Once again our day began at 3am. The lack of sleep and desert heat had drained us, but today is the final day of crossing the Oregon High Desert. Heading east out of Burns we encountered 15 miles of straight, flat, agricultural road. While this was boring, we quickly had some excitement 12 miles in as my back tire went flat, our first flat tire of the trip. Replacing the inner tube, I found a sharp wire sticking through the thick rubber of my tire.
After the 15 miles, we were granted a turn that led us towards our first climb. All obnoxious climbs in Oregon are preceded by a sign warning of a "Snow Zone Ahead" and a "chain up" area. Our early start had started us with temperatures in the 50s and before climbing we were both shivering quite a bit. Reaching the summit, a sign foretold of 5 miles of downhill ahead of us. Enjoying the mountain side descent, we took in some of the best scenery Oregon had offered yet. We crossed Stinkingwater river, I tried to remember what the pizza chef in Lakeview had told us about our route. I thought that maybe we had completed the worst climb that we would have today. Descending into one more valley, I saw that I was wrong. On the other side sat a climb back up to over 4400ft. We crossed the Malheur River and began our climb.
This was now over 40 miles into our trip and without having eaten breakfast, we were ill prepared for what lay ahead. The climb took nearly 40 minutes, and upon reading the summit sign, I saw that this was the Drinkwater Pass that we had been warned about. The time was now 830am and we had made much less progress than we had hoped (only about 45 miles). Jonathan planned to meet us around this time and drop off our gear as he continued on to Boise to return the car and pick up his bike.
Luckily the next 10 miles were downhill, followed by 5 miles of irrigated, flat, ranch land. Halfway down the descent we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone! Making great time, we arrived in Fortuna, OR with 60 miles under our belts as Jonathan caught up. After getting our gear we headed into Fortuna's only business, a diner/gift store, and grabbed breakfast. While eating I noted that the terrain for the rest of the day was pretty mild, and would be following a river as it flowed downstream. For once, we were headed the same direction as a river we followed! Climbing a small hill, we found ourselves in a narrow desert canyon with only a river, road and some green vegetation near the river's shore. This was a very unique landscape and something I was excited to see. I noticed it was hot, but a stiff breeze kept the temperature manageable.
Despite the fact we were following the river, the road managed to still rise and fall. Around some curves we faced a stiff headwind. Around others we had a tailwind that left us feeling hot and dry. Shade trees only approached the road at most every 8 miles. Climbing down off the road, we would stand in the shade, drink our hot water and listen to the occasional rattle snake warning. This beautiful landscape was quickly becoming intolerable due to its high heat. The promise of the town of Harper, and its gas station drove us on, hopeful for some cool refreshment and food. At some point along this part of the trip, I nicknamed this area "Death Valley, Oregon".
Emerging from the narrow canyon, we climbed to the top of a large hill before coasting into Harper on a tailwind. Arriving in Harper we saw that the gas station was literally someone selling gas out of their living room. Pedaling deeper into town, we were dismayed to see that the only store/cafe was permanently closed. Nearby we found some shade at a school. After eating our now soggy Subway sandwiches, we laid down on the uncomfortably warm cement sidewalk. After a short nap, I woke to find that I was sweatier than before and my water was still unrefreshingly warm.
Deciding that our water levels were adequate and there was no way to get cold water anyway, we set off for the final 22 miles of our 113 mile trip. Now mid-afternoon, the heat was just as intense as it had been in the canyon. Struggling to find shade, our stops became less frequent. Under one shade tree, I realized that Greg was taking too long to climb the last hill. Backtracking, I found him walking his bike, with our 2nd flat tire of the trip. Two flats in one day, and having it happen in this heat was horrible luck. Tire repaired, we set off with 17 miles still to go. Realizing that our water situation was becoming a serious concern, we drank cautiously and tried to exert ourselves as little as possible. After another "snow zone" we had a 2 mile descent. The warm wind from our descent dried us out even further, making the final ten miles quite a struggle. To make matters worse, our water starved bodies had to stare at the well irrigated crops as we cycled past miles of farmland.
Arriving in Vale, OR we passed our first corn crop before chugging two Gatorades each. As we pathetically sat in the parking lot, a local farmer informed us that it was 102 degrees out today, and that he reckoned our route was at least 106. Calling the campground, and motels we quickly discovered that there was no lodging to be had in Vale tonight. The multi-day Vale 4th of July Rodeo was apparently quite popular. Discouraged, we realized we might have to bike another 20 miles to Ontario, OR. After eating dinner and being slightly less delirious than when we arrived in town, we set off towards Ontario. On this ride, we became coated in flies and learned that we were in "Onion Country". Hydrated and glad that the sun was setting we pedaled on.
At 9:30pm (18 hours after we set off) we arrived at the Ontario Inn. We had seen both sunrise and sunset today on our bikes, not something I'm eager to do again. Our 113 planned miles, grew into another massive 130+ mile day.
Photo by Jonathan Kobles