0.5 miles down!

After a grueling 9+ hour drive up from Oakland, we got into Eugene at about 2:30am. The original plan had included 4 people and their bikes on the drive up, so Greg had rented a minivan; it ended up being just the two of us, and the ‘minivan’ turned out to be a giant 12-passenger bus, so we felt a little ridiculous. (The seats didn’t fold down, though, so it would have been hard to fit all of us anyway.)

We immediately passed out and got a good night’s sleep. This morning, while Greg returned the rental car I stood in line at Voodoo Donuts.

(You can’t see it too well in this picture, but I added a new sticker to my bike that says “Bike slowly. Snack often.” This is my new motto for bike tour. And for life in general.)

Now we are eating a full breakfast at the cutest little vegetarian diner, and about to ride a leisurely 45 miles to our first stop, Oakridge.

Bums away!

This has been one of the best first days of a bike tour! We started off with breakfast at a place where Erin was overwhelmed by the vegan options, then we headed out of Eugene along a really nice bike path along the Willamette River. The weather was perfect – upper seventies and sunny, with a decent tailwind. We ride along back roads through mixed farm and forest – all of it so green – as we followed the Willamette up to Oakridge, where we stopped in the world’s coolest bike shop (you can buy Carhartts and cast iron pans as you enjoy the view from their deck). We then threw back a few pints at the brewery, where we played two genres of trivial pursuit, young players (easy) and baby boomers (stupid). We swung by the DQ so I could get my blizzard fix before setting up camp at an abandoned campground on the river. Tomorrow we’ll head deep into the Cascadian forest as we travel the Aufderheide Highway, where there is certain to be swimming and hot springs along the way! 

Bums away!

What do you call those magnificent trees you got here?

Today we rode up the Aufderheide Highway, one of Orgeon’s official “scenic byways,” threading its way up through a thick forest of Douglas Firs.  The ride was shaded and beautiful, right along the Mackenzie River, except for the last two miles to the top, which suddenly turned super steep. As we chugged our way up at around 3mph, we were swarmed with mosquitoes excited for some slow-moving blood sacks to snack on.

At the summit we met a cyclist who had set up a base camp about fifteen miles down the road, and he offered us his site for the night. It was a really nice campground, right by the river.

Also, Greg forgot to mention that yesterday we saw a bald eagle!

Hot springs and a side trip to the moon

Monday morning started out right with a downhill followed by what might have been the nicest hot springs I’ve been to. The Terwilliger Hot Springs are a short hike from the Aufderheide and have been developed with some benches and changing shelters. The pools themselves are a pretty good size and cascade down the side of the hill.

Then we hit the town of Rainbow, and the sun started to beat down. Greg suggested taking a nice shady route by the river to get off the highway for a couple miles, but it was a super narrow hiking trail and I ended up pushing my bike most of the way. Just as we were about to turn off on the Mackenzie Pass road, I realized my sleeping bag had fallen off on the trail, and Greg went back to find it while I started chugging up the pass.  The ride up the pass was gorgeous, but turned very steep about four miles before our campsite. By the time we got there we were both totally wiped. But we managed to make a deluxe gourmet dinner of coconut curry and rice.

We also meet a fellow bike tourist, Paul, and exchanged much talk of bicycles and roads. (He also turned out to be a retired web developer, so he and Greg exchanged much talk of Perl and C++.)

I had a restless night because of the massive collection of mosquito bites I’ve acquired, so we had a lazy start the next morning. We had a lot more steep road, but then we hit the top, and the dense, humid rainforest we’d been riding through suddenly turned into a weird moonscape, changing from this:

…to this:

The lava beds extended for several miles, and at the summit we got a great view of the surrounding peaks.

Then we flew down the other side and had lunch in the town of Sisters, which also has a spa where you can soak in a hot tub full of beer.

We then made a really, really bad decision to make a side trip to Bend, which involved 20 miles of riding on the side of a busy freeway in the blistering sun. 

