Oregon Coast & Crater Lake by Suzuki Savage 650 (June 1999)
(c) 1999 Bruce Clarke

The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while riding the Oregon coast on my 1997 Suzuki Savage LS 650 motorcycle. I rode the following route: from Victoria to Port Angeles (WA) by ferry, down the Pacific coast on Highway 101 to northern California, east to Crater Lake, and then back by the same route. The total distance travelled was about 2590 kilometres (1552 miles).

This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. I have recorded my notes in US measurements. At the time of this trip, $1 CND = $0.68 US. 100 kilometres = 60 miles; 1 meter = 3 feet; 0 Celsius = 32 F; 20 C = 70 F; 38 C = 100 Fahrenheit.

I have typed up my notes exactly as I first wrote them. Many of my notes were written late at night, so some entries were very terse or used poor grammar. 

Sat., June 19, 1999:

 (Victoria, BC -> Cannon Beach, Oregon: 271 miles)

I didn’t sleep well the night before I left as one of my cats had a swollen paw, and so I had to rush her to the vet to be checked out before I left. (It turned out to be a bee sting.) I caught the ‘Coho’ ferry out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour at 6:15 AM: the cost was $17 US for a motorcycle and rider. The ferry was only about a quarter full, and the only other motorcyclist was an older gent on a Moto Guzzi 1000. The ‘Coho’ is about 40 years old with few amenities. The ride over was uneventful, and after 95 minutes we dock in the Washington town of Port Angeles. After a quick checkover from the US Customs officer I ride out of town on the south-west leg of Highway 101.

The weather was partly sunny and about 60 F degrees. The road passes through some spectacular old forests near Lake Crescent, though I find the grooved pavement along the lake to feel quite unsettling beneath my motorcycle’s wheels. The amount of traffic is very light, with the occasional logging semi tractor or pickup truck.

I guess different counties have different standards on forestry; as I cross from one county into another the roadside often switches from ugly clear-cut patches to forests or vice-versa. In an hour or so the 101 reaches the Pacific Ocean, offering some really good views of the surf pounding against the shore line.

The road soon turns inland and I spend some time riding through forested area. At one point three Gold Wings blast past me doing a good 80 MPH. Riding through the town of Aberdeen (which seems to consist mostly of auto parts shops) I have to ask an elderly lady for directions when I wander off the 101.

Eventually I reach a fork on the road; one branch runs along the seashore and one heads directly to Astoria. I take the seashore route: it offers a great ride the ocean and a shallow bay. Eventually I reach the four mile long bridge across the Columbia river to Astoria. I’ve read that in bad weather it can be treacherous to ride across but with the weather sunny and reasonably warm I had no problems. About halfway across I see a sign marking the state line between Washington and Oregon.

After passing through the town of Astoria (which although rather unexciting in itself is surrounded by a tremendous vista of the Columbia river entering the Pacific) I ride through some rural area. I notice the amount of traffic increases substantially now. I catch up to a huge pack of cars and trucks. At first I thought that we were stuck behind an RV but eventually the culprits used one of the many turnouts: I see three Harley riders resplendent in their Lifestyle (TM) riding gear.

About 25 miles south of Astoria I reach the town of Cannon Beach, Oregon. One of my co-workers recommended it to me as a place to camp out. I find a very pleasant tent site (though the price of $19 US is a bit steep) and walk a couple of blocks into town. Boy, talk about trendy: all kinds of pseudo-Victorian shops selling yuppified arts and crap - err, I mean crafts. Bleh. I walk further to the beach: at least this is enjoyable. The beach is a tad cool but scenic with lots of folks flying kites or building sand castles.

I feel very tired and pick up some beer and sandwiches before returning to my tent. I forgot to pack ear plugs, which I consider vital for sleeping in a campground. In the small food market I ask if they have any such plugs. "Here y’all go," the clerk says. "This here’s what all the fellas in town swear are the best for target shootin’."

Just before going to sleep I spot a racoon scavenging for food in the campground.

Sun., June 20, 1999:

 (Cannon Beach, Oregon -> Gold Beach, Oregon: 276 miles)

I slept very solidly from 8:30 PM until about 5 AM. I packed up early and hit the road by 6:15 or so. On a map it looks like Hwy 101 hugs the Pacific Ocean, but I’d guess that I could actually see the shoreline maybe a third of the time. The weather was pleasant; partly sunny with temperatures in the upper 50s-lower 60s.

I spend an hour or so on some moderately twisty roads with a mix of country farm lanes. I climb up and down a couple of ridges in the heavily wooded Siuslaw National Forest. At one point I see a deer and her two small fawns on the road, and notice quite a number of hawks flying overhead. I ride my Suzuki through many small towns having various crab or fishing festivals, and see many sport fishermen hitting the bay shores early.

A couple of times the dufus yahoos working the gas pumps say things like "Wow dude - you’re a long ways from home man!" Yup, 500 whole miles. One goofy looking pump jockey wearing a Harley T-shirt looks at the logo written on the tank of my Savage and sneers in a sarcastic manner " ’Big Single’ - oh wow!"

