Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a wordy person. (Ten adjectives are SO much better than just one, right?.) It’s rare that I encounter a scene or situation that I don’t have words for, but now I have seven days in my memory that confound me. This year’s bike adventure was wonderful. “Wonderful” is pathetically lacking descriptive power, but “transcendent” is trying too hard. So, instead of making an attempt to say how I feel, I will simply report what happened. I want to honor the details of what has, without a doubt, been the best time of my life. Cliché or no cliché, it’s true.

Summer Tour 2014, riding the Old West Scenic Bikeway, July 26 – August 1, 2014

Saturday, July 26th  – Eugene to Olympia to Eugene to Smith Rock

This day, no actual biking took place. Erin and Drew both had to work so I spent the morning getting ready all the things I should have gotten ready the night before, and the afternoon driving to Olympia to pick up Erin. I wish I’d taken a better picture of my bike’s setup, I was pretty proud at how little I packed compared to last year. I’m particularly happy that, except for a couple just-in-case items, I used everything I brought with me.

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Fortunately I don’t own a tent, so I didn’t have to pack one. The sleeping bag was a generous loan from an ex (I might have to just buy him a new one though. I don’t think Wal-Mart sleeping bags are actually engineered to go through as much use as this one has gone through now.), I had a yoga mat/cat scratcher for a sleeping pad, a set of surprisingly roomy saddlebags I found on Craigslist just in time for this trip ($10, booyah), and I sewed the cow-print frame bag myself. Well, I say “sewed”, but it was really quite a haphazard attempt. The last Velcro strap is only attached to the bag with sewing pins. But, heck, it worked, so whatever. My indestructible front handlebar bag is actually a camera bag I picked up at the Moscow Goodwill several years ago, but it’s got two roomy pockets that zip and hold on-the-go items and small items that I don’t want to lose at the bottom of bigger bags.

Erin and I zipped back to Eugene and drove over Drew’s to pick him up. It was at this point that we all decided that I had been perhaps a little optimistic about my car’s cargo capacity and that three people, three bikes, and gear were not going to fit. But conveniently enough Erin is basically the king of knot-tying, so his Bianchi was very securely lashed to the roof of my car, and didn’t budge an inch on either the way to our destination or when it was there again on the way back home a week later.

Given that we were leaving Eugene around 8 pm we planned on camping at Smith Rock, which is roughly halfway between Eugene and John Day (which is the start of the scenic bikeway). The drive was a blast. I love driving on fast country roads in the dark (holdover from visiting CdA from Moscow while I lived there), and the whole trip was a perfect mix of often hilarious conversation, good music (Black Keys, Buddy Holly), and good food: Drew is a cook at the Saturday Market, so he had brought with him container upon container of excellent Market food. There were stir fries, curries, Afghani food… pretty great stuff. Since I was driving I expected to not eat anything until Smith Rock. It was a bummer, given how AWESOME that stuff smelled once they opened the food.

Then Drew suggested that we see if one of them could feed me while I drove. I was certain I was going to aspirate my food at some point – it was so funny, I was almost laughing too much to eat. There were baby jokes and airplane noises as Erin poked my face with the spoon (he was riding shotgun so he had the honor), and a few severely misjudged appropriate spoon portions. It was an all-around delicious experience.

Threeish hours later, we arrived at Smith Rock. The sky was so dark and the stars so bright that we had already seen shooting stars during the drive, and then once we were stationary under the open sky… it was so beautiful. Enchanting. We set up our tents in a field and hit the hay. Erin’s tent has a mesh roof, so you could still see the brightest of the stars through it – the night was warm enough, though, that we probably should have just bivvied it like Drew did. It was easier for him to see the shooting stars.

 

Sunday, July 27th – John Day to Dixie Creek, ca. 20 miles

The next morning involved a brief visit from a park ranger informing us we’d camped in a non-camping zone (he didn’t really seem to care though) and polishing off the Market leftovers for breakfast. From Smith Rock we drove through Redmond and got some coffee, and drove the rest of the way to John Day.

