts all ladylike, but deep down she's got a wild streak. That's why she hangs out with me. She can satisfy the wild side but blame it on me!
The trainer in me is leaping out for some attention. Ok, you've got two paragraphs so you better make them good.
I always tell the average rider to set a corner entry speed that allows for steady or slightly increasing throttle in a curve. If the rider feels like they need to roll off anywhere in the corner the entry speed was too fast. Notice I wrote "slightly increasing"? Grabbing a big handful of throttle in a corner presents a couple of problems. One, it's possible to break the rear tire loose. Unlike sophisticated race tires, most street tires give very little warning. They just do it. The other problem is that rolling on the throttle wants to stand the bike up and make it go straight. In a corner, we need to have the bike lean and turn. You see the contrasting effects? More throttle means more pressing to make the bike lean. All it does is eat up precious traction as the rider fights the bike to stay leaned. Which means less traction is available for dealing with surprises.
Once a rider gets a certain amount of experience, however, using the throttle judiciously can be a helpful tool. I'm not talking just seat time experience. This is a dedicated concentration on learning what a bike's telling us at any given point. The bike will talk, all right. We need to find the channel to tune into as well as have an understanding of the language. Many times I've negotiated curves for miles and miles just using throttle inputs to lean and lift a bike. Sweet.
By now we've been about three hours since our last stop. Taking the back way into the Spicer area, we stop at the Allan Brothers Beanery. I'm a coffee drinker, Katie's a tea drinker. Today I forego the coffee in order to stay with our theme. Holding steaming mugs of Irish Breakfast tea, we settle into a booth. It's more like a table with high backed wooden benches. The benches are polished smooth by the backsides of countless customers. This particular booth is on the West wall of windows. Being Winter still, the sun's low to the South. During this time of later afternoon, it's also towards the West as it prepares to set in a couple of hours. It's gotten colder outside and the sun through the windows feels great.
A couple at a table near us starts up a conversation. Well, the man does, at least. He looks like a ship's captain with a weathered face. An English Tweed motoring cap rests on his head. He asks us if we're doing like them and riding on one of the few dry days. Katie pipes up and tells him that she wanted this ride and that I rode whatever the weather. Funny how it sounds like bragging in public but at home it sounds more like a bad thing. Literature says that ladies love outlaws. Perhaps it's been like this for ages when a lady loves a badman. There's a certain mix of pride and worry.
Our couple aren't on two wheels. Their vehicle of choice is a Torch Red Datsun Roadster with no top. The man and I have a short discussion on the relative merits of a four speed transmission versus a five. He's contemplating installing a rebuilt five speed in the car. We all wander outside at the same time. Of course, they are off sooner. No riding gear and helmets, you know, for the Roadster. Despite the differing vehicles, I feel a kinship of spirit with him.
Katie and I decide we have time for about another hour of riding. It's time to head for Buena Vista. Since there's only a couple of ways to cross the Willamette River, we opt for a little town riding. Farther North, in the Dever Conner area, there's a small ferry that commuters use for crossing the river. I'm not sure if the water isn't still too high for the ferry to run. The ferry spends most of the Winter in dry dock. Not wanting to dead-end at the river and be left looking across with that "oh so close, but oh so far" look, we head for the bridges that go into North Albany. It means a few miles of town traffic but what the heck.
There's not really much specifically Irish out here. Plenty of farm land, though. The same river we saw before is running through this spot, too. We're about 70 miles North of where we were earlier. Then I see it. A field where hops will be growing. Let's see. Hops = beer = a good Irish Stout. Close enough for me!
On the way home we stop at a small shopping complex. A quick run into Ray's Food Place scores a cold bottle of Guiness. I notice that there's a Starbucks coming soon. Right close to a Subway. How convenient. Once at home, with feet resting comfortably on the footstool, we raise our frosted beer mugs and toast a great ride. Of course, Katie's not drinking Irish beer. She's more of a Hefeweizen person. I won't hold it against her. After all, nobody's perfect!
Miles and smiles,