"I yodelled and soaked for as long as possible".
Peddling the Dirt across North America
John Day, Oregon – New Meadows, Idaho
259.23 Miles – 417.19 Kilometres
Total distance ridden 782.49 Miles – 1259.29 Kilometres
No one was around in the morning when we left, we quietly had breakfast, used our host's pump and shuffled out of yet another no-name town.
Gossip had been rife in John Day, it had seemed the town was on edge waiting for a 40 000 strong bunch of alleged good-for-nothing hippies to arrive. They were called the Rainbow People and we encountered a few of them in Prairie City. They were loud, unclean and looked quite frightening. We just jumped on our bikes and got out of town, which was a shame, 'cause the town looked lovely. Perhaps we should have been a little slower to judge.
We were cycling along the U.S. Hwy 26, it was beautiful, but oh so hilly. I kept telling Sharon that 'I was so over these hills'. We were nearing the summit of a damp & steep 10km climb, when suddenly the skies opened and the rain start kicking us. With the little strength we had we fought our way onto a veranda of what looked like an empty log cabin. In fear of being shot, we had planned on a quick donning of our wet weather gear and then getting out of there. Halfway through the process a door opened and a woman walked out. Opps caught. It turned out to be the home of a military family, three generations came out to say hello to us and to hear our stories. They gave us a cup of coffee and made us feel very welcome. These were the first possibly moderate Republicans we had randomly met, I wish we could have stayed longer and learnt from them.
It was another kilometre or so to the top of Dixie Pass, it was easy cycling with a belly full of good coffee given by good people. From here it was downhill in to Bates. We stopped at Austin House and warmed up over a hot chocolate and yummy bowl of chilli. This time we got talking to a family from Spokane Washington who kindly gave us a water bottle to fill with milk from the shop for the next day's breakfast. Here we hung a left on to the Austin Spur. About 6 km up the way was Bates State Park and our evening's campsite.
It still seemed to be early in the season, the park was mostly empty with the exception of one corner claimed by what looked like a family group. They were flying their Republican Stars and Strips flag, they had their SUVs, RVs and ATVs. They looked perfectly happy and harmless riding and reeving their engines. Fortunately the unpowered tent sites were at the opposite end of the camp. We pitched our wee Big Agnes Copper Spur and started preparing tea. Right on queue a gentle rain started to fall. Not having reception on my phone I walked over to our only neighbours and asked if they new how long the rain will last. Quickly this elderly couple rushed over to our picnic table with a mini marquee and erected it whilst frantically apologising for their 45th. How the hang can this country survive? I mean something is fundamentally broken when half the country loves their 45th president so much they confuse him with God, whilst the other half hate him so much that they refuse to even mention his name. Both polls had total disdain in their hearts, but yet like all Americans could be lovely people. It was all just a bit weird and freaky for me.
Anyhow their names were John & Jean and they invited us over to share their campfire and enjoy that great American delicacy called s'mores. Chocolate, Graham Cracker and marshmallows roasted over and open fire. As the flames softened us, John opened up and shared his beautiful story. He had recently retired, his end of work project was to search for his birth parents. This evening under the stars, beside glowing embers he shared his journey of finding them. It was a very special and personal evening. We slept content and rested.
The next day was one of those stand out days for me. It was warm, bright and breezy day. We started with a nasty 7.5 mile climb up Tipton Mt. There had recently been bush fires in the area and plumes of smoke could still be seen coming from the ground. The smell was gorgeous, it was a mixture of wild onions, pine, flowers and wood smoke. The land was dry, the shrubs were blooming and the trees were providing shade. It was beautiful and a reminder of why we were doing this crazy trip. At the top we celebrated with a bag of potato chips.
It was a frenzied 9.5 km trip down. We stopped for our second breakfast to discover that yesterdays milk was dodgy. This was followed by another steep hill, bag of crisps and wild decent. Somewhere near the end of the day Richard found us again and together we stumbled upon the Union Creek Campground. We hesitated a little, but eventually rolled down the rough gravel road and found ourselves a pitch close to Phillips Lake.
