Day 21: Woodland Campground to Walla Walla

What an odd sensation it is to be moving 60 mph effortlessly. It’s something most people do every day, but after three weeks of moving only under our own power, riding in a car is so strange. Not to spoil the post, but we are back in the car, wearing clean clothes, Spokane-bound.

We awoke this morning to surprisingly warm weather –55°! Compared to yesterday’s 32°, it felt balmy. We also found that our campground is in the middle of a beautiful alpine meadow filled with, sadly because it’s late September, the remnants of a beautiful wildflower display. We didn’t notice last night because of the darkness, but it was a pleasant surprise this morning.

Because we were camped so very close to the top of the Blue Mountains, we only had to do a small bit of climbing. Funnily, due to the perambulations of our homeward route, we crossed over the Blue Mountains twice. Once eastward on the way from Ukiah to La Grande and again westward from Imbler to Weston. Yeah those Blue Mountains know who’s their boss! (Oregon Trail travelers found the mountains so steep that they used ropes wrapped around trees and several men to lower their wagons. Can you imagine essentially WALKING from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon? Sheesh. What stalwartness. Makes what we did look like a piece of cake.)

We rode up a bit then down a bit then up a bit to Tollgate, an area at the top of the mountain occupied by 12 people, including the guy working at the cafe where we stopped for water. There was a crowd (ok 6) older gentlemen sipping their Saturday morning coffee who were curious about our trip. They asked how we carried our stuff. I was pleased to hear that it was mostly downhill from where we were.

And my goodness was it ever downhill! We zoomed along the next 15 miles averaging about 24 mph. We passed smoky viewpoints and back down into yellow grass and ponderosa pines then down further and into wheat fields onto a freshly paved road (including even the generously wide shoulder). We kept going down into Milton-Freewater and then onto Walla Walla. Shortly after we passed the “Entering Walla Walla” sign, I heard a loud glass crunch and ping from behind me. Unsurprisingly, Björn had a flat, just 3 miles from our destination. In well-oiled team fashion, he pulled out parts while I took the front bags off his bike, freed the brakes and loosened his rear wheel. We were on our way again shortly. One quick stop for wine, Oreos and a thank you note for our car’s hosts and we were done with this epic trip. It has certainly been filled with adventure and love.

On our way out of Walla Walla, we stopped for big Mexican meals and a quick wine tasting at Cougar Crest. Oh how I love their viognier! We are now zooming home to Spokane for hot showers, some laundry doing and sleeping indoors in our own bed again.

And yes, as Björn said in yesterday’s post, we are engaged! Go back and read the Day 9 post for the now-included engagement story. I love this man so very much and am so excited to marry him next September in Seattle.

It was a wonderful trip and we do hope that you’ve enjoyed reading the blog. Let us know if you desperately want to hear more about a topic. We’re also happy to answer questions. Watch for an updated map showing our actual journey and a mileage total. We’re guessing just over 1000, but some math and mapping will tell us for sure.

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Day 20: Hilgard to Woodland Campground

The penultimate day of our tour, tomorrow we reach our car in Walla Walla & one of us (probably me as I’ve promised to drive if the tasting room at one of Julianne’s favorite Walla Walla wineries is open–fair and square, as she drove me home last time) will have to try to remember how to drive a stick shift.

It was another beautiful day, hazy again from fires but less actually smoky. We woke to freezing temps again, and hastened to finish the morning’s hash browns & eggs and be off. Started with the only interstate section of our tour, thankful that it was downhill (though as full of rocks, bits of tires, and similar detritus as any interstate shoulder), and also thankful as usual for the courtesy and professionalism of pro truckers. Seriously these guys are great. I’d take a road full of truckers over any other drivers any day. On this trip we’ve had so many go out of their way to give us more room, even somehow coordinating with oncoming trucks. Thanks!

Anyway, we made it to La Grande and whiled away time there, back in civilization. Grabbed some essentials like beer and cookies, and stopped for coffee, tea & goodies at a lovely local coffee spot, complete with its zany owners and circle of old regulars.

After La Grande we rode east to Cove. We were in a flat valley, the first long stretch of flat land for a very long time. We rode past vast fields of sunflowers (sadly well past their prime) and other short green fields that made Julianne ask “what smells like toothpaste?” Turns out to have been vast fields of peppermint! Cove lies right at the bottom of the Wallawa mountains. There aren’t really any foothills here, the mountains just shoot straight up. It would have been a different experience on a clear day, but the haze was lovely as well, kept the mountains shrouded and secretive. We lunched in Cove at a park adjacent to the high school–funny to be drinking beer and eating cookies in what was essentially the back half of their playground.

