Tuesday, June 30, 1981

9. Prairie City, Oregon

Day 9:  Tuesday, June 30, 1981

Rock Creek to Prairie City:  77 miles

We left our Rock Creek island early in the morning, and continued down to the John Day River valley.  In Dayville, we stopped for breakfast, where we had the largest pancakes and sausage patty we'd ever seen.  The other customer in the cafe was a retired geology professor who had taught at Houghton (in Michigan's Upper Peninsula) for 20 years.  He said that Corvallis, where he grew up, was too wet, so he settled in Dayville, where it was nice and dry and the fishing was good.

Rock Creek meets the John Day River in the Picture Gorge.  It made for a beautiful downhill.  At the top of the gorge, a flock of about 100 sheep were baaing as I rounded the first turn into the narrow canyon.

Because of the interplay of volcanic and sedimentary activity in the region, there are excellent fossil beds that have been analyzed by geologists.  The oreodont seems to be the local pet prehistoric animal.

John Day was a hop, skip, and a jump away (actually, it was about 3 hours' ride).  We intended just to eat lunch there and then move on, but we ended up spending four hours in town.  A rock had caught in my freewheel and was making a terrible racket.  At first I thought the trouble was in my bottom bracket, and I overhauled it, but the noise was still there.  When I removed the rear wheel, the stone fell out.  It had broken a spoke, so I put in a new one and also rotated my tires.  The rear one wears much faster than the front.

Prairie City railroad depot
The Sumpter Valley railroad depot in Prairie City
Other bikers had rolled into town, and decided to spend the night there, but Jack and I moved on to Prairie City.  We didn't expect any camping facilities, but found that the town had a small camping park built around a partly-restored railroad depot.  It had been on the western end of the Sumpter Valley Railroad, which used to run from Baker to Prairie City.  The park had very nice facilities, and they charged only $1 to set up a tent and for a shower.

Monday, June 29, 1981

8. Rock Creek, Oregon

Day 8:  Monday, June 29, 1981
Ochoco Lake to Rock Creek:  58 miles

We rolled out of the Ochoco Lake campground while Hermon and his friend were eating breakfast.  Not too many miles later, we went through a stretch of road under construction near the top of Ochoco Pass.  Hot tar does wonders for bicycle tires.  After it coats them, the tires pick up sharp little pebbles.  One of them punctured Jack's rear tire, and after trying three times to patch the inner tube, he finally gave up and put in a new one.  One benefit of the road work is that we stopped at a roadside park with an artesian well that had the best water for miles around.

By this time, Hermon had caught up with us.  But we soon left him behind on the downhill from the pass.  It was warming up quickly, however, and by the time we reached Mitchell, we were dragging.  Mitchell is a hole in the wall at the bottom of a valley with a population of 200 (or so they claim) and it was hot!  We bought provisions and ate lunch with half a dozen other bikers in the town park.  Mitchell's hotel caters to bicyclists, and most of the others decided to stay put in Mitchell overnight, so they could tackle the steep hill out of town in the cool of the day.  But I couldn't talk Jack into sticking around, so we left everyone else behind at three in the afternoon.  The climb was excruciatingly hot, and I had to stop every few minutes for a swig of water.  The air is so dry, we go through water like mad.  My two water bottles carry about a quart, and that lasts 10-20 miles in this country.

Ups and downs
We had a lot of ups and downs today.

Once over the top, though, it was clear sailing down the road that followed winding Rock Creek.  We covered another 12 miles or so before finding a place to set up our tent.  It was on an island in the creek (at least, it would have been an island if the water had been higher) that was just large enough to hold the tent and our bikes.  After supper we bathed in the creek.  That's the first time I've skinny-dipped twenty feet from a U.S. highway!

Camp in the creek
Our camp on the island in the creek

We covered only 58 miles today.  But after the climb out of Mitchell, that was plenty.

Sunday, June 28, 1981

7. Ochoco Lake, Oregon

Day 7:  Sunday, June 28, 1981

McKenzie Pass to Ochoco Lake:  72 miles

It wasn't hard to wake up at the crack of dawn - we were freezing.  Getting out of bed was another matter.  The wash cloth I had hung out had frozen stiff, and ice drops flew off the tent fly as we took it down.  Luckily, it was too cold out for the mosquitoes.   Nevertheless, we decided to forego breakfast until it had warmed up a little.

McKenzie Pass was more like a meadow - in fact, its old name was Summit Prairie.  After the long climb up, the downhill on the other side was great - although not nearly as long, since we descended only about 2000'.  The change in climate was immediately apparent:  the Cascades trap moisture on their western side, and the central and eastern parts of Oregon are quite arid.  Whereas Douglas fir and hemlock dominated the western slopes, the eastern slopes held great stands of Ponderosa pine.

