Back on the Road: The First Week, Bend – Phillips Lake
As we sit at a small diner on Wallowa Lake, sipping some NW microbrews and patiently surfing the slow internet, we’ve been realizing that two whole weeks have quietly slipped by and we are getting back into the groove of traveling. After a rainy winter and an ankle injury that served to keep us off our bikes, we’ve discovered that our legs are a bit stiff and have lost some of that strength that we built up over the last trip. The first few days saw us going to bed way before sunset, because we were just so tired. But the route we have taken has been spectacular, and we are so glad we chose to explore Eastern Oregon.
Our first day back out on the road took us from Bend, Oregon to the Crooked River. It was a swelteringly hot day that involved a lot of climbing. We weren’t entirely sure it was all going to be worth it, and then we turned onto Hwy 27 and soared downhill, into an ever-expanding canyon, to the Prineville Reservoir and Crooked River. Russ spent the afternoon fishing (and even catching!), and we enjoyed our first night on the road in a beautiful campsite beside the river.
From the Crooked River, we headed north into Prineville. It was a Monday morning, and the evidence was all around us of a successful rodeo that weekend. We stopped for groceries and found a great little coffeeshop with wifi. As it turned out, the owners had recently moved out from Ohio, found themselves surprisingly pleased with life in Prineville, and bought and expanded the business. In a small world turn, we discovered that our friend Matt (who is also cycling across the US) stopped there a few weeks before us, and the wife of the couple is the sister of one of our readers! (Which is one of many reasons why we love traveling – the world continually shrinks and we remember how connected we all actually are!) Prineville was also the point at which we joined the TransAm route. That night, we camped at the county park at the Ochoco Reservoir, and met the three TransAm cyclists that we would leapfrog and camp with over the next few days. Sally & Patsy had decided, on a whim, to ride the TransAm in sections, as a way to add some adventure and fun to their lives. Mark had always wanted to ride the TransAm and took advantage of being job-free this summer.
Day 3 saw the first of many mountain passes. Lucky for us, it was an easy grade with gorgeous scenery. About halfway up the climb, the forest opened to a gorgeous meadow, and we couldn’t help thinking how surprising it seemed to find such a lush green landscape in the high desert. The other side of the pass gave us an incredible screaming downhill, easily one of the best descents we’ve even been privileged to experience. At the bottom of the hill (and a slight tick up again), we reached the small of town of Mitchell. We enjoyed an iced coffee and wifi at the coffee cart at the south end of town, then stopped for a burger. Mitchell is only about 150 people these days, although one resident told us it used to be a booming town with several bars (and the place that everyone wanted to stop on their way through the area). These days, Mitchell allows camping in their city park (free, donations graciously accepted), and there’s one bar and a small market. Since we got in so early that afternoon, we picked up a few beers and some snacks at the market, and enjoyed cycle tourist happy hour in the park. That evening, we were joined by Jeff, a lymphoma survivor who had vowed to ride across the country to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
From Mitchell, we headed uphill once again. The summit was the only place in the area that had good cell phone reception, so we had a silly 21st-century moment at the top of the climb, with five cycle tourists checking email and phone messages. After the summit, we rambled through ranch land and the Painted Hills. Just outside of Dayville, we ran into three women on bike tour around the area. When Sally & Patsy caught up with us all, we took a moment to recognize the fact that there were six women on bikes, the largest grouping of female bike tourists I have ever seen! In Dayville, we decided to call it a day. We stopped for ice cream at the mercantile, ate some pizza and corn dogs at the mini mart, and set up camp at the Fish House Inn (which had the most glorious lawn of any RV park we’ve stayed in).
From Dayville, we had a relatively flat and meandering ride into Mt Vernon. The countryside was glorious and peaceful – and not a bad place to ride my bike on my birthday! We stopped in Mt Vernon to poke around the little outdoors-ammo-hardware-pharmacy-tourist-misscelanea shop, enjoy a hearty breakfast with Patsy & Sally, and check out the Bike Inn. We had looked all over the internet for information about the Bike Inn and didn’t really find anything concrete, but it sounded like an incredible resource. So, fellow cycle tourists, if you’re headed through Eastern Oregon and want to stay in Mt Vernon, yes, the Bike Inn does exist and, yes, it’s lovey. A separate little guest house with a futon, small kitchen, bathroom, tv, and gorgeous outdoor patio. Since it was only 11am and we had only ridden 20 miles, we decided to keep going, and pushed on to the town of Prairie City, another delightful small town. We poked into the visitors center, and then settled into Oxbow Bar, a bar/restaurant with wonderful food and ice cream and microbrews on tap. After a few hours on the internet, we made our way down to Depot Park, a small city park that offers camping (tent and RV). The showers are crazy expensive, but the park is lovely, situated next to a river and with a large pavilion with electricity. After cleaning up and resting, we set off to celebrate my birthday! Sally & Patsy joined us for dinner and wine and ice cream and we laughed until they closed the doors and it was time to crash out in our tents. It was a fantastic birthday celebration and a great last evening with Patsy & Sally, who we had spent so much time with over the previous few days, and whose company and spirit we enjoyed so much!
The following day, we decided to take a rest day in Prairie City. My ankle had been bothering me a bit, and I wanted a day off the bike. We had hoped to migrate into a hotel room for the night, to take a proper shower and do some internet-ing, but we were foiled by the 4th of July weekend! Instead, we explored town a bit and ended up back at Oxbow and Depot Park.
Day 7 was the day of the three summits. Good grief, we were not looking forward to all of this climbing! The first one out of Prairie City is the longest, but it is also the one that ends in a diner with fantastic burgers and milkshakes (which we enjoyed at 10am!). Just outside of Austin Junction, we stopped at a small spring to fill up our water bottles. As we were finishing up, the owner of the property where the spring originates came out to lightly hassle us. He told us a bit about the spring and that he was allowed to charge whatever he wanted for it. The catch, he said, is that, as soon as he starts charging, he has to have the water tested on a weekly basis. Not wanting the hassle, he leaves it running from a pipe the ends by the side of the road, just like it’s been for the last 40 years, he said. The water was cold and crisp and delicious, and we were thrilled to have it as we started up the second climb. By the time we finished the third climb (3800 feet over the course of the day!), we were absolutely exhausted. We hemmed and hawed at the turn off to Sumpter, wanting to see the old town, not wanted to ride any more miles than necessary. We thought about just trying to stay in Sumpter, instead of heading to the campground, but again, we were foiled by the holiday. We waved to Sumpter from the highway and headed to the Union Creek campground. With not a drop of energy left in our legs, we rolled in and had the volunteer at the entrance tell us the campground was full. I could hear Russ groan and slump over his handlebars as I begged and pleaded. Finally, he sent us down the hill to fill up our water bottles and find his supervisor. I was expecting to have to beg for a small corner of grass by the ranger house, but he smiled and said that he had one tent space left! We handed over some money and happily trotted down to the smallest campsite known to man (it must be the one they always leave open for the poor souls who show up on bikes, because there’s no way that a tent any larger than ours would fit there). Needless to say, we were in bed way before dark, which is how we heard a group of kids wander by and proclaim, ‘whoa, that’s the smallest tent I’ve ever seen!’