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.