Entering Oregon was an exciting milestone, the last state between us and the Pacific Ocean. It was also one of the states we spent the longest time in, and the varied terrain we encountered there was incredible.
During the stretch from Hell’s Canyon to Halfway, the desert morphed into pine forests, a welcome break from the dusty heat. After a campground dinner of quesadillas, we once again decided to forego the sleeping pads to help with morning efficiency in packing up. This got easier the more we got used to sleeping on the ground, but definitely led to some repositioning to get away from rocks digging into our ribs at times! We still struggled to get up, leaving mid-morning after stopping at the grocery store for breakfast. We explored a strange metal silo/dome structure on the edge of town, startling about 7 deer who were hanging out inside it. We never did figure out what it was, so if you know, let us know!
It was a 6 mile steep climb then a 6 mile fast descent to Richland, where we got an assortment of food from the sparse grocery/liquor store and sat on a bench in the shade for nearly an hour and a half, reluctant to head into the next stretch of 90+ degree temperatures and no services for 42 miles. It was hot and dusty and brown, but thankfully very gradual climbing for most of it. We kept a decent pace, stopping for water every 5 miles, trying to stay hydrated while also making our water last the whole stretch – we managed to make it last until about 4 miles outside of town. Our destination that night was Baker City, where we opted for the cheap hotel room with breakfast at the attached restaurant and walked over to the Main Street/historic downtown for burritos and beer at a recommended brewery. Everything nearby had closed by 8pm, so we trekked to Dairy Queen a mile away for Blizzards before sitting down with the map to plan our final days through Oregon. Anticipation of another hot day with minimal services made us both irritable so we didn’t make much progress.
The next morning, after eating breakfast at the hotel diner, we tackled the 67-mile stretch of hills and no service that I was sort of dreading. To our happy surprise, though, our surroundings changed to pine forests covering the hills, a stream flowing alongside us, and three not terrible climbs followed by long meandering descents. Atop hill number 2 we stopped at a campground at Bates State Park for water and spent 15 minutes taking the best nap ever on a picnic table in the shade. Around 5pm we made it to Prairie City, stopped at a grocery store for chocolate milk and met three other cyclists heading our same direction, Robert, a teacher from Maryland, and two Canadians, Jamie and Nick, who all also bought chocolate milk. Only on a bike tour would there be a circle of five adults all standing around drinking milk together. In John Day, we set up camp in a field at the town RV park, found the showers, and ate dinner with our new acquaintance Robert at a brewery in town.
We snuck out early the next morning, found some breakfast, and then tackled the long slog through hot desert once again. We had 30 miles of downhill first, a deceiving start to the day, then began a long 24-mile climb, with temps in the 90s and no shade to be found. I was struggling – it’s almost a panicky feeling, when the going is hard but you know that you have to keep going to get anywhere that you can stop! It was a winding road in the hot sun, cars whizzing by not always giving us space, and on one turn I hit gravel and slid, falling over into the road and scraping up my elbow, and sending Robert into the ditch to avoid crashing into me. The fall shook me up a bit, and it was a miserable afternoon, but we finally made it over the pass and sailed down into the tiny town of Mitchell where we stayed at the most wonderful hostel at the local church, run by Pat and Jalet, the pastors of the tiny congregation there. They started Spoke’n Hostel when they realized so many TransAm cyclists were coming through this town that really has no where else for people to stay, and it is an incredible place of hospitality. They’ve transformed the sanctuary into a dorm with lovely bunks all set up with curtains, lights, power strips, cozy chairs everywhere, a full kitchen downstairs with coffee and breakfast, a shower building outside, and everything curated so beautifully and thoughtfully. They were a really nice couple who we so enjoyed chatting with. It was a full house with the 3 guys we’d met in John Day, Miles who we’d met in Wyoming, another couple who are librarians biking across the country visiting local libraries, and 3 archaeologists staying there while working in the nearby Painted Hills. We ate at Mitchell’s brewery/restaurant – even the tiniest of tiny towns in Oregon have breweries! – before taking Pat up on his offer to drive all of us out to the Painted Hills National Monument in the church’s old school bus, where we watched the sun set over the colorful formations.