The day progressed wonderfully but my thoughts return to home. Funny what I’ve missed (music, showers, heat) and what I haven’t (TV, work, most of the pastimes offered by the Internet). How I miss the city but have loved being outdoors all day every day. And things I simultaneously miss and do not, namely the news of the world, being connected with the happenings in Spokane, Seattle, the rest of the planet. I haven’t missed, one little bit, the daily updates on Obama and his challenger. And there’s something freeing about being ignorant of the news. But I’d do terribly as a contestant on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Fun as well to have gotten again to a place of being so in tune with my bike, Sweet Liza Jane. On these long rides you become so attuned, aware of every foreign squeak or rattle. It’s funny, there’s a bird out here who’s song sounds like a mechanical chirp, and it’s caught both Julianne and I looking down at our cranks trying to discern the problem. Just today leaving the coffee shop in La Grande I was aware that something was amiss, turned out to be a puncture in the rear tire from some very sharp road staple or something. My flat tire #2 for the tour.

The latter part of the day saw us coming through Imbler, population 300-and-something. Stopped first to check out the historical signs at the church, which explained that the building had been drug there intact from its original location several miles away. Then stopped at the town’s very nice mini grocery, and ended up chatting with several townsfolk on the way out. One was a rodeo champion with the belt buckle to prove it, just curious about our bikes and journey. Julianne and I have now such well-rehearsed answers to all of the standard questions. It’s so funny to be able to communicate with one another, wordlessly and almost instantaneously, that it’s my/your turn to answer the classic (but never unwelcome) question: “Where ya from and where ya headed?” Another interested local was a sweet older fellow who was waiting for his two girls, who told us all about other adventures to be found in these areas (a later trip, perhaps in the car), and the route we faced, and (proudly) how it went past the 1-room schoolhouse his father had attended. After collecting his kids and heading off he swung back around, explaining that his girls had insisted he come back and ask if we needed anything at all, even offering to do laundry! Floored, we declined–it’s only one more day. But wow, people are awesome.

After that we faced a long (something like 12 miles, rather further than the 8 miles that the map said. May not seem like much, but at 5 mph, at sunset, riding a 100-lb bike over a mountain, that feels like a long time) climb up Tollgate Pass, the final climb of this tour! We’re near the summit tonight at this National Forest Service campground. No potable water tonight, and no streams to filter water from–a first on the tour. Glad I’ve been toting around extra water for emergencies! Tomorrow a shorter day, a drive, a bottle of champagne, and our trip is complete. What a wonderful experience, but the past three weeks of amazing scenery, wildlife, and adventure have one defining highlight: I’m engaged to my sweet love Julianne!

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Day 19: Ukiah-Dale State Park to Hilgard Junction State Park

While Björn and I have historically had good luck with campground neighbors, last night proved an exceptionally exceptional exception. After the arrival of the neighbors, a hubbub of activity went on as we cooked and ate dinner. “Do you have a flashlight? What did you do with that clamp?”, all hollered over the roar of a propane generator. Quiet hours vary from campground to campground, so before bed, I checked. Our campground’s quiet hours were from 10p-7a. It was around 8:30 when we zipped the tent, both of us figuring that it’d be quiet soon. We fell asleep, but when we awoke at 3a, the generator was still whirring and clunking away. Björn knocked on the RV door once then a second time. From he tent, I heard “Who are you? The cops?” “I’m the neighbor here to complain about the noise.” (I later learned that the guy opened the door with a gun pointed at Björn’s chest.). The guy went on to explain that the RV was broken in some way and that they needed to keep the heat going because of his “premature twins” (we neither saw nor heard said babies). Eventually I got out of he tent and the three of us had a little heated discussion. A the end, the guy refused to turn it off and we went back, at least one of us seething in anger, and tried to sleep. Given that it was a cold, cold night, that was not easy. Miraculously, though, about a half hour later, the generator was silent. Björn’s theory today was that he went back inside and told his wife what had happened and she said, “Well they were totally right.” Whatever happened, we did get to hear the river and some early morning coyote songs, always a treat.

Hopefully we’ll have better neighbors tonight. Though it’s still early, it appears to be us and the camp host at this spot. Phew!

Our first activity this morning was to ride into Ukiah for a resupply. Björn had described to me the bizarreness of the town yesterday and I got to witness it myself. The Antlers Inn was in fact covered in about 50 pairs if antlers. The general/ liquor store was small but had all we needed. Outside, while we packed up groceries and munched on bananas, an older gentleman walked by with his chihuahua-dachshund cross, aptly named Shorty. We got to chatting about the dog and he asked if we’re Republicans or Democrats. Since he’d already mentioned Glen Beck, I knew no response was the best response. You feel kind of vulnerable on a bike and the last thing I wanted to do was have more people in his strange valley upset with us. He went on to say that Obama wants to turn us into a communist nation and how bad things would get. I said, “Some might say that things are already pretty bad.” He seemed content with that response. He then asked where we were headed after we told him, he responded with some pretty sage words: “Well it’s all downhill once you get to the top.” We parted ways and phew! On the road again! Moving away from weird Ukiah.

