Lewis, Clark, and Transamerica a/k/a "Mom's Fiftieth Birthday I-don't-want-to-grow-up Bicycle Ride Across America"

Central and Eastern Oregon
This is one segment chronicling my family's bicycle tour through the northwest, and Paula's continuation beyond Montana. If you came here via a Web search, you might want to back up to the index page to start with the overview.

July 21st
Finally, we leave Bend. It was tempting to stay longer, but we are here for the biking.

Looking back to the Cascades

I Road IN The Middle of The Road Doug and his friend Bill lead the ride out, taking us on the road to Alfalfa and one of the smoothest roads around Bend. Some ranchers in the area don't appreciate the influx of cyclists on their road and don't give them much passing room. One put an old station wagon by the side of his property, attached a mangled bike to the grille, painted a big red splotch on the windshield and wrote "I Road IN The Middle of The Road" on the side. The cyclists in the area want to replace the bike with a pair of oars. :-)

Alfalfa hosts a nice country store that looks at cyclists as a revenue boost. The store has picnic tables and shaded areas and often gets day riders both coming and going. One of the other patrons chatted with us and sounded pretty envious of our ride ahead.

Welded ash overhanging columnar basalt Beyond Alfalfa the irrigated fields quickly give way to hillier terrain with tounges of old lava frozen in place. Paula broke a chain in an awkward shift, and Doug volunteered to do the dirty job of fixing it. I was sort of interested in using Paula's chain tool, part of a Topeak Alien toolset, but not so interested to discourage Doug! The road ended at Rt 27 near the dam end of the Prineville Reservoir. The river drains through a canyon of volcanic rocks with good displays of columnar basalts interleaved with layers of ash. Some of the ash is welded together so firmly that it overhangs the basalt columns. I was wondering if the canyon was cut since the last ice age, but concluded the next day way too much material was eroded for that. Still, from the numerous dents in the road (and the rocks I rolled out of the road) it's clear erosion is still ongoing.

There are several small campgrounds along the river, and we picked one where the canyon was beginning to open up. There was a path across from the entrance that goes up to the "Devil's Postpile," but I went a little way and decided to pass on the rest. The river water was quite silty and clogged our water filter every few liters, but no big problem. For the most part the campgrounds are visited by anglers looking for trout in the cold water released from the bottom of the reservoir.

July 22nd
As we continued through the canyon, I concluded we had stayed at just about the best of the little campgrounds. The canyon gradually widens and the road flattens. The land is a series of small ranches using the river water for irrigation. The only interesting one had some llamas in an area near the road.

At Prineville (2864') we had a second breakfast and rejoined the TransAmerica trail on US Rt. 26. The road traffic gradually lessened over the day while we embarked on a long climb to Ochoco Pass (4722'). At the Ochoco reservoir is a park and campground. Being an agricultural resource instead of drinking water supply, swimming was okay and quite welcome. No point in putting on a bathing suit as bicycling clothes dry (all too) quickly back on the road.

After the pass, downhill brought us to a hot 500' climb to Mitchell. At Cannon's service station, Ed Cannon welcomed us to "300 feet from Hell," to which I replied "That's a relief, I thought we were already there!" His thermometers read about 100 degrees, it was probably just as well that I didn't know that before.

Mitchell (2777') is one of those towns that is barely hanging on. Still, there are nice pockets and we spent the night at one, the Oregon Hotel. The proprieter welcomed us to "the middle of nowhere." Despite the lack of air conditioning, the inside was reasonably cool until the sun hit our corner room on two sides, but sleeping was cool enough. The hotel was the first I've stayed at in years that had common baths. There were few other people staying there, so no conflicts.

July 23rd
We got up early and cooked breakfast in the park before the restaurant opened to get ahead of some of the expected heat. The climb to Mitchell continued with a climb to Keye's Creek Summit (4372'). Along the way, someone had painted notes in the breakdown lane for other cyclists ("Keep pedaling," "Many have tried, few have reached the top", "You call this a hill?", and "U R Awesome") which helped provide encouragement. The downhill quickly dropped us into the day's heat. I was riding ahead when Hannah hit a rock and got a flat tire. Paula flagged down someone to tell me I needed to go back. I had stopped to let then catch up, but had to turn around and climb a very hot 250' to get back to them. Sigh.

Picture Canyon entrance The road goes through Picture Canyon and passes Rt 19 near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We picked up the John Day River (I'm still not sure who this John Day fella was) and I promptly dunked my jersey in it. It's remarkable how much stronger one feels cycling when your body isn't working hard just to keep cool. An easy climb brought us to Dayville where we discovered Dayville Mercantile, the best small store we've found to date. It's run by an avid cyclist so he's stocked it with few bike things - all good stuff and I'm sure a welcome surprise to other cyclists. I picked up a nice little sunglass mounted rear view mirror. Steve Cookinham, the owner, worked for MCI in his last past life and has roots going back to Teletype repair. So I had a good time chatting with him while Paula and Hannah went to the other end of town to check out a hostel and the town park.

Today is about as hot as yesterday and we collapsed for a couple hours at the park, but eventually decided to press on to Mount Vernon. We found a tired motel that had stuffy rooms, but also an air conditioner. We all enjoyed a cool night.

Total milage for the day was about 60, the longest so far. Pretty good given the heat and all.

July 24th
Today is a lot cooler. Still pretty warm, but not bad riding and no major hills until a really big one at the end of the day. We stopped in the town of John Day (3083'), big enough to host a real grocery store, bowling alley, and defunct outdoor movie theater. They seem to have quite an agenda of events, with an antique motorcycle rally underway and solar energy gathering in a couple days. The temperature is in the upper 80s, yesterday afternoon was near 110.

