Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to Oregon!


We've made it to Portland and we'll be at the Pacific Ocean tomorrow in Astoria, OR.  It's certainly been a life-changing 3 months as we've traveled across this great country on our bicycles, and we're eagerly awaiting the moment we get to the ocean.  As much fun as we've had during the trip, we both look forward to getting back to 'real life', although our emotions will be quite mixed as we dip our front tires in the Pacific.

Our travels across Oregon have been some of the most memorable of the entire trip (not only because it was the most recent leg of the trip, but more so because of how beautiful this state is).  We left Boise and spent the night camping along some abandoned railroad tracks in Weiser (pronounced weezer), ID.  We were planning on trying to camp at an RV Park in town, but when we asked the host if they allowed tent camping, he actually told us no (the first time throughout the whole trip).  Instead of accepting our money in exchange for a small piece of land to pitch our tent, he told us that we could just camp along the railroad tracks about 50 yards away...what a great business man.

We left Weiser and crossed the Snake River into Oregon biking past fields of garlic, spinach, corn, and wheat.  We headed north toward Baker City, slowly making our way to the Columbia River.  Once again we were forced to take the Interstate for about 15 miles before we were able to get onto a frontage road.  The day was hot and filled with a steady climb over rolling hills and gorgeous high plains desert landscape.  We passed an old abandoned limestone mill situated in a canyon just outside of Huntington, OR, but other than that the day was mostly desolate cattle range.

When we arrived to Baker City, OR (some 70 miles later) we passed by a little girl selling lemonade on the corner of a street for 25 cents/cup.  We promptly pulled over and refreshed ourselves with three cups.  We got to talking to her mom who was overseeing the business venture.  We asked about camping, good places to eat, etc. and she informed us of a farmers market going on just down the street.  Without a second thought we biked down the road to the Baker City Farmer's Market.

About five or six vendors had set up shop on one end of the city park, while on the other side of the park musical artists provided a pleasant soundtrack to the park's many patrons.  We talked to a  berry farmer whose farm was located near Salem, OR (just south of Portland).  He was selling blackberries, boysenberries, marion berries, and a few other varieties.  His hands were stained a bluish black (a true sign of a berry man), as he dropped a few samples into our bike-grease stained hands.  We decided to get some marion berries (a black color, but closest to the raspberry family), and made our way to the next vendor.

We made our way to a good-looking vegetable stand with a sign above it that read, "Val's Veggies".  Here we met a lovely couple named Val and Rod who ran an organic vegetable farm near Medical Springs, OR (not more than a few houses and a dot on the map) about 25 miles Northeast of Baker City.  Val's farm was also serving nearly 40 families through a CSA, and they sold wholesale to a group in Portland called Know Thy Food.  We explained to Val who we were and what we were doing and she showed a genuine interest in the project.  She asked where we were planning to stay that night, to which we replied by shrugging our shoulders.  Without a second thought she invited us to stay the night at the farm.  Rod even offered to throw our bikes on the back of the truck and give us a ride to the farm!

When we arrived at the farm the sun was setting so we took a few pictures, helped unload the leftover vegetables from the market, and were treated to a delicious meal of pizza and coleslaw.  We spent the night talking about everything from farming to pre-natal development.  Val and Rod were so nice that they offered us their spare bedroom to sleep in, and we awoke to an enticing aroma in the air.  Val had prepared baked oatmeal accompanied with fresh fruit from the market!  I think we could have been happy spending the rest of the summer there, helping with the harvest and enjoying beautiful views of the amazing eastern Oregon countryside.

We reluctantly left Val's Veggie Farm and headed north to our next destination -Emigrant Springs State Park. Unfortunately, the beginning of the day was brutal; a strong headwind combined with steep climbs.  Even when we were going downhill, we were pushing to maintain a 7mph pace.  Needless to say, by the middle of the day we were exhausted, so we decided to change our destination to a state park that was about 10 miles closer called Hilgard Junction State Park.  On the way we passed an artesian well that Rod and Val told us we had to stop at.  The water was absolutely delicious and we filled all of our water bottles after chugging a few while we filled up.

We passed through the town of La Grande, OR after which we were again forced to return to I-84...This stretch of interstate from La Grande to Hilgard Junction State Park was populated mainly by fast-moving, loud-sounding 18-wheelers.  When we arrived at the park, located just off of the interstate, we were relieved to be off of the road, but worried that the only way out was to get to our next destination was to get back on the interstate for nearly 40 miles.  Just as we were contemplating the gravity of the situation, a woman pulled into the campsite next to us in a Volkswagen camper with a touring bicycle hanging on a bike rack off the rear of the vehicle.