We continued heading up the same creek we’d followed at the end of yesterday. The air was smoky still from the fires and there even were little white flecks of ash on my black panniers in the morning. The climb, though not at all steep was my least favorite. I’d much rather a mile or two of steep than to ride for 20 miles to get to the same height, but you can’t change the road. We stopped and walked along a lovely interpretive trail along the Bear Wallow Creek and learned about steelhead trout-friendly stream repair. We have seen lots of riparian repair along many streams and rivers, though the amount of cattle grazing along the same rivers makes the repairs seem less serious.

After a few more miles of climbing, with only the last probably quarter to half mile being only sort of steep, we saw a pass elevation sign. Despite this pass being 900 ft taller than yesterday’s pass it was not indicated as yesterday’s was on our Oregon Bike Map, so we were pretty surprised to see the sign and even more so that it read 4881 ft! It’s kind of nice to get that high and not have really worked all that hard. The smoke got thicker as we climbed, so we were happy to zoom down into the valley below.

We wound past more ranch land where herds of cattle turned to watch us suspiciously. Some of them watched from yards with falling down houses and backdrops of forest fire smoke. We’ve seen so many cows this trip and so many in the road. The ones from last night were still in the campground. We heard them munching the long grass just outside our tent this morning.

We stopped for lunch at a bend in he Grande Ronde River and walked out to the river to find a rotting deer carcass stripped of head and meat by hunters. We walked upstream out of sight and scent and ate. During lunch, we watched a very fuzzy black and yellowy orange caterpillar explore the riverbank. We talked about how he moved like he was made up of a group of armies and how we are related, somehow, distantly to that caterpillar. We pressed along through the curves of the river. How delightful it was to be heading downriver again! We startled an osprey and watched him takeoff, mottled-brown and broad-winged to the other side of the river.

We arrived in our campsite to find it blissfully deserted and despite being right along I-84, sadly far away from a store where one may purchase a refreshing adult beverage and a bag of kettle cooked potato chips. Alas, at least we have the place to ourselves. We hunkered down on the grassy river bank for some reading and blogging and watched the birds. We saw what we think must be some sort of dipper — it stood in a shallow part if the river and periodically dipped his head and sometimes while body into the river. We also heard hawks screeching. When we finally saw them there were two and what we are pretty sure was a bald eagle. It’s still smoky here, but not in a chest-clogging way, so the sunlight has a pinkish sunset glow though we are still a few hours from sunset.

What a treat to just relax with by the river with my love.

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Day 18: Middle Fork CG to Ukiah-Dale State Parl

It was a day of down-up-down, a day of cold-hot-cool, of smoke, and with a special animal guest appearance. Who, you might ask? Owl will be revealed in time.

Not quite freezing when we rolled out of the tent. Cold temps make it hard to get out of the sleeping bag but easy to make haste with the rest of the morning’s chores.

The day seemed oddly hazy, and just seemed to get more so as we rode the lonely segment of the “Old West Scenic Bikeway”. Before long we realized–I could smell it & feel it in my eyes, and Julianne’s lungs could certainly tell–that it was smoke from a forest fire. We’re quite away from the fire back near Sisters, but with no Internet access here it’s hard to know. We carried on, just hoping we weren’t approaching some new fire.

The riding today was lovely. Lonely roads, no distractions today. Down the middle fork of the John Day river, then up Camas Creek, with only one real climb. High canyon walls again on either side.

Though we were on a highway for the afternoon it was almost deserted, just not a lot of people here or places for them to go. But we did see some great wildlife, including a first for Julianne and me: a great horned owl! I must have frightened it in its siesta, it launched itself from its tree near the road and noiselessly found a new perch further up, across the street, but almost posing for us. Too far to get any good pictures with the phone but Julianne had great luck with the Nikon. Amazing to see. Today we also saw ravens, Stellar’s jays, California grouse, kingfishers, flickers, and some pileated woodpeckers too! “Good eye!” Julianne complemented when I saw them. “I have always had a thing for redheads” I quipped back.

