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Ride Idea

US 395 - Pendleton to John Day

One of the best stretches of road in Eastern Oregon happens to be a US highway. I've had a lot of interesting rides along this road over the decades.

The first was when I drove the length a Volkswagen van that had been sitting in a field several years. That was in 1980. Between Pendleton and John Day, we experienced no less than 3 flat tires. Turns out the seals had blown due to their long nap in the field. That was a long day.

The last time I drove it was June of 2019. Fortunately, I was in also the car that time when we experienced hellacious down pours over every summit. That would not have been fun on a motorcycle.

I'm pleased to say, every time I've ridden it on a motorcycle, it's been a real treat. If you haven't done this yet, add it to your bucket list, make some time to do it, and don't look back.

Departing out of Pendleton, you're riding south along the grasslands to Pilot Rock. Not much here to tip the fun meter, but it is scenic and serene. Just past Pilot Rock, the road splits. Stay left and continue south. (Go to the right and that's another adventure altogether.)

Soon, you'll start to climb up to the first of several summits along the route, this one being Battle Mountain. The fun meter begins to move in a good direction. There was a battle here at one time and you can read about it on the interpretive sign at the pullout.

Some years back, many of these corners had guard rails. Some were magnificently positioned opposite of where they should be. Today, they are all gone. Visually it's much more appealing and makes for better sight lines as you ride without all the static.

A smooth decent from Battle Mountain Summit brings us to the junction for Ukiah. A nice spot for a coffee or smoke break where just a mile east you'll find a small eatery in the tiny town.

Between the Ukiah junction and the small town of Dale the fun meter pins. You're following along Camus Creek and as you do the road rolls left and right through a sweet series of corners. At one point, you cross over the 45th parallel just before heading into Dale. Look for the sign. You'll also cross over the north fork of the John Day River.

Passing through Dale, you begin to climb up to Meadow Brook Pass, flowing down to the valley below and crossing over the middle fork of the John Day River. Starting to get a groove here? Starting to note a little repetition?

Yes, for every valley floor there must be another pass to cross over. Just ahead lies the Ritter Butte Summit. Got your hiking shoes in the top box? Prior to the summit you can pull onto the unpaved CR 13 road and hike up to the fire lookout for a full-scale view of the area.

Continue south down the hill into the next valley, known as Long Creek. Then up the hill to Long Creek Summit (who woulda thunk it?). From here continue to Fox, enjoy the final set of corners and roll into Mount Vernon, where you aim your bike eastward into your final destination of John Day.

Tom Mehren/July 2019

Tom Mehren is a moto journalist hiding out in a crow's nest in Broadview Washington. He has written a number of books about motorcycle touring in the Pacific Northwest which are available in the Sound RIDER! online store.


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