Leg 44 – Through the Sun Pass Labyrinth to Crater Lake National Park

6/20

I made 30 miles today to Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park – not a big day in miles, but my Runtastic App says I climbed over 6,000 feet.

I had no cell phone or internet last night or most of today, so I had to work from routing info I saved at the cafe yesterday. Google’s preferred route to Crater Lake takes a backdoor to the East Rim Road, which I knew to be closed due to snow. The second and third routes followed Sun Pass road to the top of Sun Pass, then navigated a maze of forest roads to Route 62. Although Sun Pass Road also went to Route 62, it looked like it made a steep side hill 800 foot drop from the Pass, which would not be fun on unimproved roads on a road bike.

I knew my way back to Sun Pass Road, which was fairly easy rolling on semi-improved hard gravel. Fortunately I had made a screenshot of the maze of forest service roads, and the Google base map was good enough to locate me among topographic features, even if the roads were missing, so I had a pretty good idea of where I was most the time. When the time came for the turnoff from Sun Pass Road, there was a barricade across the road. But the sign just said it was closed to wheeled motorized vehicles; snowmobiles and hikers were specifically welcomed, so I figured it was open for bikes.

The hard sand road made a beautiful, mostly smooth drop through the forest, with mountains peeking through the tall trees. Piles of pine cones, and some washout ruts and potholes kept my attention and my brakes engaged, though. At the bottom, I needed to check the map to confirm the sharp right turn onto a good gravel road. This road was easy to follow for a while, but eventually petered out and became indistinguishable from the maze of sand tracks. With multiple mapchecking stops, and minimal backtracking, I managed to find the right route as it hooked north, then west, the south, then west again to join Route 62 at a Volcanic Scenic Byway information sign.

I ate lunch, then went to pump my tires back up to pavement pressure. But when I removed the valve cap from my front tire all the air whooshed out. Good thing I have spare tubes now, I thought. But it turned out that the valve on this tube can be unscrewed from the stem, and it was a simple matter of screwing the valve back in.

Route 62 soon crossed the boundary of Crater Lake National Park, and climbed and climbed and climbed along the rim of Annie Creek Canyon. I made plenty of rest and picture stops, and got to Mazama Village at around 2:30, where there were campsites available, a grocery stocked only a little bit better than the Silver Lake market, and a fireplace, cold beer, pricey kale salad, and slow WiFi at the restaurant. No pictures with this post because the WiFi is too damn slow!

Tomorrow I will ride up to the rim road

Leg 44 – Through the Sun Pass Labyrinth to Crater Lake National Park

6/20

I made 30 miles today to Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park – not a big day in miles, but my Runtastic App says I climbed over 6,000 feet.

I had no cell phone or internet last night or most of today, so I had to work from routing info I saved at the cafe yesterday. Google’s preferred route to Crater Lake takes a backdoor to the East Rim Road, which I knew to be closed due to snow. The second and third routes followed Sun Pass road to the top of Sun Pass, then navigated a maze of forest roads to Route 62. Although Sun Pass Road also went to Route 62, it looked like it made a steep side hill 800 foot drop from the Pass, which would not be fun on unimproved roads on a road bike.

I knew my way back to Sun Pass Road, which was fairly easy rolling on semi-improved hard gravel. Fortunately I had made a screenshot of the maze of forest service roads, and the Google base map was good enough to locate me among topographic features, even if the roads were missing, so I had a pretty good idea of where I was most the time. When the time came for the turnoff from Sun Pass Road, there was a barricade across the road. But the sign just said it was closed to wheeled motorized vehicles; snowmobiles and hikers were specifically welcomed, so I figured it was open for bikes.

The hard sand road made a beautiful, mostly smooth drop through the forest, with mountains peeking through the tall trees. Piles of pine cones, and some washout ruts and potholes kept my attention and my brakes engaged, though. At the bottom, I needed to check the map to confirm the sharp right turn onto a good gravel road. This road was easy to follow for a while, but eventually petered out and became indistinguishable from the maze of sand tracks. With multiple mapchecking stops, and minimal backtracking, I managed to find the right route as it hooked north, then west, the south, then west again to join Route 62 at a Volcanic Scenic Byway information sign.

