Friday, August 6, 2010

Oregon's fine forests, flagger's finger, rocky canyons, and desolate deserts.

The sleepy town of Richland, OR was where I was when I last left you. At that point, it hadn't really hit me that I'd entered Oregon because the terrain is so different from that which I am used to in the western part of the state where I live. Leaving Richland for Baker City made me feel even further from home because it was so incredibly desolate. Don't get me WAS strangely beautiful as the road snaked along a small creek and through narrow canyons hemmed in by small mountains, but it also felt like I was removed from all evidence of civilization, flora, and fauna.

Can a road intersect with itself?! Shit, either I'm completely lost or I know EXACTLY where I am.

Riding from Richland to Baker City was actually a short day, only 48 miles, but it was a crappy one for me. Something felt wrong with the bike, I hadn't eaten well in Richland so I was running low on fuel, and it was really hot that day. I rode with Tony, sort of, but I lagged behind all damn day, unable to keep up consistently. Finally, we began to see green again, as well as mountains in the distance, and I knew we were getting close to Baker City. I limped on into town with Tony and we got money from the ATM, wolfed down a Heath Bar blizzard at Dairy Queen, and ate a delicious grilled chicken salad lunch at a local cafĂ©, not necessarily in that order! Afterward, I left Tony and went on my own to the local library where I buried myself in my blog for about 3 hours (see what I give of myself for all of you?!). We ended up all getting hotel rooms that night in Baker City and Tony, Nick, and I shared a tiny room. I didn't get a picture for you, so just imagine three dirty, stinky, tired, lazy, hairy, ugly guys without any manners crammed into a teeny tiny room, with two double beds, three loaded bikes, and crap EVERYWHERE. That night I got a little space from when I headed out for a local microbrew with Phyllis, my kick-ass friend from Seattle who's riding the TransAm with Jerry...she and Jerry just happened to have arrived in Baker City that same day and were staying the hotel right across the street from us.

The next morning, Nick, Tony, and I rendesvoused with Robin and the four of us headed out on a beautiful, progressively more wooded ride toward the booming metropolis of Prairie City, OR.

Other than stopping at one point for a group pee (we were well-spaced apart, thank you) a few feet off the road, we rode hard and cut a sleek line through the light wind for an hour or so before Robin and Nick decided to pull away and ride ahead when Tony and I stopped for a snack. Tony and I knew there were three big climbs coming, one after the other, and we decided to be the well-rested and well-fueled tortoises to their hares. I rode strongly through the climbs and Tony stayed along pretty well, never falling too far behind. The two of us pulled into Austin Junction, literally a crossroads in the middle of nowhere after the second of the three climbs, and caught Nick and Robin hungrily fueling up at the one food stop at the junction. When it came time to leave, we let them go ahead again because we were enjoying the slow pace of the day and just wanted to take a chill break before the last hot, steep climb.

When we left, we immediately hit the base of the last big climb of the day and up in the distance we saw a flagger and the orange evidence of a road construction site. As we approached, the bad-ass, bearded flagger sporting mirrored "cop" shades waved his stop sign for us and, as we slowed to a stop, he started walking toward the back of a nearby car. A few seconds later he emerged with two ice-cold bottles of water for us, his generous contribution to us getting over the upcoming hill in the 100 degree heat. We chatted with him for a few minutes and I asked him to pose for a picture, to which he readily agreed. After the shutter clicked, he said he was surprised I hadn't asked him to flip off the camera, which apparently other bicyclists have asked him to do. I didn't want to disappoint him, so:

Me, topping the final climb of the day, still smiling:

When we arrived in Prairie City, Tony and I were feeling great and it was still relatively early in the day so, after a delicious lunch at the Oxbow Saloon and Cafe, we pushed on. Before I go on, check out this sweet photo (that was on the wall at the cafe) of a cattle drive run right through the middle of town a few years back:

We knew there was a great bicyclists' hostel in Mt Vernon, OR and we didn't really want to deal with the chaos of camping with 8 other cyclists in the city park that night. The rest of the day's ride was blissful...a long, steep descent (shown here),

followed by a very slight downhill for miles and miles and miles and miles with a slight tailwind assist. By the time we passed through John Day (stopping at the grocery store for some supplies) and ended up in the tiny town of Mt. Vernon, we were at 88.5 miles and felt like we could easily go another 20. The only reason we actually stopped was because a) there wasn't a town 20 miles away, and b) we knew the Bike Inn in Mt Vernon would be awesome.

