Saturday, October 29, 2011

McKenzie Pass

Starting in Montana, my friends and I have been much warned about Mckenzie pass. Some would have us think it's a horrific climb that will probably be covered in snow, if not closed outright. In truth, it was a memorably pleasant climb. It was sunny in the morning, and not freezing out. It was the perfect temperature, actually, for climbing. From the town of Sister, until the last leg of the pass itself, I was riding through open, airy pinewoods.

I'm always on some level scouting for a place to camp. Even in the morning. Even when I have a hostel or warmshowers host up ahead. I look for places to camp like I identify roadside flowers, talk to cows, and sing the same line of a song over and over because it's all I can remember. It's a nice habit. Sometimes I see places so perfectly ideal to tuck into, that it's hard to just keep on moving. Idaho had a lot of those - all along the Salmon river, well-worn riverside camps, sandy and sheltered. Yesterday, hours of riding along little hills of sand, rock, juniper and sagebrush. This might be the best of all - a mature, breezy pine forest with a thick layer of soft needles on the ground, fragrant the welcoming. I wanted to stop and explore the narrow trails leading back into the woods. I knew what was coming, though, so I kept going.

I'd already decided that I'd be happy if I could just make it up over the summit. With the glacial slow uphill progress, a good climb takes me all day. Also, the top of Mckenzie pass is a huge, blackened lava flow. Definitely a place worth stopping to absorb. The final stretch of climb was less welcoming. The effects of fire - and probably more frequent rain, pushing over from the wetter west side of the cascades - make the younger trees grow thick. In places it looked like it would be difficult to even walk between them, and the ground was covered with wet logs and debris. At the beginning of the actual pass, truck traffic is denied and the road narrows.

I didn't quite make it to the lava-rock observatory that marks the top of the pass. I might need to climb half a mile or so tomorrow, but that's worth it for a good place to rest tonight. I camped in a basin of pine needles surrounded by black rock, just off view from the road. I didn't really have time to explore much - rain coming, and cold.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sisters, OR

It was a nice, peaceful, warm ride to Sister, OR. I've joked that every TransAm journal has a Sisters entry - it's pretty much true. It's the last stop before the famed Mckenzie Pass, and no one wants to start that climb late in the day.

I picked up some supplies along the way in Prineville, where I discovered Grocery Outlet. It's a chain of stores specializing in other chain store's refuse. You know - old packaging, crushed crackers, ect. It was not as cheap as the place in Rawlins, WY, but it had a lot more stuff. I think they're just in Oregon. Now I have all kinds of new food to look forward to eating! I'm serious. It's a huge pick-me-up during the day to know I'll have tasty food when I settle in for the night.

The Thee Sisters and the other mountains nearby where something I've not really seen yet - just a mountain, on it's own, visible from head to foot, snowcapped and huge. The mountain range I'll be crossing tomorrow was clearly visible, too. Thick clouds piled up behind it. These, like watery waves, visible spilled over the peaks before breaking up. The clouds that made it over the range clearly held the shape of these peaks.

Ryan, Michelle and I stayed with warmshowers hosts Steve and Karen. They made us an excellent dinner, and we where able to wash ourselves and our clothing. I briefly considered getting some new brake pads at the store in town, but decided to put it off again. There aren't that many more long descents, right?

Is it a cloud or a mountain?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ochoco Pass, OR

Another short day of climbing. I picked up some snacks and stove fuel in Mitchell, and left nice and early. Well, early considering it takes half the day to warm up, now...

These Oregon mountains are rough. Colorado has all the fame for elevation, but really it wasn't that much climbing. Once you get up one mountain, you don't go down until you're nearly into Wyoming. The nasty climbs where all over in a few miles. Now, however, I'm hitting the 15+ mile climbs. With the U-haul, anything over a 4% grade feels awful, so it's been slow going.

It was dusk when I hit the top of the Ochoco pass, and already the temperature was down to 39 degrees. Too cold for the long descent. I found the first likely pull off, still in national forest land, and set up camp before my hands froze. Previous visitors had left a huge mound of firewood, so for once I had a massive blazing fire.

Camped in plain view on National Forest Land. The road is an unpaved forest service road, with very little use. Maybe three cars drove out during the night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mitchell, OR

I've not had a real breakfast for a while, but this morning I had plenty of time while waiting for my bike to de-frost. I really did not want to ride a frosty bike... Barbie the dog gave me an enthusiastic farewell when the time came.

Today involved lots of climbing. None of it was really marked on my map. At least now I HAVE a map. The days are so short a long climb takes up most of daylight for me, now. Oddly, though, when I reached the top, in full dark, it was comfortable out. 48 degrees, and no wind. It felt much warmer. The five miles of steep downhill was nervewracking for the condition of my brakes in the dark, but at least I was not frozen through by the end of it.