I ate lunch, then went to pump my tires back up to pavement pressure. But when I removed the valve cap from my front tire all the air whooshed out. Good thing I have spare tubes now, I thought. But it turned out that the valve on this tube can be unscrewed from the stem, and it was a simple matter of screwing the valve back in.

Route 62 soon crossed the boundary of Crater Lake National Park, and climbed and climbed and climbed along the rim of Annie Creek Canyon. I made plenty of rest and picture stops, and got to Mazama Village at around 2:30, where there were campsites available, a grocery stocked only a little bit better than the Silver Lake market, and a fireplace, cold beer, pricey kale salad, and slow WiFi at the restaurant. No pictures with this post because the WiFi is too damn slow!

Tomorrow I will ride up to the rim road

Leg 44 – Through the Sun Pass Labyrinth to Crater Lake National Park

6/20

I made 30 miles today to Mazama Village in Crater Lake National Park – not a big day in miles, but my Runtastic App says I climbed over 6,000 feet.

I had no cell phone or internet last night or most of today, so I had to work from routing info I saved at the cafe yesterday. Google’s preferred route to Crater Lake takes a backdoor to the East Rim Road, which I knew to be closed due to snow. The second and third routes followed Sun Pass road to the top of Sun Pass, then navigated a maze of forest roads to Route 62. Although Sun Pass Road also went to Route 62, it looked like it made a steep side hill 800 foot drop from the Pass, which would not be fun on unimproved roads on a road bike.

I knew my way back to Sun Pass Road, which was fairly easy rolling on semi-improved hard gravel. Fortunately I had made a screenshot of the maze of forest service roads, and the Google base map was good enough to locate me among topographic features, even if the roads were missing, so I had a pretty good idea of where I was most the time. When the time came for the turnoff from Sun Pass Road, there was a barricade across the road. But the sign just said it was closed to wheeled motorized vehicles; snowmobiles and hikers were specifically welcomed, so I figured it was open for bikes.

The hard sand road made a beautiful, mostly smooth drop through the forest, with mountains peeking through the tall trees. Piles of pine cones, and some washout ruts and potholes kept my attention and my brakes engaged, though. At the bottom, I needed to check the map to confirm the sharp right turn onto a good gravel road. This road was easy to follow for a while, but eventually petered out and became indistinguishable from the maze of sand tracks. With multiple mapchecking stops, and minimal backtracking, I managed to find the right route as it hooked north, then west, the south, then west again to join Route 62 at a Volcanic Scenic Byway information sign.

I ate lunch, then went to pump my tires back up to pavement pressure. But when I removed the valve cap from my front tire all the air whooshed out. Good thing I have spare tubes now, I thought. But it turned out that the valve on this tube can be unscrewed from the stem, and it was a simple matter of screwing the valve back in.

Route 62 soon crossed the boundary of Crater Lake National Park, and climbed and climbed and climbed along the rim of Annie Creek Canyon. I made plenty of rest and picture stops, and got to Mazama Village at around 2:30, where there were campsites available, a grocery stocked only a little bit better than the Silver Lake market, and a fireplace, cold beer, pricey kale salad, and slow WiFi at the restaurant. No pictures with this post because the WiFi is too damn slow!Tomorrow I will ride up to the rim road

Leg 43 – Out of the Desert and Into the National Forests

6/19 (Posted late due to no internet)

I made 83 miles today, from Christmas Valley to the Scott Creek Campground 25 miles south of Chemult, Oregon in the Winema National Forest.

One challenge today was a Waterkeeper Board meeting scheduled for 9 am to noon Pacific Time. I couldn’t afford to delay a desert start to an eighty mile day until after noon, so I needed to make some miles before the call. Fortunately, there was a small town called Sliver Lake, with a cafe, and (according to AT&T) cell coverage. So I actually set an alarm for five am, woke up at 4:45 without the alarm, had motel Mr Coffee, two bananas, two cherry pastries, and an orange juice as a down payment on breakfast and actually hit the road before six am.

