Saturday, October 3, 2009

Finishing It Off—a Month Late

Well, it took me forever to get on the internet and write this up. It gets harder and harder to write about things, too, as they slip into the past. Although I arrived at the Pacific on September 9, here it is, on October 3. Hopefully, I'll have it in me to write an epilogue to this, probably in a couple of weeks.


After Bend, I really felt like I'd hit the home stretch. I zipped along the Sisters Highway, with a decent but slightly cloudy view of the Three Sisters.

Those were elevations at which I had been in the Rockies. Now there was snow up there. I'd made it in time, but it was a good thing I hadn't lingered too long.

I turned west again, onto the Santiam Highway. It climbed into the mountains, and I was quickly surrounded by pine trees again.

The climb quickly steepened, and soon I got sick of it and walked the bike. While I didn't have phone signal on sections of the road, I was (amazingly) able to talk on the phone for pretty much the entire climb to Santiam Pass. Now that I was walking, though, it was a pretty long ways (41 miles), and by the time I got to the top, the sun was setting. I expected Cascadia State Park in 21 more miles, so I gunned it down from the pass, reaching over 50 MPH. I got to where I thought Cascadia was. The road just kept going through the woods. It started getting dark. I passed a flat clearing, so I figured I could just camp there.

Thankfully, I'd bought a 12-pack of packs of cookies (no typo there) back in Burns, so I didn't starve. But I started running out of both food and water pretty quickly. There was no phone signal here; just relatively deep woods.

The night quickly became frigid, and I was once again not hating my camping equipment, but loving it—especially the sleeping bag, whose cocoon capabilities I made the most of this time, exposing only my mouth and the bottom of my nose to air.

In the morning, everything was soaked in dew, and though it was still pretty cold, I watched the water evaporate and rise into the air off of my stuff. Looking around, I realized it was rising from the entire field as well.

I got on the road and continued onward.

I'd been socializing a lot, so a day of being alone wasn't an issue at all. The thing that annoyed me was that I was climbing again, even though I had crossed the pass. The climb steadily got steeper until I finally saw what I thought was a sign of the end.

But the road kept going steeply up. I passed another warning. And another. It actually didn't get better for a while, even after this sign:

Eventually, I zipped down, and, on that downhill, zipped by Cascadia, about 20 miles farther than I had expected. After another stretch, on which I ran out of food and ran extremely low on water, involving a few more minor passes, I reached Foster Lake.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was pretty much out of the Cascades. I reached a town called Sweet Home, stopped at the first gas station, and finally had water and food. I sat there for an hour or so, just resting and slowly eating and drinking.

And then I got my final scene of a type I had gotten so used to: as I walked out, I saw the station owner talking to a policeman at the counter and pointing at me. As I walked out, the policeman came out and looked over me and my bike.

"You rode here from Massachusetts on that thing?"


"That's amazing."

"Should be done tomorrow, though."

"Oh, yeah? Where are you headed?"


"Oh, you've got a WAYS to go still."

I got a little worried. "It's 90 miles, isn't it?"

"Well, yeah. If that's a short distance for you."

"It's a good day's ride. But I'm expecting to hit Corvallis tonight."

"That's a good....40 miles from here."

"Yeah, that's what I was figuring on."


I didn't find Corvallis. Somehow, I completely missed the entire city and, right as it was getting dark, ended up in a little town called Philomath. As the end neared and there was no longer as much need to conserve money, I started splurging, and I got a motel.

By the next morning, the remainder of the trip was clearly marked for me.

I went into another mountain range, but I knew it couldn't be far now. The winds were still strong, the roads were extremely narrow and dangerous and steep, and cars whipped around at ridiculous speeds. I swore and cursed at the Coast Range, but there was no reason to, whatsoever. I should have just taken it easy. By the middle of the day, I was on the Pacific.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Catch-Up Post

The road to Arco was long and empty.

I was thankful for the lone mountains on my left, because only they let me know I was moving at all. 50 miles later, they were behind me.

Back in the day, even when the area was settled, few had gone this way. I could see why. The temperature was around 110, and if you looked for rivers on the map and expected to get water, you were out of luck.

I eventually made it to a little town called Arco, at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains.

That was where I spent the night.

The next morning, within minutes of taking off, I decided to stop at the gas station and grab some breakfast; I wasn't likely to find any other food as I kept going. As I shifted into low gear to pull over, I felt a pop and then no resistance from the lever; turning the pedals some more, I realized the gear hadn't switched. I looked down and saw the culprit. My gear cable had snapped.

