If you had asked my 10 year old self if I would ever stop playing with LEGO, I am sure I could not imagine the day would ever come. I wish that I could have marked the last time I took out those blocks, to know the significance at the time. At the moment, I know that we will climb up through Pine trees and take in lungs full of resin just one last hot day time on this trip. At every time that we have that sensory overload I am trying to commit that moment to deep memory. It may be the last in my life.
Already we have seen our last Turtle, the last Cardinal and did not know it at the time. Soon we will have biked from sea to shining sea, as I guess they may say here and soon it will be cool and maritime and back to things we know and feel comfortable with. Too much like home perhaps.
There is talk about the road ahead being open in the morning. We took a rest day in John Day to try to work out what to do. We could go north to the coast, but it takes us into high desert once more with big mountains and a trip to the coast along busy roads. GOOGLE maps did not show many options, but then we get a good old paper map. There it is, the answer is obvious. It is even surfaced. We are back in business, and it only adds about 50 miles.
No diversion is ever shorter or flatter. This begins with a big climb straight from main street. The biggest climb on the route ahead is McKenzie Pass and this climb is bigger. 1969ft of climbing later on HWY 393 and we are at the top. We take a right turn towards Paulina – 55 miles ( the sign quite clearly says 55 miles and I have no idea how it could be 7 miles out – we will curse this in a few hours time when we think we have made a terrible navigational error on a straight road! ). This is very nice biking and we pick up this quiet road as it winds its lonley way between the mountains. There are trees and flower dashed meadows and more chipmunks run across the road in front of us than you would think possible.
The first half of the ride is through trees and joy of pure joy, there are clouds. Just when the trees drop behind, the hills start and the heat builds. It is rolling high pasture, but there is still a welcoming green and the sound of running water. Paulina is a full 7 miles further than the signpost said – we curse, it feels like an eternity.
Paulina and as we lie in the tent there are raindrops on the fly. The sound is wonderful, but it is the smell of burning that we will remember. Just across the road flames had looked as if this town may need to be evacuated yesterday. At 2.30 am the rain is joined by an assault by the sprinkler system that we had overlooked.
Again we are in high desert in the morning, but today it is cool enough to be comfortable as we ride under a cloudy sky. This is bliss, and for goodness sake we deserve it. The village of Post comes up at just the right distance to justify a coffee stop. It is the geographical centre of Oregon. This diversion road may turn out to be better than the official route. We climb through an area of Juniper, a new and wonderful smell and a beautiful day to ride a bike.
A little over 55 miles into the day we join HWY 26, the official route. Redmond, just big enough for a few motels to compete for trade. We pick the cheapest and settle in for a well needed shower. Just before the town we got a glimpse of the Cascade Mountain chain ahead. It is covered with more snow than we have seen for a long while. That problem is for the morning and fresher legs. We have enjoyed the diversion and start thinking about all the routes we have not taken across the country. All the possible choices that would have been a different adventure, a different slice of the onion.
It is BIG CLIMB DAY and we look up the weather for the road ahead on the WWW. Cool, cold even and a 40% chance of rain later. This is perfect, and so is the warm-up ride to the town of Sisters. Up ahead hanging over the mountains there are dark clouds. These are oil black clouds, foreboding clouds, up to no good clouds that should have told us to stop where we are and ride up another day.
It starts to rain and it is big heavy drops of cold water. Forest is close, tight to the road on both sides. It is too hot to put on our coats to climb and any way this is quite fun. At 4% grades you feel like you are getting up the mountain almost for free. 4,000 miles of our journey across the USA come up on my metre, the end is getting near.
Mist clings to the tops of the trees and it is getting cooler as we climb. Near the summit the rain starts in earnest and the temperature drops. 53’f and down. Now there is less shelter and the wind hits and rain becomes horizontal. This is getting bad, horrid even.
There is just enough time and feeling left in my hands for a few photographs at the top before the camera has to be put away. Things are not good, and it is now 43’f. On with the coats and we try to drop height as quickly as possible. The road grit chews at my brakes and water sheets across the road. 40% chance of precipitation my arse! I have almost no brakes left.
4,000ft and I can feel my legs shaking uncontrollably as we drop through lava fields and then a green world of moss and fern. Water is everywhere, and stinging our eyes as we try to control the bikes on hairpin bends. This is not safe, not by a long way. We have to stop to put on more clothes and adjust the brakes. I can hardly hold the multi-tool in shaking hands. Esther can not find her cold weather clothing. It was last seen months ago and has migrated to the depths of her bags.
3,000ft and still horrid and my hands are cramping as I try to find some braking. The 180′ bends are heart stopping, steep and tight, with no margin for error. The first signs of habitation, a campground. We were going to camp, but that is not much of a option now. 2,000ft and then we turn right onto the main road. Horrid, horrid NO Vacancy sign at the only motel. There is a place 7 miles ahead and no other option. The rain has now stopped, but we are soaked to the skin.
We get a deal on a bunk room option. The sort of deal that only two horrid specimens with bloodshot eyes could be dealt. The warm shower may be the best in the known universe. Two of these sort of days ‘ back to back ‘ could end your journey and make you want to sell your bikes. The morning is like stepping out of our door back home. COOL DAMP AIR, we are back in our comfort zone.
We join the road along the McKenzie River along with every RV and timber truck in this part of Oregon. The shoulder comes and goes and the traffic consists of people in a dreadful hurry who have never once had to contemplate how to overtake a person on a bicycle. We are counting down the miles to a side road that we are going to take into Eugene and hardly notice the beauties of the valley we are passing through.
A series of bike paths can be threaded together to take the weary touring cyclist into the heart of Eugene. We have to find a bike shop and deal with the series of things that have sensed that we are close to the end and all failed at once. Eugene is a good place for things to fall apart, wear out and go blank. The bike goes up on the stand and we stand and watch. There are few places where we have the ‘ I could live here ‘, conversation, and Eugene may be one of those. We are guests of Mike and Paula and of course talk until late and drink too much beer. Just out of curiosity I stand on the bath scales – 204lbs. We dial that into a app and the result is that at 25BMI I am seriously overweight. I demand a second opinion and a recount.