After yesterday’s mega ride we needed a breather. We rode 22 miles up the Willamette Valley, planning to stay in a town park in Independence about two miles off route.
We arrived in Monmouth after a little over 20 miles and began searching for second breakfast. (Predictably the Corvallis Super 8 lobby breakfast was meager. Raisin Bran and coffee.) Along the way we rode under cloudy skies past farms and orchards, and one very large vineyard.
We stopped at a brew pub that served breakfast. The food was pretty good. In truth it’s hard to screw up scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy. After eating we checked out the park online and saw the reviews were off putting. Vagrants. A scuzzy bathroom. No thanks.
Across the parking lot from the pub was a motel. We found the rate and the room acceptable and checked in.
Tomorrow we head for the coast, then two days to the end of the TransAmerica Trail in Astoria before riding to Portland for transport home.
Our tent site in the woods next to the river made for sound sleeping. As we were cooking breakfast (I was “cooking” PB&J sandwiches) we could hear helicopters flying over the forest. We never found out what was going on but I suspect they had something to do with logging operations in the burn zone on this side of the mountain.
We headed west down Hwy 126 descending gradually below 1,000 feet of elevation. For me this was my first time in such thick air in over seven weeks.
We kept a brisk pace with Corey joking that we were going to ride a century (100 miles) today.
Our ride was hardly peaceful with all the logging and dump trucks zooming past.
We stopped for second breakfast at a cafe in Vida. The food was quite tasty. About 15 miles later we finally got off 126 and away from the infernal trucks.
Back roads took us around Eugene to the north. We stopped for lunch in the town of Coberg. We jointly inhaled a large pizza then Corey and Mark tried to find a place for us to sleep. Everything nearby was booked so they looked further afield,
We eventually settled on a Super 8 in Corvallis, over 30 miles on route to the north. Corey led the way using his GPS which disagreed with my paper map and Mark’s GPS.
We kept pedaling and getting more tired and grumpy with each passing mile. Corey’s route took us on low traffic farm roads through Hazelnut orchards, and fields of hay and clover.
At one point we saw hay devils, dust devils made out of dried, cut hay.
We rode the grid of roads until we popped out onto busy Peoria Road, the direct route from Coberg to Corvallis. About 12 miles later we arrived at our motel exhausted.
We went out to dinner at a brew pub down the street. The food and beer were very good. To be honest, we’d have eaten anything after riding 95.5 miles.
A note about Super 8 motels. I’ve stayed at many of these motels over then years on my bike tours. I could count on them being a reasonably priced, consistently well run motel. Not anymore. The Super 8 in Florence CO was overpriced and offered coffee and granola bars for “continental breakfast”. The Super 8 in Corvallis had an empty pool for starters. Our room is missing a light bulb from a ceiling fixture and has a dysfunctional bathroom faucet. On top of that our room had not been properly cleaned. All for the low, low price of $280 per night.
Tomorrow we plan on an easy, short ride to Independence.
Last night in the hotel Corey noticed that the middle of the tread on my rear tire was worn out. We all knew that this would compromise its protection against flats. Little did we know….
We headed out for our big day, our last mountain pass. We rode Hwy 126 west toward Sisters. About three miles into our journey I ran over a remnant from a retread truck tire, something we’d seen scores of times on our trip. Weeks ago I happened to notice a tiny wire from a retread sticking out of the middle of the tread on my front tire. I pulled the wire out. The thick tread had done its job and prevented a puncture. This time, with the worn tread on my rear tire, I wasn’t so lucky. I hit the remnant hard, it got hung up in my rear fender, and the rest was misery.
It was my first flat on the road in over 12,000 miles of touring. (Not counting the one at the start of my trip was caused by an old patch that failed.) The tires I use are Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. You have to try mighty hard to get a flat with these tires and, alas, I succeeded.
In the process of changing the tire I managed to put a knot in my chain. Mark used a tool to break the chain and we set both the tire and the chain right.
We rode to Sisters. I stopped at a bike shop where I bought a a new tire and tube. This tire was a Schwalbe Marathon which is not as bullet proof as the Plus version but it has lower rolling resistance.