My new firmly inflated tires rolled easily down paved Old Lake Road in the long clear light of the desert dawn. And the desert is cold in the morning! But the scenery was interesting, and the sage desert faded to green irrigated fields. By the time I reached Route 31 the hills were not just dotted, but blanketed with pine trees.

I reached Silver Lake in plenty of time, so I went shopping for dinner at the Silver Lake Market, since I did not expect to see another store. The cavernous market had the air – and a little of the odor – of a building that devoted most of its life to the repair and maintenance of internal combustion engines. Pickings were slim. I settled on Vienna sausages and sauerkraut (that’s a vegetable, right?) for dinner, with the one Chobani yogurt in the fridge case as dessert.

I went back to the Cafe, and made a test call to Robin to see if one bar of cell was enough. For second breakfast I ordered the “classic” – eggs over hash browns, with sausage and toast and endless coffee. I kept getting dropped from the phone call, but fortunately the cafe had WiFi and I could use it to connect to the meeting.

After the call headed west out of town and turned left on Bear Flat Road, which led into the Fremont National Forest. And there were trees! At first, short pines dense enough to provide a windbreak, but not tall enough to cast a shadow. At last, I was through with battling headwinds in treeless plains! And as the road ascended, the trees ascended as well, becoming towering red barked

pines shading the road – shade that was hardly needed in the still cool air. And the scent of pines and the whisper of the wind in their needles told me I had finally left the desert for the Forest. (Oregonians seem to think that the high desert can be full of trees, that’s fine, I’ll take my desert with trees thank you). Glimpses of the snow clad cone of Mount Scott showed up on straight stretches of road. To be sure, stretches of forest showed evidence of logging activity, and a few logging trucks passed me in the opposite direction, but I was grateful for the forest anyway.

When it got to be lunchtime (a little later than usual, given second breakfast), I really wanted a stop with a view of Mount Scott. I was almost ready to give up when the road passed the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and descended to a huge open wet meadow with a dramatic view of the peak. So I stopped for lunch, then went back to take a picture of the crossing of the Williamson River.

After lunch, the road through the wildlife refuge rose to a ridge then dropped even more spectacularly into Klamath Marsh itself – ten miles of causeway across marshlands with Mount Scott towering over it all and other snow clad peaks in the wings.

At mile 78 for the day, I reached Rte 97, and crossed it to the Forest Service Road that would provide access to the campground. It was tough going in the soft, fine, red gravel. My new tires are a little skinnier than to old ones – 35mm instead of 38, and they sliced and sank right into the gravel. I could barely make the bike move and stay upright – and it was five miles to the campground. So after going to all that trouble for firm tires that didn’t leak . . . I let some air out of both tires, the flatter treads floated and gripped a little better in the gravel, and I could find a good line to ride at an acceptable clip. The route went from gravel to hard dirt deep in the woods – an easier ride – and eventually dropped into the shallow ravine where Scott Creek flowed and the empty campground awaited me.

And here I have peace and solitude – deep in the tall trees lit by the slanting rays of the evening sun, the only sound the gurgle and hiss of the clear flowing creek. There was plenty of firewood and kindling, so I started a fire to cook, purify water, and maybe keep the bugs and bears away. My solitude was disturbed only briefly when a pickup truck with a couple of men riding on the tailgate stopped to fill several large containers with water from the creek crossing. Later, a small crossover SUV drove in and out of the campground several times before settling at the far end of the campground, but they were very quiet and I might as well have been alone in the wildernelss

Leg 42 – Around the Sand Desert to Christmas Valley

6/18

I made 86 miles today in the lonesome desert to Christmas Valley, Oregon, including 6 miles of backtracking to Riley.

I woke at five and thought I could sneak another fifteen minutes of sleep, but didn’t reawaken until 5:45, so I got a later start than I wanted. At seven, I said goodbye to my erstwhile pedaling companion, and hit the road, after filling my two water bottles plus an empty 32 oz Gatorade bottle Dave gave me.

