Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 28, 2013: MIM Day 13, Biggs to Cascade Locks OR

Today we rode 67 miles with 2300 feet of climbing in 5 1/4 hrs of bike time, on the Oregon side of the river. A surprising number of miles were on the shoulder of I-84. We enjoyed some spectacular Columbia Gorge scenery today.

As you can see, yesterday's desert has given way to much greener vistas.

We came around a curve and suddenly there was Mount Hood in all its glory. The town in the foreground is The Dalles, pronounced like "Dalz" with a short "A".

These photos were taken from the shoulder of the interstate, where we rode about half our miles today. Partially that is because in some places there is no other option, but toward the end of the day it was hot and we were tired, so we chose it over a steep climb on the alternate route.

A climb we were glad to have taken was to the top of the Rowena Crest. This shot was taken while still on the way up.

Yours truly, at the top of Rowena Crest. It was actually a pleasant 400 foot climb at 5%. The photo below tells the story of how it got to be that way.

If you look carefully, you will see a recreational rider coming up on the right side of the loop.

The geology of the Gorge.

Another view of the cyclist riding up the hill. He is one of more than a half-dozen we encountered. The climb is very popular with locals.

One of the local riders was kind enough to take this rare shot with both of us in it.

The problem with riding on the Interstate is not really safety, but rather the amount of debris in the shoulder. Here's Fred fixing his second flat of the trip. Inspection of the tube later in the day showed both the initial puncture and several "snake-bite" punctures that resulted from the time it took to stop.

June 27, 2013: MIM Day 12, Hermiston OR to Biggs OR

Our hotel in Hermiston, OR
After 11 days of cool or cold weather, today the forecasters said things would be changing dramatically, bringing temperatures that could rise into the mid-90's in some parts of the Northwest. As this day was expected to also be our longest, and with little to any shelter from the sun, we were eager to get an early start. It was largely a downhill ride to the I-84 bridge back to the Washington side of the river. We found US Highway 14 with little trouble and started cranking away to the West. As you can see in the photos below, this area is regarded as desert.

What you see here is pretty much what it looked like for most of the ride. No trees, and very much the desert.
Almost immediately we encountered a sign saying, "No services next 83 miles." Our research showed a few scattered places to get some food, so that was a surprise, but we had enough snacks and liquid even if it turned out to be true. A highway worker a few miles up the road indicated that our research was correct, but it was not until about mile 59 that we encountered a little convenience store that also served as a basic restaurant. In fact, they were used to catering to passing cyclists and encouraged us to share their cyclist guest book, which we did. Some other diners warned us of a significant climb close to the end of our route. That corresponded to the profile in the Adventure Cycling map, though their description was more extreme.
More turbines.

Fred and I get older, but never seem to outgrow our 9 year old sense of humor.
Wind turbines lined the bluffs on both sides of the river for tens of miles. At one point we watched a train of a hundred cars full of coal roll by in the foreground, with hundreds of wind turbines in the background. No photo, unfortunately.
The river has several significant hydro-electric dams as well.
When we finally got about 10 miles from our destination, a huge brown butte appeared, dominating the skyline. We gradually noticed trucks coming down the switchbacks on its face, and finally accepted that this monstrosity was what the woman in the restaurant was describing. Yikes! This time it was I who invoked Fred's "Strength in numbers!" battle cry, and headed out to face our fear. Just as on Monday, once on the hill, we found it to be manageable -- five to seven percent, long but quite do-able. A couple of miles from the crest, we turned onto a steep descent that put us on the bridge back over to Oregon.

This is a shot of the bridge that brought us back to Oregon at the end of today's ride, shot from outside my hotel room in Biggs. Note the turbines on the ridge above the bridge.

A typical scene in Biggs. There are three highways that intersect here. All local business cater to truck drivers and others who are just passing through.

It is unclear whether or not Biggs (or maybe it's Biggs Junction) is an actual legal entity, or just an intersection of highways that has sprouted a motley crop of lodging and eating establishments of questionable quality, in addition to associated convenience stores and truck service facilities. Anyway, we had booked at Biggs Three Rivers Inn, and had ridden over 90 miles in the hot sun, so this was our home for the night. It was also my birthday, so we hoped for something decent to eat at Linda's Restaurant. That was not to be, unfortunately. In addition, I felt a bit depressed, probably due to the cumulative fatigue of yesterday's  85 miles and today's 91. Anyway, tomorrow should be fewer miles and hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight. I'll celebrate my birthday properly with Kathy in Seattle next week. That is, assuming that she'll still need me, that she'll still feed me, now that I'm 64.