We didn’t push too much today, Julianne wanting to take things a little slow & carefully with the smoke vs her asthma. We’ve also been toying with our route for the trip’s last days, shortening most of them. Which led us here to the Ukiah-Dale SP. It’s between the towns of Ukiah and Dale. We came through Dale and stopped at the store. Yeah it’s one of those towns that is essentially just a store. And an odd one at that, a beat up & dirty kind of place, more of a taxidermy museum than a store. Not much on the shelves, even less that was of interest. But they did have ice cream bars. We both asked the proprietor about the smoke in the air and asked which fire it was from, and he said “Take your pick” and listed about 5 nearby fires.

After setting up camp Julianne stayed to set up and I took off on my unloaded bike for the 2 miles into Ukiah, looking for some adult beverages to accompany our chips & salsa. Ukiah’s a strange little town, I felt out of place because I wasn’t wearing green camouflage. Hunting’s very, very popular out here. Struck out on booze & came back to the campsite empty handed, but one of the stores did have a real ice cream counter and I was able to get myself a waffle cone, which I ate out on the front porch & watched the local color.

Came back to the campsite to find Julianne reading in the hammock, what a lovely sight. There’s also drama & hilarity. Drama with the neighbors, I guess we took their favorite site and they’re being passive-aggressive about it, pointing out to Julianne (after I left) that this site, with it’s extremely long back-in, should have been reserved for RV’s like theirs. The RV couple was also bickering from the moment they arrived. Now their friends have arrived, it’s a circus of dogs & kids & noise. But hilarity too, in than a group of 4 cows have also apparently checked in for the night. Don’t know where they came from but they seem happy.

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Day 17: Clyde Holliday State Park to Middle Fork Campground

Though today was a day of less riding than the last couple of days — 41 today vs. 64 yesterday and 71 the day before — we certainly made up for it with learning and socializing.

We awoke today late with a 6am alarm, so I cooked breakfast with the light of the morning bright enough to avoid the headlamp and candle lantern. (A note – candle lanterns are just awesome. I bought my first one in 1998 for a backpacking trip with my sister. I am now on my second and they are light, compact and give a great amount of light for reading or eating or snuggling.) We had the usual eggs & hashbrowns but did hear a pack of coyotes singing to the sunrise. What an eerily beautiful song. They made me think of my dear friend Rory and his coyote stories.

Off we set for a pretty quick ride into John Day. (The town is named for the river as is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. John Day the person, however, never actually set foot in this part of the state. He was a member of the Pacific Fur Company and, with another member of the company, was robbed of everything including his clothing at the mouth of the river where it flows into the Columbia. Apparently the story was told & retold enough for the name “the river where John Day was robbed” to become John Day River. Funny to be eponymous for a large part of the state for essentially getting robbed.) Our first stop in John Day was the Kam Wah Chung Historic Site. In the 1860s & 1870s, Eastern Oregon, along with the rest of the west, was gold-boom central. With the boom came Chinese emigrants seeking a way out of the famine and wars in southwest China and a better life for their families (left at home due to anti-Chinese immigration laws). They worked as miners; laborers in the mine camps, roads and railroads; domestic servants and ran laundries.

John Day due to its proximity to the mines in Canyon City had a large Chinatown which was home to 1000 Chinese men (smaller at the time in size only to Portland and San Francisco). John Day’s Chinatown was also home to Kam Wah Chung & Co, a general store/ letter writing/ labor shop/ bar/ game hall/ Chinese herbalist doctor’s office. When the mines were running, the two owners, Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On, made their livelihood selling to the Chinese. As the mines dried up and the other Chinese made their way home to China (again, messed up US laws — the Chinese Exclusion Act — or worse anti-Chinese violence by Americans) or to Portland or San Francisco, the Kam Wah Chung owners shifted their business model to include American selling goods to appeal to the dominant population left in John Day. An incident of Doc Hay curing sepsis in a prominent rancher’s son’s arm allowed his medical skills access to the non-Chinese population. They were highly successful, Doc treating people from far & wide (some even by letter) and Lung On in businesses ranging from car sales to banking to land owning. Lung died in 1940 and Ing in 1950ish, leaving their business to a “nephew” who sealed the building and used only part of it for storage. Eventually, he willed it to the City of John Day with the stipulation that it be used only as a museum. In the 1970s, the building was finally opened to reveal a time and cultural capsule, left as it was when Doc Hay left it in the late 1940s.

Now, it is an amazing museum. They offer guided tours of the store plus a well done interpretive center with more artifacts and exhibits about the Chinese in John Day, the history of the business (including $23,000 in uncashed checks) and what was going on nationally at the time. They even had artifacts from the Chinese temple that once stood in John Day. What once was a bustling Chinatown and home to 1000 is now a parking lot, pool and park with one building remaining to tell the important story of the Chinese role in the growing of the American West.