Several of the most active volcanoes in recent geological history are a few miles to the east of McKenzie Pass.  Their lava flows are hundreds of feet thick, and consist of the broken, porous rock known as "aa" lava.  The lava flows stretch for miles, and presented quite an obstacle to the pioneers' travel.  Vegetation on the flows is practically nonexistent - only a few dwarfed trees - and foot travel across the lava is treacherous.

lava beds
The lava beds stretch for miles

We breakfasted in Sisters, a small town at the foot of the Cascades which has become a tourist trap, then continued across desert-like central Oregon.  The contrast in temperature and humidity in the space of just a few miles was amazing.  Most Oregon farmers are heavily dependent upon irrigation - even grazing land is kept watered.  The principal crop in central Oregon seems to be hay - to feed livestock.

Crop irrigation in central Oregon
Crop irrigation in central Oregon

Our route took us through Redmond, then north a few miles to pass through a river valley to Prineville.  Although we had a few good hills, our elevation remained fairly constant, so we were able to put in a 72-mile day with little trouble.

Arid central Oregon
The mountains block the flow of moisture from the coast
Desert-like vegetation
The vegetation is much more desert-like

When we arrived at the campground at Ochoco Lake, about eight miles past Prineville, we had the surprise of our trip.  Hermon Hoffer, who had crossed from east to west last year, had decided to do it the easy way this time.  He and a buddy had left Astoria several days before we started, and had been traveling at a slower pace than we had.  Hermon is a retired farmer from Ashley, Michigan, and has ridden DALMAC almost every year, as well as many other rides.  Ten thousand miles a year is pretty good for a 76-year-old man!

Hermon Hoffer
Hermon Hoffer and his biking buddy

Most of our evening was spent in conversation with Hermon and with three other bikers who were also heading east.  One of them was Rick Perez, a 20-year-old former student from San Jose, who had already traveled several thousand miles and intended to make it to Boston by the end of the summer.  We shared our campsite and dinner table with him, and he ended up accompanying us for the next month.

Saturday, June 27, 1981

6. McKenzie Pass, Oregon

Day 6:  Saturday, June 27, 1981

Springfield to McKenzie Pass:  63 miles

It was a long day today.  Since I'm writing this two days later, I can't remember everything that happened, but I do know that we gained about 4000' elevation in 63 miles of riding.

We followed the McKenzie River valley through numerous small towns.  The McKenzie is a beautiful river, crystal-clear, with many rapids and good fishing.  Raft trips down the McKenzie are a popular pastime.  One of the hatcheries which stock the river and many of the mountain lakes is near Leaburg.  We stopped for an hour for a tour of the hatchery before continuing along the river road.

Covered bridge
Covered bridge across the McKenzie River

McKenzie River
The McKenzie River

Shortly after McKenzie Bridge, the road to the pass turns off from the main route and starts a climb of 4000' in 21 miles.  We had cycled about six miles past McKenzie Bridge when I looked at the map and discovered that there would be no food available until Sisters, 35 miles away and on the other side of the mountain!  Jack didn't want to go back, so we forged ahead, planning to make do with the little food we had.

4000 feet
4000 feet!

McKenzie Pass view
The view from McKenzie Pass

The climb was steep but beautiful.  We were in low gear much of the time, and I was hopping off my bike every few miles to take a picture.  We stopped at Alder Springs campground, about 3000', to fix supper.  All we had with us was some Bisquick and raisins, so I made raisin pancakes.  We had no shortening for the frying pan, so Jack scrounged some pork fat from fellow campers and we had cracklin's that weren't very crackly.

Jack jots in his journal
Jack jots in his journal

As we were washing dishes, two cyclists came buzzing down the mountain, and stopped at the campground for water.  They were from Vermont, and had left Yorktown, Virginia in March.  After finishing their transcontinental ride, they were planning on heading up to Vancouver, then back across Canada.  We asked them about the next campground up the road, which was almost at the top of the mountain, and they told us it would take about two hours to get there.

Since it was only about 5:00, we decided to try it.  Although it was only five miles, the rise in elevation was about 2000'.  Surprisingly, it took us only an hour.

The mosquitoes were thick at Frog campground.  There were more than a dozen cars there, but since Frog is a trailhead, almost everyone was out on the trail.  In spite of the mosquitoes, we took dishpan baths - the first we had had since Dallas.

And since there was nothing to do but dodge bugs, we made it an early night.

Friday, June 26, 1981

5. Springfield, Oregon

Day 5:  Friday, June 26, 1981

Dallas to Springfield:  85 miles

At 7:30, after breakfast, we said goodbye to Dick and Karen, and set off for points south.  The trail follows the Willamette River to Eugene before turning east to cross the Cascades.  The valley was almost perfectly flat, and made for a day of easy riding.

