Sunday, September 29, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 7 - Seneca to John Day

Today was the most fun I had all week on the bike. The day did not begin auspiciously however as the night was cold, hard, and wet. Not only was it the coldest night of the week, but my air mattress gave up the ghost and I got to sleep directly on the hard ground. Then at some point, I did not get the lid back on my water bottle securely enough and most of it leaked out. Fortunately, the bottle was on the opposite side of my clothes, so I still was able to get off to a mostly dry start. More moisture did come from the heavy dew we had during the night, too. Finally, I did not get as much sleep as expected because a couple of people were celebrating the final night in camp until about 1:00 am.

Entering the forest

Sleeping in was not an option this morning so I was up before 5:00. Still, with all the darkness and cold, I did not actually leave camp until after 7:00. The ride quickly made up for all the evening’s problems. After a short seven miles on Hiway 395, we turned off into a woodland meadow for another five miles. Then we turned up into the mountains for a short climb and a long downhill to Murderer’s Creek Work Center. The center includes one of the Forest Service’s rentable cabins. This one includes a full kitchen a nice double bed in a beautiful meadow in the forest. Close by lives a herd of ‘timber horses’. These wild horses have evolved heavy coats to survive the cold winters. We will have to try looking for them another time when there is not a large crowd chasing them away.
Murderer's Creek Work Camp and rental cabin

From Murderer’s Creek, we began the last climb of the ride, a steep four and a half miles. Then we began the longest and steepest downhill ride of the week. Ten miles later we were at the bottom of the hill and headed back to John Day on Hiway 26. When I saw people stopped on the way down, I wondered why until my hands became a bit numb from the pressure of leaning on the handlebars and I began to worry about being able to control the brakes.

Our final climb

Back in John Day Linda was waiting along with lunch and a shower before we headed off to Klamath Falls for the next few days.

Forest meadow at the end of our descent

Our final rest stop

Hiway 26 on the way to John Day
I probably won’t be able to go on the ride next year as we are headed back to South Africa for a couple of months. Perhaps I will be able to do the equivalent Ride Around Washington. This year they rode from Curlew to Maryhill in early August. That would have been a fun ride, too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 6 - Crane to Seneca

With 24 miles of climbing out of the 73 total and most of that over the last 20 miles, this was supposed to be the hardest riding day. However, I still think the hardest day for me was the first as I acclimated to the elevation over the first 20 miles of slow climbing. Much more interesting than yesterday after the first flat 18 miles to Buchanan and the first 4 mile climb on Hiway 20. Buchanan seems to be little more than a museum/Indian arts store. Next time I am in the area with Linda we will definitely stop there. Several of the ladies purchased some of the beautiful and reasonably priced jewelry.

Buchanan, Oregon
After a stop for lunch at Pine Creek Ranch and its one-room school in the rolling farm valley lands, we headed up into a pine forest on a long climb of about 20 miles. Students from Pine Creek are among those who attend high school at Crane. As expected the ride up the mountain was beautiful among the pines with magnificent vistas. At the top we were greeted by a couple of entrepreneurs selling Gatorade, bottled water and beer. Gatorade seemed to be the most popular drink. At least I did not see anyone purchasing any beer.

As we flew down the other side, we passed a trio playing music under a canopy. Unfortunately, most of us were moving too fast to even catch a hint of the music, let alone stop. They should have been up at the top with the liquid sellers.

Gravel can be a bit scary

Today’s route also included 1.6 miles of gravel road. For most of us, gravel is not a lot of fun although it isn’t hard as long as you are careful. This was a bit harder because it included several ups and downs over the route. For the mountain bikers on the route, this may have been their favorite segment.

Our camp on the Seneca golf course was pleasant enough although it would be the coldest night of the ride. Seneca has the ‘honor’ of having the coldest recorded temperature ever in Oregon. It reached 54 degrees below zero in 1933.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cycle Oregon - Day 5 - Diamond to Crane

Today was about as flat as can be with only a few short rises in the landscape of less than a few hundred feet. While it makes riding easier, it also makes the ride less interesting. One can only get so excited about more wheat fields and more sagebrush.

Rest stop at the Round Barn

Round barn interior
We did have the opportunity to stop at Pete French’s Round Barn, one of the highlights of the region. French built the barn in the late 19th century to have a place to train horses during the cold winters. By building a round barn the horses did not have to make sharp turns as they were learning. Upon entering the barn, I am most excited by the intricate design of the ceiling.  Cycle Oregon donated some money to a barn restoration project a few years ago.

Scenery on the way to Crane

Lunch was set at Crane Hot Springs, a natural hot spring with a few rooms and a pond filled with mud. Our camp was only a few miles away so many of the riders stayed for hours or finished the ride and then returned to the hot springs for the rest of the afternoon. After 55 miles, I just soaked my feet and then headed to camp arriving early enough to catch the early show on the stage. The singer was a local whose stories reminded me of the kind of songs Jim Croce used to sing with a  religious cowboy theme. His wife and mom were part of the audience so I chatted with them a bit. His wife, a rodeo champ, said that he has no desire to do anything other than be a rancher. He has no desire to become a full time entertainer whatever his talent might allow. Our headliner entertainment, the Dave Cooley Band, played piano-based rock and roll.