I caught up to Ryan and Michelle in the tiny, old fashioned town of Mitchell. Their tent was lit and and flashing with colors - watching a movie inside a small tent looks funny from the outside. I almost didn't set my tent up, but rain was a concern and the picnic shelter didn't provide enough shelter without moving the table and sleeping in the center of it. The table, of course, was loaded with gear food and bikes. Who knows how cold it could still get, anyway.

Really neat canyon in the John Day Fossil Beds

Did I climb it? No, but I wish I had, now. Some of those shoes where perfectly serviceable! Really, who would miss a pair...

Michell City Park, photo taken the next morning.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Bike Inn - Mt. Vernon, OR

Thick frost covering my tent and bicycle slowed me down this morning. It was 19 degrees out when I scraped the ice off my thermometer and packing up stiff, frozen gear sounded miserable.

I did none the less get on the road before 10am. The sky was clear and it felt likely to warm up. A few weeks ago, I'd keep my cyclocomputer on daily mileage, for something to look at. Now it's usually on temperature, so I can cheer myself up by watching it rise as I ride down the mountains. Before long it was in the 50s again, and sunny. Out of the Malheur National Forest, I rode into a beautiful, golden valley. The downhills are getting to be stressful with my slipping brakes - I might actually have to replace the pads soon. They've made it pretty well through the last 8000 miles...

Despite my moderately early start, the day got away from me. I stopped a little too long in Prairie City, eating cheese and crackers. When I got to John Day, the sun was at the horizon. Three cyclists riding back into town suggested I call it a day at Mt. Vernon. I knew about the accommodations, there, but I've been looking forward to the church run bicycle hostel in Dayville. More then just a church where cyclists can camp - it's set up more like the awesome hostel in Hutchinson, Kansas. Pushing on, in the dark and cold, an extra 25-or-so miles was clearly a bad idea, though, so I called the woman who runs the Bike Inn in Mt. Vernon.

Let me point out that my desire to reach Dayville has nothing to do with the quality of the Bike Inn in Mt. Vernon. It was just a goal I got attached to, a place I'd looked forward to seeing, and nostalgia for the places we slept in Kansas and Wyoming. The Bike Inn is wonderful, and the lady who maintains it is a sweetheart. She was out of town, tonight, so it was just me with the chickens and dog. I took a long shower, had a bucket of buttered noodles, and watched Dances with Wolves. Here is to a frost, ice, and snow-free morning...

Inside the Bike Inn

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Baker City Windmills

We spent the day with Wade, who is building wind turbines on a land lease. He took us up into the towers, then back to his family ranch for an amazing meal prepared by his folks, all with food sourced from their own land. I'm an astoundingly poor writer, and this was a real gem of a day, so I'm just going to leave it to memory. Here are some pictures of the wind farm, though!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Into Oregon

Oregon, the last state on the TransAm... the first state I've rode in with ocean on the highway map. Here are a few shots of my last few miles in Idaho, and the first day in Oregon.

The Brownlee Dam.

Riding along the Snake River.

Morning near Halfway.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

South of Riggins, ID - Morning on White Bird Hill

White Bird Hill sounds fairly innocent. Certainly, it doesn't sounds like anything implying 8-or-so miles of 7% grade. The truly steep side was on the west, and thus a descent for me. A long, severely twisting downhill rush in the last hour of faint daylight on a cold October evening... Fortunately, I found a very well-placed camp, under the shelter of a historical marker kiosk. After a while, the sounds of trucks labouring up the steep incline faded away and I fell asleep to the sounds of coyotes far below.

I should mention, of course, that the west face of White Bird Hill is stunning. After weeks and weeks of climbing mountains and pedaling through valleys, this is something different. The dry, pale green-and-gold grasses carpet undulated waves of land far below. The wide, airy canyon is mostly open and empty. Maybe that is because it's the site of a staggering example of early American stupidity and thus must be preserved. Today, though, it was a beautiful, heart-lifting place to wake up in.

The rest of the day was fantastic, for the most part(I'll get to the exception later). It was warm. Warm enough to ride in shorts and sleeveless. Feeling the sun again on my skin, after so much cloudy, rainy weather... I'll never take sunny days for granted again! For most of the day, the road stuck to the bank of the Salmon River. Just about every 5 miles I'd come upon some pleasant place to stop - Tidy little BLM recreation areas, overgrown Fish and Game campgrounds, sandy boat launches. All along the river where quiet little spots to camp, many well used but clean. I stopped at one of these, sat on a sunny rock and read until Michelle and Ryan came down the road at last. We caught up for a bit, and then they moved on. Hopefully we'll synch up our route again soon.