We had not had a shower in quite some time, I was fighting my way out of saddlesore, so desperately wanted some refreshment and cleaning around those parts. We very timidly slipped our way in to the snow-filled lake. I yodelled and soaked for as long as possible. I am not sure if it was more or less than a minute, but it felt like a freezing invigorating forever.
In the morning Richard found himself with not quite enough food, so we shared ours over a very long and relational breakfast. However at the time I was very aware that this was a Sunday and Baker City was not far away, it had seemed an eternity since we had been to church and we were quite desperate to connect with other christians. It would have been rude for us to cut our meal short. As a result of this we had a very fast 20 mile head wind ride down to town. It was a little too far or too hard to peddle without a stop. At some random roadside gravel heap we paused for a loo break and stuffed in some warm chocolate.
Knowing that we were past the average church starting time, I told Sharon I would rush ahead find a church and come back out to the road and guide her in. I put my head down and pedalled my butt off. As I entered Baker City I spied two churches with full carparks. I sped in to the one on my side of the road. Threw my bike on it's stands and barged through the door. The first thing I heard was a full band playing worship songs that I knew, tears instantly came to my eyes. In desperation I frantically scanned the lobby for a clue of what to do next. I man started walking towards me. Panic ridden and without offering a greeting I blurted out 'quick, we have two fully laden bikes I need a place to store them so we can go to church'. The person I was speaking to happened to be both a pastor and a cycle mechanic, he understood instantly and said 'put them in my office'. I rushed outside to see Sharon about 200 metres down the road. I jumped up and down and screamed at the top of my lungs 'Sharon hurry'. She could see my excitement and stepped on the gas for the final yards. Luke who I had met moments before helped us push our cycles in to his office, cleats and all we rushed in to the sanctuary. We were twenty minutes late and managed to catch the last few worship songs. We sat near the back and according to Sharon I said a little too loudly 'remember we smell'. Thank you Baker City Christian Church you were an Godsend.
Luke and his wife Courtney had a guest house and offered it to us, we gladly accepted and eagerly took a shower. We spent the afternoon shopping before joining their extended family for a Father's Day meal. Luke and Courtney had worked with the homeless for our denomination in San Francisco and she was an artist of Lithuanian decent. These people were our people. This visit was sadly way too short and it was with heavy hearts that we left this beautiful family behind, but Boise and a deadline was calling.
We left following the rather quiet 86, it was pleasant riding first thing in the morning. We came a cross a farm house with a woman doing her garden, we asked her if we could sit under her tree and have our second breakfast. She kindly agreed and even offered to fill our water bottles with fresh cold water. From here the wind turned to head on and the temperature soared to over a hundred. Especially for Sharon it was hard yakker cycling in to Richland, I rushed ahead and purchased a cold drink and some chocolate for her. I returned to find her rather grumpily sitting at the side of Eagle Creek waiting for me. We cycled together until we found an air-conditioned cafe. We took a seat and ordered a chilli and ice cold root beer. They had a free refill offer for their sodas, over the next couple of tired hours I probably sunk about 10 ice cold drinks Eventually we felt compelled to leave Shorthorn Restaurant. We ambled back to the Eagle Valley Grange Community Park. The park had a large stage with many undercover picnic tables, we found a spot in the shade with a slight breeze and started preparing our evening meal.
Just as we were doing the dishes a number of pickup trucks supporting boot, belt-buckle and hat wearing cowboys arrived. They were setting up the place for a church youth camp. This event fortunately for us was starting the next day.
I watched them get a little frustrated trying to pitch a number of modern synthetic tents and decided to use my superior Scouting skills and give them a hand. I couldn't really understand why these guys were struggling so much, it seemed like quite a simple task to me. When we had finished it was time to erect a heap of canvas shelters over ridgepoles lashed to uprights. I the super-scout started to unroll a rope. Whilst I was farting around trying to untie it, ridgepoles were flying in to position, lashing were flying there way around poles, canvas was flying over the ridges and large rebar tent pegs were seemingly flying in to the ground. Rather embarrassingly I handed my rope to the nearest cowboy.
Then some of them gathered around us and thanked God for the day, prayed for the camp and prayed for our trip. The pastor who was also helping told us if we wanted to we could sleep in any of the tents. We chose to sleep on the soft carpet, deep in the stage. During the night there was a strong electrical storm. I lay awake snug and dry watching lightning fork it's way across the sky. It was beautiful.
