Day 75: Votes and Goat(head)s
Today is Election Day. Today we crossed into our last state. Today Beau got so many holes in his tires that we almost gave in and turned around. But we didn't. We don't.
This is it, we were thinking as we slowly swam back into consciousness this morning. Today's the day. THE day. Okay.... Okay. Here we go.
Sara (our host) made us oatmeal with delicious cooked apples in it, and after one more cuddle with the fluff-tacular Boris the Cat—and an affectionate, here's-hoping farewell to our wonderful host and new friend—we saddled up and rolled out. Weiser is on the Oregon border: the Snake River marks the dividing line. So, first thing's first — of course we pull over and pay homage to the mighty waterway we've been following all the way through Idaho. Then — oh man, here it is! — our FINAL STATE.
After making use of the little phone tripod we've been carrying around and leaping off of a guardrail multiple times to the bemusement of passing cars, we headed off again. Our goal was to follow the river for most of the day to a small town called Richland — more north than west, but since we're headed back into more mountainous terrain, Richland seemed like the best place to head for all things (road size, inclines, etc.) considered. But O, Reader. What do they say about best laid plans? Read ye on.
Of course, before too long, good old Komoot decided to throw us onto a gravel road. (Overall, I'm extremely grateful for my trusty navigation app, but eff me if it doesn't just love gravel. There needs to be a user-feedback option on this thing. There probably is. Maybe one day when I'm not so exhausted I'll find it.) We tried, but it wasn't worth it. We bumped and ground our way back to the main road instead.
And then the real trouble began. We weren't 3 miles from Sara's house when Beau groaned from behind me. Another flat. Oh well — we were trying to approach this particular day with as much hope and vigor as we could, so we pulled over and set up shop to take care of it.
We took off the wheel, pulled out the tube, patched it while putting in a new one, inflated it, put it all back. Okay fine — wait. It's squishy again. It's not holding air. The other tube must have a hole too. Okay. We repeat the process. Okay, we're all g — wait. What the fuck. It's happening again. Friends. When I tell you that we sat on the side of the road for AN HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. Patching tubes, putting them back in, discovering for the 27th time that no, there were apparently STILL HOLES. A dump truck pulled over and the 20-year-old driver got out and walked back to us: "Ya'll were here last time I passed, so I thought I'd check on ya." We told him it was just flats.
We had two patch kits; we used every patch left in the first, and got down to the oversized patches in the second. We used 7 patches in all? 8? I don't remember. By the fourth you find a mix of hilarity and despair. By six it's like you're living a surreal Sisyphean allegory. Our positivity was long since drained away. We were desperate, angry, close to turning around — we'd barely covered any distance at all. I'm not proud of it, but at one point I admit that I screamed over the noise of passing cars: "I'M JUST SO FUCKING SICK OF BEING STUCK I JUST NEED TO MOVE."
We debated calling Sara, limping back to Weiser. But no. NO, GODDAMIT. NOT TODAY. Not on this of ALL days. Get thee BEHIND me, Satan!
Finally, it seemed like one of the three tubes we'd been trying (all basically polka-dotted with patches at this point) was going to hold. Coming down from panic-energy, we got back on the bikes and started pedaling. We'd lost almost two hours. All we could think was that Beau had somehow found a whole mess of goatheads, these kinds of super vicious burs-on-steroids — but how did that explain the holes in the new tubes we put in? We checked the tire over and over again. We pulled it off, flipped it inside out, double and triple checked it for anything sticking out… Ahhh, don't think too much about it, just ride. But. As we wound up and down the rolling, scrubby hills rising up out of the river valley, it became clear: Beau's tire was still leaking. We paused a couple times and just put more air in it. But eventually we found yet another spot to pull over and went into repair mode again. We were a little punchy. We'd passed through rage and were into the absurd, slightly apocalyptic amusement portion of the program. I peed behind some shrubs. Beau found a pair of minuscule holes in his tube, and we used one of the big patches to cover them both. It fit perfectly. We giggled unsmilingly. At this point we were almost 7 miles from Sara's house. We'd left around 9am and it was now 12:15. We rode on.
We were immediately rewarded, though, by the Snake River taking a turn for the breathtaking...