Google’s preferred route to Christmas Valley would send me west another 20 miles on 20, then “turn left” on an unnamed Jeep track. I had asked Randy, the BLM Campground caretaker, about the google route yesterday evening – Jena said it was well worn and would be spectacular, traveling past Obsidian Butte and the sand desert. But it would be soft sand. And I was wary of taking the chance of having an unfixable flat on an untraveled road in the desert 30 miles from any habitation, and with limited water.

The alternate route backtracked to Riley, then went south 35 miles on US 395. With an unusual dawn wind blowing from the west, it was an easy choice, and at least the backtracking was quick and easy pedaling.

I bought some coffee for the ride at Riley’s Market and Archery, and topped off my water bottle again. Although there was a place called Wagontire 28 miles down the road, the owner of the Riley store wasn’t sure I would be able to get water – I might find the “caretaker” there but I might not. On Google Maps, it shows something called the Wagontire International Airport.

The sign leaving Riley said “Next Gas 90 Miles.” I was immediately in empty sage desert, with some background buttes and cones. Although much of the road was fenced, few cattle were to be seen. The early morning riding was pleasant enough, cool and still for this stretch.

At 21 miles, I stopped for the 3pH: Pee, Pictures, Pump, hydrate. My rear tire, which had not been a problem until now, was also going soft, worse than the patched up front tire. So I pumped it up.

The sign at Wagontire advertises gas, a cafe, RV parking and groceries, but it was all boarded up, with no sign of an airport even. As I glided by, I saw a man in a sun hat tending a flower garden.

I was then on the lookout for the Wagontire-Christmas Valley Road. I did not know which mile it was at or whether it was paved. Fortunately, Google MPs saved the base map, so even with no cell service, I could tell where the turn was. It was indeed paved, with enough sporadic traffic that I knew I would not die out there in the desert no matter what.

I put off lunch as long as possible, since I wanted to make as many miles as possible before the west wind blew in earnest. At mile 60, I reached a ridge and noticed a plume rising skyward from the horizon. Was this a dust storm in the sand desert? As I rode on, the plume took the form of a line of rising smoke in the valley. I decided it must be a wildfire. But traffic passed in both directions without concern. I finally stopped for lunch on the full sun at mile 67 for the day, at a bend on the road by an open sand area. Just as I got there, a strong whirlwind stirred up a huge dust devil that almost stopped me in my tracks. Maybe the plumes were all dust storms after all.

After lunch I rode the remaining 20 miles to Christmas Valley, puzzling over the plumes. When I finally passed the plumes to the south, just a few miles east of town, they looked like steam vents or geysers, and I decided they must be geological activity of some sort.

I checked into the Christmas Valley Desert Inn at 5, but no tire package had arrived. The owner said UPS usually would have delivered by then, unless they were running late. In my room, I tracked the package, which was still out for delivery. I showered and researched the next few days plans – then came a knock on the door – my new tires had arrived! It was like Christmas Day in Christmas Valley!

I checked in with Robin, and mounted the new tires and tubes. I went to dinner at the Farmhouse Cafe, where the counterwomen told me the smoke plumes were all dust blown by the wind. After dinner, I bought bananas and beer at the grocery store, and ended up chatting with the occupant of the next unit, who was driving the Schwans Food delivery truck. He said the farm kids here were all rich, but the others were dirt poor, many families without lights or running water. And that the Bundys were actually nice people. I pointed out that armed occupation of a federal office wasn’t a nice thing to do, and he agreed.

I have been riding in the desert for six days now (not counting a day of Snake River Valley). I am ready for a change. I have one more desert to cross, but I should be in the Klamath National Forest by the end of the day tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be trees there

Leg 41 – Flat Rolling, and More Flats, to Riley

6/17

I made about 68 miles today, to Chickahominy Reservoir in Riley, Oregon, though I will have to backtrack seven miles tomorrow for the next leg.

It was a quiet night on the high desert, with only cricket sounds until the dawn birds sang. Wild horses visited me at breakfast.