After our visit to the historic site, we encountered a lovely couple, also cyclists who had just come down from cycling and camping along the road we were about to ride. They gave us info on the road (no shoulder but virtually no traffic) and on camping (the first spot is terrible, no privacy, right on the road and the second spot is creepy and full of hunters but the third one, Middle Fork is awesome). They even gave us a site number, “Number 4 is the best site there and the neighbors were super. You should tell them that you met us!” We learned that they have a son in Seattle and that they live on a sailboat in Mexico half of the year. They’ve been exploring and camping in Oregon for the last month or so. What a life!

The next stop on our day of lollygagging was for lunch a a local joint called the Squeeze In. Looking at the menu, Squeeze Out might have been a better name. They served breakfast all day, which is a gluten free person’s paradise, and as a side instead of toast, one could get bottomless pancakes. Yes bottomless. I had a gloriously large breakfast for lunch, the Hamburger Steak. It was a big, juicy burger covered with grilled mushrooms and onions, served with two eggs, hashbrowns and a big bowl of melon instead of the bottomless pancakes. It was fantastically delicious (yay for beef in ranching country) and huge. Björn enjoyed his gluten-filled version of my meal, a burger with mushrooms & onions & fries.

Next up for the day was a ride up and out of the John Day Valley. After a quick stop for shade and a water top off in Prairie City, we started up and up. The sun at our backs and the lack of shade made for a hot and sweaty climb. We were happy for the oddest viewpoint we’d ever seen. The view of the Strawberry Mountains and the valley was incredible; the double life size covered wagon was odd yet a welcome shade source. It was nice to know that we had plenty of daylight left to take a shade break.

It you haven’t figured it out yet, we love to stop at roadside educational signs and get excited when we see those brown “Historical Marker” signs and stop at almost every one. We saw one of the aforementioned signs near the top of the pass and took guesses as to the nature of the site. Mine: gold mine. His: the great bear rampage of 1859. Reality: an interpretive trail along the old logging railroad. The engineer who designed the route had an ingenious solution to the steep grades the train required to go up and down over the multiple mountain passes it crossed. Instead of just going straight up or down, they used a series of short tracks and switches to allow the train to switchback its way up & down the mountains. Cool!

The descent was delightful, a quick 7 mile zoom to Austin Junction, once a stop on the railway we just visited, famous for Ma Austin’s pies sold to railway passengers. There’s only a cafe there now, displaying a large ice cream cone. Given that my love, Björn is an ice cream fanatic, we pulled in sadly found the cafe closed. But we did find three other cyclists, two day trippers and an obvious tourist, riding a recumbent trike towing a trailer. The woman of the day tripper pair was trying to get a lift to the top of the pass “I’ve been climbing so much the last couple of days, I just don’t have it in me.” Having felt that way in the past, I understood her sentiment, but I’ve always found out that it works better to just do the climb. It’s so satisfying to accomplish something that once felt nearly impossible. The other cyclist, the tourist, turned out to be a 43 year old retired Greely CO cop who had just had a total hip replacement in February. He said, “I was tired of feeling sorry for myself, so I decided to do something,” so he’s riding from Colorado to Florence on the Oregon coast. This gentleman was easily twice the size of the largest bicycle tourist I’ve ever seen. He said of his trike, “It’s the only way to get a 400 pound man and gear up a mountain. I’m slower, but I am doing it.” Wow. What a fantastically life-changing event for him. We said our goodbyes and headed off to our campground.

We found that our sailboat fiends had given us great information. The first was terrible and just as they’d described. He second plus two unmarked camps were full of pickup tricks with antlers hanging out the back and white bags with hanging off of poles. Not exactly the kind of spot we were looking for. While I like the idea of hunting, the actual practice of cutting off an animal’s head sounds and looks a bit gruesome to me.

We finally arrived at Middle Fork to find a quiet campground right on the river, with large private sites and fantastic neighbors. We chatted about PT (he’s a retired social worker who did lots of medical work) and bike touring. As I filtered water from the river, I heard kingfishers and several songbirds, I watched the water skaters scurrying about and heard deer munching along the bank. While filtering water is a time-consuming and tedious process, there is always great eye and ear candy on mountain streams and rivers. We enjoyed our usual dinner and headed off to bed early.

Thanks for reading!

