Day 23-26 miles 740-1035 Preface:
Please excuse my delay in posting!after the desert when I had a chance to breathe I realized I had no service. All is well, we are great, stay tuned for the details of the last week.
We hauled ass! For the last four days we have made our way from Bend to Burns to Vale to the top of Keeney Pass where Joey and I repose as I type. It has been a crazy four days and I haven’t had time to write much so please excuse the jumbled post. The pictures speak volumes anyway. We are camped on BLM land at the top of the pass outside of Vale, OR with a glorious view of the sunset plays out over the upward rolling, high desert hills shining red and orange fading light onto the road we took up the valley below. Tomorrow we will cross into Idaho and on to the next phase of the race to Yellowstone. But to get here we had to do something stupid but necessary; we crossed the desert in a heat wave. But we did it with gusto and we had company.
The first day was a big one, our biggest yet in fact. We made it 85 miles! We woke up in our cushy campsite in Bend ready to hit the road after our rest days. I was feeling good about my ankle and our prospects as we set out into one of the most barren stretches of the trip so far. We made the real transition from Central to Eastern Oregon and that meant some major adjustments. For one we have learned that if there is no shade it’s not worth stopping and sometimes shade is 15 miles in between out here.
We upped our water capacity before leaving Bend and now I carry 8 liters fully loaded. This was a life saver out here too because it is not uncommon to go fifty miles without hitting a town. This first day we had crazy good conditions though so it was a good way to ease into the section. While it was hot (probably upper 80s) there were still clouds in the sky which gave us essential periods of less intense sun. We also had a bitchin’ tail wind and we were able to cruise at around 15 mph all day. I feel like this tail wind unlocked new powers of cycling within me. I have leveled up. When you are able to maintain the the speed of the tail wind exactly you hit a sweet spot. The grass is bending around you away from the wind but you exist in this weird calm limbo. You move forward as if you’re pulled along. Holding at 15 without peddling on a false flat uphill makes you feel like a wizard. It’s like drafting the earth.
That was our best day of weather this week though. The high desert of eastern Oregon is essentially a pattern of hulking plateaus and valleys. You roll over a couple crests going net down only to climb 500-700 feet up onto a plateau and do it all over again before rolling down into the next valley. It is beautiful country and it keeps you on your toes. We still kept our mileage up on the next few days though and pulled out days between 55-70 for the rest of the week. A lot happened that I won’t get to write about but I want to give you the highlights!
We encountered some wildlife in the desert. The first day of our desert section ended with a false flat section near the end of one of the many massive plateaus. I was drafting close behind joey and I heard a swishing noise on the ground. I looked down just in time to see joey pass his right pedal inches above a coiled rattle snake sitting on the 6 inch strip of road between the white line and the gravel. I made one of those guttural “uhhhhhhhhh” noises that signifies true fear and joey looked back and asked “Do I have a flat? What was that noise?” I told him how close he had come to loosing a foot (I should but don’t actually know very much about snake venom) and we marveled at our collective luck in not hitting the snake. I began to see snakes everywhere after that encounter. A surprising amount of snakes are hit by cars on state roads in Eastern Oregon. That rattler was the only live snake, but one of the dozen or so in the category we passed that day.
While passing near the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (yes the same one that was occupied by armed gunman last year) we encountered some of those species worth protecting. It is a birder’s paradise in there and some of the inhabitants whistled, trilled and warbled their way into our next tic as we rolled through the farmland that borders the preserve. One of my favorites was a pigeon sized bird with markings that resembled a black and white male mallard duck. They flew along next to me as I rode and dived in and out of my field of vision. These birds followed me for about a quarter mile each time before swooping off to attend to their bird business.
Our next wildlife encounter was with a small, funny, ground nesting bird named a killdeer. On our third night in the desert (first night: forest service road. Second night: Burns, OR.) we camped at a hot spring on BLM land outside of a town called Juntura. At that hot spring, after wading across the snow swollen Malheur River, you cross a wide field of dusty grey soil and river rocks. Within that field, almost invisible until you almost step on her is a small, cleverly patterned black and bite bird sitting on her nest. She stays invisible and quiet unless your path strays too close to her brood. If you c is that invisible line she will holler and scurry all around in a tiny, adorable, and harmless-to-things-as-large-as-humans way. But she was not the only new living things we spent time with that day.
We met another set of tour bikers going through the desert to Yellowstone from Bend! We first saw Maddie and Grant at our initial desert night campsite. They rolled down the forest service road we had chosen to end our big, 85 mile day on. At the time we were so beyond tired that we didn’t try to engage socially but rather took their presence as implicit validation of our day and route. The next day we saw them at one of our stops and figured they must be going the same way as us. We went over and introduced ourselves and of course Ru hammed it up and won some hearts and minds. We talked over routes and plans and for now we have some similarities. They started in the Bay Area, are motivated on the trip by a desire to find a new place to live more meaningfully/get out of the city for the next stage, and are on their first and second long tours respectively. They first told us about the hot springs the day we met but we were staying in Burns. We needed to do laundry and pick up a package from Joey’s mom (new phone!!!) and Burns was the only place big enough to accomplish both. We thought we might run into them again though because they are bound for Yellowstone too so when we saw them the next day at one of the only shade trees for 30 miles we stopped to chat and got to know them a bit more. We talked about gear and routes and how they overcome the various daily challenges of being on the road. They have been out for a few weeks longer than us so they had some good suggestions on ways to marinade on the road, the efficacy of warmshowers.org (an online community that is like couchsurfing for tour bikers), and the value of eating a whole pie. We camped together on the third night at the hot springs, rode a little together today and ultimately parted ways after spending 3-4 hours together waiting out the heat of the day in a park in Vale. If you are reading this now, sorry we went to the top of the pass tonight, hope you enjoyed the portobellos!
Now as the heat lightning rolls in and lights up the sky, I will lay back in the tent and enjoy the show.