The day got off to a good start, with a long downhill from Stinkwater Pass, and the vast plain ahead promising little climbing for the morning. I met a couple on an eastbound trans America bike tour, pushing their bikes up to the top of the pass. He thought the sporting goods store in Burns would be big enough to carry bicycle tires and tubes. I ran into Dave and Naomi again at the rest area at the bottom of the hill, and filled my water bottles from their tank again, saving a stop at the gas station down the road. All was well as I cruised down the flat valley. Even the tire that was losing air every three miles yesterday seemed to be holding pressure for fifteen miles.

Just outside of Burns, I had to pump up the front tire again. When I tried to cinch down the valve really tight, the valve rod broke off. The stem was too short for the rims, and too much pumping with a hand pump jammed tight had worn the metal. Even without the nut, the tire held air, so I hurried off to find the sporting goods store three miles away on the other side of town. But I was hitting my rims after two miles, and had to stop. I could walk the bike the mile. But maybe I should call first. B&B Sports did not sell bicycle accessories, as it turned out, but the Big R or the Rite Aid would have tubes and patch kits, I was assured. They were across the street from where I stopped.

The Big R did have tubes, but not the right size or valve type. So I bought a patch kit -25 more patches if needed. The Rite Aid also did not have the right sized tubes. So I bought another patch kit and a spare pump, since I had begun to worry about how sunk I would be if I lost or broke my one pump. I could now fix about 50 flats, if needed, but I could not fix a broken valve stem. The one that broke had only been on the bike for two days. That worried me, since I was down to one spare tube – and that one with a short valve stem.

So I put my twice patched, long stemmed tube on the front wheel, then went grocery shopping while I was there, then went to Boomers Place restaurant in neighboring Hines, OR, for beer and an early lunch and possible solutions with a WiFi connection. I made reservations for tomorrow night at the Christmas Valley Desert Inn. Then I went to Amazon, and tried to buy new tires and tubes for overnight shipment to the motel. At first, it seemed an option, then the overnight option disappeared. I googled “Bicycle Tires Overnight Shipping,” which led me to a seller in Portland, Oregon, which claimed that UPS standard shipping would deliver two new tires and two new tubes in Christmas Valley tomorrow. I figured it was worth a try.

After lunch, I headed west for Riley and the BLM campground at the Chickahominy Reservoir. The road climbed again to a pass of sorts, more flat high desert dotted with pines but smothered with sagebrush. One thing about bike touring – you are very sensitive to the different smells of different places. The sage range in Oregon smells different from sage in Idaho or Wyoming or Nebraska – I would say it has a hint of chocolate to it.

Several times today I was passed by frightening wide load trucks. The first time, the lead vehicle honked at me and I looked behind to see this shoulder-sweeping behemoth coming up to me. After that, I pulled over for every wide load lead vehicle not take any chances.

I got to Riley, and its only little store, at around four, and used their outlet to charge my phone while I drank a beer. Dave rode in, fully loaded up, since Naomi had headed back to Portland with the van. He was going to camp at Chickahominy, also, and had confirmed at the BLM office that water was available at the campground.

It was still another seven miles of riding, but a very pleasant place on the reservoir and nice to have company for the evening. Dave is also a sailor, so we shared sailing stories over dinner and the box of Cabernet I bought back in Burns

Leg 40 – Climbing the Malheur Canyons to a High Desert Campsite

6/16 posted late

I made about 85 miles today, from Vale, Oregon to the Stinkwater Wild Horse and Burro Management Area at the top of Stinkwater Pass.

I got an earlyish hotel start, with no hotel breakfast to delay me. On the road at 7 am, I remembered why early morning starts are important in the desert. The air is cool,and still.

Rt 20 followed the Malheur River, and the vistas soon became grand. Each bend revealed a steeper, taller, drier, and redder mountain, with no visible path for the road to follow. And though the road was ever climbing, the anticipation of the grander view around the next bend distracted me from the work of pedaling.

My original goal for the day was the Chukar BLM Campground six miles up a gravel road from Juntura, at mile 55. Juntura also had a motel, and I assumed if it was big enough to have a hotel, it would have some sort of groceries, too.