Her name was Barb and she was on her way to lead a bike tour in the San Juan Islands.  She had biked the northern tier route (a cross-country route provided by adventure cycling) a few years back and was pleasantly interested in our trip.  When she asked where we were headed, we both looked at each other with disappointment in our eyes as we knew that the only way to get where we were headed was to travel the interstate for longer than either of us wanted to be on it.  Barb offered to give us a ride if we could fit everything in the van, and so the next morning we took her up on the offer and managed to get everything in the van with ease.  We treated her to breakfast at Main St Diner in Pendleton, OR, thanked her for saving us, and went on our way.

We left Pendleton, again heading north to the Colombia River.  There was a pretty good-sized hill to climb to get out of town, but when we reached the top we were treated to a stunning view of 'amber waves of grain' contrasted by bright blue iridescent skies -it was truly beautiful.

After climbing and descending a series of rolling wheat fields, we came to the cold springs canyon and followed it to the Colombia River.  On our way we both suddenly craved a good cup of tea as a sweet aroma began to tingle our noses.  Farther down the road we realized what we had been smelling, and why were each craving tea -rolling fields of deep purple lavender lined the highway.  Just after this amazing sight and smell, we finally reached the grand Colombia River.

Our first view of the Colombia River

We followed the river along the Oregon side as we headed to our destination for the night -Plymouth Park (located across the river on the Washington side).  We enjoyed a nice shower, and met another tourist at the campsite who had also biked across the country (he was turning 70 next year and his wife was following him in an RV).  The next day we hit the road early and decided to take advantage of the lack of wind and bypass our initial plan to stay at Roosevelt Park (around 50 miles away).  Everyone we spoke to about traveling west down the Colombia River said that we should expect a terrible headwind, so we were happy that on this day there was virtually no wind (although temperatures soared into the upper 90's in the afternoon).  We traveled along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail on highway 14 to Mary Hill State Park making the total mileage for the day about 80!  This was our last 80 mile day, and I highly doubt that I will be doing any more of these kind of days for fun.

The next day we decided to cross back into Oregon on highway 97 because the route in Oregon through the gorge was much flatter than highway 14.  Once again, we were forced to take the interstate on and off throughout the day, however at this point we had gotten used to trucks passing at 60mph.  Biking on the interstate was probably safer than traveling on highway 14 on the Washington side anyways because the shoulder is much wider, and the speed limit on highway 14 was 55mph.  So instead of having trucks passing extremely close to us at a slightly lower speed, we opted to have them pass us with lots of room at a slightly higher speed.

We ate lunch at The Dalles, OR after fixing a flat (one drawback to biking on the interstate is the insane amount of debris e.g. glass, fragmented tire tread etc.) and continued our journey to Hood River, OR.  We spent the night in Hood River after treating ourselves to an exquisite meal at a local eatery (probably one of the best meals we've had on the trip so far).  The next day we awoke to a few scattered thunderstorms which we waited out.  When we left, the winds were blowing at a steady 15mph with gusts up to around 30mph.  This was the only day we experienced the infamous wind of the Colombia River Gorge, so we felt pretty lucky.

From The Dalles and onward, the Colombia River Gorge just gets more and more beautiful.  If you have never seen or heard of it, you need to add it to the bucket list.  We traveled the interstate off and on again for most of the day as we made our way to Portland.  When we could, we took the historic Colombia River Highway (route 30), and passed by what I can only describe as a temperate Fern Gully (think Disney movie). Pictures, let alone words, does not do this area nearly enough justice.  We stopped a few times to enjoy the enormous pines, and breathtaking waterfalls along the route.

We finally made it passed the point where the interstate was the only option to take as we entered the Portland metro.  This city is lined with bike routes and bike lanes, and we took them all the way to one of our good friends who lives in Northeast Portland.  We are now sitting in a restaurant/cafe anxiously trying to finish this post before we take off to St Helens, OR where we will spend the night with a good friend of Caitlin's father.  From there we will bike our final 65-ish miles to Astoria, Oregon, completing a nearly 4,000 mile journey from coast to coast.


Also, if you are reading this and haven't checked out or kickstarter project, please do.  You have three days left to pre-order a copy of the cooking guide for bike tourists that we will be writing this fall/winter -with some hard work and perseverance we will have it available by next touring season.

Thanks for everyone who has taken interest in our trip and project, it truly is amazing and inspiring for us.

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