Stats: 91 miles, climbed 2800 feet, 7 hours saddle time.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 26, 2013: MIM Day 11, Dayton WA to Hermiston OR

Having rested up for a day, I suprised Fred by appearing right on time to ride out at 7:30. We were looking at an 85 mile day, so we wanted to be sure to get an early start. The air was cool and the sky was overcast, but it was not raining and there was no wind. The first 45 miles was a slight downhill and we made the best of it, finishing that first section in less than three hours. US Highway 12 (which has been our primary route since turning onto it a week ago in Lolo, MT) morphed into a four lane, divided highway with broad, smooth shoulders as we passed through Walla Walla, WA. Eventually, it returned to its usual format as we got back into the more rural areas. We stopped at a convenience store in Touchet, WA for 15 minutes or so, then it was back on the bikes to finish our time on US 12 and start several days of riding along the Columbia River. Worth mentioning is that a seemingly unending array of wind turbines sat up on the ridge a couple of miles to the left of the highway. Very few of the blades were turning at all, a testament to our good fortune wind-wise.

The Northwest's answer to sweet Vidalia onions.
In other respects, the weather was not quite as welcoming. The sky was getting darker and the air was getting cooler as the clouds thickened. Rain threatened, but never amounted to more than a few drops here and there -- not enough for any of the oncoming drivers to bother to switch on their wipers. We finally reached the intersection of US 12 and US 730, the latter being our route west along the south bank of the Columbia. 

First look at the great and historic Columbia River. Note the heavy, gray sky. 
Unfortunately, 730 has much narrower shoulders, and far more traffic. The number of trucks was rather  alarming at times, and the amount of oncoming traffic often prevented them from moving over, assuming at least some of them would have done so if it had been possible. There was one place where the shoulder all but disappeared as the road went up and around a blind curve. I was in front and tried to time our arrival at that part of the road so that there were no trucks coming up behind us right then. The only safe option was to take the lane, leaving any traffic coming up from the rear with no option but to wait until there was an opportunity to pass in the other lane, or simply to slow down and let us get over the hill and back onto the shoulder when it reappeared. Anyway, we were fortunate that we had the hill to ourselves, with the exception of a single car.

In addition to the traffic, we now had the Columbia's prevailing west wind in our faces, so our pace fell from the effortless 17 MPH of the earlier part of the day, to 12 or less. We finally made our turn off 730 onto Diagonal Road, which runs, well, diagonally inland toward Hermiston, our destination for tonight. After seven or eight more miles we were at the Oak Tree Inn, which turned out to be quite nice and to have decent food choices, a supermarket, and a Dollar Tree nearby. By the way, it did start raining about ten minutes after we checked in at our hotel! Pretty good timing.

All in all, it was a satisfying day. Although one of our longer days, it was not overly tiring and it gives us confidence for our longest day tomorrow. The weather is forecast to take a dramatic turn, though, becoming clear and hot. As a result, our plan is to be riding no later than 7:30. I will be glad to switch to my normal Florida biking kit, and every indication is that we can put away our rain gear and cold weather stuff for the remainder of the trip. Fred is not quite as enthusiastic, but if we can just get through the long day tomorrow, the shorter days that follow should be manageable.

Today we rode 85 miles in 5 and 3/4 hours, climbing 1,600 feet along the way.

June 25, 2013: MIM Day 10, Rest day in Dayton, WA

It was very satisfying to be having breakfast at the Best Western while watching the rain falling outside. As forecast, the weather was pretty much the same as the day before, so our decision to wait it out in Dayton was a good one. Between rainy periods we wandered around this historic town, checking out the restored train depot (the oldest still standing in the state) and the pharmacy that still has a functioning soda fountain. We also spent a while chatting with Bill, who volunteers at the old 150 seat theater that subsists on grants and donations and shows both recent films and local plays. The latter bring out the largest crowds, especially when it is a production featuring community children. As in every community, those events draw all the family members of the young actors. Bill, who I would guess to be about 75, is also infamous in the town for being its only Segway rider, at least until it got away from him a couple of years ago and he retired his wheels. Here are some photos of the theater, train depot, a government building, and more:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 24, 2013: MIM Day 9, Clarkston WA to Dayton WA - (The Soul-Sucker)

I love bicycle touring, but if today were typical, or even common, I'd be home watching TV. Today's ride was only 67 miles, but it was cold, wet, gloomy, wind-blown, chock full of long climbs, and even had another flat to fix. If there was any scenery to admire, I sure didn't see it.