 I shrug and say "It’s big enough to lug my fat arse down the highway."

"How many CCs is that thing anyway?"


He looks a bit dumb-founded, then recovers his surprise with "Oh wow, that is pretty big - for a single."

The road alternates between countryside, small towns, and seaside cliffs. As I approach the south coast of Oregon the road becomes spectacular, clinging to the cliffsides above the blue waves and white surf. At one point I see the roadside attraction of "Sea Lion Caves". I almost stop up the parking lot was crowded with RVs so I pass it by.

I reach the small town of Gold Beach early in the afternoon. I decide to splurge on a cheap motel room for $35 US. After taking a nice hot shower I go for a long walk on the beach, then stop at a supermarket to pick up some salad and a couple cans of beer. One thing I like about the States is that beer is cheaper than milk or soda pop - but of course, it is only American beer. Any port in a storm I guess.

One thing I’ve noticed over the last couple of days that really surprised me is that a lot of the motorcycles I see are BMWs; in fact I’d say somewhere between a third and a half. Back home I’d never see that many: most of the bikes I see on the open road are either Harleys or Gold Wings..

After dinner I go for a walk over the Rogue River bridge. I notice hundreds of small, fast swallows flying under the bridge gobbling up plenty of insects living in the estuary. While walking I spot a couple of Germans pull up to my hotel on their Harleys. I also notice an absolutely immaculate Kaiser parked outside - I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these cars before.

Mon., June 21, 1999:

 (Gold Beach, Oregon -> Crater Lake, Oregon: 245 miles)

I slept well for about 7 or 8 hours. When I get up in the morning I can hear the whine of car tires on wet pavement. I look outside and am disappointed to see that it rained hard during the night and that a light drizzle is still falling. I pack up and start riding in the foggy drizzle.

Occasionally I can see small rocky islands offshore but for the most part my visibility is lousy. After about thirty miles I reach the town of Brookings. Suddenly the fog clears away and it becomes sunny and fairly warm. I cross the border into California (I’ve now rode my motorcycle in three US states). After just a few miles I turn east onto Highway 199 and follow this road into the Klamath National Forest. The highway winds through giant Redwood trees: it reminds me of the speeder chase in the movie Return of the Jedi.

Eventually the road leaves this forest and starts to run beside the Rogue river gorge. Hwy 199 passes over the border back into Oregon, and I soon pass by the Oregon Caves to reach Grants Pass. I turn south onto Interstate 5 for about 20 miles of spine-jolting concrete slab, then turn left onto Hwy 62 via the small town of Gold Hill. I ride along small straight country roads for the next leg.

As I approach within 50 miles of Crater Lake the pavement starts to climb in altitude and there are many logging trucks. This stretch quickly becomes heavily forested. I start to notice patches of snow on the side of the road. Soon I’m riding a clean dry road with snow banks on either side that are four to six feet deep! The sky is partly cloudy and in the shady forest it starts to become cold. I realise rather quickly that I’m not going to be able to camp: normally the Mazama campground opens in late May, but right now it is still closed with four feet of snow! Note to self: next time try phoning ahead to see if the campground is actually frigging open. I ask about getting a room: they cost about $95 US per night. I think about it and decide what the hell.

After dropping off my gear in the room I ride up to the Rim Village. When I look into the huge volcanic caldera I can’t see a thing due to fog. I overhear others complaining that it has been foggy all day. I check out the visitor information center; when I walk out fifteen minutes later the fog has miraculously lifted, giving everyone a fantastic view. You can see the whole of Crater Lake.

This lake used to be a large volcanic cone (Mount Mazama) that erupted and then collapsed to form a six mile wide crater about 7700 years ago. Within three centuries the crater had filled with water forming a deep lake. A road runs all the way around the crater’s rim but because of the heavy snow drifts only the south-west quarter of the circular drive is currently open. I spend three or four hours snapping photos and enjoying the views. I also notice a fair number of other motorcycles; again, mostly BMWs.

I stop at the cafeteria salad bar for an early dinner. Back at my room I top up my Suzuki with some fresh oil and gasoline (plus a good washing). I spend a few hours reading and listening to the radio.

Tues., June 22, 1999:

 (Crater Lake, Oregon -> Cape Blanco, Oregon: 245 miles)

I slept pretty decently from 9 PM until about 5:30 AM. I got dressed and walked outside: the skies are clear. I discover a shell of ice on my motorcycle, so I decide to have some coffee and wait a while before heading out. I get bored of waiting eventually and leave at 7:00 AM. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the air is very crisp and cool. I’ve put my rain gear on for extra warmth, and am careful riding down the mountain as the road is shiny in spots with patches of ice.

As I leave the Crater Lake park the temperature climbs a good 15 degrees (F) and the snow drifts disappear. As I get close to I-5 a State Patrol car starts following me, then eventually gives up and goes after someone else. When I stop in Grants Pass the temperature has climbed to 80 F.