With tire replaced, we set off on our big climb to McKenzie Pass. The road was restricted to vehicles no longer than 35 feet. This meant all the commercial traffic was routed to nearby Santiam Pass. The road to McKenzie was smooth and nearly car-free.
The road started relatively flat through a ponderosa pine forest. Many of the trunks bore signs of burns.
The forest transitioned to a burn zone as we started the climb in earnest. The higher we went the more the scant undergrowth was replaced by black volcanic rock. Soon the rocks dominated the landscape with a burned out tree trunk now and then. The last volcanic activity occurred over 7,000 years ago. The burnt trees have the illusion that lava flowed here in recent years.
Up we climbed, a never ending crawl. We didn’t care. This was the last one. We didn’t mind that the top was at 5,325 feet. By this point we didn’t notice the thinning air. We are gods of hemoglobin.
We came to a turn out called Windy Point. We looked out over a moonscape with snow covered peaks, including Mounts Washington, Jefferson and Hood in the distance. What a creepy site. The black boulders were once lava. Hmm… This place could blow at any minute!!!!!!
The next mile or so was level to gently rising. We could feel the cool breeze that foretold of the approaching summit. I stopped when the summit observation tower, built using these same volcanic boulders, was in view.
After playing at the summit for nearly an hour we began our descent. Or so we thought. After a brief downslope the road went up again. Whaaa? Another downslope was followed by another short climb. The mountain was taunting us. The next downslope was the real thing. Over 20 miles of twisty descending. Switchbacks and other curves with advised speed between 15 and 35 mph. Man, was I glad I replaced that tire.
The road was quite narrow near the summit, perhaps only a lane and a half wide. As I came around one curve at speed I was surprised by a rock plow, a truck with a snow plow blade moving errant rocks off the roadway.
Signs announced every 1,000 feet of vertical progress. 5,000 feet. Yahooo! 4,000 feet. Wheee! 3,000 feet. Zoom!
As we descended the landscape changed from lava field to burn zone to dense coniferous forest. On this side of the mountain, fir trees dominated with thick undergrowth. You could smell the green. The air felt thick.
After 2,000 feet we rejoined the Santiam Pass traffic. Logging trucks and double bottom dump trucks (a dump truck pulling a second engineless dump truck) zoomed by.
We stopped in the town of McKenzie Bridge for lunch. After eating we asked about renting a cabin next door. The owner said she was booked and that we’d have trouble finding any lodging because the World Track and Field Championships were being held in Eugene, 50 miles down the road.
We ended up in a US Forest Service campground. Our site was about 100 feet from the McKenzie River.
We bathed in the river and rinsed out our biking clothes. After walking back to town for dinner we hit the hay in our tents, lulled to sleep by the rushing water of the river.
The day began with a huge bowl of Cheerios, the old fashioned kind not the honey nut monstrosity. I also had a massive cup of coffee and a banana.
Locked and loaded we left the hostel around 6:40, heading west over Ochoco Pass. When the day begins like this, you know you’re going to have fun.
After some warm up miles we began the climb to the pass. Knowing that some types of pine trees need fire to generate seedlings, I had been expecting to see a burn area along this route and today we rode through one. This part of the forest will regenerate over the next decade or two.
Just like the last few passes, today’s was more of an exercise in persistence. I didn’t run out of breath even as my left quadriceps muscle ached a bit from time to time.
When I reached the pass Corey was waiting in the shade. Mark was right behind me. We munched on some snacks then began the fun part. Down!
The ride down was somewhat steep but we are descent veterans so it was not at all scary. The grade lessened after a few miles but remained a slight downhill nearly all of the 30 miles to Prineville.
In Prineville we had lunch at a Dairy Queen. They have a $7 meal that is a very good calories per dollar deal.
I have been using an out-of-date Adventure Cycling map for planning purposes. The newer maps direct riders on a northerly path from Prineville to the town of Terrebonne. We followed the old route, state highway 126 to Redmond because Redmond is a city with many more services. It was a very busy, mostly two-lane highway. The shoulder was narrow and filled with assorted debris. It was a stressful 18 miles. I rode it as fast as I could.