Greg talked me out of giving up and going home, which at the time seemed like the only option for a reasonable person. But now I am cooling off at a brewery in Prineville after a great day’s ride, and we are about to hang out at the big kickoff party for the town rodeo, which we were just told includes a cattle drive down Main Street.

Hostel takeover

We had a nice stay at a campground on the reservoir outside of Prineville, but unfortunately Erin’s insomnia started catching up with her. Luckily, I happened to have noticed that there was a new bike hostel in the next town, Mitchell. After a long, but beautiful, climb up into a ponderosa forest, we were dropped back into the searing Eastern Oregon high desert. 

Just as we were about to melt, we came upon the magical oasis that is the Spoke’n Hostel.

I should say that I remember riding through Mitchell, Oregon with Mike Bush during BikeBums 2004, and all I remember being here was a general store and a bear in a cage. It’s an old mining town whose population has dwindled to about 150. It’s the last place I would have expected to find not only a hostel, but a brewery as well!

The Spoke’n Hostel is run by Jalet and Pat Farrell. They used to live in Eugene, but Jalet had a vision of opening a bike hostel in Mitchell after learning about how many cyclists pass through each year on the Transamerica route. They bought the old church in town and filled the main congregation room with bunk beds, moving services to a basement room (they’re both pastors). Everything about this place is so thoughtfully put together: super comfy beds, bike maps and guides galore, even a tool kit and bucket of rags for tune ups. The bunks have reading lamps and charging outlets. There’s a creek in back where they’ve set up a bunch of hammocks, and a kitchen with a full bar of cereal and ramen for hungry cyclists. Oh, right, and also a barber shop. (In addition to being a pastor and running the hostel, Pat is also a barber, school bus driver, photographer, and web designer.)

And to top it off, Pat takes guests up to the painted hills every night at sunset for a tour!

He also directed us to a new brewery operating out of a trailer for now, but soon expanding to a full restaurant. Tiger Town Brewing Co. also serves up vegan chicken strips with about a dozen sauces to choose from. What?!

Pat and Jalet are two of the most generous people you will ever meet, and the hostel is a truly amazing project that allows them to keep the church open, create business for the community, and provide an wonderful experience for the many cycle tourists who pass by this tough spot of the Transamerica bike route. In fact, we liked it there so much, we stayed an extra day!

From Mitchell to Baker City

After resting up in Mitchell, we rode through the John Day Fossil Beds, where a cool little museum displays some of the prehistoric mammals that have been discovered there.

It got crazy hot as the day went on, and we took a nice long river break after picking up a few things at a market in Kimberly. Little did we know that it would be days before we’d see another store!

We spent the night in Monument and tackled a huge climb as the temperature rose; we got about 25 miles before stopping to take refuge in an air conditioned motel in Long Creek. Unfortunately, the grocery store we’d been counting on was closed, so our dinner came from what we could scrounge up at the gas station market. 

The next morning, Erin got a head start while Greg waited for the store to open so we wouldn’t need to restort to eating pine cones. We had an amazing 2500 foot drop down to the John Day River, and then slowly regained that elevation as we followed the river over 40 miles. The road was absolutely beautiful – transitioning from prairie scrubland to pine forest as we gained elevation, and in the whole 40 miles we probably saw 5 cars. Also along the way we got caught in a huge downpour, with a little bit of hail – our first rain of the trip. We rushed to get to the campground so we could hit up the nearby store/restaurant before it closed. We made it with an hour to spare, only to find the store closed anyway, taunting us with signs promising Huckleberry cobbler and draft beer. 

From there we had a couple of passes to climb before we finally rolled into Baker City – the first town with more than 200 people in six days. We stayed at another awesome bike hostel, along with seven other bike tourists, all of whom were doing the Transamerica route. We also met up with Andrew, who managed to sweet talk the owners of the local brewery into baby sitting his truck for the next two weeks. (Barley Brown’s Beer is fantastic, by the way! I’d had two people along the ride recommend it, and it is definitely worth a visit.)

Just three more days until I break off the ride to pick up my rental car in Boise and head home!