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Day 16: Mitchell to Clyde Holliday State Park

It was another 5 am alarm for Julianne & me in Mitchell, another hash browns & eggs breakfast, another mountain pass to climb. A big climb first thing is actually great, gets the blood moving, gets me warm. But the descent took us back millions of years in geologic time. We came down into a river gorge (on what the road signs dub the “Travel Through Time Scenic Byway”) with increasingly high cliffs on either side, banded different colors and sometimes topped with basalt columns. We’d entered the Sheep Rock unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, named for the largest peak in the area, Sheep Rock, itself supposedly named for the sheep petroglyphs carved onto it by Native Americans. This area’s geology is unique. Over the last tens of million years there have been a long string of volcanic eruptions spilling lava and pyroclastic flow over the entire area. More recently hills have been formed, pushing up to the surface what had been buried tens of years of years ago. (An interesting side note: the rift in the earth that was the furnace for all of this activity is stationary, but the North American continent has moved westward. This rift now lies under Yellowstone). Like the nearby painted hills, the different chemical makeup of the various volcanic events color the resulting ash differently, so it’s easy to see different eras of volcanic eruptions. Trapped within each of these layers are thousands of years worth of soil, and all of the fossils therein, giving scientists a set of fossils from one geographic place but in distinct time ranges. Fossils of the plants show the tremendous variety of environments that this area has had, from jungle to heavily wooded forest to high desert. The animal fossils span almost the entire age of mammals, and so clearly show evolution at work. It was fascinating to see the fossil records of the ancestors and, more often, distant cousins of familiar species. The best part was sneaking into a lecture being presented to a group of high school students In an advanced geology class. The lecturer was a paleontologist at the center and a great lecturer, engaging & knowledgable. It was great fun to get a more thorough explanation.

After concluding our visit to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, we chatted a while with a motorcyclist who was curious about our trip. He turns out to be a nurse from Eugene, in a drug rehab clinic, just out for a few days of solo camping & touristing, not so different from us.

It was lunchtime so we headed just up the road to the Cant Ranch Museum, which also had picnic tables and water. After a nice big lunch we toured the museum. The land was first homesteaded, then purchased & the ranch house was built and the property run as a sheep ranch for a long number of years. The ranch house is now a museum about the history of European settlement of the area and of the sheep and cattle ranching days.

This evening we got here to our destination with some sunshine left and enjoyed what is likely our last shower until we get home. The sites between here and home all look primitive. Happy to be clean tonight though, and able to sleep in tomorrow ’til the late hour of 6!

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Day 15: Devil’s Post Pile to Mitchell City Park

We have nearly completed another magnificent day in the travels of Julianne & Björn. This morning, we rode along the Little Crooked River, through the high-walled canyon as the sun began to paint the walls with a pink sunrise glow. We startled deer munching plants along the river’s edge and heard songbirds announce the new day. We saw several great blue herons flying away from us, their necks in characteristic S curves. When we got out of the canyon, we came into ranch country, riding past pastures full of momma cows with their young calves. And one of he best parts was that as it was Sunday morning, we rode the 16 miles into Prineville before a car passed us.

Now the day wasn’t all perfect — we had some malodorous experiences. A skunk must have spent the entire night exploring camp. We awoke to the stench and heard the neighbor’s dog growling. We were happy to get out of camp and away from the stinkiness. After the ride into Prineville, we stopped for supplies at the local market and headed out of town. We rode past the Ochoco reservoir, which was extremely low and very, very stinky. It smelled like all of the waste from the cows upstream plus evaporation led to an extremely concentrated, lake-sized cesspool. We did not stop.

We made a mid-day water and lunch stop at a campground at the top of Ochoco Pass where we met a campground host who was very excited to see us. Apparently, we’re back on a major cross-country bike route, so he sees lots of us and even blogs about the cycle tourists he meets. He’ll have a photo of us up soon and we’ll give you that link.

After a delicious lunch featuring salami and the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen, we took off speedily down the pass past hills crowned with rocks. At one point, I said, “I feel like I rounded the corner and rode into a western movie.”. Gorgeous.

Our next stop was the Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. When we arrived, we lazed in the grassy shade near the information booth, which quickly became a nap. Energized by the cool and rest, we pressed on into the monument.

It is hard to describe the beauty of these hills. They are formed by the accumulations of eastwardly-blown ash from millennia of volcanic eruptions in the Cascades to the west. Then uplift and erosion happened, so the layers of ash are now visible. Because volcanic ash is poor soil, the hills are bare of any plants. The pockmarks left by raindrops give the hills a soft focus appearance. Here’s the kicker: the colors of the ash layers: pink sandwiching white stacked atop greenish tan flecked with bits of black which appear to ooze down the sides of the hills. It was absolutely stunning.

While there, we met a Belgian couple, also bike tourists. “Hey, we are doing what you are doing, just not today.” They were on a vacation from bike touring and had rented a car to see further away sites. We chatted about previous tours and learned that they rode through Iran, from Central China to Australia and New Zealand, among other awesome tours. They were inspiring, yet still shocked when we described this morning’s sunrise over canyon walls. They are heading along part of the route we completed last week, so we gave them tips on Crater Lake. It was so fun to meet other cyclists!