John Day was a little crazy – the information on the internet about the route said that we could leave our car at the Kam Wah Chung Heritage Site, but when we found the site it was overrun with a local swim meet at the pool next door and didn’t seem like the right place. We went to the pool office to see if they knew anything about parking at Kam Wah Chung, and met a lady named Christy Waldner. She is one of the people who was involved in popularizing the Old West Scenic Bikeway, and not only gave us directions to where we could leave the car but also told us about her by-donation bike hostel at her home in Mount Vernon, and invited us to stay there a night if it synced up with our route. She also gave us her phone number and told us to call her if we needed anything while we were riding. It felt so good to meet such a kind and interesting person, and we hadn’t even started biking yet!

We ended up going on the tour of the Kam Wah Chung General Store, which is a perfectly intact/restored Chinese store and apothecary shop from the mid-19th century, when Chinese were being shipped en mass to the West to work in mines. Unfortunately my phone was dead from GPS-ing at that point so I didn’t take any pictures, but it was a fascinating site.

We unloaded the bikes, packed things up, changed into our spandex… and then the pain began. For some reason, I had forgotten to remember that the first thing that happens when you leave John Day is a big-ass hill. That we were starting during the hot afternoon of the day. After a day of inactivity in the car. After a distracting/not-very-restful night (at least for me – too many stars!). Also, Eugene is at something like 85 feet above sea level, and John Day is at 3,000ish… Not cool. Not cool. Anyways, we took a break at the top of the hill under a mega-sized replica of a covered wagon, and met some people who were doing the Trans Am and were on their way through from Michigan with the plan of going down the western coast starting around Florence. Then it was a quick and fun descent into the Dixie Creek campground.

It unfortunately seemed like more of an RV kind of campsite (so all the flat spots that could have received a tent were graveled over for parking a vehicle), but it was nicely forested and the day use site was somewhat hidden from the main road, so we became little lawbreakers and camped at the day use site. Drew got out his awesome little camp stove and cooked us all some ramen (my ramen for this trip was kindly donated by my friend Katelyn, who keeps giving me food that her pregnancy will no longer allow her to stomach. My food budget is gonna go up when that baby is born.), which, after even a short day of hard biking, tastes like the best stuff on earth. We made a fire and filtered cold, fresh water from the creek, and I painted my nails (don’t judge. This was vacation, after all.)

 

Monday, July 28th – Austin Junction to Bates State Park, ca. 50 miles

After a relaxing morning of granola and instant Folgers coffee packets, we descended the rest of the way down the hill (an exhilarating way to start the day) and arrived in Austin Junction at exactly the time when the café there opened, 8 am. We met a very nice lady who served us huckleberry ice cream, cobbler, and good hot black coffee.  I also finally got an opportunity to charge my phone some.

From there, we headed out… and immediately took a wrong turn. I was kicking myself afterwards because I noticed as we turned onto the road that the sign was for Highway 7, which I wasn’t 100% sure we were supposed to be on, but I didn’t say anything because it sounded familiar so it must be right. Shoulda gone with my gut. It sounded familiar because it was supposed to be the one we didn’t turn onto.

It was a blazing-hot day, and I at least was still not acclimated to the elevation. In addition to this, we climbed three very steep summits. This is Drew at the top of the first:

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It wasn’t until three summits and 45 miles later that we realized we had gone the wrong way. We also knew we had to make it back to the bikeway – there was nowhere to camp where we were, and we didn’t have the time take a whole second day to get back…

It’s probably a sign of how tired we all were already at that point that none of us thought to top off our water at the road we’d stopped to look at the directions at. There was absolutely no water on the way back down Hwy 7. I knew I was already tired, and even on a good day I’m a far slower climber than Erin and Drew, so after I told them not to wait for me at the summits (like they had been doing so far) I checked into my easiest gear and started turtling my way back. But as the afternoon wore on and it got hotter and hotter I started feeling worse and worse. Eventually I didn’t have the strength to get enough momentum to keep my bike upright on the inclines, so I started walking up the last summit. I had about 8oz of water left after finishing my other two water bottles, I was dizzy, and I had a killer headache.