I ignored the situation, leaned my bike against the wall, went in and got some donuts. Then I went outside and tried switching the gear with my hands, thinking I'll just get off and put it in low for uphills or strong wind, and then get off and put it into high for downhills. I had less than 200 miles to go to Boise, and I was sure there would be bike shops there.

But alas, the derailleur—the piece that shifts the chain from one gear to another—was on a spring, and, not being pulled away by a gear cable, would always snap me into high gear. I was looking for ways to jam stuff into the derailleur to counteract the spring and hold it in low gear when a truck full of tools pulled up and the driver got out.

I got up too. "How are you doing?"

The driver looked over. "Not bad, how about you?"

"Pretty good." I allowed a pause. "You wouldn't happen to have any thin but strong cables you're planning to throw away, would you?"

His name was Michael, and there was no such cable in his truck, but his garage door had broken a while ago, and it had been held up by cables. He helped me take one and cut it to size. It took a lot of work to give it an end that would hold—the tension on a gear cable is pretty amazing—but eventually we did it, using the massive tools on his truck (his job was fixing heavy machinery; mostly tractors).

The cable was much thicker than a standard gear cable, and no matter how I adjusted the derailleur, I couldn't get my lowest gear anymore, but I could get all the others, so it wasn't much of an issue. Michael asked me if I could mail him some Boston bread. I wasn't sure what he meant, but I took his business card, and when I get back to Boston, I'll see if I can do some research and get him some.

I got back on the bike and pushed onward.


90 miles later, I was in Fairfield (pop. 395), where I met Cathy, who invited me to stay and rest for a couple of days. So that night, I found myself at a campfire with Cathy in her backyard, along with her daughter Monica and her friend Kip, who had just driven up from Salt Lake. I was again showered and warm. I'm becoming quite convinced that discomfort cannot last long when you are among Americans, if not people in general.

After a couple of days, Monica went back to college in Boise, which was the direction I was headed, and invited me to come stay with her there, which I did.

As an aside, I should mention that I didn't take most of the luggage off of my bike while I was at Cathy's—I just left the loaded bike in the back yard—and when I finally did go through it, I thought someone had played a joke on me.

I was about to pick it up like a piece of plastic when it moved. Realizing it was alive, I picked up the entire piece of luggage, on which it just walked around without getting off. I don't know how it appeared in the arid Idaho desert, but I left it by Cathy's artificial pond.


I loved Boise. It was the biggest city I had hit since Chicago (and it had been some 1,800 miles since Chicago), and I couldn't help but stay there for a few days too. I don't like to stay with one person for too long—I feel like I might overstay my welcome—so within a couple of days, I met Travis and left Monica just as her classes began. I stayed with Travis for a few more days, spending nights at bars and mornings sleeping in.

Eventually I left, shooting through about 60 more miles of country roads, still in 110-degree temperatures, until I crossed the Snake River.

I'd known this crossing was coming, but it was still hard for me to believe that I had actually hit it, although its particular significance was purely artificial.

I arrived in Nyssa, OR, around 4 PM, ready to splurge on a motel room, lie down, relax, make a few phone calls.

Instead, I followed the road through a creepy concrete tunnel into downtown. There was not a single person on the street. There was a nice-looking row of shops—except that each one had a sign hanging on the door that said CLOSED. It reminded me of walking around Tampere, Finland, at 2 AM in the summer, when it was light but everybody was asleep. I checked my watch. Nope, definitely 4 PM. Day of the week? Thursday.

I saw a gas station around the corner, so I decided to pull in and ask for directions. Except that it, too, was closed.

I finally found a red-haired teenage girl with a backpack sitting on a bench. She had a ghoulishly pale face and stared at me expressionlessly as I talked, then quietly pointed me to the only motel in town.

I got over there. There were some cars parked, but not a soul anywhere. The office was locked, and had a sign with a number to call to make a reservation. I called that number; no one picked up.

So instead of having an easy day that ended at 4 PM, after wasting some hours circling around Nyssa looking for humans, I had to bike onward, into the cornfields.

I gunned it, hoping to reach a populated area before nightfall.

Around 9:30 PM, cursing the time I wasted in Nyssa, I pulled into a little town called Vale and got a room.


I was told in Vale that it was 60 miles to the next town, called Juntura. I got on the road expecting an easy day ahead.

For a long time, the road snaked through the eastern Oregon desert along the Malheur River.

I was surprised by the name—not so much by its meaning ("misfortune"), given the terrain around it, but by the fact that it was French. When had the French made it out here? Were they really the first ones? I had wondered earlier about the name "Boise," until I discovered that it was on the Boise River, which in French would simply have been called La Boise, translating to "wooded river." I had biked along that river recreationally while I stayed there, and it really was surrounded by dense trees, which was not normal for Idaho. So everything seemed natural—except that the name was French. Clearly there is a gap in my knowledge of American history.