After leaving Painted Hills, we met yet another cyclist, this one, a single middle-aged man riding from Bozeman MT. To the Oregon Coast. He asked about the climb up Ochoco Pass and asked where we were heading and let us know that we were heading towards a great park.

Ah arrival! We made it to Mitchell and were greeted by the grocery shop keeper: “If you are hungry or thirsty, you’d best come in because I am the only store in town and only open for another 10 minutes.” We dutifully went in for end of day snacks of juice, chocolate milk, ice cream and beer.

The town lets folks camp in their city park for free. There’s running water, lush grass and restrooms with flush toilets, soap and even paper towels. It’s funny the things that evoke luxuries on the road. Like clean clothes. At this point, at least I can’t really smell them any more. 🙂

About an hour after getting into camp, in walks the single man we’d seen earlier. Apparently, he had a tire failure about 2 miles after seeing us. He hitched a ride back to town with he pastor and is sleeping in the church. He even found a motorcyclist who is going to help him get a tire. His day made me really, really happy that both of us travel with a spare tire.

As we get ready for bed, bats flit overhead and the creek through the park gurgles beautifully.

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Day 14: Bend to Devil’s Post Pile Recreation Site

Oh what a treat to spend a night on a real bed, indoors, with heat and running water (hot and cold!). And then this morning we woke early and visited the soaking pool, with the complimentary newspaper provided by the hotel. We’ve been on the road for about 2 weeks now and I feel so cut off from the news of the world. Surprised to learn of massive & violent anti-American protests in the Middle East, reaction to a movie of some sort? We’ve been out long enough that the paper assumes its readers know the basics of the big stories. After a nice soak we went out for a huge breakfast at a neighborhood cafe. Julianne called it a vacation from our vacation. I left Bend feeling clean and relaxed and ready to return to our trip. We also left Bend with much heavier panniers after yesterday’s trip to REI and this morning’s stop at Whole Foods. But now we have a replacement air mattress that doesn’t leak and enough pasta to last the next week. I’d never been to Bend before this trip and really quite liked it, friendly and fun and so many breweries!

After last night’s luxury it is now also a treat tonight to have such simple pleasures. I’ve got my feet in the Lower Crooked River, which is apparently a fly fisherman’s dream, I’ve seen them all along this shallow, fast river. We’re in a steep, windy canyon, the sun’s just gone behind the canyon walls. The water babbles, the wildflowers dance in the breeze.

After so many days of riding through forests we’ve today re-entered the high desert, scrub brush & scrubby juniper trees. What a difference!

It was a short day today, less than 40 miles with no serious climbs. It was still a little tough on Julianne, the smoke from the nearby forest fire playing havoc with her asthma. Hopefully that improves as we move further east. Right now we’re almost dead center in Oregon, and just a week left of our trip.

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Day 13: Cinder Hill Campground to St. Francis School, Bend OR

I am about to have dinner #3. Yes 3. The funny thing about bike touring is the ridiculous need to eat. This morning, we had hot cereal with peanut butter. Then two hours later, I had half a bag of gluten free cookies plus three handfuls of peanuts and raisins. Then we stopped for lunch and we had half a bag of potato chips, a package of sesame rice crackers with a half cup of peanut butter. Then we get into Bend and I have a burger on a gluten fee bun with coleslaw. Then a gluten fee (13″ or so) pizza with pepperoni & mushrooms. And now it’s going to be a bowl of brown rice with black bean and corn salsa, avocado and fried egg. I suspect that after this one I’ll be satiated. Dinner #3 proved more than I could handle, so Björn stepped in to finish the bowl.

We are staying tonight at the St. Francis Hotel in a super fancy room with side by side claw foot tubs and showers. We took showers and then baths and sipped champagne during our soak. We felt like royalty and finally we are really, really clean and it feels so good!

Our campsite last night was fantastic (except for the neighbors). We awoke and enjoyed watching the western side of the lake grow brighter as the sun rose. So cool to camp inside a caldera! We rode speedily down the 18 miles of the side of the volcano to stop at the Lava River Cave, 1.1 miles of lava cave that we explored.

We walked through a cave that was once a passage that carried molten rock 100,000 years ago. We saw remnants of once-molten lava solidified into lavacicles and lines on the sides of the tunnel showing areas where the lava sat at the same level for a while. We were thankful for our headlamps and rented propane lantern for the light to see the cavernous ceilings 30-50′ over our heads, the arches between once-separate stacked tubes and the sand formations caused by millennia of dripping water. The heat from the propane lantern was also lovely as it was only about 40° in the cave. I took some really interesting photographs as well. We’ll have to see how they turn out after some processing and on a larger screen.