Crane Hot Springs

The small town of Crane is home to perhaps the only public high school left in the United States where students actually live in dorms. Students come from up to 150 miles away, too far to commute on a daily basis so they are bussed to Crane Sunday evening and return home for the weekend on Thursday unless they have a game. The 62 Mustangs have a prodigious sports record with several state championships. We met several of the students as they carried our bags from the storage truck to the campsite. With a suggested tip of $2, it was well worth it to us and earned each of the teams a significant amount of money to improve their facilities. The wrestling team is working for a new mat and the volleyball team will get new nets to give just two examples of how the  money is used.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 4 - Diamond

Today was billed as a rest day with an optional 80 mile ride or a shorter option of 50 miles if you chose to avoid the mile and a half climb with a grade of about 10%. I had planned to do that, but by now was tired enough that I decided take advantage of the rest possibility. The riders who really were planning the 80 mile ride would be disappointed by an eastern Oregon event. A rancher decided that he needed to get his cattle to water and would be driving them down the hill we were going to ride up. Only a couple of our idiot riders thought mixing cattle with bicycles was a good idea. So riders were left with the shorter option without the last mile to Frenchglen. Riders came close enough to see the Frenchglen Hotel and the climb, which was a huge disappointment to the folks at Frenchglen who had plans for us to spend some time there and even set up a special lunch and wine dinner for riders who were interested. I think the dinner still occurred because they were going to shuttle people for that event. Riding 25 miles home in the dark after a wine dinner makes about as much sense as trying to ride through a cattle drive.

The Diamond Hotel
The sparsely populated Diamond neighborhood created several special events for us ranging from ranch breakfasts, lunches and dinners to rope-making, whip-cracking and trail-riding. The events were wildly successful. The Diamond Hotel certainly earned a good share of their yearly income in our one day visit.

Wheatfield near Diamond

Foal born yesterday and curious about us

Typical landscape near Diamond

Remains of an early settler's cabin
I decided to take a shorter ride of about 25 miles starting out by riding to the Diamond Hotel, only 7 flat miles away from camp. About a  mile out, I came upon a rider with a Vancouver Bicycle Club shirt looking through his binoculars. So I stopped and got out my binoculars. We spent another hour and a half riding the next 5 miles to the Hotel. Along the way we saw a kestrel, several finches and sparrows, a few magpies, and a pair of kingfishers when we got to the hotel. Not many birds, but a pleasant way to spend the morning.

Some of those who had come for breakfast were still hanging out on the lawn enjoying the shade with their coffee. Diamond has a population of five with three houses and the hotel. The hotel has 8 rooms at $85 - $105 per night including breakfast. Dinner is available for $20 to $25 for three courses.  Situated as it is as the southern edge of the refuge, it provides the best access point for the refuge and Steens Mountain and even the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge on the other side of Frenchglen.

Lunch room and leather work bench in the background

Making rope

This dog chases rocks, even ones too big to carry

His mates are out on a trail ride

Not everyone has to work

Hungry and thirsty after the trail ride
I had a burger lunch at the Steens Mountain Ranch where people could learn to make rope, crack the whip or take a trail ride. I did not get the prices, but Steens Mountain Ranch is one of those dude ranches like “City Slickers” where you pay to work for the ranch for a few days. Our ride to the ranch was in one of those cattle trailers you see on the roads. On the way back, I joined a small group from Boise who got off at the corner and walked the half mile back to the Diamond Hotel. Every square inch of shade was filled with riders enjoying their draft beers, burgers or soft drinks. Another popular option was pie alamode for $5.00. I heard they sold over 1200 lunches at $9.50 apiece and they must have come close to emptying the six kegs of beer they had pouring out of a semi-trailer. I had already had my burgers for the day, so I got on the hay wagon at about 5:00 to ride back to camp for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.

Steens Mountain Ranch

Seats for dinner
About 150 riders had a great dinner at the Steens Mountain Ranch. Tri-tip steaks smoked all day along with potatoes and vegetables, followed by home-made pies. The dinner was a fund-raiser for a local family with three children needing heart transplants. The evening raised $5000 for the family. Another example of how this ride supports the local communities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 3 - Burns to Diamond

I looked forward to today’s ride through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Linda and I have visited the refuge four times and always found it abundant with birds no matter the season. I expected fewer birds today because of all the people. Indeed, there were fewer birds, but still some good ones.

