Moto Fantasy | Dream Chasers

Moto Fantasy Lets You Ride a Classic

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Dreamers take a lot of flak in this world. “Real life” is meant to be one big bowl of broccoli, steamed into properly ascetic green mush. Don’t tell the hall monitors that somewhere, out on the high plains, a couple of dedicated riders are doing what motorcyclists do best: cheating life.

“My idea was always that we’d buy expensive motorcycles and people would come and ride them,” Doug Watt explains. “I just made the assumption that it wouldn’t pencil unless I could do it 12 months a year. Then I saw all those riders go by on the 97.”

String straight and deadly dull, the four lanes of Highway 97 are nonetheless a golden ticket to the glories of central Oregon, a rider’s paradise every day that it isn’t a snowboarder’s paradise.

Deciding to make Moto Fantasy the ultimate road riders’ pit stop, Doug and his wife, Gloria, stuffed their lodge’s hangar with interesting bikes—motorcycles you rode when you were just a pup, or have always wanted to ride. Classic Japanese and European iron. Plus a Harley or two. But that’s not all. The hangar enjoys rollaways, a bike lift, a foosball table, and a well-stocked bar. It’s worth a visit if only to pick up tips on how to properly furnish a man cave. Riders be warned: Doug’s premium tequila selection is perilously encyclopedic.

In the great hall over the garage is a chef’s kitchen with a stage for live music. Turns out Doug isn’t only a top-drawer cook and a helluva motorcyclist, but a guitarist talented enough to have sat in with artists you’ve heard of. On the first night of our visit, following barbecued chicken, live music, and bench racing, we followed soft music and candlelight to our Hawaii-themed cabin with its open kitchen, cowboy kitsch, and polished Polynesian breasts as far as our owlish eyes could squint.

While Doug and Gloria hustled through the next morning’s chores, Pretty Wife and I planned our riding day over coffee, eggs, and enough thick, pepper-cured bacon to regenerate a bris.

Although I hadn’t ridden to Crater Lake in decades, it’s perennially awe-inspiring to breach the lunescaped crater’s edge and peer down across the cerulean water. Still, taking the ride is just a nice bike trip.

What made it a fantasy was six chromed and shrieking pipes beneath a gentleman’s touring saddle. Who didn’t lust after Honda’s majestic CBX on the cusp of the ‘80s? Here’s what you need to know: It’s long and heavy, but light on its feet—and light on ground clearance, too. Funny clutch. Wooden brakes. Tillerish bar for a sporting machine.

OMG OMG OMG want. But never to own…just to ride for that one perfect day, looping the deep waters, sweeping past sedan-bound retirees, pegs down under a wide blue sky with Pretty Wife up pillion. A little fantasy to soar; only that, and nothing more.

With a few hundred turbine-smooth (no, really) miles under our rumps, it was time to bring down some serious dinner. During that morning’s chart talk, we had vested Doug’s tip on the best restaurant in Lake County.

You could take a GPS to get there, but it’s not the cowboy way. What you do is blaze through the forest, then sail the causeway across the reed flats and tulees until you drift out, windburnt and throttle-happy, onto the high plains. You pull up at a gas station that looks closed in a town that looks haunted, buy yourself a tank of super (for your CBX!), and ask directions like a man. The motto at the eatin’ house is “no electricity, no credit cards—no kidding.” Having argued with cowboys before, I made not a mutter about reciprocity for my permit to carry a concealed credit card.

Vegans aren’t literally strung up there, but you will pick from chicken or beef if you want to eat. The steak is a 30-ounce investment in grass-fed Oregon beef, and the chicken is…a chicken. Appetizers including dirty bean soup, green salad, and fresh-baked rolls with honey butter are hearty and endless. You will ride like a mad(wo)man to get there; you will have chicken or beef; it will cost you 25 bucks a head, and it will be one of the best meals of your life—well, actually two of ‘em. Maybe three. They don’t have a Web site, a billboard, proximity to the Big Road or a chamber of commerce membership, but they’re full every night. Doug knows the way, and he can get you reservations.

The next morning, we opened chapter two of our Moto Fantasy with an early call. Cranking up a piped, blue and white K1200S, Pretty Wife and I charged out alongside Doug and his buddy Jim, journeyman racer and the owner of the Ducati 996R that hunches in Doug’s garage incognito under humble race plastic. With Doug grunting along on his XR1200, we hit the lake road, first paved just a few years ago and cheerfully notorious among local riders as “Paulina International Raceway.” Don’t tell anyone.

This magazine does not advise breaking the speed limit, no matter how delicious a set of perfectly cambered curves through the jack pines you may find. Speed kills, kids—and bugs take the most tragic, violent losses of all.