Reviewing the ride on the map before leaving showed a 2000 foot climb early in the day, then a gradual descent, then what looked like an inconsequential 500 foot climb just short of our destination. The first climb started out pretty shallow, but then ratcheted up to between five and eight percent, pretty much in sync with the worsening weather. We were on a shoulder that was rarely smooth, and sometimes pretty narrow. We were finding Washington drivers to be pretty courteous, especially by comparison to those in Idaho, but it could have just been that Washington's highway department graciously provided two lanes for uphill traffic. It was therefore easy for vehicles to shift over into the center lane as they approached us from behind. There were notable exceptions, such as the truck pulling a bulldozer on a "Wide Load" trailer. Through the rain, I saw him coming up in my rear-view mirror and there was no sign that he was going to move over, in spite of the empty lane next to him. I sprinted to a wider section of the shoulder, but Fred was behind me and got to experience a close encounter of the terrifying kind. I absolutely do not understand what goes on in the minds of these drivers.

After a lunch stop at a cafe in Pomeroy, we headed back out in a light rain, expecting a couple of easy hours on a shallow downhill, followed by that little 500 foot climb, before a final drop into Dayton. Well, that might have been more or less true, were it not for the wind, which was such that the downhill was not even noticeable. During a rare break in the rain, Fred had a flat, which we fixed by replacing the tube. We were unable to find any cause for the puncture, but the replacement tube did the trick. Back on the road Fred was having trouble staying at pace. Luckily, I was feeling pretty good at that point, so I offered to stay in front and was able to move us along at a steady, if not speedy, clip for the next 15 miles or so. 

At that point, Fred said that he had to stop, and plopped down on the roadside gravel. I honestly thought he was done for the day. After a little while, some liquid, and a cereal bar, he announced that he was ready to get it done, boarded his bike and took off with determination. By the time I got going, he was already a quarter mile in front. I settled into a low gear and leisurely pace, expecting him to fall back pretty soon and not wanting to invest the extra energy necessary to catch up.

Incredibly, he found some kind of second wind and stayed out in front by the same margin. He stayed out there even when we hit the supposed 500 foot climb that ended up more like 1000 feet, and went on and on and on in the rain, the cold, and the head-wind. Every curve revealed yet another stretch of 5% or higher grade. Finally we were at the top of all visible hills. We had every reason to believe the summit to be right around the bend...

Well, instead of the summit, we found what appeared to be nothing less than the gates of hell. Ahead of me, Fred was stopped by the side of the road, still as a statue, staring ahead at a sheer vertical wall of asphalt, disappearing into the clouds above, but not before somehow pitching up even steeper than normal earthly geometry allows. I pulled up next to him, hissing, "No fucking way!" He responded with resignation, "Way." I tried again, but his response remained the same. I frantically searched behind us for a kindly pickup truck, or even a car with an empty bike rack, equipped with some kind of anti-gravity device capable of getting us over the soul-sucking hill ahead. With our destination less than five miles away, it seemed that we had reached the end. We were doomed to be reduced by the rain and wind to globs of once-human mud, remaining forever part of the roadside amalgam near Dayton, WA.

After a couple of minutes of stillness, Fred drew upon some strange inner pool of courage or recklessness, turned toward me and said, "C'mon. There's strength in numbers. Let's go." It was like something out of one of those war movies, when the hero jumps out of the foxhole, leading his platoon on a suicide mission to wipe out the enemy machine gun nest. Like one of the guys in the platoon, I didn't stop to think, I just followed. Or maybe I went first. Now it is all a blur...

In truth, it really wasn't that bad. All cyclists in hilly areas know the illusion. From the top of a hill, the next one looks impossibly steep and long. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to find that it really was the last one, and we finally started our rainy descent, still against the wind, into the attractive little town of Dayton.