Wandering among the weeds

Most of the valley from Dallas to Eugene is used for raising various grasses to produce seed, but other crops included mint and beets.  Oregon State University is an agricultural college, and much of the land along our route was apparently farmed by OSU for research. 

Biking by the blackberries

Coburg is a small town about five miles north of Eugene.  It's a little larger than Coburg, Indiana (where my grandfather ran the general store), having half a dozen or so stores.   It doesn't have a railroad, though - it used to, but it was torn up recently.

Our route was supposed to take us to the north and east of Eugene and Springfield, but a bridge under repair forced us to detour through Springfield and ride busy Route 126 out of town.  By this time, the day was starting to seem pretty long.  A grove of fir trees beckoned us, and we set up camp in a meadow just beyond the trees, overlooking the McKenzie River valley.

Hidden meadow campsite
Hidden meadow campsite

In stark contrast to our meals of the past few days, our supper consisted of more of what we had had for lunch at Harrisburg:  baloney and cheese sandwiches.  There's just enough left over for us to have a sandwich for breakfast - yum!  (Note from the future:  Little did we know at this time that baloney and cheese were to become staples of our noonday meals...)

We met quite a few bikers on the road today.  Most of them were headed north.  Some were college students from Eugene, going to Portland; others were doing the TransAmerica Trail like us.  It would be nice to meet someone going our direction, and traveling at our pace.  Trouble is, if they're going at our pace, we probably won't meet them.

A thick cloud cover had moved in, and stayed with us most of the day.  But evening brought back the blue skies and a nice sunset to enjoy from our perch over the valley.

Campsite view
View from the campsite

Thursday, June 25, 1981

4. The Pacific Ocean

Day 4:  Thursday, June 25, 1981

Lincoln City to Dallas:  45 miles

It was a short day today.  I had wanted to start the ride from the coast at Neskowin, but Dick said that Highway 101 was much too hilly, and we'd have our work cut out for us if we just started at Lincoln City instead.

Of course we had to go out onto the beach for the traditional wheel-dipping and picture-taking session.  Coastal skies were mostly overcast, but the blue-green water and white breakers were beautiful just the same.  Jack settled for a fresh-water baptism (he found a spring flowing into the sea), but I opted for a full-fledged salt-water ceremony, tempered by a quick rinse at a nearby gas station.

Wheel dipping
We dip our wheels in the Pacific Ocean

Soon after we left the coast, our blue skies returned, and we enjoyed weather as untypical for a western Oregon June as is snow in Seattle.  Route 22 rises to about 800' as it crosses the coastal range, but tailwinds of 10-15 mph pushed us the 45 miles back to Dallas in five hours, which included a leisurely lunch, many photo stops, and several detours from our intended route.  Although the road was only two lanes wide, traffic was heavy, with many log trucks and campers.

Coastal range
The rolling hills of the coastal range

Yellow poppies
Yellow poppies beside the road

One of the highlights of the day was a stop at the western terminus of the Willamina & Grand Ronde Railroad, one of the shortest short lines in the country.  It has one engine (which we didn't spot) and some of the lightest rail I've ever seen.

Grand Ronde
The railroad station at Grand Ronde
Name these flowers!
Name these flowers!

On the way into Dallas, we picked up a couple six-packs of beer, some of which soon disappeared in the usual way.  (The rest stays with Dick and Karen - we didn't have room to pack it with us.)  Another of Karen's delicious meals and a relaxing evening topped off our last day of luxury.

Wednesday, June 24, 1981

3. Still Dallas

Day 3:  Wednesday, June 24, 1981

Still Dallas

Dick had called the local paper and told them that a 63-year-old man was riding across the country.  So they sent someone out this afternoon to interview us and take some photos.  We spent the rest of the day seeing the sights of Dallas (not many) and doing some shopping.  I made a spinach-onion quiche for the evening meal, and Karen made spaghetti, so we once again ate high on the hog.

We can't make a transcontinental trip without at least getting a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, so tomorrow Dick will drive us to Lincoln City, and we'll ride back to Dallas for one more night of luxury before setting out entirely on our own.

Tuesday, June 23, 1981

2. Dallas, Oregon

Day 2:  Tuesday, June 23, 1981

Portland to Dallas, Oregon:  80 miles

It was almost eleven last night by the time we completed assembling my bicycle.  Before we picked it up at the airport, we ate at Steamers, the restaurant next to the motel.  We went over in our bicycling T-shirts, and that caused the hostess at the restaurant a little consternation, as they had a rule that male guests had to wear shirts and collars.  But Jack spoke out, and we got in.  The meal was excellent - we had beef burgundy - and was made even better by the knowledge that the airline was picking up the tab.

Up at 6:00 - short night! - and we started the day with a repair of the first flat tire of the trip.  One of mine had gone flat overnight.  After repairs and final packing, we broke our fast - again at Steamers - and then headed off into the sunrise.  Our destination was Dallas, the home of Jack's cousin Dick and his wife Karen.