At mile 22, as expected, there was a gas station in Harper. But the highway sign said “next gas 68 miles.” That was way beyond Juntura. I stopped at Coleman’s Gas. Even though no signs advertised a bar or cafe, inside the building there was a bar with a few people drinking Sunday morning beers, and a snack counter. I bought a Pepsi, and asked if there was really no gas or groceries in Juntura. The guy at the counter said, that’s right, no groceries until Burns.

So I rode off up more canyons pondering how I might put together a camping dinner and weather I should waste a beautiful still day for just sixty mikes of progress. I convinced myself that Burns was 68 more miles, a very doable 90 mile day. Burns was a good sized town with several motels and stores. I had no internet to confirm my plan.

So I rode higher and higher up the arid valleys, the Malheur River mysteriously brimful in this dry place. But as I gained altitude, the hills got greener, the air a little cooler, and then pines began to dot the hillsides. I pictured lunch in the shade of a pine tree, but they all seemed to be on the wrong side of the cattle fences, so I settled for a cottonwood with soft tall grass beneath it.

After a high pass, the road dropped into Juntura, and I dropped into the Cafe Oasis to reconnoiter. I ordered a Corona with lime, and asked the waitress where the next grocery store was going west. She said Burns. I had enough signal on my phone to see that Burns was still 68 mikes away. “I thought there was a gas station about 35 miles from here.” “There is, But they don’t have groceries, just chips and snacks like we have here.”

So I drank my beer, then a chocolate milkshake, and pondered. I could stay right there at the Oasis and have their burgers and fries for dinner. I could hope to find something better in Buchanan Springs, where the gas station was, but there was no place to stay there.

Someone asked me to move my bike to get at the ice chest outside, and asked me about my trip. Later, the same bunch of guys were at the register loudly paying for eighteen blocks and six bags of ice. “Must be some party you are having,” I said. “We’re going camping in the desert north of here, and we’re going to need it.”

“Maybe you can tell me, then, is there any place to camp in the desert west of here on Route 20?”

“Well,” said the guy who had asked about my trip, “if you go to the top of the second pass west of here – Stinkwater Pass – the first Pass is Drinkwater and the second Pass is Stinkwater – there’s a gravel road into the BLM Wild Horse Management Area, and you’ll see some campsites there.”

“ is that after the gas station in Buchanan?”

“No it’s before. Once you get in the valley, the land is all private and you can’t camp.”

So I had a plan. But dinner would have to be what I could cobble together from the snack counter at the Oasis. So I bought some barbecue flavored beef jerky, citrus punch, two bottles of water, and a quarter pound of their homemade fudge. I figured I could cook the beef jerky with the half box of couscous I still had, and it would be pretty close to an authentic Oregon Trail meal.

So I made the long climb into the pines up Drinkwater Pass, then dropped into the Malheur Valley. Where a bridge crossed the Malheur, I drank all the water left in one bottle and filled it with Malheur water, figuring I could cook with it at my dry high desert camp.

When I got back to my bike the front tire was flat again. I patched it, found the hole in the tire where something had punctured it, and put the wheel back on the bike.

A short ride and a drop into the Stinkwater Creek valley, and my tire was getting soft again. I pumped it up and pedaled on, counting the miles to my high camp, wishing I had replaced my tires in Casper, and worrying about water.

After several more pump stops and the climb up Stinkwater Pass, I finally reached the BLM gravel road. I pedaled down the high sage plain. Something tawny ambled across the sage away from me. It seemed too small for a horse, but it did not walk like a cat.

I lay my bike down and started to set up camp. A tall white van with faded lettering “heating and cooling” on the side came up the road from down the valley and stopped. The woman who was driving smiled and waved. I waved back. A skinny, shirtless young man popped out of the passenger side. I did not immediately register that he, like me, was wearing bike shorts.

“Looks like you are riding unsupported,” he said. “We saw you in Juntura. Is there anything you need? Would you like a cold beer?”

“YES!” I said, “ did God just send you?”

So I had a beer, filled up my water bottles from their tank, chatted. Dave was riding across Oregon, east to west, and Naomi was supporting him with the van – just for the weekend. They were also going to camp here for the night. Dave was ready to share his stock of spare inner tubes, but we figured out that they had the wrong valves – Schraeder instead of Presta, which was wrong for both of us.