We were up at 5 in the morn trying to beat the heat. Unfortunately we got up and kept on going up for at least 10 miles. We had a rather quick decent in to Pine and even got to watch a plane take off on a wee airstrip. We ate our second breakfast in front of an information board.
By now according to my barometer it was over 50 Celsius and way too hot. We were riding into head winds that made the downhill feel like we were climbing again. Eventually we stopped for Gatorade at Scotty's Convenience Store. We stuffed as much ice in our bottle and thermos as we could, before heading out in to the punishing heat. Oddly enough we could still see snow on the mountains.
This area was called Hells Canyon and it sure felt like the devil himself was breathing on us. Sharon was caught out as we entered the Brownlee Oxbow Highway by a nasty little climb. She promptly jumped off and pushed her way up the side of the damn. The Snake River probably looked beautiful, we didn't care, it seemed as if the hair-drier wind had turned in to us again. Somehow I had screwed up our daily distance and it ended up being an extra 11km to our campsite. We stopped numerous times to eat and drink. Two miles before the finish we stopped for lunch. Tired, windblown, hot and extremely cranky we finally left Oregon and crossed in to Idaho. Right on the border was Idaho Power's McCormick Campground, it was the first of two campsites and our resting place for the day.
The campground was beautiful, lovely watered green grass flanked by leafy, lazy river trees, again it was beautiful. We paid via the honesty box. I asked the camp warden 'where are we allowed to put our tent'? His reply was 'that we could put it on any pitch'. Perfect there was a lovely shady spot under the trees right by the river. We threw our water bottles in the cold river hoping to chill them, hung a clothes line for our washing and proceed to sit, relax and cool down.
We had just started cooling off when the camp warden drove up on his golf buggy and stated that 'we couldn't camp there'. I asked 'where can we camp'? He repeated 'on any pitch'. I'd never heard this term 'any pitch' before, to me it means 'anywhere', so I asked him 'exactly where are these pitches'? He pointed to a gravel parking-lot in full sun, I walked and had a look, I tried to push our 20cm aluminium tent pegs in the stones. There was no way we were going to be able to pitch our tent in these spots. So I returned to his RV and discussed other options. We simply were not allowed to erect our tent on the lovely grass. What was decided was that we could find a spot out off the campground, pitch our tent and walk back in to use the amenities. If we hadn't already paid we would have just left and gone to the RV park up the road. We were on a riverbed at the base of a dam, everywhere was covered in chunky gravel, there was no way we were going to get a tent up. My next idea was to just not bother about our tent and sleep under the stars.
Because again there was no cell coverage I wondered over to another camper who I was aware had been watching us and asked if he new the overnight weather forecast. He graciously asked me 'why, what is going on'? I told him our story. He was a little annoyed by it and suggested that we sleep on the cots in his recently vacated awning. We were very thankful for this good Samaritan. We wheeled our bikes over. Our new friend gave us deck chairs a little food and a large bottle of Gatorade each. It was only then that we realised we were severely dehydrated. A lesson learnt, soon after we purchased rehydration tablets and fell in to the habit of using them regularly.
Sharon was a little anxious about the climb out of the dammed river valley, we managed to lesson the pain by stopping at a diner halfway up and enjoyed a large pancake second breakfast. Here we met up with a couple cycling on a tandem, they shared about their horrible time in Hell's Canyon's other campground and gave us some ice for our Thermos.
Three quarters of the way up the hill we were stopped by the wonderful campers who had given us a bed the night before, they encouraged us and gave us fresh cold water. Two miles later we summitted.
We had an amazing experience on our tailwind decent into Cambridge, Idaho. We encountered a plague of 'Mormon Crickets'. Like thousands and thousand of them flying through the air and hopping across the road. It was impossible to not run them over. The popping sound they made under our tyres was quite surreal.
Glad to be out of Hell and quite relaxed we rolled in to the beautiful wee town of Cambridge. As we entered we found a tiny town park with a high water-tower, toilets, shelter, running water and a beautiful, gorgeous sign that read cyclists were welcome. It felt like climbing out of hell into heaven.
