Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don’s Blog: June 23 and 24: Eastern Oregon Mountains

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Greetings from Baker City, Oregon, probably the biggest city I’ve seen since leaving Portland last Sunday morning. I have not posted for a couple of days, but I’ve got a good reason, really. Yesterday’s ride was a very lengthy 117 miles, leaving little time and energy afterwards for anything other than recovery and getting prepared for today’s ride.

I was a little anxious about the 117-mile day Friday, dating back to when I first received the ride schedule weeks before the trek. After several days of 60 to 80-mile rides, how would I be able to handle such a long ride? Even fresh, that kind of distance is tough. And if all that were not enough, we faced two huge climbs, up and over 5,000-foot passes at mile 30 and again before mile 50.

I departed the parking lot at the hotel in Prineville at 6:00 a.m. exactly, after an early breakfast at the 24-hour restaurant next door. One aspect of the Western climate that has taken some getting used to is how cold it can be in the early morning, before the temperature quickly jumps up, sometimes by as much as 40 to 50 degrees. It was in the 40s at the start of the ride, with a pesky little headwind. I was freezing! It brought back memories of those rides back in Boston this past March.

Fortunately I was able to join in a pace line with a half-dozen riders, a huge help when dealing with any kind of headwind. We had not experienced much in the way of headwinds, but on this day it was certainly present, at least until the day warmed up and the weather settled into its usual calm, dry, cloudless, baking normality.

As we moved ahead I ended up working together with a Ted Leh from Milburn New Jersey, and his son Steven, just 14 years old, having just finished his freshman year in high school. I cannot imagine having attempted something like this at that age. Of course, times have changed and the world is much more accessible than in 1969, when I was 14 years of age. Ted was determined to forge head through the heat of the day, and Steven easily stayed with the pace. After cresting the final mountain pass at 53 miles, we flew down the other side of the mountain and were at the 66-mile sag stop in no time.

After a short break we continued downhill, eating up the miles. There was a sag stop scheduled at 86 miles, but Ted felt determined to push ahead, in order to reach the finish and escape the heat, which was becoming more oppressive with each passing minute. We were well stocked with fluids and the miles were going by fairly quickly. By 1:00 p.m. we had passed the century mark. Only 17 miles remained; almost home free. Not quite however, as a few more miles down the road my gearing locked up, bringing me to a grinding halt. With the ride mechanic nowhere near us and out of cell phone range, I was stranded. I worked and worked to free the chain, but even when I did it still seemed to be gummed up. I told Ted and Steven to go ahead, but just when I gave it one last try on the bike I got moving again, slowly. We gingerly eased on down the road for the final 10 miles into the town of John Day (more on that later).

At 2:27 we pulled into the parking lot of the Sunset Inn, finally done, the first riders in our group to complete the ride. The remainder of the riders would trickle in over the next five hours.

Most of the rest of the day was spent recovering and resting, along with fruitlessly attempting to connect to the Internet. The motel’s sever was “down,” frustrating and disappointing the cadre of overachievers in the group (including your reporter) who need to electronically connect with outside world each day. Welcome to 2006! What did riders in these tour groups do before laptops and wireless connections? They probably used the hotel room phones or simply socialized with those around them, not that bad an alternative, when you stop and consider it.

Saturday, June 25

Another day, another mountain pass to climb. Three of them actually, all more than 5,000 feet, although I should mention that we began at close to or more than 2,500 feet to start. Still, these climbs are proving tough. All you can do is try to settle into a slow, steady climbing pace. When you get to the top, you get to the top, whenever that is. I am finding that more than being challenged cardiovascular, it is comfort on the bike that is tough to achieve on the long climbs. My right upper back and neck have been very tight and sore, in particular. I hope as we go forward and encounter even longer, steeper climbs, my body will adjust accordingly.

Other than the climbs, the ride was nice, including some spectacular scenery. From the last sag stop at 60 miles to the finish at 81, I fell into a pace line with four other riders, a group that usually leads the way each day. A pace line offers relief against fighting the wind. Each rider takes a turn at the front, after a few minutes yielding to another rider and falling behind. I guess I got a little too overeager when I was at the front, as after several minutes I realized only one of the riders was still with me. The two of us worked it into the finish at the Best Western in Baker City, a nice looking town in Eastern Oregon.

Coincidentally, there was a criterium bike race talking place in Baker City when we arrived, although our hotel was a few miles from the action. Several of the riders were staying at the hotel, however. In stark contrast to out mostly older, conservative touring group, many of the criterium riders were youngsters, full of “piss and vinegar” as the saying goes. There were about a half-dozen staying in the room across the hall from me. The pace they ride is probably twice as fast as we are managing each day out on the road. Oh to be young again.

John Day

For someone who did not do much in the way of making history, John Day sure has a lot of landmarks named after him: the cities of John Day and Dayville, the John Day River, and the John Day national fossil monument.

From the Grant County, Oregon, web site:

“John Day was a hunter from the backwoods of Virginia. He arrived in Oregon, at about 40 years of age. He was described as six feet two inches tall, a handsome man with a manly countenance, straight as an Indian with an elastic step "as if he trod on springs". It was his boast that in his younger days nothing could hurt or daunt him, but he had lived too fast and injured his constitution by excesses. Still, he was strong of hand, bold of heart, a prime woodsman, and an almost unerring shot.”

“Day was engaged by the Wilson Price Hunt or "Overland Party" of the Pacific Fur Company (Astorians) as a hunter in the fall of 1810. They were to cross the Plains and Rocky Mountains during 1811, and arrive in Astoria during the winter or early spring of 1812. John Day's early excesses evidently incapacitated him for the extreme hardships of this journey. During December, 1811 he became ill, and his life was saved only because Ramsay Crooks remained behind with him at an Indian camp near Weiser, Idaho, The following spring, Crooks and Day made their way across the Blue Mountains to the Columbia River. They were attacked by Indians, robbed, and left naked near the mouth of the Mau Mau River, thirty miles east of The Dalles. After the attack the two men started back to the friendly Walla Walla country when they met Robert Stuart's party going to Astoria. The two men joined this party and reached Astoria in early May, 1812. The people started calling the Mau Mau River "John Day River" because he was attacked there. Within a very few years, the maps changed the name to John Day, and then a valley, two cities, the fossil beds and a dam took on the name of the river. It is likely that John Day never actually visited the area which now uses his name so frequently.

“On June 20, 1812, John Day was assigned to accompany Robert Stuart back across the plains to St, Louis with dispatches from Astoria to John Jacob Astor. During the night of July 2, 1812, while encamped near Wapato Island, John Day became "deranged" and attempted suicide. He then ran away from the party and wandered through the woods until he died. (This is the first recorded death.) Washington Irving, on pages 111-112 of Volume 2 of Astoria stated that at this point Day was sent back to Astoria, but "his constitution" was completely broken by the hardship he had undergone and he died within a year, (This was his second recorded death.)