Beef jerky couscous tasted just fine. I bent my tent stakes in the rocky soil, and enjoyed a brilliant moonrise over the high desert

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

6/15

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.

Leg 38 – My Private Idaho to Oregon Trail

6/14

I made 76 miles today, to Celebration Park in Melba, Idaho, practically in sight of Oregon. Although the mileage was much less than yesterday, it was a much tougher ride, since two thirds of the ride was on hot dry desert dirt and gravel roads, Jeep tracks, and some horse trails.

I got a late start, since I was parting from Robin, who was going to drive the rental car back to the airport and fly home. After three miles on the better dirt road from Fort Running Bear, I was back on Rt 20, in a section of sagey hills with some steep climbs.

Historic markers on this stretch of road inform the traveler that you are following the path of Goodale’s Cutoff, an alternative to the Oregon Trail scouted by one Goodale. Apparently, native born Americans defending their home from foreign invaders had made the traditional Oregon Trail too dangerous for the European settlers. That’s not what the signs saiid, though. The signs called them hostile Indians. That’s funny. Perspective is everything.

Most the way down a hill on Route 20, at mile 15, Google told me to turn right, on Immigrant Road, a maintained desert dirt road. This was not a bad move, as the road led through a classic desert pass to open sagebrush range. The trip included several historical markers about the Oregon trail, including Barrell Canyon.

The Google did one of those Google bike routing things, and told me to turn left into the sagebrush. Letting Google do bike routing for you reminds me of a game my good buddy Adam Spater and I used to play when we were kids. We called it Magical Mystery Tour. We would write “left,” “right,” and “straight” on scraps of paper, put them in a bowl, then drew out the random directions, which we wrote down on a piece of paper. We then got on our bikes and followed the directions at each intersection, most often ending up at a suburban dead end, but sometimes ending up at that last piece of undeveloped land we called the Butterfly Fields.

Following Google bike directions has a similar randomness to it, though the directions are not keyed to actual roads or intersections. You follow a random Jeep track into the sagebrush, then where Jeep tracks diverge and you follow the “wrong” one, Google yells at you to “head north for 600 feet, make a U turn, then turn right” when you are staring at trackless sagebrush and prairie grass. I rode and walked some of these trackless sections. Fortunately, I had enough of a cell signal to figure out the general direction Google thought I should be headed in. Eventually the Jeep track followed a powerline, then arrived at a named gravel road with some ranches and pickup truck traffic.

A paved road took me through a community with no stores nor church nor even a post office, then crossed an interstate. Google sent me into the hinterlands again. I got on the wrong side of the railroad tracks and went through a desert waste landfill and a metal shredding plant before another paved road that took me back to the right side of the railroad tracks. Google sent me on another named Jeep track road. It was after one and I had made half my miles so I started looking for any sort of shade for lunch. Not a tree to be seen. A Union Pacific train passed, with a short string of container cars, and the engineer tooted his horn. Then I saw an ancient underpass, which was a nice shady spot for lunch, with a framed view of the still blooming desert.

After lunch, another paved road lead to the US Army Orchard Tank Training facility. A detour put me back on gravel roads, these with tank treads. Soon I entered the federal Snake River Birds of Prey wildlife refuge. Which was also an artillery range for the Idaho National Guard. And a place for recreational shooting, with signs warning shooters not to shoot at people.

There were huge construction trucks on the range roads. The desert got dryer and bleaker. But the distant snow covers mountains ahead were Oregon, my destination. Occasionally, a pickup truck would slow down as it passed, as if the driver were thinking of asking “What the heck are you doing out here?” then decided “well he seems to know where he is going” and drive away.

At mile 60, as I reached for my water second bottle again, I realized I could no longer drink whenever I was dry. I was dry all the time. And while two water bottles carried me 100 miles yesterday, the same two bottles were not going to last in today’s hotter dryer and more desert-y desert. I did a rough calculation of the number of mouthfuls of water left in the bottle. Four. Sixteen miles to go. . So that meant four miles between water swigs.