After our soaks, we did the brew pub rounds in Bend. We started at the Deschutes Brewery which we visit in Portland whenever we go through because they have a gluten free menu featuring hamburgers and house-made GF beer. Yummy.

After Deschutes, we headed over to the Bend brewery where Björn had the One Loudah IPA (yup, it goes to 11) which he loved. We chatted with the bartender and asked him to judge the bike glove tan contest we’ve got going (I am obviously winning) and he plead the fifth.

The next attempted stop was the Boneyard Brewery which, sadly turned out to be the actual brewery, not a brew pub and the tasting room had been closed for hours. We then ambulated our way back to our hotel and had McMenamin’s food and drinks.

Though we could have seen a movie at the St. Francis Theatre, we hit the hay early, exhausted and happy after a wonderful day.

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Day 12: Big Pines to Cinder Hill Campground, Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Tonight we’re camping in the caldera of a seismically- and geothermally-active volcano! Julianne and I are at Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The volcano is gargantuan–roughly 1200 square miles–about the size of Rhode Island. The caldera is 17 square miles. There are two lakes inside the caldera which, like Crater Lake, are fed only by snow and rain. Our campsite is the furthest one into the caldera, right on the shore of the eastern lake, which is called, cleverly, East Lake. It’s so beautiful here, but just slightly disquieting that we’re inside a volcano.

It was a short day mile-wise to get here, but it was again a day of climbing. Our campsite tonight is the highest we’ve ever stayed at–6371 ft, quite a bit up from where we started the day. We also have, quite possibly, the world’s most annoying campsite neighbors. I sure hope they don’t burn this forest down. Yet they will probably think us the more annoying when our alarm goes off at 5:30.

Besides all the climbing today we made a few stops here inside the volcano. As we climbed we came to a scenic overview of the surrounding mountains, still able to see smoke rising from the forest fire near Sisters. After a lunch stop we checked out Paulina Falls, a double waterfall that streams out of Paulina Lake (the other of the two caldera lakes). Then at the visitor’s center to chat with the ranger, who told us to definitely check out the Big Obsidian Flow, which we dutifully did. It was amazing, this huge, huge mound of obsidian and pumice, the product of the last eruption here some 1,300 years ago. We followed the trail up and through it, marveling at the giant blocks of obsidian and the tiny trees that have somehow managed to find a toehold among the rock. Everyone we met along the route along the glassy rock was super friendly. First there was the fellow who wanted to tell us about his five heart attacks and recent bypass surgery and his wife’s back problems. Then the super stoned couple–she kept feeling the obsidian, remarking endlessly on its smoothness, while her partner responded totally incoherently to my attempts to make small talk. But everyone was, like us, utterly awed by our surroundings. We got to chatting with another group we met. The fellow I was talking with was, as is somewhat familiar, very curious about our bike tour and I was happy as ever to answer the same old questions. But then this fellow, an older man & very overweight (and very conscious of his weight & health) started telling me of his youth and time in Vietnam, reminiscing (is that really the correct term, for a time you aren’t thinking back fondly on?) of back when they had only one meal per day, and fended off that feeling of being feint-with-hunger with packets of honey. Amusingly he made me promise, with a handshake, that I would never become as overweight & out-of-shape as he. What could I do but make that promise to him?

We arrived at the campsite with plenty of light. Lakes just seem to call to Julianne, so we donned swimsuits & went for a brief but very refreshing swim, then sunned ourselves on the rocky beach.

I got to talk with my dad recently, who asked about the weather we’ve been having. Let me give today as an example. It was in the mid-20’s when we got up. It’s tough to get out of the sleeping bag on mornings like this. I pulled on most of my clothes–wool long johns, wool shirtsleeve tee-shirt (a birthday gift from my dad and step-mom, thanks again it’s perfect!), thick wool socks, wool cycling jersey, wool arm warmers, wool jacket, my knickers & rain/windbreaker jacket, ear warmer, wool hat & wool gloves. Julianne & I started the ride shivering, but the sun was up & was starting to warm us. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know that getting moving on the bike will eventually warm me up. After an hour or so we stopped to pull off a layer, later another. By mid-afternoon it was in the 90’s, and we were climbing a volcano, sweating. This evening we had our bracing swim but as the sun came down we raced back to the campsite to change back into wooly layers. The weather has also been, in a word, clear. Most days are perfectly, totally clear, not a cloud all day. Makes for cold mornings but so many stars at night!

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