We got up earlier to beat the heat the next day, with an 83 mile ride ahead of us, starting with coffee and oatmeal and chatting with Miles over breakfast. It was a cool morning and the big climb was in the first 16 miles – so much better than the day before! We had a long downhill through the forest to Prineville where we stopped for lunch. It got hot for the rest of the day as we detoured from the TransAm route in order to go to Bend for a rest day, and the rolling hills left us very tired by the time we arrived at our Warmshowers host’s place. We stayed with Alex and John, a couple about our age who happened to be from Minnesota. Bend was a great place to take a day off – we ate good food, tried breweries, went tubing down the river through town, went to REI, and enjoyed the nice bike paths. We both decided we could very happily live in Bend – such a beautiful location and everyone we met seemed incredibly happy, relaxed, and friendly. Multiple times throughout the day we were asked how we were and where we were from and had real conversations with genuinely interested strangers!
We decided to take a shorter day after leaving Bend, first heading 24 miles to the town of Sisters, a gorgeous ride through a wide valley with views of snow-covered peaks. We checked out the farmer’s market, found lunch at the co-op, and sat at the library for a while to catch up on internet things. We finally headed out again around 3:30, and saw the ACA tour group again rolling into town. We weren’t sure how far we’d go, but Alex in Bend had suggested camping in the national forest past Sisters. The climb up to McKenzie Pass was gradual and shaded by pine forest, so we made it to a campground just a mile from the top. Much of the last 5 miles was all burned areas from the previous year’s wildfires, black trunks and dirt amidst mounds of sharp volcanic rock. It was otherworldly. We found a campground around dusk, filled with Pacific Crest Trail hikers, and ate a dinner of pancakes and jerky and went to bed with no rain fly on the tent as it was nice and clear.
We woke pretty early as it got light, feeling gross with no shower after the dusty ride the day before – we’d been pretty spoiled by nearly always staying places we could shower on this trip. It was just a mile to the top of the pass, through the incredible landscape of jagged lava rock in piles everywhere, and visible flow patterns around islands of trees, and the peaks of the Three Sisters in the distance. This was our final mountain pass of the trip, the last set of mountains between us and the coast. We stopped to walk up to the observatory at the top, and Robert flew his drone around for some video of the area. The descent on the other side of the pass was steep switchbacks, with the flora drastically changing to ferns and mossy pines, undergrowth, feeling like the Pacific Northwest all of a sudden with the shady forest of grand trees. It was a cool descent with fun curves to navigate, and we pretty much coasted the 25 miles to McKenzie Bridge, where we were flagged down by some guys on fat tire bikes yelling “we’re bike people too!”, so we stopped for some food and to chat with them. The rest of the ride was beautiful, riding Highway 126 along the river, but with a lot of cars and not much shoulder. We stopped a couple of times to cool off in the delightfully cold river, and there were lots of cabins and resorts all along the way – clearly a popular vacation spot.
Our surroundings suddenly changed to suburbs when we reached Springfield, just outside of Eugene, where our Warmshowers host for the night, 72-year-old George, met us on his bike and guided us back along a river bike path to their place in Eugene. This was pretty impressive when we learned he was still recovering from a broken femur from a bike crash in May! He and his wife live in a 1930s house in a historic neighborhood, and we camped in the backyard and enjoyed a BBQ dinner with them, listening to stories about George’s experience riding the TransAm in 1976, the first year of the route’s existence. Without knowing it, we had actually seen his picture from that ride at the Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula. One thing we were interested in doing on our day off in Eugene was white-water rafting – and lo and behold, George was a retired river guide and when he heard of our interest, he called up a friend and got us two spots on a raft trip the next morning. We rafted down the same McKenzie River we’d biked along the day before, and it was a blast. Our day off ended with trips to the Co-Motion Cycles factory, a brewery, and dinner with George and his similarly-aged neighbor – who knew this trip would include hanging out with a couple of septuagenarian friends! The small world of bike touring presented itself again when we recognized Kyle, the cyclist from South Africa, having dinner with his Warmshowers host at the same pizza restaurant. We’ve never run into more people we knew than by criss-crossing paths with others on this trip!