Friday, October 21, 2011

Days 81-85: Eastern Parts of West Coast States, Washington and Oregon Riding


10/13 Day 81: Winchester, ID to Pomeroy, WA 74 miles (4086 miles)

            The sun once again refused to rise today, and it promised to be another gray day of riding, but one that would at least offer us a nice long descent to start our day. We packed things up quickly and got out of the park in short order so that we could make our way to the gas station just a half mile or so away. We had some coffee and ate granola at the only table in the store, which was right in the middle of the place, so we had our hobo picnic right in everyone's way. Once we'd eaten our fill and were ready to go back out into the chilly morning, we cleaned everything up, threw on some warm clothes, and made our way out of town. The road out of Winchester was in pretty poor repair, covered in potholes and cracks, and made for some rough riding at first. Things improved as we made our way further out, and after a short while we found ourselves on the brink of a 2,000 ft descent on a wild, winding road.  The view of Idaho's rolling, golden hills (that honestly reminded me of big potatoes without any prompting) was commanding from our vantage, and the landscape seemed a little less drab today than yesterday- even if it was all in my mind. We zoomed down the hill, and it was a sweet reward for our whole day of climbing the day before. It was still kind of a hard pill to swallow, having to cash all our climbing chips in at once for a big splurge like that, but, obviously, I had no choice in the matter. We descended for probably  nearly 8 miles on the crazily curving road until it spat us out back onto State Road 95 where we paused at a gas station to collect ourselves and warm up with a cup of coffee.
           In front of the gas station, there was a very friendly little orange cat who seemed extremely laid back and quite happy to be pet by all of us. The clerk inside said that he was a stray and she was just feeding him. We sort of fell in love with the little guy, and I named him Happy Birthday because it was the day before Erin's birthday. We told the shop attendant that if she kept feeding him for a month, we would come back and get him when we drove through on our return trip to the west coast. She agreed, and hopefully Happy Birthday can avoid the rushing traffic in the area until we come to claim him. From the convenience store, we set off from 95 and got on a backroad that would take us out of the Nez Perce Reservation, through Hell's Gate State Park (which didn't look hellish in the slightest), and all the way to Clarkston, Washington. Clarkston is one of a pair of twin cities, the other being Lewiston, and was our gateway in to the West Coast states. Naturally, the first thing we did upon arrivng in Washington was sample some of their varied local cuisine. The McDonald's we ate at was very nice.
          Now that we'd arrived in a West Coast state, our overall mood improved, and it was a sweet thought that the huge rivers we were riding along would all flow into the Pacific from where we were. That made our arrival seem somehow imminent, that these waters were a direct connection to the sea and all we need do was follow them. From Clarkston, we followed the Snake River out of town until we began our daily requisite thousand or so foot climb. We chugged up the long incline, which didn't really have much to offer as far as scenery goes while we climbed- just more of the same sagebrush covered, rolling high hills. I realize that- at 1-4,000 feet- these hills are mountains, but, to quote our friend Charlie, "Those aren't mountains; those are just some li'l ol' lumpies." Once we'd crested the hill, we stopped briefly, then headed downhill toward Pomeroy. Pomeroy was only a few miles away, but we were still chasing daylight by the time we rolled in to the Pomeroy Fairgrounds, where the police had told us we could set up camp for the night. It was an ideal situation, because it was free, had shelter, power, and showers. We made the most of our sweet digs, showered off, and enjoyed the sound of rain hitting the roof over our tents as we slipped into sleep.

10/14 Day 82: Pomeroy, WA to Dayton, WA 47 miles (4133 miles)