Then I saw Drew! He had come back to check on me. He gave me water that he had with him, and informed me that Erin was suffering from heatstroke and was resting further up, and that I probably had heatstroke too. He said some things that I don’t exactly remember but my general recollection of them was that they were encouraging, and then he pedaled off back to where Erin was.

If it’s not already clear at this point, Drew is SuperBikeMan. He has had 500 mile bicycle commute weeks. His bike was by far the heaviest and he probably had the most stuff, and he consistently beat everybody up every hill every time. While others get heatstroke, Drew has fun, because he is an effing badass :D.

So Drew pedaled up into the distance, and I was alone again. The water helped for a little bit but I didn’t seem to be feeling any better, and I was starting to feel really nauseous and more dizzy. Then I saw a car park at a turnout about 100 feet up the road from me, and turn its hazards on. I briefly held the hope that maybe they were stopping for me – sympathetic fellow cyclists, or something – but figured my luck couldn’t be that good.

It wasn’t that good; it was better. Mike did not turn out to be a sympathetic cyclist, but he was with Oregon Search & Rescue. He hadn’t been looking for me or anyone in particular, but I guess on hot days like that day he likes to load his Jeep with water and drive around checking that people aren’t going around being stupid, which he admonishingly informed was exactly what I was being by biking those hills on a day like that day. He filled my water bottles and filled them again after I chugged a bunch, packed me and my bike into his car, and drove me to the top of the summit.

Drew and Erin arrived shortly thereafter, and we descended right back to where we had started that morning. We camped at Bates State Park this time, which was much newer-looking and more sparse than the previous campsite had been. We camped next to a gentleman named Glen, from Montana, who had seen us earlier that day on 7 and had offered us some water. Drew made the saltiest (so therefore at that moment, the best) cream of potato soup that Erin had brought to share and added some pepperoni into it as well.  We washed our kits in some sprinklers and hung them to try on some small trees, and then I pretty abruptly passed out asleep around 7:30 or 8 o’clock, before the sky had gotten dark, while Drew and Erin talked routes over with Glen next door.

 

Tuesday, July 29th – Bates State Park to Lone Pine, 53 miles

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We decided to get a fairly early start the next day to try to avoid the heat as best we could. Bananas, granola, Folgers, and more ramen all happened before 8 o’clock. I chatted some with a group of Trans Am-ers from Wisconsin who had gotten in very late the night before, even after the guys had gone to bed, who had suffered over the same three hills we had on Hwy 7 the day before. They’d gone over them in the night though, which Glen pointed out later couldn’t have been much fun, because long and fast descents in the dark are dangerous even with headlamps, so you can’t enjoy them at all.

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This was a beautiful day to ride. We followed the Middle Fork of the John Day River the whole time, which meant it was a fairly flat time. There were far too many cattle gates that we had to stop and walk over, but that also means that there were SO MANY COWS. Cows are my spirit animal. THEY MOOED AT ME. I was in heaven.

About halfway through the day we took a break on the side of the road and swam in the river. It wasn’t very deep but it was cool and wonderful. You could find a spot to anchor yourself against a rock and then just lie back and let the water flow over you. There were also some sizeable boulders did well as spots to dry on with the warm rock under your back.

At least, until some cows come along and low menacingly at you until you leave.

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The silly creatures stood there and mooed at us, and then immediately walked over and got in the river themselves after we started riding away. Hmph.

The day kept warming up and we got away from the hilly, ranch area we were in and started passing through beautiful golden farmland that reminded me of Moscow, ID.

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The road was still pretty flat, but there was zero shade. There was one long climb on the route for the day, and I met Glen along it when I stopped once for water. I was glad for the opportunity to say hi and chat with him, since I’d fallen asleep so quickly the night before at Bates. He made jokes about how he was getting too old for this stuff anymore.

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At the top of the climb, we all took a nice break in the shade of some unexpected trees.

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The end of our day wasn’t set in stone – we knew we needed to get past Ritter Butte, and from there we were hoping to find some vacant land or something in or near Long Creek (the next name on the map), but there was no information about any dedicated or recommended camping spots in the area so we weren’t sure if we’d be done after Ritter or if we’d have to continue a bit further.

