Sunday, April 22, 2018

Welcome to the Suckfest

You might be wondering how it is that I’m back in eastern Oregon, when I just made my way out of Malheur forest. Well, through the magic of this thing called “the blog that hasn’t been updated for 8 months or so,” I’m skipping forward at lightning speed, basically so that I can write about my epic achievement of 2018 (thus far). Of course this is the grueling .5K race that I did…..but more on that later.

Oh, but I can hear you all now, sounding for all the world like Cindy Lou Who: “But Miss Tasha, why? WHY do you keep going to eastern Oregon to ride your bike in the middle of nowhere?”

A fine question, but a number of reasons come to mind:

   1)   the quest for Hot Cowboy
   2)   There are few people
   3)   Turkey vultures
   4)   Really, very few people
   5)   Meetcute potential (albeit slim) with Hot Cowboy
   6)   Practically no people

Plus, my trip out there in October was on a whole other level of stupid. You see, I decided, in some epic leap into ridiculousness and folly, that 2018 (as my year of #DoingEpicShit) would be when I would bike all the Oregon Scenic Bikeway routes. There are 17 of them in different parts of the state, with varying degrees of difficulty, and it seemed like a good way to mark my 10-year Cancerversary year. Plus this gave me a good excuse to head back out to Burns last October, to get a jump on things. And of course, as a secondary motto to go along with Doing the Stupid Things So You Don’t Have To, I also have Always An Adventure. Namely, when things are going south quickly before my very eyes, I tend to find myself saying “Well, at least it’s always an adventure.” Which is true.

So. My brilliant and well-thought-out-plan was thus: I’d head out to Burns, do some of my local rides, and then do the 184-mile John Day Scenic Bikeway route, the one that has about 6 billion feet of climb, give or take. I studied the weather incessantly, parsing out the likelihood of snow (nah), doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations on wind speed (not too bad), extrapolating temps based on previous years (balmy-ish). I was ready.

My plan for Saturday is to head out on my usual ride to the Crane Café, using the theory that I once saw a Hot Cowboy there, so maybe someday I’ll see him again. This is basically what my beloved Kone would do – if something positive happened once, that meant it was immediately solidified in his mind as a given, rather than an anomaly. There’s one problem though. We all know the issue I have with wind, and I fret as I study the wind speeds for today.

15. 20. 23. 17. 25! (!) I start googling “how windy is too windy to ride.” There’s no consensus on this, as one person’s 15mph gusty is another person’s “ech that’s fine.” Most people agree that wind in the 20s sucks and is to be avoided. What to do?

On the one hand, I hate wind. On the other, this is my Crane Café day. On the third hand, how bad can it be, really. (This is known as “foreshadowing.”)

Plus, according to and weatherunderground, the wind is supposed to be from the north on my way out, and then it’ll switch to coming from the south on my way back, so that’ll work out. Could it be worse than the Windburn 100 ride that Deanna and I did once where we were pedaling hard to go down hills at a blistering speed of 5 mph? Or my last ride in Morocco, where the wind was pushing me UPHILL with no pedaling? Surely not.

Hahahahahahahaha! Hahaha. Ha. Ha…..

The ride starts out as usual  - I’m zipping along, looking for Rage Cows and jackrabbits, appreciating the desolate beauty of the high desert and the complete dearth of people. Then at one point I realize something. I’m really zipping along. As in, I tried to calculate things so that I’d be at the Café somewhat before lunchtime, but at this rate…..I’ll be there around 10AM. Hmm. This……this does not bode well for the return trip.

Luckily, when I get to the Crane Café at the crack of dawn thanks to the high wind, I find delightful company, Brandy and Shilo, who are from southern Oregon and road tripped to the eastern part of the state on a hot springs tour. Even though I hate people as a general rule, I find myself talking to them by butting into their conversation as they’re talking about how incredible the full moon was the night before (it was), and then we talk bikes and we exchange names and friend each other on FB. In other words, typical stuff.

Of course, as we’re sitting there chatting merrily, the wind is picking up, to the point that people walking in are looking disheveled and windblown.

This does not bode well.

Indeed, as I’m leaving the Café, I pass a couple walking in, looking…..windswept and disheveled. They see me with my bike.

Them: You’re not riding in this, are you?
Me: Unfortunately, yes.
Them: Hopefully going with the wind at your back?
Me: Sadly, no. Against the wind the whole way back to Burns.
Them: Get someone to pick you up!
Me: I’m out here by myself. Me and my bike. Alone.
Them: Umm….good luck?

So there’s that.  I set off, and honestly, this is so ridiculous, I almost start laughing. I’m hurpling along at around 6.8 mph, and I get an insta-headache from the wind blowing into my ears. It’s either a full-on headwind (bad) or a strong crosswind, which is almost worse because it’s blowing me into the road. Of course, since there are more cattle than people in this part of the country, that greatly reduces my chances of getting plowed down by a passing vehicle.

Yet again, I find myself gazing at the houses and ranches I’m passing on occasion, thinking of grifting a ride into town. Yet again, I stubbornly press on. It’s just me, out here on the tundra, with nowhere to escape the wind. I soldier on, because really, what else is there? That might be my metaphor for life: just keep pedaling. No matter how sucky it is. Until you decide you’ve had enough, and are weary. But I digress.

And sure enough, around 12 hours later, I wind up back in Burns, back at the hotel, shell-shocked and disheveled.  Once I thaw out, I get online, and see a message from Brandy from the Café. “We stopped to pee, saw how windy it was, thought of you!” Well, at least someone was in tune with my suffering stupidity aggressive athleticism stubborn delusional self.