             For Erin's birthday breakfast, we had some bagels and candy (of course) and Mandi presented Erin with a birthday cupcake that had a B with a bee on it stuck into the side. We decided that since it was a special occasion, we should go for a nice long bike ride together, and carry all our things with us- so we did. We got out of the fairgrounds at a fairly reasonable hour, and were planning to make it all the way to Walla Walla that day. I had never been to Walla Walla, and until now, had somewhat doubted that a Walla Walla, Washington ever really existed outside of a limerick. The day was, again, a bit uninspiring in regard to our surroundings. We had all, thus far, been so amazed that every state seemed to have its own distinct look. Washington, however, looked a lot like western Idaho...which looked suspiciously like southern Wyoming, and suffice it so say, we were a little put off. I don't know what I imagined Washington state to look like, but I knew that I wasn't seeing anything close to my most distant reckonings. We continued down the hill from Pomeroy along Rt. 12, which we'd been following since Montana. The road itself is generally poorly shouldered and well-travelled, and this day was no exception.
          We followed the not-so-direct road as it took us first northwest, then sharply south through the wild, winding acres of brown and gold. This, it seems, was grain and cattle country, and all the small hamlets we passed proclaimed their grain co-op's name in big bold letters. The fields we did see were already harvested and down to their winter stubble. Everywhere we stopped though, had a bit of a buzz to it, for reasons we weren't really sure of until we reached Dayton- a tiny, but charming town about 20 or 30 miles from Walla Walla. We stopped in at a little place called the Country Cupboard- which finally (FINALLY!!) wasn't spelled Kountry Kupboard. I don't know how, at all, this hasn't yet come up, but the amazing preponderance of businesses I have seen in thousands and thousands of miles that think it's cute, clever, or even acceptable to spell "C" words with the letter K blows my mind: Kid's Kabins, Kountry Kitchen, Kozy Korner, et cetera, et cetera. It absolutely drives me up a wall, and I can't think of any situation that I would give one of those businesses my money. This Country Cupboard, however, was both affordable and delectable, and was spelled properly to boot. It was here that we learned the reasoning behind the buzz in these small towns, too.
        As we were eating our lunch, a small, chubby boy of about 13 I'd guess, walked in and bought an ice cream. The woman behind the counter knew him by name, and asked if he'd be in again tomorrow for his sherbet. "No. Huntin'," was all that escaped his mouth from around the ice cream cone and he waddled out. Hunting season opened the next day in Washington, just as it had opened a week or so before in Idaho, and RVs and trucks with ATV's in the back and rifles in the window were like a plague on the highway. As we ate, we also began to try to make arrangements for our stay in Walla Walla, which is actually a college town (something none of us knew), and that never bodes well for us. As we've made our way across the country, we've noted that when camping is scarce- as it was in Walla Walla- the police are very unlikely to be too friendly if they're in a college town, because their good will has been spent by rampaging drunk pseudo-adults and their hijinks. We found all the campgrounds in Walla Walla were private, and closed to tenting, and the police told us that no overnight camping was allowed at all in city limits. So, we decided to say, "Screw you, Walla Walla" (which is actually kind of fun to say- go ahead and say it out loud) and just spend the evening in Dayton celebrating Erin's birthday by eating pastries and drinking beer.
Ben and Mandi smart-phone voraciously in the desert.
          We managed to get some laundry done, I updated the blog at the local library, and we reconvened at the Book and Brew, a book store and brewpub, for drinks. After some nachos and a big quesadilla that fed us all, we chatted for  bit before we finally wrapped everything up, collected our laundry, and set out of town the 7 or 8 miles to the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. On the way out of town, I was the fortunate recipient of flat tire 17, which was a tag team effort between a big thorn and a big rock. We were going to get there just after dark, but now we were simply going to be doing most of our riding in the dark. Once we did finally get to the park, it was packed with campers and RVs hungrily awaiting their chance to go hunting. As we wound down the day, we listened to hunters tell tales about friends of friends' guns and the whine of RV electric generators lulled us to sleep.

10/15 Day 83: Dayton, WA to Hat Rock State Park, OR 71 miles (4204 miles)