Just before hitting the actual "downtown" strip, we passed a brand new, three story Best Western hotel and I told Fred that I wanted to come back to it if the Blue Mountain Motel turned out to be, umm, "disappointing." There was a "NOW OPEN" banner in front of the Best Western, bouncing up and down on it's bungee cord tethers in the wind to emphasize its availability. We rode through town, finally seeing the hotel sign "Blue Mountain Mo" (the T, E, and L were apparently burned out) a block up. After a brief inspection of one of our rooms, I told Fred that I didn't care if we had to pay for these rooms as well, I wanted to go back to the Best Western, with its large, clean, comfortable rooms and bathtubs full of hot water. He quickly agreed, and when asked if we could still cancel, the proprietor of the Blue Mountain Mo said, "Certainly." Perhaps given the way we looked, he feared having us there as much as we feared being there. Whatever. Our blessings on him, his children, and his children's children.

The view from the lobby of the Best Western

We left Clarkston an eternity earlier, at 8:45 AM. We arrived in Dayton at 6 PM. It took that long (including lunch and rest stops) to cover just 67 miles. We climbed around 3600 feet. I did not even take out my camera, but Fred has one of those ruggedized, shock and waterproof cameras, so here are a couple of shots he took during the day. The one of the wind turbines is the edge of a pretty large wind farm of about 150 turbines in this part of the state. The other one is a surprising sunset through the clouds, taken from our wonderful Best Western.

Monday, June 24, 2013

June 23, 2013: MIM Day 8, Kamiah ID to Clarkston WA

Today was our biggest day of the trip so far. We rode 86 miles, climbed 5,200 feet, and were in the saddle for over 7 hours. We also experienced a 20 mile (!) descent from mile 43 to mile 63, which was a welcome reward for all the climbing.

The ride started with a 2,000 foot climb, mostly at 7%, as usual. Once up there at 4,000 feet or so, we had many miles of large rollers through farmland that reminded me of Kansas in that the fields seemed to go on forever. Wheat this time of year is being harvested in Kansas and Oklahoma, but here it is still green. There were also great sections of flowering rape seed (aka canola), providing a beautiful yellow contrast to the deep green wheat.

At about 40 miles we tried a couple of towns in hope of finding a cafe, but we had no luck. Finally we gave up and scavenged in a tribal (Nez Perce) gas station / convenience store / "restaurant". I had chocolate milk, Doritos, Powerade, and a mini-coconut pie, while Fred had fried chicken, a corn dog, and powerade. Yummy! Thanks to the long decline immediately thereafter, this nutritious meal turned out to be sufficient to get us to Lewiston and across the bridge to sister town Clarkston. The last few miles today were on a riverside bike trail on the Lewiston side of the river.

If not the high point of the ride, of interest was the fact that we were flashed by a young woman who hung out the passenger window while yanking up her shirt. At least that's what I THINK I saw. Readers who also engage in long days of endurance cycling understand that most oxygen by this point in the day is going to the large muscles in the legs. It takes the brain a while to process sensory input not essential for the job at hand, so the car was long past by the time I had decoded the image my eyes had seen. Fred was unable to confirm or disconfirm, as he was studying the asphalt closely at the time. Anyway, real or imagined, this incident was a first in all our travels.

A few photos from today...

June 22, 2013: MIM Day 7, Lowell to Kamiah - Rolling Rest Day and Farewell to Greg

We actually pulled off a "rolling rest day"! Previous attempts ended up anything but restful, but this time it actually worked. We left Ryan's Wilderness Lodge, headed downhill to Kooksia. Because of the slight downhill grade most of the 23 miles, there was little effort needed. We found a cafe in town and Greg treated us, claiming that the few days riding with us had been the best of his trip. We toasted him in return, agreeing that he was our most companionable guest rider to date. Of course there have been only two others:  Mike, who rode with us to Dubois and then over Togwatee Pass with Fred, and Jim who put us up one night and then rode with us to Dubois and beyond. Greg is in great company. (I don't count Ray and the other Mike, both of whom have been official members of two tours, and part of one tour, respectively.) Anyway, after the farewells and "ride safe" wishes were exchanged, Greg continued on the Trans Am route, while Fred and I switched to the Lewis and Clark route that we expect to follow as far as Portland, OR, before turning north toward Seattle.

The remaining seven miles or so to the Lewis-Clark Resort in Kamiah (pronounced "kam-ee-eye") were uneventful. We were in our rooms by 12:30, had some lunch at the on-premises restaurant, and did our laundry. After that, Fred did a little exploring and I read some and dozed. Suddenly, after 400 some-odd miles I was feeling some fatigue!