Not everything went well, however, today. In Riggins, a cheerful little whitewater town, I stopped at a thrift store to see what was on offer. This was the first time since early in the morning I'd gone for my purse, and I couldn't find it. I decided to withhold panic until I could get to camp and thoroughly search all my gear for it, and left feeling unhappy and concerned. After Riggins, all those nice campsites I'd been seeing vanished. Private property, no trespassing land. Some landowners allowed access, but with a long list of restrictions and there was just no way to get a bike down there. Eventually I found a free fish and game camping area. Unremarkable, not very clean, but a place to sleep. I never did find my purse...

My little house for the nigh

Who are you, little yellow flower?

Salmon river white sand

Bridge approaching Riggins

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chicken Mushrooms for Dinner

Above is a Chicken Mushrooms, growing on an unidentifiable(at least to my abilities) chunk of soggy, decomposing stump. It's also known as a sulphur self, and is considered a good beginner mushroom. It has no toxic lookalikes, it is easy to spot(If not always common to find), and it's very, very tasty.

I've heard that Chicken Mushrooms growing on coniferous wood are better avoided, and my soggy stump was growing in a cedar grove. I've never actually found one of these mushrooms before, and I was very anxious to taste it, so I ignored that warning to no ill effect. The older 'shelves' where a bit oozy at the edges, but the smaller ones where clean and crisp. I just took a few, and later wished I'd not been so hesitant. I should have taken every bit of edible mushroom there!

A few hours later, I unwrapped my mushrooms, and cleaned them by brushing off any visible debris with a dry cloth. Chicken mushrooms are smooth on the underside, being polypores, and have no gills for soil and insects to hide in, so this step is quick and easy. It's often suggested that all but very young mushrooms be steamed or boiled, to keep them tender. I sauteed mine in olive oil until slightly golden-brown on the outside, and enjoyed the tougher texture. The meat of the mushroom will peel or shred like poultry and is a chicken-like pale cream on the inside. I also tried roasting one directly over the fire, but it pulled in all the bitterness of the smoke and was no good to eat. For more information on the Chicken Mushroom, head over here. Note the dire warnings.

Locksa River Minutae

The Clearwater National Forest, swollen with rain and life. Some attention to the details...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Visit to the ACA Headquarters

My last day in the wonderful bikey city of Missoula. We all packed up today, with the intention of a reasonably timed stop back at the ACA headquarters. A few more photos for me, an interview for my friends, and bike weigh-ins for all. We had our pictures taken for the 2011 wall of visiting cyclists yesterday.

Greg Siple, co-founder and art director of the Adventure Cycling associated, brought us out back to strap our laden bikes up onto an improbably looking hanging scale. It worked better than it looked, though getting my trailer onto it was a first. The results? 120 pounds each for Ryan and Michelle. My own bike, well supplied with food but free of water-weight, came to 150 pounds. Frame weight included, it was divided pretty evenly between the bike and trailer.

After the weigh-ins, Greg Siple was ushered back into a quiet room for interviewing. I wandered around the building a bit longer, scanned the photo-boards, took more pictures, and eventually left around mid afternoon. I didn't make it far, and camped near a historical display about 15 miles out of Missoula, but then again my goal was just to get out of Missoula before I started dropping roots. It was that neat of a city - too bad it's so far north.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hey it's that gal...

This is just a quick aside to post what is probably my all time favorite bicycle tour journal. If you're at all interested in why, just read it. This, and a series of articles in far-back national geographic issues did more to get me on the road than anything else.

Missoula, MT

Missoula at last! I've been looking forward to reaching Missoula, home of the ACA headquarters, since I decided to get on the TransAm. So far it's up to expectations - a fun, funky little city with a lot of bikes on the road, neat shops, and a cool atmosphere. It also contains what may well be the best resupply stop on this trip yet; The Good Food Store, which has the largest and most diverse bulk food department I've ever laid eyes on. It's uncommonly inexpensive. All this adds up to a huge, bulging trailer-load of goodies and it will be interesting to see how I score on the bike weigh-in tomorrow...

Many thanks go to Julie and Ron, our gracious hosts. I admit I was a bit nervous when I walked in on a room full of cheeseheads watching a Packers game. Thanks for not running me out of town when I revealed my home state =P

The next day, the three of us where invited to have portaits taken of us and out bikes. Maybe someday a passing cyclists will post in front of utility box with my bike printed on it!

Close up of the bikey utility box