Prairie City is a smaller town, sort of touristy, where we had lunch, shopped, and ice cream. Then the big climb to Dixie Summit (5279'). Not too steep a climb, but Hannah had trouble digesting ice cream and hill climbing at the same time. Fortunately, that problem clears up fairly quickly, and we made it to the top and then to a nearby forest service campground a few minutes later. A couple rain "events" got us to put rain flies on the tents, but there was only a trace of rain total. I some some stars through the thinning clouds and figured that was it for the night.

July 25th
Today started with the promise of some sun, but also enough clouds to help keep things cool for the two main climbs, each about 1000'. After a quick downhill to Austin Jct, we headed up to Tipton Summit (5124') with comfortable temperatures. I picked up some water at a roadside spring, the first I've seen on the trip. The climb was uneventful and the ride down quick. We followed a river downstream for several miles going past Whitney, a town abandoned in the 1950s after the railroad shut down. We then left the river for the other big climb of the day to Larch Summit (5082') and stopped for lunch just a bit of the way up. Sun changed to clouds during lunch and part way up the hill a thunderstorm began forcing a stop for an hour or so. Waiting out rain with nothing to do is boring.... [Hey, Doug, you told Paula it wasn't going to rain for the next five weeks! I'm beginning to think this is the land of broken weather forecasts - I think the official forecast said only a 20% chance of rain.] A second cell came through too, but when things began to lighten we figured there wasn't much point waiting longer and got rolling. The rain stopped before we got to the top and ride down on damp roads wasn't very wet.

osprey nest That brought us near Sumpter, part of the old Sumpter valley logging railroad that we've been paralleling, I think. We picked up a river that goes through an old gold mining area that mined by dredging and ends at the Phillips Reservoir. The area is a wildlife refuge with eagles, ospreys, Sandhill Cranes, etc. and the road follows the reservoir but well away from it. The reservoir drains into the Powder River which is white water and cuts another canyon. A headwind kept things from being a fast ride. The canyon runs for several miles then turns north and opens up into a broad valley interrupted by hills at the northern end. Through that it's a few more miles to Baker City. Hannah picked up a staple near the end of the canyon and I noticed her rear tire going flat early in the valley. She put on a tube I patched before, but it didn't hold air, but I had a second spare that was fine. Meanwhile, another thunderstorm was gathering to the west, but was also heading north and served mainly to block the evening sun.

Once in Baker City, we headed for the Baer House B&B run by the same folks who have the Dayville Mercantile. Nice place, well decorated by his wife who was visiting relatives. Pretty good deal for Steve - he sells a bottle of Gatorade in Dayville, then gets more business two days later!

July 26th
Baker City looks like an interesting place, so we declared today a rest day to explore. I think I'll call it "The somewhere in the middle of nowhere." The library is across the street, hence this update.

July 27th
[Notes - 1) This keyboard has an unreliable space key, 2) I'm going to try switching to present tense for this update.]

Between WWW updates, talking to Steve, and various other whatnot, we used up yesterday pretty quickly. We're back on the road today, the first order of business was to climb Flagstaff Hill, cross the route of the old Oregon Trail, and then climb another hill to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. I walked, Hannah and Paula rode. I caught up to them and walked their bikes the rest of the way....

Oregon Trail diorama The Interpretive Center is pretty interesting and we spent more time there in the precious morning coolish weather than we should have. [Note - add a link.] Paved roads, bicycles, services along the way - we have it easy! As we left, I filled a four liter water bottle as there isn't much before Richland except a substantial hill (2589'). In fact, about the only thing of note along they way is a big "Cold pop" sign with a hand painted Pepsi logo on top of a rather tired house. On the porch is a Pepsi machine that does sell cold pop (50 cents per can, a bargain). This must be the oasis that another cyclist mentioned in Mitchell! A couple of bicyclists we met today told us of stopping at a store just before a downburst hit and then being forced to spend the night because mudslides blocked the road.

As we climb another small hill into Richland, Paula is dragging pretty badly. It's late enough to be worth stopping instead of pressing on to Halfway like Steve recommended, and we camp in the big town park. Pretty nice spot, actually.

July 28th
After breakfast in town, it's time for the main event of the day, a long, steep climb up to 3653'. I measured one half mile stretch at 7%, tough with our loads and the exposed sunny area. On the other side, it's a good ride down into the town of Halfway, which may be named half.com now as there's a sign that claims it's the first .com town. I have no idea what it's half way to, from, or between, but the people are friendly. Paula feels a lot stronger heading out of town (or I'm dragging a bit), and I have trouble catching up after a Gatorade and soak the bike jersey in the river stop. We pick up Pine Creek and follow that downhill brushing by the southernmost tip of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the deepest gorge in the US. It's nowhere near as wide as the Grand Canyon, but I don't know how deep it is. Not much more than the Grand Canyon, I'm sure. Along the way we stop for half an hour waiting with other traffic that is being led by a Pilot car past the mudslide areas. It's clear the storm was very narrow, but it must have dropped a lot of water. The Creek is muddy below to where it joins the Snake River.

Just after the slide area we stop at an RV park that looks like it's full of fulltime users. The tenting area doesn't have a table, the bathroom sink is clogged, and all this for only $24! At least the water is good well water and not affected by the slide.

It turns out that many of the people there work for Idaho Power and working on a new powerline from dam just down the road - and in Idaho. About time we reach another state!

Other links:

index page and overview

Paula's page

Ric's page

Hannah's page