We stopped and took it in and got some of our life force back. Then we headed for the highway. We knew that we could get on the shoulder of 84, the freeway in these parts, for a short stretch just in order to save ourselves an almost 20-mile long hilly detour. So we buckled down, put in an ear bud each, and jumped on the big road. (Beau put on his glasses and ended up dodging three different nails, thank heavens.) Soon enough we knocked out the highway miles and jumped off again, then found ourselves on what ended up being our biggest climb of the day — a sustained trek up a loooong ridge that, once we zoomed down the opposite side, landed us in the little town of Huntington.
Now. Thank goodness for this little town. By this point we were hungry and behind schedule, and we found excellent hospitality and tasty sandwiches at the Burnt River Junction. But we also found extremely necessary information. Chatting with the restaurant owner, and with an older man who sat down at another table, we got the dire news: that road we were thinking of taking up to Richland? The beautiful one that follows the river the whole way? About five miles out of Huntington, it turns into gravel. Thirty-five miles of it.
DUN DUN DUN. For a while we stared blankly ahead of us, blinking like goldfish. After the morning we'd had—and knowing how our bikes and bodies have handled long stretches of gravel recently—a road like this just wasn't a viable option. There was another choice, though, said the restaurant owner: we could get back on the freeway for a little longer and head towards Baker City instead of Richland. After 13 miles or so, we could get off onto a smaller country road that basically parallels the bigger one. If we could pull it off, the New Plan would actually put us a day ahead of schedule. We'd make it to Baker City tonight instead of Richland, then Baker City tomorrow. We ate our sandwiches thoughtfully. Okay. Okay. Let's do this thing. Meanwhile, as we'd been contemplating, the old guy at the table nearby revealed that he was a cannabis salesman. He started pulling all sorts of goodies out of a big travel case. Beau mentioned my sore neck and he gave us a little tin of salve for free. Then passed us a plastic bag of bud to smell. We must have looked a little nervous because he chuckled at us and said, "This is a really cannabis-friendly town." Welcome to Oregon!
It was already about 2pm or a little after, and we had over 40 miles to cover on our new route. So, with thanks to the weed guy and to Burnt River Junction, we got back on board. And, as the votes rolled in all over the country, we plotted a course for Baker City. And, though highway riding is never the best riding, at least this highway was a pretty striking one.
"Our stories"—as Beau calls them—got us through the freeway miles, and then it was back into the stark, rolling desert hills. We climbed for most of the afternoon, but at least we mostly had the winding side road to ourselves. Every so often a farm vehicle would pass, clearly not in a hurry. Things were relatively quiet again. And we were going to make it — all the way to Baker City! As the sun started sinking, we re-added layers and settled in for the last push.
Though we knew we were going to have to ride the last 10 or so miles after sundown, and we were riding hard accordingly, we had to screech to a halt when we saw—sitting upright in the strip of dust beside us—one of this trip's all time weirdest roadside attractions...
Why? Who knows? But if anyone wants a slightly broken piano, you can pick one up for free on the side of Route 30, about 6.5 miles south of Baker City, Oregon (44°42'44.1"N / 117°45'13.7"W — for those keeping score.)
Soon enough the pinks and golds of the sunset turned to purples and mauves, and then the dark set in. It was only a little after 5, but as soon as it turns dark while you're biking, it feels like midnight. We'd managed to find a fairly cheap motel in Baker City earlier, and we gunned it that way. By 5:30ish, we were checking in at the El Dorado Inn and ordering Chinese food. After such a wild morning, and such a dramatic change of plans, we sat there a little shell-shocked... We made it. Again — we made it. But now that we were off the bikes, the hovering, heavy presence of the Election started to make itself felt in earnest. I tried to avoid constantly refreshing the news on my phone. I know it's going to be a long, painful, probably drawn-out process... Best to try to get some rest now... But oh, how are our hearts are beating hard tonight. Wishing you peace, friends. Tomorrow, whatever happens, we ride on.
Day 75: Weiser, ID, to… Baker City (?!), OR (!!!), 71.8 miles, 3,300' elevation gained, nearly ALL the patches used, some good advice, some highway miles, some fierce election jitters, and our very last state line.
POST SCRIPT: OH, while we're at it, please enjoy the following presentation of the VICIOUS GOATHEADS (and tiny wires) of Eastern Oregon...