The road departed from the Malheur

and snaked up into the mountains.

I panted upward, starting to worry about my low water levels and thinking I should have just taken some water from the Malheur and used some of my purification tablets.

And just then, I went over a pass and, out of nowhere, came a sign.

I screeched to a stop and started looking around. And looking. And looking. The sign seemed to have come out of nowhere, and all around was just desert.

After some time, in a little hidden nook quite far from the sign, I discovered a well.

And I thought about how primitive my life seemed to be now. My biggest worry was the weather, and happiness was a well in the desert.

I also realized I had piled so many precautions on top of precautions that I was very quick to begin to worry. My water levels had not been at all low, and while I felt better after filling up, I would have had plenty to make it to Juntura. Which, incidentally, was, at that point, only 22 miles away, and it was still quite the middle of the day; yet again, I had been pushing myself for little reason.

I arrived in Juntura, which, amazingly, had a cafe. I walked in and placed an order of such proportions that when it got to the kitchen, the cook walked out to look at me. I'll bet my proportions weren't exactly what he had expected. He cooked it and came out again to watch me eat it. I finished it and just sat there, talking to him. Pretty soon, I left the cafe with a bag of pizza slices that I had been given for free, and was quickly provided with a hut (which apparently had been sitting empty) in which I spent the next two nights relaxing again.


Eventually, I headed off through the mountains again.

I passed signs testifying to the genius of some of those who had passed before me.

I passed signs letting me know I was getting closer to the end of all this.

There was next to nothing else along the road.

I crossed Drinking Water Pass.

I crossed Stinking Water Pass.

I came out into a flat valley with 23 miles left to Burns, over the course of which there was no way to tell that I was moving at all.


This, of course, bore no comparison to what came after Burns. Over the following 130 miles, I took three pictures, with 30 to 40 miles between consecutive ones. Here they are.

At the end of that 130-mile stretch, which I pretty much covered in one day—I had NO desire to be there any longer than I had to—I ended up in the city of Bend.

Bend is actually a beautiful place, right at the beginning of the Cascade range. The people were friendly, and I met Kristine here, at whose house I am now. Ever since I arrived, it's been lazy days and parties.


And there, I'm caught up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy September, everyone. It's 3 AM and frigid in the central Oregon
desert, and I somehow have enough signal to get online. The phone
isn't good enough to continue the narrative even in a cursory fashion,
but I left off on Arnie and Joy. I was checking facebook updates just
now, and saw this one from Arnie:

Loading my little pigs still breaks my heart... I feel the full weight
of how the world really works and what I am.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'd like to apologize to everyone for the ridiculous trouble I've had updating this thing. It's not easy to get my hands on internet such that my time isn't strictly limited.

This is going to be a quick attempt to catch up, with a lot less detail than what you're used to if you've been reading this.


From Cody, I headed up the highway into the mountains.

I followed Shoshoni canyon,

constantly warned by everyone, as well as signs, to watch for bears and have my spray ready.

I pitched my tent by the river, and the sight of a tent without a car attracted a group of bikers (the motorcycle type), of whom a couple asked me to have dinner with them. The husband and I then went fly-fishing. The Rockies weren't looking so bad. I slept decently and though I couldn't see the sunrise, I could see some of its effects.

I was told the campgrounds in Yellowstone fill up by 8 AM. Once I got there, I found they actually filled up by 7 AM. This was obnoxious, so I made a straight shot through Yellowstone in one day. Morning in Yellowstone was below freezing, so pools of boiling water helped.

If dense fog that smells like rotten eggs is your thing, Yellowstone is for you.

Admittedly, geysers are pretty cool, especially if you've never seen that sort of thing.

Since I'd decided to jet through Yellowstone, I went ahead and crossed a couple of state lines in one day.

I ended up in Idaho Falls, where I met Arnie and Joy, who owned and lived on a pig farm. I couldn't eat the pigs myself, but I could unload and stack bales of hay, or, if there wasn't any heavy labor to do, pick pea pods.


At the table, Arnie picked up a pork chop and took a bite.

"Yeah, Lady. I remember Lady." He took another bite. "She was a good one, Lady."

I just sat there and smiled.

"It's one thing to know your food," said Arnie. "It's another thing to know your food."

"Is it hard to slaughter them?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's hard. But the way I look at it, somebody's got to suffer. Modern technology makes it too easy to kill. People nowadays don't want to know."

"I don't even know if that's a good thing or a bad thing," said Joy.


OK, this place is locking up, so it looks like I'm still not going to catch up all the way.