Amongst the hardships of the “Dirty Thirties” and the suffering inflicted by the black blizzards of the Dust Bowl emerged one of the most influential and controversial American folk musicians to date: Woody Guthrie. In 1941, this “Dust Bowl Troubadour” headed out to Portland, Oregon, hired by the Bonneville Power Administration, who’d been seeking a talented musician with a knack for painting awe-inspiring lyrical imagery. They intended to use Guthrie’s Pacific Northwest–inspired songs to accompany their documentary, which promoted the benefits of constructing dams as a means of producing cheap electricity along the massive swirling fury of the Columbia River. Though the documentary never came to fruition, Guthrie was surely excited by the loveliness he witnessed during his Oregon stay, for he wrote 26 songs in one month, 17 of which were compiled and released decades later as the Columbia River Collection. In Guthrie’s own words from his Columbia River songbook:
“The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite spots in this world, and I’m one walker that’s stood way up and looked way down acrost aplenty of pretty sights in all their veiled and nakedest seasons. The Pacific Northwest has got mineral mountains. It’s got chemical deserts. It’s got rough run canyons. It’s got sawblade snowcaps. It’s got ridges of nine kinds of brown, hills out of six colors of green, ridges five shades of shadows, and stickers the eight tones of hell.”
Moved by Guthrie’s expedition along the Columbia, See See Motorcycles’ Thor Drake, free-spirited two-wheel icon Drake McElroy, and the META crew decided to embark on our own journey to chase Oregon’s boundless natural allure. With Thor and Drake as our guides and steel ponies for our wheels, we saddled up and set about on an adventure that would be an unexpected assortment of weather, history lessons, and unimagined beauty.