The Bike Inn WAS awesome. Christy and her daughter run it, and it's just a small, remodeled building next to their home that they open for cyclists passing through. It's all done very informally, with the door left unlocked so cyclists can come and go at any time, and there is no set charge because they only ask cyclists to leave whatever donation they feel is appropriate. There were chickens and goats out behind the house, and inside the refrigerator held fresh eggs as well as free cheese, salsa, and other items left behind by other cyclists who'd recently stayed there. The place was spotless and there was a full queen-sized bed and a pullout double futon on which we could sleep. It was a nice little oasis in the middle of the dry accommodation desert! Christy and her daughter were gone for the weekend so we had the entire place to ourselves for the night!

Tony and I arose early in the a.m. for the ride to Mitchell, OR, the only real town that was anywhere near the appropriate amount of riding miles away (62) from the Bike Inn. It was quite a lovely day of riding, initially downhill, with little to no wind, winding early in the morning through rolling hills of green and brown farmland, and in the afternoon the monotony broken up by a 25-mile climb through the steep, tight canyons of the John Day fossil beds.

(Wanna go for a swim?)

Tony found this sign randomly on the road...a bad omen, perhaps? I guess not, because nothing bad ever happened!

We arrived at Mitchell City Park in the early day. Mitchell is, you guessed it, another tiny little nowhere town...population 137. I have grown so tired of dying (or dead) little towns in nowhere America, yet there was something kind of cool about Mitchell. The park had a great shaded pavilion for hanging out, no bugs, great green grass to lounge on, and fresh water to drink. About 50 yards away was the Little Pine Cafe which served up a sweet chicken salad and basket of fries and had a friendly bartender/waitress who encouraged us to come back after hours to hang out. See, there is literally NOTHING going on in Mitchell. The cafe is the only place that was open that afternoon and the bartender clearly enjoyed the fact that there were strangers in town that were going to actually stay the night! Nick/Robin/Tony and I all headed back at eight o'clock when the cafe closed and the bartender and her boss locked us inside, where we drank free beer and played free pool and darts for several hours! Dawanna and Marie were excellent hostesses for the town of Mitchell.

The group took off shortly after sunrise the next morning, surprisingly not hungover at all and ready to ride. It was cool, dry, and downhill, a delicious way to start what would prove to be quite a long, hot 89-mile ride to Sisters, OR. We passed through a number of microclimates over the course of the long day: flat and deserty-type terrain, rocky hills, lusciously-treed mountains, and ultimately into a sparsely-treed, high-desert landscape with as many as NINE snow-capped peaks looming large in the distance. At one point, I could see Mt Hood, the Three Sisters, Mt Jefferson, Mt Bachelor, Three-Fingered Jack, Black Butte, and Broken Top at the same time (unfortunately it was too dark/cloudy to get a good photo, so the last shot below is of just the Three Sisters and Broken Top, taken the next morning as we left)!!

We all rendesvoused in the stupid Sisters City Park that, Nick, Zack, Robin, and Tony. We were directed to camp on a patch of super dry dirt when there was beautiful, luscious, green grass all around because the campground host said the grass was only for looking at, not for camping on. "Camping ruins the grass", we were told. What?! It's an effin' campground, dude, not the botanical gardens. I was pissed, but since I was already covered in dirt and sweat so I suppose it didn't really matter too much. Anyway, they did have showers.

Coming soon to a blog near you....the rest of the trip.



nancy said...

hi den

designcounts said...

I looooove your photography. Really, I do.
Can't wait for the rest of the story...!

Anonymous said...

C'mon Den ... we're all waiting here with baited breath waiting for 'the rest of the story' ... and please continue when you go to Hawaii. Love ~ AS

Dennis Howe said...

Sorry for the delay, everyone! I am in Hawaii and will definitely catch up on the rest of the blog while I am here. Thanks for being interested!!