             We had another bagel breakfast to kick things off in the now completely empty campgrounds. All the hunters were out bright and early trying to nab some game, and we were out just as early as we could be to climb the hill the lay between us and Walla Walla. We ducked off of Rt. 12 after Waitsburg to begin our ascent,  one of only 500 feet or so vertical, and we glad to be off the congested highway. When we reached the top of the hill, we were met by a group of maybe 5 or 6 cyclists heading the opposite way. They were, we gathered, part of some cycling club at the college in Walla Walla and they had just finished their side of the climb when we came upon them. "Some hill, huh?" they asked Ben. "Well... not really," was about as dry a response as he could muster. We related to them, quickly, our experiences with the WWPD and camping in town and they said we could've crashed on their dorm rooms floors, which was generous, but even we homeless vagabond bicyclists have standards. We descended from there in to more of Washington's tarnished gold hills, and were passed by a few trucks jammed full of men in orange day-glo hats and jackets 'hunting' from the seat of their cars. They would pull over, all pile out, and then look around intently with their binoculars- all of them hefting rifles, of course. They would stare at the two or three does in the field for 15 minutes or so, when we would pass them, and then pile back in to the truck and leap frog us for the next deer voyeur session to come.
             When we got to Walla Walla, we intended to basically just blow through town, but then we saw a grocery store and decided to take a pit stop for supplies and lunch material. I had never seen a Safeway before we got to Montana, but Safeway grocery stores are awesome (maybe just because I've been starving every time I've been in one). Outside of this one, we chatted with some very friendly folks doing a food drive for needy kids and ended up donating a few packages of our unused pancake mix to lighten our loads and do a good deed for the hungry Walla Wallans. We left town with a much higher opinion of the city and its people than when we entered, even though one of the nice women out front of the store had said, "Yep, gloomy and miserable, that's Walla Walla," after we mentioned the rain lately- and the fact that the sun refused to shine on us basically wherever we went.
Very strong.
      After Walla Walla, it was only a short 18 miles to the Oregon border, a landmark we've been eagerly anticipating for months now. We knew that there, too, we would encounter the mighty Columbia River for the first time and hoped that with the abundance of water would come a change of scenery. As we neared the river, a ridge covered in a vast field of huge wind-turbines came in to view. This ridge was the edge of the Columbia River Gorge, where the flowing water has etched its path. We slowly made our way around the ridge, and, finally, to the water. The Columbia seemed like an ocean in itself, and its wide body stretched around a bend to our north and proceeded around another as it made its way to the sea to our southwest, creating a long, wide viewscape of nothing but water and high, scrubby hills.  Not long after our first glimpse of the river, we made it, at last, to Oregon. We toasted with a few beers, took some pictures, and rested for a minute on the railroad tracks to take in the scene around us. The river flowed by, meandering and ponderous, the hills stood ageless watch over its banks, and we four transients sat on a railroad track, eating candy and drinking beer.
       It wasn't long, though, til we were back on our bikes, a bit invigorated by our little victory for the day. We rode on at high(er) speed until we found Hat Rock State Park. Hat Rock, as best we could tell, is a little basalt pillar on the riverside that, if you squint, looks something like a hat. We eschewed the free camping a few miles before the park, because we'd been told to watch out for the junkies and other outcasts who had basically taken up residence there, and went for the fee sites next to the park. We had a little feast  of bread, pasta with shrimp and teriyaki sauce, and a beer apiece to celebrate being in Oregon, and then we fell back in to the nightly routine of showering, organizing, and slowly getting more tired by the fire until it was 9:30 or so, and bed time.

 10/16 Day 84: Hat Rock State Park, OR to West Roosevelt, WA 63 miles (4267 miles)
           
            Where the day before we had been excited, because we would be entering Oregon, today we were all a bit nonplussed by the fact that we would be re-crossing the border in to Washington, where we would ride another 85 miles or so until we could re-enter Oregon for good. The reason for or crossing was that I-84 dominates much of the Oregon side of the river, and we wanted to avoid our eventual fate of bicycling on the highway for as long as we could. If we'd known how crappy the road was on the Washington side, we probably would have rather taken the highway, but how could we have known. We rose, ate breakfast, and got on the road quickly, if slightly unenthusiastically. The scenery around us had gone from golden and rolling to brown, rocky, and totally devoid of life. As we made our way through the day's miles, we began to see that Oregon and Washington had made wise decisions when they designated the few large swatches of land north and south of us for the two things the barren land was good for: wind farms and ordinance testing. If there was little to see, there were even fewer human settlements in this part of the state. We passed a couple three and four building towns that used to have cafes or gas stations, but those businesses which were still recognizable seemed to have already shut their doors for good.
Not good for much other than wind farms.
Mt. Hood looms in the distance.
           We had hoped to really fly through this part of the state, and had ambitiously plotted a 90 mile course for the day, but as things progressed, we realized that would be far out of our reach by the time night fell. Rough road conditions and a light, but steady headwind made it feel like we were riding through mud, and we ground our way through the miles as terrain and time seemed to crawl by. We hardly made any stops on this section of the ride, because of the paucity of any kind of inviting areas to do so, be it a grove our shade trees or a wayside gas station. The only place we did take a rest was at an community church in a tiny town we'd hoped to buy some lunch. The woman there was around 80 and very chatty and kind. She tried to give Mandi a few bottles of water, and when Mandi refused, saying she could simply drink tap water, the woman insisted by saying, "No, no, please take them. I don't even like cold water."
          We made a lunch of the assortment of snacks and food in our panniers, and then were off down the blasted river valley again. Eventually, we made it to Roosevelt, WA, where there is a bar, a convenience store, a park, and a few houses. We skipped the bar, and went straight to the store to find some food. After some ice cream, we all felt a little better about the tough ride that had our knees and backs aching. We rolled down the hill to the fishing access and park, where we could camp for free, and set up right on the banks of the Columbia. We threw something together for dinner, and found ourselves asleep early yet again, all yearning to finally be at the ocean.