In Redmond we stopped at a bike shop then spent about an hour trying to find a reasonably priced motel. The cheapest looked like a hangout for junkies and hookers. A Motel 6 only had single bed rooms. Another hotel told me over the phone that they had a two-queen-bed room available but when we pulled up on our bikes just minutes later it magically had been booked by someone else.
We ended up at a Comfort Inn. It’s quite nice and ought to be for the price. It’s my turn to sleep on the floor. I have vowed to lay waste to the continental breakfast.
One thing about living in the DC area that I have grown to dislike is the departure of so many friends.
After getting settled at the hotel, I spent the late afternoon with one of my favorite bikedc expats, Rachel Cannon. She moved to this area a year and a half ago. We spent a couple of hours nursing beers and nibbling at nachos but mostly just catching up. The visit was too short but the hugs were heartfelt. Thanks for coming by, Rachel. It was great to see you.
Tomorrow we climb McKenzie Pass, our last big climb.
It was a day of the unexpected. We left the church hostel at 6:30 to eat breakfast at the town cafe. The food was mediocre (my kingdom for some Cheerios). The owners/cooks were both wearing holsters with side arms. I know we look fearsome but we were wearing freshly laundered clothes! There were magazines on our table. The one on the top of the stack was “Open Carry”.
After breakfast we rode west on US 26. A mile out of town we came to a full stop at a construction zone. A section of the road ahead was being chipsealed. We had heard about this and were dreading it. It turned out to be a great break for us.
Half the road was closed to traffic with each side being let through at 20 minute intervals. We followed the last car and had four miles of road to ourselves. The side of the road we were on was untreated. Beyond the construction zone, we still had the road to ourselves thanks to the intervals at the start of the zone.
The road next passed through Picture Gorge in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This part of the road is narrow and twisty with no shoulders, normally a real headache for cyclists. Without traffic it was like the best bike path ever. We could stop and take pictures of the gorge to our hearts’ content. And we did.
We skipped going off route to the fossil beds because we wanted to get off the road before temperatures hit the forecasted 104.
We began a gradual climb out of the gorge toward Keys Creek Summit. As in days past, our effort told us we were climbing but our eyes said we were not. The views were splendid regardless of our delusions. The summit came without extraordinary effort. Are we getting stronger or are the climbs getting less intense? Are we overloaded with hemoglobin? Maybe it’s just the fact that we weigh less.
We’d been told the descent from the summit would be very scary. It wasn’t. We are jaded. I think I touched my brakes twice. Mostly I braked by sitting up tall.
We pulled into Mitchell. I found the hostel and backtracked to the Tiger Town Brewery for a much deserved lunch. The food, a big salad with spicy chicken, was excellent and the pint of Kolsch hit the spot.
After lunch we moved into the hostel, Spokes N Hostel. This place is terrific and the owner, Jalet Farrell, has thought of everything. Comfortable beds, a fully stocked kitchen, showers, clothes lines, seating areas, hammocks, charging stations next to each bed, and on and on. We’d been hearing about this hostel for weeks from eastbound riders and it has definitely lived up to its reputation.
After breaking camp (and eating all the Pop Tarts) we immediately rode uphill through the ponderosa pines seven miles to Dixie Pass at 5,279 feet. I used my granny gear only for the last half mile. The crest came nearly a mile sooner than expected. Happy face.
The screaming descent to Prairie City was a hoot. Our discovery that all the breakfast joints in town were closed was not. We ended up eating breakfast burritos and donuts in the park. (The donuts were Corey’s idea.) The town seemed like an outtake from a Green Acres sequel.
As luck would have it there were two other cities on route to our destination in Dayville. As luck wouldn’t have it there was nothing but gas station food in either town. Mondays are days off in these parts.
Our ride from Prairie City to Dayville was gently downhill for 45 miles. We were in a race to beat the heat which was forecasted to break 90 degrees. Also, we had learned in Green Acres that the road we were riding was scheduled to be chip sealed today. (Crews lay gravel then set the stones using oil. It’s messy.)