First flat
The first flat tire of the trip

June in the Northwest has the reputation of being a cool, rainy month.  Until we started riding, it lived up to its reputation.  Then, miraculously, the clouds broke, the drizzle dried up, and blue skies were ours.

We took 82nd Avenue south from the motel.  After five miles, we hit the suburbs.  Yuck.  It wasn't until we passed through Milwaukie and Oregon City that we finally got out into the country.  The hill out of Oregon City (which was at one time Oregon's capital) was our first real hill - if we hadn't converted to 15-speed gearing, we never would have made it without walking.

Out of the 'burbs
Finally out of the 'burbs and rarin' to go

Logging trucks abounded on Route 213 south of Oregon City, but riding was no problem.  Vehicles were cooperative, and there was a six-foot paved shoulder.  The Willamette Valley is 30 miles wide, from the Coastal Range to the Cascades, and runs north from Eugene to the Columbia River.  The fertile flood plain supports just about every crop imaginable - some of the more unusual ones are mint, hops, and grass seed.  The scenery was great - riding up a little rise, we could see for miles.  It wasn't until after Silverton, where we took a wrong turn, that we encountered any hills to speak of.  And then it was a two-mile grade on which we just had to gear down and crank away.

Flat Willamette
The flat Willamette Valley

I hadn't been paying much attention to the road signs, but Jack noticed, about ten miles out of Silverton, that Salem wasn't getting any closer.  We had been traveling south instead of west!   A pleasant detour on a lightly-traveled road took us into Salem, Oregon's capital.  We chugged right through town and on to Dallas on Route 22.

Route 22 west from Salem is a busy five-lane highway, but it has a nice bicycle path and a wide shoulder, both of which make for easy (but boring) riding.  We arrived in Dallas at 5:00 pm, after 80 miles and 9 hours on the road.  Dick met us at a local tavern, where we slaked our thirsts, and  then took us home to a delicious home-cooked meal, thanks to Karen, and some comfortable beds.  My first day on the road had produced sore muscles aplenty and a good case of biker's sunburn - back of neck and top sides of arms and legs. That bed felt good!

Monday, June 22, 1981

1. Portland, Oregon

Day 1:  Monday, June 22, 1981

Portland, Oregon

...and the first day of our grand and glorious trip across America.  If our first day's luck holds, we should be in Clackamas for Christmas.  My bike box disappeared somewhere between Seattle and Portland.  It held not only my bike, but tent, stove, mess kit, and miscellaneous odds and ends.  So far, Northwest Orient has treated us to supper, breakfast, and a motel room, and they're looking all over the country for that missing bicycle.

All that work on the bike seems rather pointless now.  I wouldn't mind waiting here until the bicycle showed up, but Jack is anxious to get on the road.  If the airline can't locate it, I'm not sure what to do - it would take $800 to replace all that's missing, and the airline will pay only $400 - and in their own sweet time.

We took a bus downtown this afternoon, and window-shopped for a replacement bike.  When we returned to the airport - good news!  My bike had been located in Chicago.  It will be in at 8:45 tonight.  We'll put it together, then spend one more night in the motel and head out in the morning.

We had planned to start from Astoria, in the northwest corner of Oregon, but now we'll just head south from Portland, visit a cousin of Jack's who lives near Dallas, and perhaps take an alternate route via Reedsport to look at the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, June 21, 1981


At 63, Jack was an experienced cycle tourist.  I, an el cheapo rider almost 30 years younger, had six DALMACs and a lazy solo tour of Great Britain under my belt.  A new adventure sounded like fun.  "But I'm not in shape for something like that!" I told him.  "Don't worry - after a few days on the road, you'll be in great shape!" he retorted.  And so we bought the route maps from Bikecentennial and began making our plans.

I managed to wangle an extended leave from my job as a COBOL/RPG programmer at the Michigan Department of Mental Health.  Come mid-June, I flew out to Seattle to visit Shelley, my sister, for a few days before heading to Portland to meet Jack for the actual start of the ride.  Seattle seemed like a very livable city.  I spent one evening with Denise and Mary, who used to work with me at DMH, and who were both now in the Seattle area with data processing jobs.  They urged me to consider moving out to Seattle, and said I could earn at least $5000 more out here than I could with the State.  (Two years later, I took their advice, and bought a house one block from Shelley.  I'm still there.)

As usual for me, preparations for the trip were put off until the last minute, with the result that I spent most of the three days in Seattle shopping for bicycle parts and rain gear, tuning my bike, and filling out my 1980 income tax returns.  I even worked on those darn taxes while Shelley and her housemates were hosting a party Saturday night.  Had I known what lay ahead, I would have postponed that drudgery until Portland, and enjoyed the party.  C'est la guerre.