But after getting down the butte and rolling into Long Creek, we heard a shout coming from the first house on the road – “WATER FOR CYCLISTS! Fill your water bottles here!”

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Ron Roy Horseman ought to be considered an adventure all on his own. He was raised in Long Creek. He’s a retired seaman, U.S. Navy, who served on submarines. His joke for that was: “just remember, there are two kinds of ships. Submarines, and targets.”

Ron goes and fells Juniper trees, and makes beautiful polished wood furniture from them that he sells on the road in front of his house. His front yard is a giant courtyard of sorts with wood furniture and a giant fire pit (which he said he would have lit for us, except there was an extreme fire danger warning in effect for the area). He had a giant saw that he built himself to cut giant logs, and he was in the process of building a stunningly beautiful 8-ft bar. He had a dog named Anikin Dogwalker, and another dog named Dumb As Bricks, ‘Masbricks for short. At first he offered us water, and then he offered us a spot in his backyard to camp, and then as a thunderstorm started rolling in with blasting winds, he told us that he usually sleeps in his armchair in front of the TV anyways, and that we were going to sleep inside his house. He’s the most generous stranger I have ever met.

After eating dinner at the café down the street (“You’d better get there quick, everything in Long Crick closes at 6”) we returned to hang out with Ron and his friend and neighbor Joe – an excitable redheaded man getting his life together after leaving behind a rather eventful past in Wallace, ID, who told too-dirty jokes about things you could do with sheep, and a wide variety of other topics. Ron sent Joe to the café, which was also the town store, to pick up his daily 30 pack of Keystone Light (he called ahead and told them to put it on his account), and he invited us to have as much as we wanted. We drank outside until the storm hit, and then we moved inside, to where Ron also kept an ice-cold bottle of Johnny Walker red label in the freezer. There was no bother with glasses or cups. It was a wonderful evening, there was so much laughter and good conversation. Ron got deeper and deeper into his drink as the evening wore on, and he started showing us pictures of his daughters and granddaughters, and the different submarines he served on.

Ron was such a gentleman. I was the only girl present (as Joe said, “there are no ladies in Long Crick – just women”), and he offered me blankets in case I was cold, and my choice of channel on the television. He also constantly referred to me as “sweetheart” and “darlin’” whenever he spoke to me (clearly, flattery is the key to my heart).

Many hours later, Joe went home and we all went to bed. The room was far too hot for me to sleep (unfortunately I require Artic levels of cool to be able to fall asleep), and I could hear Ron in the next room watching American Choppers or whatever that History Channel show is about fixing up old cars, and occasionally muttering unintelligible things to the actors.

 

Wednesday, July 30th – Long Creek to Lone Pine (or if you’re Erin, Lone Creek to Long Pine), ca. 40 miles

First of all, any day is going to be a good day when you take your first shower in four days. Secondly, when a nice old gentlemen says to you “wow, you are ten times more beautiful than you were yesterday.” Oh, Ron, you dear.

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Ron made us coffee and even went to the store and bought some creamer in case we wanted some. I fully intend to go back and see Ron someday – I know it won’t be the same as this wonderful, fantastic, chance of a first time, in the middle of what was already a wonderful adventure – but sometimes you just fall in love with somebody and you can’t do anything about it.

We left Ron’s, and enjoyed just a short climb through farmlands.

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We took a break in Monument and spent some time with a nice cat who was really interested in my saddlebags.

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That day had some crazyinsane decents in it. I don’t even know how much elevation we left. The land transitioned from farmland and prarie to beautiful red cliffs and volcanic rock. There were just tons of dizzyingly tall, rough walls that rose higher and higher as we went down faster and faster. I didn’t brake for miles and miles at a time. (And yeah, “I don’t brake for miles and miles” is my new idea for a parody video; my apologies to The Who.)

We passed some more ranches and the ghost town of Hamilton, and eventually got to our destination at Lone Pine. We never quite figured out which tree was supposed to be the Lone Pine itself, but we had a lovely, relaxing day – the whole afternoon – of swimming in the North Fork of the John Day River, which was much deeper and faster than the portion of the Middle Fork we swam in before.