From earliest family history, the lodge at Paulina Lake is stuck in my memory like the grasshopper husk at the edge of your headlight. My dad leased a primitive cabin in the old Odd Fellows camp through the ‘60s and ‘70s, and we drove countless un-air-conditioned hours to get there from Portland when I was a single-digit tot. It’s where I first pumped water for a drink, first caught a trout, fell out of a loft, hunted obsidian arrowheads, used an outhouse, trapped crayfish, and got profoundly and terrifyingly lost in the woods. (My older sister swears I never really came back). My little sister almost drowned in that lake, so deep and cold that Dad always said no one knew how far down the crater went…

Moto or not, returning to Paulina Lake had been on my personal fantasy list for a long time. Standing at the end of the dock, peering into the green shoreside water, I could almost hear the slippery, quick fins of foot-long Rainbows lurking deep in the chilled volcanic crater.

“What about you?”

“You mean my fantasies?” Pretty Wife smiled out over the lapping water. “I didn’t think you’d ever take me on a trip other people might call a vacation.”

Fantasy enough to go around, then.

After riding smoky rubber circles around us for a while as we played musical bikes, Jim blasted off to work at his Madras shop. Apparently, fantasies (and riding skills) vary widely in this part of the world. No slowpoke himself, Doug led Pretty Wife and I on a hot loop past the reservoir, this jaunt featuring a road advisory from our host that sounded very much like, “If there’s ever been a deputy on this road, I don’t know about it. And I ride this road a lot.”

Remember that Motorcyclist magazine does not endorse breaking the law. That is pure fantasy. We’re pretty sure, however, that a big K—the very bike which, last we heard, holds the land speed record with passenger—will remain fairly stable up to at least 90 mph, two-up on a dirt road while your pillion shoots video. Dirt roads have no posted speed limits, but you best keep an eye out for deer.

“If there’s ever been a deputy on this road, I don’t know about it,” said our host, smiling. “And I ride this road a lot.”

After calmly pulling a pretty fair Grand National imitation on the orange XR, Doug peeled off near La Pine to head back and start dinner prep while we added a loop through the mountain range embracing the Mt. Bachelor ski area. After an extra 100 miles or so fumbling our way down twilit forest roads, we finally found our way back to Moto Fantasy to talk routes with other riders over leftovers. In the land of Moto Fantasy, the penalty for getting lost is a blaze-fingered reach of hallucinogenic sunset reminding you that your every atomic mote contains universes within universes.

Nah. They’re just roads. It’s just some place out there on the high plains, close enough to nowhere that you can see it from there, and Moto Fantasy is just some funky livery of weird bikes, let out by a friendly guy named Doug. Nothin’ special, really.

“It’s just a piece of metal, okay?” Doug said, stroking his hand over the seat of the R100S Motorsports that he’s owned for 90,000 spirited miles. But he knew he was lying and so do you.

You can rent that very personal ride from him and flog it all day, just like you can rent the factory racing orange XR1200, the black Dyna Glide Police Defender (!), the spanky little Duck, the CBX, or half a dozen others. New to the fleet are a new Norton Commando, 1985 Kawasaki Ninja 900R, and an ’84 Yamaha RZ350. You can bring a buddy, significant other, or your grown offspring, grab a couple of bikes from Moto and ride ‘em ‘til your ass catches fire, either on the same one all day or trading off like a harem attendant crazed with the sudden epiphany that you never were a eunuch, after all.

Moto Fantasy offers several packages including bike rental and lodging that average around $300 a day; bikes only for around $150/day. (See for details.) Moto Fantasy also offers lifetime shares, which beat a country club membership. That may be out of reach for me (especially since Dad couldn’t hold on to the old cabin; that Odd Fellows camp was razed by the Forest Circus years ago), but I can still boom out to La Pine and ride Doug’s charming old Beemer—the special sort of bike that most of us wouldn’t loan out to our best friend.

The roads are nonpareil. The country is splashed in Western chroma and filled up with the smoke of native fry bread, and fields of 1928 Dodge Brothers coupes for sale, and steaks the size of casabas, and indolent, pie-loving sheriff’s deputies with predictable patterns of enforcement.

Moto Fantasy sits striking distance from legendary rides through Cascade Loops, Aufderheide, Prineville Reservoir, Fossil…and should you break down on one of his frailer fantasy mounts, Doug won’t waste a moment of your riding time demanding to know what you did to his fine motorbike. He’ll calmly ride out to your position with a replacement bike, trade you keys and wait patiently for the truck.

How long will he be there? Long enough, if you scrape your itinerary together. People save up a few thousand bucks and go ride the Alps all the time. How hard can it be to drag yourself to the Land of the Bikes That Time Forgot?

Yeah, Doug will be there, waiting and smiling. He’ll have the garage door open, your room heated up, and maybe a blues band jamming on the upstairs stage. Doug straight-up loves being an innkeeper, and riders are his favorite customers.

“I just like to see guys come through and get a ride on one of these bikes that they’ve only heard of, but never rode,” he mused over his trademark barbecued chicken. “It’s a bucket list item for them. I do this all the time. I don’t have a life,” he added.

“I have a lifestyle.”

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