At about the same time, Google sent me on another Jeep track. Some of the Jeep track is smoother and faster than gravel roads, but you have to be on the lookout for lava rocks, ruts, soft sand, and prairie dog holes. I took two spills today, neither was bloody.

In two miles, the Jeep track turned right at a cattle fence gate. I stopped to check the Google map, which told me to go straight through the fence. The gate was securely wired shot. Staying on the Jeep track would add ten miles to the journey – I didn’t have enough water for that. I tried to lift my bike over the barbed wire gate. Too heavy. Finally I realized I could squeeze bike and body under the cattle wire gate.

The trail beyond was nothing more than a single track of horse track, mostly rideable except for the lava rock stretches. I was counting the miles to the next water break. I was hungry, but I couldn’t eat trail mix without water – it just made me thirstier, and the pasty chew of peanuts and raisins wouldn’t go down without water. The song from the beginning of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs began to go through my mind, where the lone horseman in the desert sings “Water . . . Water . . , Cool Cool Water” and the hills echo back “ Water . . . Water.”

In another two miles (water break!), a broken cattle gate allowed access to parallel Jeep tracks on the other side of the cattle fence. Exploded televisions and mattresses and shotgun cartridges testified that a major recreational use of this national wildlife refuge was shooting at household objects. Not that I object – who hasn’t wanted to shoot their television? Just as long as they don’t shoot at me. And I do wish they’d pick up their trash.

The Jeep track widened to a well used off road route, with multiple tracks. Gunfire could be heard a few miles north. Google promised a named road, Walden’s Extension, but this turned out to be another Jeep track, which eventually turned to gravel, then pavement, then a long downhill to the Snake River Valley.

And there was water! Water spraying on green fields, water flowing in irrigation channels by the road, which I was half tempted to drink. I got to the Celebration County Park Campground at seven and went straight to the water fountain and scared two kids away I was so eager to drink. I found a campsite on the river, went back to the restroom to fill my water bottles and leave my phone charging, then went back to my campsite to wash the desert grit off with a dip in the Snake while dinner cooked.

After dinner I went back to the restroom to wash my dishes and refill my water bottles for the fifth time, and my heart fell. My phone was gone. A guy outside said he saw someone leave in a hurry a few minutes earlier. I asked around the campground, one guy had seen it a half hour earlier, another tried calling it for me, but I had shut it off to lock it. I went back to the restroom to wash dishes and use the toilet, not sure what to do. I heard someone enter and leave the restroom quickly, and there was my phone, by the sink. Two kids walking away said they found it at the other end of the campground. So about half my trust in human nature is restored

Leg 37 – An Easy and Flat Century (Mostly) South of the Idaho Mountains

6/13

I made 105 miles today, from Craters of the Moon to the Fort Running Bear RV Park and Campground north of Camas Reservoir.

I got an early (6 am) campground start. The first 25 miles or so was an easy downhill grade in light winds, with the mountains to my right and the range to my left. In Carey, Idaho there was a beautiful marsh, then Route 20 turned right and went up over a ridge, so the rest of the morning had mountains on both sides, just the taller snow dotted ones on the right.

I was feeling good biking today, so I texted Robin and told her that I would aim for 75 miles before a lunch stop, between 1230 and 100 pm. Robin didn’t actually catch up to me until mile 78, and there were no rest stops around, so we pulled off on a side road and ate al fresco with a view of green fields and snow capped mountains.

After lunch, the wind picked up, and the riding got harder and slower. Still, the desert was in bloom, and the scenery kept me distracted from the difficulty pedaling. Eventually, Route 20 started climbing, then a descent, then a steeper climb to a pass with a lookout, and a long winding downhill to the Camas Reservoir. Robin met me halfway down on her bicycle.

Google sent me on a bike shortcut on a dirt road. Then google told me to turn left on a Jeep track through the desert grasses. Not wishing to retrace the last three miles, we pushed on across the Jeep track. Robin told me I was chasing some game animal across the fields- maybe an elk- but I didn’t notice because I was too busy looking ahead to keep from falling in a rut.

The Fort Running Bear Campground really is an outpost in the wilderness. There are no towns anywhere near. Finally a night of camping that is not near a busy highway