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Also, we were able to supplement our ramen diet:

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I’ve been a bad vegetarian this trip. It started when my ex left me a bunch of frozen pork chops from when he moved away (I don’t turn down free food, period), and then on this trip meat just always was offered or seemed like a good, calorie-heavy idea…  I felt terrible when we started to cook/kill the crawdads. But then I remembered how one had been rude enough to pinch my bottom while I was just sitting in the river minding my own business, and I felt a little better about it. This is the only one I caught myself:

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Which, of course, was the crawdad with the gimp claw.

Sunset in a valley – so pretty.

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Thursday, July 31st – Lone Pine to Mt Vernon, ca. 45 miles

Thursday started off in a particularly feastful way, as we realized we didn’t need to conserve our food anymore.

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Yes, that’s 8 packets for a cup and a half of coffee. If there had been walls where we were, we would have been hitting them.

We also left behind a marker of our passing through the area, which I dropped between a tree and it’s protective wire fence around the base of it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

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Pretty soon after we left Lone Pine we got into the John Day Fossil Beds territory. The colors in the rocks were spectacular – all sorts of different minerals and chemical weathering causing the painted effects. The blue color, the most common, comes from the chemical weathering of layer upon layer of volcanic ash.

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And then we stopped at the visitor center (where we ran into Glen again!) and saw REAL LIVE FOSSILS.

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Rather abruptly after we left the visitor center, the sun came out and the most almightly unbearable headwind started happening. I’ve never experienced such a constant struggle on a flat surface. I didn’t take any pictures the rest of that ride, despite some rather pastoral scenery, because you had to focus all your energy on just keeping going.

We did stop for a water break and photo op in the quaint metropolis of Dayville, however:

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We finally rolled into Mt Vernon and after a little search found Christy’s bike hostel. It was a cute little separated apartment on her property (which had CHICKENS AND GOATS AND BUNNIES AND AND <3), with a shower, kitchen, food in the pantry, comfortable chairs, a TV, and the most varied VHS collection I have ever seen. We biked to the closest gas station for snacks, with the intention of making hot dogs and s’mores, but – shame on them – they sold no graham crackers. For a moment, I panicked. But then, then… I saw a packet of Chips Ahoy. And my life has changed forever. FYI though, that shit gets pretty messy. Drew got marshmallow in his moustache, there was melted chocolate all over everyone’s hands, and I laughed so hard I cried, which is a difficult situation to be in when you’re still trying to eat the s’more.

And Glen showed up to stay as well! He chose not to partake in the s’more insanity, but he cooked himself some pasta and we all watched the Back To The Future trilogy… backwards. It’s kind of the only way to do it, really.

Bedtime was another life changing moment, because THIS happened (JO DON’T LOOK):

 

 

 

 

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I feel like God ought to grant us immediate dispensation to enter Heaven, no matter what else we might do with our lives, because singlehandedly capturing the Devil in a drinking glass has to gain you points somehow. This little guy was BIG (not kidding, about two inches long) and he was FAST and he wanted to kill us. Erin (its captor) figured that if he let it go outside before we left we wouldn’t be able to outrun its murderous rage, so he and Drew left it in its prison with a note:

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Glen left before we all got up, and left a nice goodbye note, which  enclosed with the summary of our bike trip that I wrote I the logbook Christy offers to travelers to fill out.

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And then it was home stretch… 8 miles left to the car at John Day.

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Where we received enthusiastic welcome:

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We took our time coming back to Eugene – I don’t think any of us wanted this adventure to end. We listened to some William Elliot Whitmore, Dessa, Scissor Sisters, G. Love and Special Sauce, and a variety of other things. We stopped in Sisters for a fantastic lunch and pitcher o’ brew at Three Creeks Brewing Co, and I dropped Drew and Erin off at the top of the old 242 Mckenzie Pass so Erin could get a taste of that awesomeness (Drew and I do that ride every year before the pass is open to vehicle traffic). Then it was home, and drinks at New Max’s Tavern, and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…

And half-formed dreams of next year’s great adventure.

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