As I head back towards the Redwoods the riding is very nice - warm and sunny. Highway 101 follows the Rogue river as it curves left and right. A small red sports car raced up behind me and was following me pretty closely. Rather than wait for the next turnout I pull over to the shoulder and wave him by. He drives in front of me and then immediately slams on the brakes - a small deer runs directly across the road in front of him! Who knows: if I had waited for a turnout to let the car pass maybe I’d have run into that deer?

Soon I’m riding through the Redwoods (the Jedi forest). I head north across the Oregon border on Hwy 101. I start to notice that it is getting windy - I can see white caps forming on the ocean. At times it’s very hard to ride while gusts of wind are battering me from different angles.

I stop for lunch in Gold Beach. I start riding north again but the winds get even stronger. At one point the wind pushed me out of my lane and I almost broadsided an RV - that was somewhat scary. When I pull into Port Orford I have trouble leaning the bike onto the sidestand while I fuel up. The service guy tells me that I’ll find several campgrounds just north of town.

About five miles north I turn left at the sign for Cape Blanco State Park. I was heading straight west into the wind and it was a bit of an ordeal to reach the park. I finally get there and am pleased to find it has a very well laid-out campground with many trees and thick bushes to shelter out the wind. $18 US per night. I spend a few hours walking on the beach and exploring the local trails. There’s a tremendous view of the Port Orford lighthouse and the many small islands off the shore.

All in all, a very nice day. It was some of the best riding I’ve done in a long time - at least until I reached the blustery coast.

Wed., June 23, 1999:

 (Cape Blanco, Oregon -> Cannon Beach, Oregon: 251 miles)

I woke up and started riding about 6:15 or so. It was sunny and about 60 F. The winds were noticeable but nowhere near as strong as yesterday. When I reached within ten miles of Coos Bay a thick fog settled on the road. It became very difficult to see in front of me. I had to lift my visor and wipe the condensed fog off my eyeglasses every five or ten seconds. I stopped for breakfast in the Coos Bay Rotten Ronny’s, and by the time I left the fog had started to lift enough that I could see decently. I ride for a while through thick forests, then I pass by the sea. I spend the morning alternating between heavy forests and seaside cliffs with spectacular views of the coast.

Just north of the town of Florence I stop at the Sea Lion Caves. I have to wait about ten minutes before the entrance opens at 9 AM. For $6.50 US you can take an elevator down 200 feet into the United States’ largest sea cave. I thought this was no big deal: interesting to look at but hardly worth the $6.50. I then walk over to the sea lion lookout. From here you can see a couple hundred sea lions nesting. It’s worth the extra 25 cents to look through the pay-for-view binoculars. The sea lions lie heaped up on a sunny rock - they reminded me of a litter of lazy puppy dogs basking in the sunshine.

After 11 or 12 the amount of RV traffic increased substantially and I found the combination of both the heavy traffic and the demanding roads to be very tiring. I decided to stop in Cannon Beach, pitching my tent at the same campground as before. It started to cloud over but the temperature was still about 70 F and comfortable. I spent a few hours walking the beach, then had some sandwiches and beer for dinner (mmm, gourmet...).

A German couple rode up on an unusual motorcycle-sidecar combination. It looked like a Suzuki GSXR 1100 engine mounted in a BMW R80-GS frame with an Earles fork, a huge custom gas tank, hard saddlebags and top box. The bike and sidecar were painted white with a blue kangaroo on the gas tank. The back end of the bike and sidecar were plastered with stickers of various countries they’d visited.

Thur., June 24, 1999:

 (Cannon Beach, Oregon -> Victoria, BC: 264 miles)

After I went to sleep I was woken up after midnight by the sounds of lightning and thunder. I woke up early and found the weather to be cold with a light drizzle falling. I seriously considered hiding in my tent and waiting out the storm but I packed and rode north. Despite my rain gear I started getting cold and wet. I passed over the Astoria bridge to Washington state and went up the coast on Hwy 101. The one good aspect of the rain was that there was almost no traffic on the roads - no one else was stupid enough to ride in this weather.

As I approached Aberdeen I decided to stop and wait out the soggy weather, but as I entered town I noticed a patch of blue sky to the north. After stopping for a quick breakfast and coffee, I was soon riding on a dry road under sunny skies.

Washington’s section of 101 is simply not as exciting as Oregon or California - for the most part you don’t see much of the Pacific, just a lot of both forests and clear-cuts. I pull into Port Angeles just in time to watch the 'Coho' ferry pulling away from the dock - grr. I then spend about four hours walking around the small downtown area and reading some newspapers.

After a pleasant ferry ride back to Victoria, I have a short ride back to my home.


Drivers: Reasonably courteous.

Speeds: Most of Highway 101 is 55 mph. Speeds drop to 35 when passing through the many small towns.

Roads: pretty good conditions. Usually well marked with signs for curves, distances, etc.

Fuel: about $1.50 US per gallon.

Food: Very cheap and plentiful.

Helmets: Yep, required.

People: Friendly and helpful.

Weather: For the most part good, with some fog and rain.