Farmland south of Burns

One of the few trees
We started with 13 miles through the farmlands south of Burns before a one mile climb to the top of Wright’s Point, one of only two short climbs for the day. Wright’s Point is one of the best examples in the west of ‘inverted geography.’ Millions of years ago, this was a stream bed. Lava flows then filled the stream bed with a layer of basalt. Over the intervening years, the land surrounding the old stream bed eroded away leaving this inverted mold of the original valley. About 200 feet high and 200 feet wide, Wright’s Point runs for about ten miles across the valley today. Unfortunately, few get to know about this geologic phenomenon because no one has seen fit to put any kind of informational marker anywhere nearby.
Heading up Wright's Point
On top of Wright's Point
About ten miles further on, we crossed the Narrows, our first real indication that we have entered the refuge. The road crosses the point between Malheur and Harney Lakes. While the water is low, both lakes still have water and I was able to pick out a few birds including an avocet, a Western grebe, several white pelicans, and a cormorant. Not much, but it was fun sharing my binoculars with the other riders who stopped.

The Narrows

The Narrows

We have our fans
A couple of miles further on, we turned off the main road for lunch at the refuge headquarters. This side trip added about 15 miles to the ride, but was well worth the effort. With everyone spread out over the lawn for lunch, almost all the birds we might have seen made themselves scarce. Hummingbirds still came to the feeders and the resident great horned owl stayed in his roost high in one of the trees. Owls are so good at blending in, that he wasn’t too worried about the crowd gathered below. Barn swallows chased bugs over the pond and a few pelicans were visible through the scope. Otherwise, the only birds were in the taxidermy room where one of the wildlife managers answered questions.

Lunch at Malheur Visitor Center

View from the Visitor Center
Our camp for the next two nights was on a ranch near Diamond. The rancher allowed us to set up our small city on a recently mowed wheat field. Being so isolated we got a real sense of the size of this operation as we approached the camp. From a mile off, it really does look like a small town in the distance. That evening astronomers from OMSI and some volunteers put on a sky party. The area here is one of the most accessible places to get grand views of the night sky. While the lights of our camp dimmed the view somewhat, we still had an excellent view of the night sky and were able to identify the constellations, planets, and major stars – with our guide’s help of course. Long lines snaked behind each of the six telescopes the volunteers had brought.

This was the fifth sign created for us on our way to the Diamond ranch where we spent two nights. It is typical of the welcome we received everywhere we stopped.

Our camp. From a distance it looks like the small town it really is.

Our guide also shared that we have two lunar eclipses, one solar eclipse, and the possibility of the brightest comet of the century visiting us this Christmas. Any of these might mean additional trips to eastern Oregon for the clear skies unencumbered by the lights of a tent city of 2500 people.

Our entertainment for the night was a bike rodeo showing off the skills of some of the Bike Gallery mechanics. Events like ‘no-foot-down’ and the figure-eight race entertained us. Scoring was arbitrarily reminiscent of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the improve comedy show hosted by Drew Carey several years ago. Or perhaps you were fortunate enough to see the original (and superior?) British version.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 2 - John Day to Burns

We came from there? And we still have four miles to go?
I thought today would be harder after the tough day yesterday, but it turned out to be not so difficult. While the climb was steeper all the way, I was able to keep up a fair pace and reach the top in good shape. Along the way we were treated to a fantastic sight of the hill we had climbed.

Stopping for a picture as we climb
Our lunch stop today was ten miles past the small town of Seneca at Silvies Ranch. Corned beef sandwiches in Dave’s Killer Bread with lettuce and tomatoes. Silvies Ranch is a great story. Earlier owners tried and failed at a variety of ventures. One tried to turn the land into a dude ranch. Another hoped to create a hunting ranch and brought in buffalo and zebras among other animals. Mostly what happened is that the land became degraded until the current owners took over and began to restore it to its pre-European condition. Their cattle feed consists of native grasses and wildflowers – plants that replenish themselves rather than having to be planted each year. The owners are also developing a goat herd for meat. Goats eat plants that cattle won’t, so they can feed both animals on the same plot of land while providing an alternative meat source for consumers. They are also in the process of building a resort  and golf courses to increase tourism to the area and provide more income sources for the local community.

Lunch on the school house lawn at Silvies Ranch

Learning about the cattle

Goats bred for meat


Anyone for a ride?

Wild grasses and wildflowers make better cattle feed
After lunch, we rode ten flat miles before another ten mile climb and a final 18 miles downhill into Burns and the Great Basin. In Burns, our campsite was at the fairgrounds (no green grass) right next to town. The main stage was set up on a main commercial street. Several booths with local wares along the street and a couple of restaurants and bars offered alternative entertainment. I had a beer and talked to some other riders while ESPN played in the background. I now know that Stanford beat San Jose State since they are still ranked #5. I will finally get to see a game when they play WSU at Quest Field in Seattle.

I did not see it, but the Harney County Community Center is a good example of how CycleOregon impacts the communities we visit. CycleOregon contributed $35,000 to a recent major update of the center. The center was visited by those taking advantage of the yoga classes offered each afternoon on the ride. I will have to finish earlier than 4:00 to take advantage. I leave early enough at 7:00, but I am not rushing to finish. There is just too much interesting to see along the way. I’m not a real fast rider either.