10/17 Day 85: West Roosevelt, WA to Mosier, OR 70 miles (4337 miles)

             The drab landscapes and monotonous riding were beginning to take a toll on our collective sanity, I think, as we slogged through the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington. I found myself counting the miles as they ticked by on my bike computer, and at each featureless, highway incline where truck after truck would whizz by, I would find myself enjoying the ride less and less. We hoped that, somehow, things would change. Where was the the gorgeous pine forest we'd seen in Idaho, where were the beautiful river valleys of Montana? If everyone across the country had told us Oregon was beautiful and that we would love it, why was it just not that nice?
           We ate some cereal on the curb by the convenience store for breakfast after we'd ridden up the mile or so from camp. The old lady running the shop there gave us some apples and bananas for the ride, and we headed out. We knew we only had about 36 more miles or so on the poorly paved road that ran on this side of the river, and only 36 miles left until we passed back to the Oregon side, which somehow comforted us all. We averaged around 8 or 9 miles an hour to cover the day's first leg of riding, and didn't cross the river until about 4 hours were elapsed. We were glad to be back in Oregon, and took lunch at a truck stop in Bigg's Junction. The road from there was the old scenic highway 30, that we would ride on and off all the way to Portland. Interspersed with the sections on 30 were portions of riding on the interstate. We didn't know exactly where we would end up for the day, since there was no campground or park where it was legal to camp between us anywhere closer than 100 mile ride for the day, but we knew we would find something, as we have for so long. Riding on the interstate actually proved to be somewhat relieving for us, because the road was smooth, direct, and fast. We shot over the debris-strewn blacktop at double the speed we'd been making the last couple days. When we pulled off the highway for what would be the last time that day, it was with the intention of riding on just a few more miles past a town called The Dalles (The Dalz, is how you're supposed to say it) and stealth camping in one of the state parks down the road.
            When we arrived at the entrance to the park, we noticed there was a pair of cyclists behind us, so we waited up for them to ask if they knew anything about the area. The couple made there way to where we stood waiting, and, when asked about the area, the man stopped and immediately began extolling the virtues of the upcoming mile or so of riding we had to do. He was a Canadian fellow, and said he often came down to Oregon to ride the hill we were about to go up, and the sections of scenic highway that lay beyond. He told us that the road we were on led up to Rowena Crest- which we were just about to ascend- and it was built "back when cars were shitty" and couldn't climb very well. It was supposed to be a beautiful ride, and  one he recommended we do a few times today if we had time, and again in the morning.  We were, of course, pretty skeptical of his enthusiasm, given the nature of the surrounding area we'd ridden through to get where we were. The man also said that our ride to Portland, which was at this point less than 100 miles away, would be one filled with fantastic natural sights as we rode through rainforest, saw waterfalls, and all the rest. When they left, we figured why not see if he was right about the beauty of this climb, and just go for it, even if the sun would be setting in another hour or so. We decided we could just find somewhere to camp along one of the upcoming bike paths if we had to.
The scenery transformed, trees overlay the yellow,
patchy soil.
           The man turned out to be dead on about the climb up Rowena Crest. It was as if someone had flipped a switch from miserable desert to gorgeous forest. As we climbed the land around us changed, foot by foot. We crawled up the little switchbacks that were crammed against the side of the ridge, but as we did the trees became more and more numerous, with more and more undergrowth filling the gaps between them. To make things even better, about three quarters of the way up the hill (which was probably about 800 feet of elevation gain in the mile or two) a couple in a black Subaru with a bike rack pulled up next to us and told us that they lived just on the other side of the hill, and would love to host us at their house for the night since they themselves were avid cyclists. Buoyed further by this development, we were practically ecstatic. Once on top of the hill, we scampered around and took pictures of the now-lovely state around us, then zoomed down the other side to the house of Chad, Anna, and their 5-month old baby, Bjorn.
It's good to be in Oregon...
        Chad and Anna used to live in Portland, but moved out to the area near The Dalles because they love area surrounding the town. They said they used to leave Portland every weekend to recreate out there, so they figured why not move that way. Their house is also on a lovely piece of property tucked into a little canyon just on the other side of the ridge. They raise chickens, their child, and have a huge garage full of fun outdoor toys- most of which are bicycles. They were great hosts and let us shower, do some laundry, use their kitchen, and they gave us a room upstairs to sleep in. We hadn't stayed in someone's home since my cousin's place in Denver, and it was avery nice change of pace from the wet, damp nights we'd been having lately. Their hospitality was truly the icing on the cake, or rather, the cherry on top, to what had turned out to be a wonderful, and beautiful, day of bike riding.

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