As it turned out the chip sealing began after Dayville so we get to deal with that tomorrow.
We’re staying at the bike hostel in the Dayville Community Church. We’ll be camping on the floor. We’ll also be cooking from the hostel’s food supply which is impressive. We’ve already laid our tents out to dry, and showered. We’re doing two loads of laundry which will make anyone in our immediate vicinity grateful.
The Churchill School Bike and Ski Hostel was a great find. We were the only guests so there were no Covid concerns. The beds were incredibly comfy.
After leaving the hostel we wandered around Baker City looking for a breakfast cafe. After a mile or two we found one. I thought the basic eggs and sausage and hash browns were meh. Corey had some strawberry concoction that looked amazing. The coffee was about as weak as you could make it and still have it be brown.
We next headed across town to a Safeway where we stocked up on food for a night in a state park. I, being the group’s nutritional expert, bought Pop Tarts and trail mix. Corey and Mark are oatmeal people. (Corey also bought mashed potatoes that looked like gruel when he cooked it in camp.)
After four miles we finally headed out of Baker City. In our meanderings we did manage to pass through the old part of downtown which had some impressive old office buildings. It’s not a bad place but locals don’t want it to turn into a replica of Bend. (Bend is a derogatory verb in Baker City.)
We had perfect riding weather all day. After ten miles riding south along the Powder River we turned following its westward track. We met Felix, an eastbound TransAm rider. He had just graduated from college in Seattle. He was in good spirits besides having a wonky knee.
The ride continued until we entered the Sumpter Valley. We stopped for an impromptu lunch, sitting on a guardrail and watching cattle graze through some roadside ponderosa pines, the dominant tree in these parts.
At one point Corey spotted a pair of ospreys in a nest. It was clearly a parent and fledgling. What was most interesting is that we could see down into the nest.
The fun began when we climbed to Sumpter Pass at 5,082 feet of elevation. Ponderosa pines were everywhere. With no under brush we could see far into the forest. The air was pristine. No sooner did we crest the mountain than we began a speedy descent. I had filled my tires up at the hostel and it made a big difference in the bike’s stability at high speed. Weeee!
Alas, we ended our descent with a second climb to Tipton Pass at 5,124 feet. Boo. The seven mile descent was worth it though. Yay.
At the bottom we turned into Bates State Park to camp for the night. I had imagined being in tents in the woods but this park was cleared of mature trees.
Overnight the temperature dropped well into the forties causing me to freeze in my skimpy sleeping bag. No sleep for me.
The day began with breakfast al fresco. Oatmeal for Corey and Mark, PB&J for me.
Yesterday Mark had the first puncture since mine on May 22 at the very start of the ride. He pumped it up a couple of times and rode all day. This morning it was flat again. We all looked in vain for the cause. Mark patched a second hole and pumped it up. It stayed inflated all day.
Our route took us along a reservoir formed by the Brownlee Dam across the Snake River. We crossed over a bridge into Oregon and rode along a second lake formed by the Oxbow dam. Idaho does love its hydro. It’s not so good with truck traffic or road design. We were all happy to bid it farewell.
Corey spotted a bald eagle over the lake seeking breakfast. After a few passes the eagle landed a fish. I came upon a rafter (that’s what it’s called) of wild turkeys in the road. They dispersed as I passed by.
We started climbing away from the lake and encountered an eastbound rider. He was from France and was riding a custom made titanium bike. An approaching car ended our conversation.
At the top of the hill, I stopped to watch and cheer on a young woman climbing from the other side. She was a strong rider and looked to me like a younger version of a family friend named Claire. Her name was Fanny and she, too, was French. She started in Oakland, made her way up the coast then turned east to check out Crater Lake. She did not know the Frenchman but she did mention camping with a guy named Keith in the town of Halfway.
We stopped at a convenience store for nutritious food. Having none, the store sold me Pop Tarts and Gatorade. To its credit it had the cleanest porta potty I’ve ever used.
