The best made plans

We were feeling good. The sun was shining (a little too brightly, it turns out, because even after applying and reapplying sunscreen I got a little burned on my forearms, thighs, and nose) and the terrain was mostly flat. This was a day I was sure we would make good time, maybe even make it all the way to Eugene, when… Bang! Emma’s tire went flat. She was running tubeless, and she had a gash in the side of her tire big enough that the sealant couldn’t seal it. I’ve never run tubeless on any of my bikes. I’d never fixed a flat on a tubeless tire. As it turns out, none of us had. We pooled resources. We went through two tubes – I think we pinched the first one – but finally got it rolling again. It took us nearly twenty minutes to get sorted, and even then, the tire didn’t quite seat correctly so Emma was bouncing as she rode, which meant she couldn’t descend as fast as the rest of us.

I was bummed about the lost time, but it turned out to be a blessing, because it meant we had to stop in Corvallis, a beautiful small town that is very quaint and extremely bike friendly, with three bike shops, wide roads, and bike lines everywhere. Every business, including the bigger drug stores and supermarkets, had abundant bike parking out front, and I saw about as many cyclists as pedestrians. Cool. The best part of Corvallis, though, was our host couple, Hector and Carol, whom Emma found through Warm Showers. They welcomed us into their garage, which was furnished with a futon, a sofa, and a cot, along with bicycles, exercise machines, bookshelves full of adventure books and guide books about hiking Ireland and New Zealand, a huge wooden globe, and a game of corn hole that Hector might have built. We played corn hole until it got too dark to see.

Carol kept apologizing that they’d been caught off guard, they were downsizing and hadn’t finished renovating, and they didn’t have much to offer. (We were just grateful for a space to stay out of the inclement rain.) In the morning we were greeted with a massive pot (two pots, actually) of coffee, homemade muffins, grapefruit and bananas, and huge helpings of farm fresh eggs. We were well fortified for the rainy day ahead. Thank you, Carol and Hector!

Rain. Again. I didn’t take any pictures because it was all I could do to grit my teeth and keep going the 48 miles from Corvallis to Springfield. Springfield is a small, blue-collar town, a sister-city to the better-known Eugene. Kevin and I made it to Motel 6, the cheapest lodging we could find in the area, and nearly collapsed. When Michael and Emma arrived, we all agreed that it was time for a rest day.

Our rest day, frustratingly, was sunny and glorious, for the most part. We treated ourselves to a big breakfast at iHop and watched the clouds gradually disappear through the window, replaced by warm sun and blue skies. A fifteen minute walk across an empty parking later, we found ourselves in a Cinemark and saw the new Dr. Strange. It’s a fun movie if you like action heroes, big explosions, and shallow speculations about sorcery and multiversal travel.

Later in the day, we headed into Eugene. The main mission was to resupply on bars and gels and other junk food to keep us going in the miles between campsites. But we also got a good lunch and walked around the town, where we found a coffee shop named after me (closed, of course), and some of the most extravagant donuts I’ve ever seen. (No photo, sorry, they didn’t last long.)

On day seven the rain came back out to play. Drat. While the sun had been nice for our day off exploring, I sort of wished our next day of riding would be…y’know…dry. But no such luck. And it was worse then just rain. Looking ahead in the route, we were anticipating a giant climb – our biggest yet – of 5000 ft up and over Mt McKenzie. Unluckily, sources confirmed that McKenzie Pass, the only road through, had not been plowed. Furthermore, heavy snow was expected in the region, and our gear is not made for snow camping. If we were going to ride over McKenzie, we’d have to do it in one shot. None of us were keen on another rest day, and we were less keen on riding 50 miles up a mountain only to discover it was impassable and have to turn back.

Reluctantly, we rolled into the Eugene station and loaded our four bikes up on a bus that wold take us around the mountain to Bend, skipping about 94 miles of the course, so on the plus side we’ve made up for some of the lost time in our early days.

It was the right call. When we got to Bend it was – guess what – still raining. I was freezing and had been unable to sleep on the bus and had to pee because of the morning coffee we’d snagged in Eugene, so it was a quick and uncomfortable loading of the bikes and hoping we hadn’t forgotten anything before zipping down the block to a grocery store.

The rain did let up a bit, and it even got a little sunnier, but it stayed cold, and we were massacred by crosswinds. A tiny shoulder on the highway meant that whenever we were passed by a truck or RV (why does everyone in Oregon have a truck or RV?) we’d get blown around like a pile of leaves or sucked into the traffic lane. But we made it to Prineville in good time and found our campsite with about an hour before sundown.

The ranger mentioned that another cyclist had just gotten there before us, and seemed to be headed in the same direction. We bought some firewood, set up camp, cooked a quick dinner, and headed for bed, resolving to speak with this other traveler in the morning, if he was still there.

He was still there, as it turns out, and he was shooting for Mitchell next, just like us. He planned, like us, to stay at Spoke’n Hostel, so we agreed to meet him there, since he was keen to set out before Kevin and I were ready. It always seems to take me a bit longer to pack up camp than the others. We didn’t get going until about 10:30, and by then a heavy snow was falling. Snow turned to rain as we rode, though the day didn’t seem to be getting warmer. As we climbed the hills out of Prineville, it turned back to snow again, and then to sleet. It was accumulating now. My toes were numb. Kevin said he couldn’t feel his left foot. We kept riding. We were only fifteen miles in, with over twenty-five to go before Mitchell. I ate three of my bars and two packs of blocks, about three times what I’ll typically eat in a day. We weren’t getting warmer. It was still coming down. We kept pushing it, but our feet were screaming. It was starting to feel dangerous. How stupid would it be to get frostbite now? Around mile twenty-three we found a Christian Conference Center. They were closed, and nobody seemed to be in, but there was a mud room we could step into and get a little warm. We took our shoes and socks off and massaged our feet. I pulled out my dry bag of clothes and fished out some fresh socks. We put new socks on, adjusted our shoe covers, stamped our feet, and ate more food. Then we pressed on.

I tried to have the thought that this was a pretty awesome experience. How many people can say they’ve ridden though driving snow on unfamiliar roads? The climbs weren’t even that much to talk about. On a nice day, this would have been easy riding. But I was nearly at my limit. How hard would it be to flag down one of these pickup trucks and get them to take us the last fifteen miles to Mitchell? No one would have to know. As I started to really entertain that notion, we hit the descent. We passed the tell-tale “Trucks use lower gear” sign. Now at least I didn’t have to pedal.

The next seven miles were a breeze. Fresh socks make a big difference, but so do downhills. The snow and rain lightened up as we went down the mountain, but it was still cold, and the headwinds felt like they wanted to blow me back uphill. We found the famed hostel, which deserves a post all on its own – and it will get one – and settled in for showers and a game of Yahtzee, before being greeted by our hosts, Pat and Jalet, who had seen us on the road as they were running errands and made sure that we found the place. Pat mentioned that we’d avoided the worst of the snowstorm, because there had been lots of accumulation and even an accident on the other side of the mountain. It hadn’t felt like it, but we’d been riding away from the storm.

We’re safe and warm now and it’s time for bed.

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