Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Hey everyone – Erin here. While everyone else has been huffing and puffing up those mountain passes, I’ve been leisurely packing up and getting ready. Yesterday, I finally got on the road!

I took Amtrak to South Lake Tahoe, and the bus dropped me off right next to the Stateline brew pub. While I was eating, an older gentleman approached me and asked where I was going, then handed me $5 and said, “I rode my bike across the country when I was young, and I only made it because so many people helped me along the way.”

I was excited to do a “fun ride” after lunch to warn up. I forgot that climbing from 0 to 1,000 feet is not the same as climbing from 6,000 to 7,000 feet! I am definitely feeling the altitude, and it made things tough today. But the descent into the valley was amazing!

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Down in the valley I rode through ranch land, and the temperature rose dramatically. I hadn’t anticipated the total lack of shops and other water sources along my route…after losing my way twice, I was overheated, dehydrated, and out of water.

Then I ran into Shane, who was out for a run. I told him about my predicament, and he directed me down the road to his fiance Katie’s trailer. She not only filled up my bottles but pointed me toward Carson River Road, which gave me miles of shady riding with next to no cars. Exactly what I needed! I popped out on 88 and rode a bit more to get to Crystal Springs campground, which was all but deserted.

Lessons learned from my first day: (1) Altitude sure does weird things to your body; (2) always take extra water; (3) when bike touring, you will always depend on the kindness of strangers.

5+1-1-1-2

Wow, it’s been a while! Here’s a rundown of the trip this week.

Tuesday: Greg, Andrew, Alice, Anton, and Morgan conquered Ebbett’s Pass and met up with me at a campground on Highway 4. Merriment ensued.

Wednesday: We sailed down next to the Carson River, stopping for second breakfast in Markleeville.

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We also met a solo bike tourist from Alaska who was traveling along the Sierra Cascades route. Back home he builds snow bikes, and he showed off his derailleur-free chainring that he shifts by hand when he hits a steep climb. After Luther Pass nearly killed me, we heard about an alternative route from a local that got us off the highway and onto an old, very overgrown road that inspired much post-apocalyptic daydreaming.

Lost highway

At the end of the road, who should jog past but Shane, the guy who had saved me two days earlier from turning into a sun-baked husk! He was happy to see that I was still alive and well.

We then descended upon Lake Tahoe and Greg and Anton ate all their ice cream.

Thursday: Morgan left us to go run up a mountain, and we pressed onward after breakfast, where we met a seventy-three-year-old cyclist who had been on the US cycling team in the 1972 Olympics! We stopped for a dunk in the lake before meandering along the Truckee River and camping at Donner Lake.

What lies beneath

Friday: Andrew peeled off the pack as well to head down to Oroville, as we changed our original trajectory and headed up Highway 89 to the town of Graeagle. It was packed with folks gearing up for an epic Fourth of July weekend extravaganza. We set up camp by the Feather River and then went to the town barn dance to attempt to blend in with the locals.

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Saturday: Greg and I bid Alice and Anton a hearty farewell / Auf Wiedersehen, and decided to take a lazy day. In Graeagle, a Civil War reenactment society was out in full dress, and we stuck around to see the ensuing battle.

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We then found a vacancy at a motel in Portola, and headed up there. Along the way we found a tiny brewery inside a roadside resort – Eureka Peak Brewing Company. The owner-brewer didn’t yet have a license to sell beer for off site consumption, which was a shame because his Lavender Witbier was amazing.

And now, we’re enjoying the luxury of air conditioning, trashy television, and a real bed!

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.

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.

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!