Leg 39 – Smooth Rollings (and Some Flats) Down the Snake River Canyon to Vale, Oregon


I made 77 miles today, to Vale, Oregon.

It was another quiet night away from traffic. The night sounds included the gurgle of the Snake River over a rock at the rivers edge, the lowing of cattle, and the now familiar coyote calls. But there was one night sound I have been dreading, and it came last night – the sound of an animal in my food sack. It’s hard to carry critter protection on a bike camping trip. Some campsites have bear lockers; this one did not. I opened my tent flap and lit my bike light to see a huge raccoon pawing at my food bag hanging from a railing. The raccoon was startled and tentatively walked away. I followed him with my light beam, his eyes glowing back at me. The raccoon walked back to the bag, and I followed it with my beam. Then the light must have spooked it, because it ambled off into the brush. I lay awake, sure he would be back. It he didn’t come back and my food bag was unmolested in the morning.

I got a late start again, since I stopped to chat with the campers who had offered help with my lost cell phone last night. Also, my front tire was flat again, so I put in a new tube and checked (carefully I thought) for thorns inside the tire.

I was looking forward to a paved ride down the Snake River today, but the first road Google sent me on, “Laughlin Lane,” turned out to be a very rocky Jeep track. I had to walk mt bike up the hills. The Jeep track petered out in the scrub near a large dairy operation – the first of many large dairy CAFOs I would see today, Google wanted me to climb the chain link fence and ride through the cows, but I rode on the gravel road around the perimeter instead, which eventually lead to a series of paved country roads labeled as the Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway.

There were nice views of the broad canyon, the green irrigated fields, and the rugged buttes either side. Eventually the route crossed the Snake and followed some smaller and smaller backroads. When Google said “Turn right” without naming a road, I stopped to check the map a short way down the soft sand Jeep track. When Google tells you to turn, but can’t name the road you are on, I have learned to be cautious. It turned out that well paved Idaho Rt 95, just 1/2 mile away, went in the same direction and would be much faster.

But my new tube was also leaking now, and I had to stop several times to pump it up. I stopped in the shade of trees near a residence, and thought I would patch the tube, but dogs were barking at me and I remounted the wheel, pressing on for the town of Homedale, which looked large enough to offer cold drinks and water. I was bottoming out on my rim when I pulled into the gas station in Homedale. I bought a Pepsi and asked to fill my water bottle, then went outside to the bench in the sliver of shade and drank the Pepsi. I then removed the wheel and inner tube, listened carefully for the leak, and eventually found a pinhole so small it was indistinguishable from the natural imperfections in the tube. I reluctantly opened the glue tube in the patch kit (once opened, it will harden and become unusable in a week or so). I patched the tube and felt around the tire where the pinhole was, but found nothing. I the took off my glasses and inspected the tire tread very closely in a way that only a severely myopic person is capable of. I found a thorn where the pinhole was, and removed it with pliers. I removed some other bits of glass and gravel embedded in the tread while I was at it.

The afternoon rollings went better with a firm front tire, and after some random turns on paved back roads that google sent me on, I arrived at a small, weathered, green sign that said “Entering Oregon.” So I am there – I really have ridden a bike from New York to Oregon. Now when people ask me where I am headed, I can’t say “Oregon” anymore. So I will have to say “the Rogue River” now.

Oregon is even drier and more desertlike than Idaho. It got to be lunchtime, but there were precious few shaded spots, and those that were were covered in prickly scrub. When I got to Adrian, the Mirage bar had a bench outside with its sliver of shade, and a sign that said “beer to go.” It was dark inside. I asked what was on tap and the barmaid pointed to a refrigerator full of canned beers. I chose a blood orange ale, because I didn’t get my orange juice this morning. I drank it at the bar then went back out to eat some PB&J sandwiches with the leftover provisions I am trying to use up. Check out the bumper stickers on that car.

After some five more miles on paved back roads, I reached an intersection. Straight ahead, the sign said “Dead end.” Google told me to go right on Borges Lane, where the sign said “Road Closed to Through Traffic.” I checked the map. Borges Lane was supposed to take me across the Owyhee River, but if the bridge was out, I would have to backtrack five miles and find another route. So I went on, figuring that maybe the closed bridge was crossable or there was some other way to cross the river. As it turned out, the closed section was some rough gravel in the bed of the Owyhee River, with a culvert. It was a dry tire crossing.

After some more turns, google sent me up Lytle Boulevard, which followed the long arid Owyhee valley and climbed and climbed and climbed for seven miles. Despite the extra hydration of a third bottle of water, a Pepsi, and a beer, and despite being at low elevations now, I was again feeling tuckered out and running out of water. Near the summit of the climb, there was a shaded historical marker for the route of the Oregon Trail. Even though there was no bench, I lay down on the cement for a restorative rest in the shade. Then I climbed the rest of the way to the top of the pass, and freewheeled down the long grade into the green trees of Vale, Oregon.

Google said the Bates Motel could be found on the west side of town. When I got there, a sign on the run down motel said closed (though it might have meant the Bates Pizza place) and the “No” was lit up in the “No Vacancy” sign, even though there were only three vehicles parked in front of the twenty units. As I swung my bike around to go look downtown for another option, I saw a white haired man out by the residence and I shouted to him. “So the motel is closed?” He shouted back “No, do you need a room.” “I do,” I said. So I checked myself in to the Bates Motel and took a nice cool shower.


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