Back on the road we met yet another eastbounder. He was 70 years old, I later learned. “Ten years ago this was fun, now it’s work.” Hard earned wisdom.
A few miles further on, Corey and Mark met up with yet another eastbounder. It was Keith Adams (Franny’s camping friend). I met Keith during my first 50 States Ride in DC in 2006. We did another ride or two together before parting ways. Keith was riding a Bike Friday folding touring bike. It appeared to be nearly identical to mine.
We had a good chat along the guardrail. Keith seems to be having a ball. His itinerary is flexible. “I may ride to Boise to see some friends.”
Keith’s tour journal can be found on cycleblaze.com.
Off we rode over a big hill to Richland. After riding past several bars we found a modest cafe. The service and the food were terrific. I must have downed a gallon of ice water with my meal.
Since Richland was only 46 miles into the day and since we had a bonus hour from moving into the Pacific time zone, we called a hostel in Baker City, 42 miles away. They had beds for us so off we went into the canyon then back out. And into the canyon then out. We switched from the Snake River to the Powder River. It didn’t make things any easier. Eventually we climbed another pass, although crawled up would be more descriptive. Even a tailwind didn’t speed us up. The heat, the hills, the miles, and the chip seal pavement made for a long, hard day. All three of us were exhausted when we arrived in Baker City.
The hostel is in an old school building. We are the only lodgers. We were told by several people that Baker City hotels were likely filled because of a motorcycle rally and some sort of festival. When we arrived the town was unexpectedly quiet. The hostel is fine, and at $25 it is infinitely better than last night’s motel.
If you want a good breakfast, don’t go to New Meadows, Idaho. Nothing was open at 7:00. We made do with oatmeal (Corey and Mark) and PB&J on an English muffin (me) in our motel room.
We headed west on the hated US 95. Idaho drivers are the worst. They should be arrested and sentenced to one month of driving in Providence after the streets turn to glaciers. That’ll fix em.
We briefly tried the Weiser River Trail, a rail trail that runs for 90 miles. The surface was little more than gravel and potholes so we returned to 95.
We climbed a deceptively hard hill that rewarded us with a descent into Council for gas station convenience store food-like substances then continued uphill through Mesa and eventually to Cambridge.
We arrived around noon. Like New Meadows, most of the town was closed. We ate mystery food at the town Chinese restaurant. The best part was the watermelon slices that we were served as appetizers.
Mark found a motel in Hells Canyon some 22 miles south so we braved the heat and a long climb and soldiered on. The top of the climb was steep. Fortunately I was cheered on by a vocal bovine fan located behind a hedgerow on the side of the road. Thanks, Bossie.
The descent took us back into Hells Canyon. The grass in the fields looked very dry. Needless to say it’s hot as Hades. Not that I noticed during the descent. I was holding on for dear life.
The motel was over six miles down the mountain. The building is basically a converted semi truck trailer. The room is very small and smells of pee. I’m glad it’s Corey’s turn to sleep on the floor.
On the plus side the cafe next door serves a mighty good grilled cheese with more fries than three people could eat.
The breakfast at the town cafe was absurdly huge; none of us could finish our meals. The town of White Bird, named after a chief who led a small band of Nez Perce to Canada after Chief Joseph surrendered, is filled with Trumpers. I suspect there is a serious distrust of Washington. I can‘t imagine why.
Our maps and apps all indicated that we’d be doing some serious climbing today. A very short climb out of White Bird put us on busy US 95 for the day.
We traveled up the Salmon River, which is a whitewater hot spot. Looking down on the rafters, we knew we were gaining elevation, but it barely felt like it.
The landscape changed every few miles which was a nice distraction from the heavy traffic to our immediate left. There were rounded green hills, craggy cliffs, mountain meadows, all carved down the middle by the twisting Salmon River.
We stopped at a farm stand for a break about half way. A cold sweet tea and a big cookie topped off my tank. The farther we rode the hotter it became. After weeks in the high mountains summer appears to have caught up with us.
We checked into a motel in New Meadows instead of camping in the town park. It’s Mark’s turn to sleep on the floor.