We parked up, cooked lunch and because I was having trouble with my gears called the local bicycle mechanic. He turned up, took one look at our much loved Hungarian Gepida bicycles and stated that he did not want to work on European bikes. Wasn't really a problem, I did a quick fix myself knowing we were only a few days away from a full bike service in Boise.
We cycled down town and looked in a few of the cutsie shops. I wondered into a fishing shop, that kind of sold cute things including guns.
This is an excerpt from my trip dairy. It is a conversation I had with the shop assistant in the shop.
Female Shop Assistant: Do you carry a gun with you on your bike?
Me: No we carry beer spray
Female Shop Assistant: I guess it would be difficult in states where you cannot carry a concealed weapon.
Female Shop Assistant: When I am in Ontario, Oregon there is nothing more embarrassing than walking into a bank and realising I have my gun in my purse. I quickly run outside and put it in my glovebox.
Me: Is it legal in Oregon to carry a gun in your glovebox.
Female Shop Assistant: I don't know, I just don't want to set of any alarms in the bank and have to explain myself.
As soon as I could I rushed out on to the street, found Sharon and told her of the conversation, we were both once again in hysterics and dumbfounded by American gun culture.
Anyhow it was time to celebrate completing our first State. We found ourselves sitting at the back of a local bar being served Bend Oregon IPAs by an overly tattooed woman. We were told the toilets weren't working but we could use the 'plastic shitter' out the back. I loved this little hick town and even saw a cowboy jump out of his pickup wearing spurs.
Exhausted and relaxed we were back under the the water-tower and in bed my 7:30.
The next day was rather straightforward undulating and predominately uphill. We did stop for a plate of chips near Tamarack, our lovely host was convinced that the hardest and most dangerous section of our trip was the day after next, he kindly offered at a price to save our lives and drive us through. We new it was going to be a bit narrow and that it was going to be a long day, however we easily decided not to accept his kind opportunistic offer. He was not the first to tell us the road ahead was the worst so far.
We cruised in to New Meadows a day ahead of schedule and after searching for a campground, pitched our tent behind the toilets in the town park. The village was an interesting place, it seemed to be straddling the intersection between service and tourist town. It had enough people to feel save but not enough to feel crowded.
We had a longer sleep than usual, downed out tent, found a lovely cafe for coffee and Subway for lunch. As the afternoon drew on I started tracking our friend Julie's phone until eventually it ended up at our town park. This was a reunion of old friends, about 15 years previously Julie, Lisa, Sharon and I had all gone to the same college together in Scotland. We had met numerous times since then. This was not to be a catch-up, we had cycled about a 1000km detour to see them, this was to be a time of hanging-out and forming new memories.
Knowing us and our needs well, we were driven straight for a shower and then to a burger joint in McCall. Daily we craved carbs and protein. Beef, bun, fries and an Idaho IPA was the perfect fix to celebrate the end of stage 2 before being driven towards Boise.
One of the things I like about tour-cycling is that we always get to sleep on the same bed. In our case it is twenty year old Therm-a-Rests'. It is just the ground underneath them that keeps on changing. This evening in Star, Idaho we slept for the first time in a very long time in a bed, room and house that we had slept in before. It felt fantastic.
Day 1 with Julie and Lisa was spent mostly doing that horrible time consuming admin. Backing up photos, writing the blog and speaking the vlog. We spent the evening having fun in the sun at the rodeo.
Day 2 was a Sunday, we spent a lovely time catching up with old friends from the Boise Vineyard and in the afternoon I gave a creative writing seminar.
Day 3 was my birthday, I scrambled around three bike shops getting them serviced and buying parts for Sharon's bike. The thread on the inside of her frame supporting the rear rack had come loose.
Long-distance cycling is relatively cheap, for us the most expensive thing outside of airline tickets is food. We simply consume bucket-loads of the stuff. So this birthday evening at Lisa's family home we invited our friends around and I gave a story and poetry performance. Sitting near the door was a jar, where people who wanted to donate to help alleviate my craving for carbs and Sharon's craving for protein could do so. It was a lovely birthday party and a lovely catch up.
Day 4, we visited McCall's Ponderosa state park for a walk and then were driven back to New Meadows, finishing off the evening eating at an A&W Gas Station. We spent the night in a dodgy motel.