It was my fourth visit to Oregon in a year. After taking in the tall-treed majesty of the Cascades, the rambling golden grasslands of the northeast and the soaring ridges of the Wallowa Mountains, I was expecting my meander around the high desert of southeast Oregon to send me to sleep. I didn't realize I'd saved the best for last.
Rolling into Lakeview, Oregon (elev. 4,800 ft.) late in the day after crossing California from the coast, the Trophy and I have been climbing steadily since we left California's pan-flat central valley in Redding. Each successive pass rises higher than the last until we crest the plateau near the Oregon border.
The sun is sinking fast, and the temperature plummeting. It's mid-October, the sky is clear, and we're 500 miles from any moderating ocean currents. Using some of the cunning acquired in a long riding season, I steer clear of the main street motels and settle on the backstreet Lakeview Lodge, a neat, clean and, thankfully, well-heated motel. The owner runs the desk, too - always a good sign. On my room TV, the weather channel tells me Lakeview's temperature will fall to 18 degrees overnight.
Lake? What Lake?
The Trophy is indeed crusted with sparkling frost when I peer around the motel room door the next morning, and I drag my heels loading up for the ride to Silver Lake, 100 miles to the northwest. Delaying my departure at least until the sun hits the road, I linger in Lakeview's tin shack of a greasy spoon diner and nurse a mug of oily coffee.
The air rapidly warms and I head north on Oregon 31 along broad, flat plains stretching east to the horizon. The fast, open two-lane highway skirts the eastern edge of Fremont National Forest, which sits behind a ridge on my left. Beyond Paisley, Summer "Lake" comes into view - a vast mineral salt plain with a few damp patches. Desert wind whips the salts into a powdery white fog obscuring the road ahead.
Reaching Picture Rock Pass, I've left the salt behind and the subtle climate difference is noticeable in the surrounding fields of grain as I drift into Silver Lake. Silver Lake has the only gas between La Pine, another 50 miles away and Valley Falls, 83 miles back, so I pull into the Chevron. I also need local directions. My return route to Lakeview is the only paved track through a web of gravel roads - and, even with the best of intentions employed, the Trophy 12 is hardly an ideal off-road tool. My gas-station guardian says I need Silver Creek Road, the second left. I'm heading straight into the Forest, and after a few false pointers I realize the map is a better guide than the signs. I learn to ignore arrows to Bly and Hwy 31, and once I find National Forest road 28, signs for Lakeview appear.
Forest is an overstatement. Clumps of coarse grass and sagebrush separate glades of Ponderosa pine, but the winding narrow single-track road nevertheless offers a welcome contrast to the windswept grassland. It's slow going: the trees obscure my sightlines and hide the oncoming logging trucks that thunder by. The last thing they expect to meet is a touring motorcycle, and I've no wish to become a hood ornament.