Then, to add insult to injury, I decide to check and see just how windy it was. 25? 32?

38 miles per hour. Squarely from the north, ie a headwind. So much for the wind switching directions, huh, weather underground?

I shall have to write an angry letter.

Next up: We're goin' bear hunting!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I did not sign up for this. Okay, maybe I did.

So I head off on my now-delightfully-paved road. And it’s glorious. Beyond. It’s rolling and beautiful and there are deer and then OMG SANDHILL CRANES. Cranes are my favorite, along with herons and owls and birds of prey and well, maybe all of them. I stop to take pics of my beloved Rage Cows, who are so startled at the sight of me on my bike that they bypass glaring at me with barely-disguised fury, and instead just kick up their heels and run away. Yes, I'm starting cattle stampedes as I toodle my way across eastern Oregon.

Then I get to a hill. FINE. It keeps going. And going. Up and up and up endlessly. I start thinking asinine thoughts, like, wow I didn’t realize Oregon was so tall! No lie. I then realize that this hill is the equivalent of the stupid hill on the other side of the forest, aka from this morning so long ago when I started out on this daredevil tour of madness. Thus, it will never end. Until it does. At the top of the hill. I’m confused – where’s my downhill? Is this highway 20 ahead of me? Well, it’s only 20 or so miles back to Burns, piece of cake.

Except somehow, the lying sign says 32 miles. Wtf? No really, wtf. I’m not mathy, but could my calculations have been THAT far off? Apparently so, but I’m hoping the sign is actually wrong. Hope springs eternal and all that. Especially when I look at this road and realize: this is a fucking highway. That’s when the conversation I had the other night with awesome local friends Erik and Isabelle pops into my head.

(cue dooototoloooo Wayne’s World music)

Erik: Sometimes I ride on 20, but it’s weird what they did to that road. They chipsealed it, but left all the gravel, especially on the shoulder. In fact it’s kind of piled up there.
Me: Uhh, that sounds crazy. So it’s not flattened down at all?
Erik: No. The shoulders are basically useless, they have so much gravel.
Me: Huh, good to know. Will definitely have to avoid that!

And of course, here I am. Staring at 20, the briskly desolate highway, where oh lookie, to the right (aka the direction in which I need to go) is a swoopy curvy steep road that’s downhill for quite a while. On a highway. With no usable shoulder.

I think to myself, well, this is it. This is where it ends, where all cyclists go to die. On a highway in eastern Oregon, splattered by a truck. Oh well. It’s been fun, except when it hasn’t.

Because this road isn’t going to ride itself, I set off. It’s as sucky as I imagined – the shoulder has too much gravel to be rideable, so I’m whistling down the highway. By some odd stroke of luck, however, no cars come up behind me and try to pass. Or perhaps they do, but are so dumbfounded by my stupidity that they decide to hang back. “Look Mabel, another one of those idiots on the road!” Yes Henry, I know.

I make it down this stretch of highway, turn a corner, and start heading down another steep hill, when like a detour into bizarroland, I see….a store? Up ahead on the left? Wha…?

Of course I have to go in, whereby I discover a gas station/convenience store/museum/Indian art gallery. No lie. I wander around the one-room museum looking at the old pics and old-timey antiques, and then wind up chatting with the lovely lady who works here.

Nice Lady: Oh, you’re on your bike! Where are you going?
Me: Well, I did this loop through the Malheur forest, and now I’m headed back to Burns.
NL: …Burns? That’s….ambitious.
Me: Stupid. I like to call it stupid.
NL: You just be careful now – the cars go so fast, and the road is terrible.
Me: I’ve noticed.

My next issue with this road is this: the shoulder has varying amounts of gravel, but between the shoulder and the road there are rumble strips. Yes, this road is so boring that it’s lined with rumble strips for its entire length, for drivers who wander over. First, this isn’t exactly comforting, knowing that drivers here are likely to drift into me. Then, I have to do this odd hopscotching thing, where I ride on the road, then bump over the rumble strips to the shoulder when I see a car or truck coming up behind me.  Ride-bumps-gravel-bumps-road-truck wooshes by-bumps-gravel and AD NAUSEUM FOR MILES.

Not for the first time during my bike rides, I look at the houses I occasionally pass by and wonder if I should stop and see if I can just get a damn ride into Burns. Because that would be the smart thing to do, I don’t do it.

On the bright side, the road is pretty flat at this point, the Rage Cows are out in full force, as are the hawks, and it’s looking like I’ll make it back to town before sunset. Whee! For all the complaining, it’s still been a day on the bike in my beloved eastern Oregon, amirite?

As I toodle back into Burns, I decide that my epic achievement of stupid deserves a drink, so I pull up at the Shady Pastimes. For anyone wanting to recreate this ride, I will have you know that this loop, start to finish and ending up at the bar, is exactly 100 miles. 100.0 on the dot.

I feel like this is a cosmic sign of something, but I’m not sure what.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Whereupon things take a turn for the better. At least for a while.

It occurs to me that based on the last blog post, any faithful readers I have left have surmised that I’m still riding around blithely in the Malheur forest in Burns. Which might not actually be such a bad thing, really. I could become a legend, like the Yeti, spoken of in hushed whispers and appearing out of the shadows only when a hard cider or pez or some other delectable is available. But I digress.

Given that it’s been longer than I thought since my last post, and I have NOT in fact been in the forest all this time, I thought it would be wise to write the conclusion to my tale. Behold.
* * * * * * *

Now, if this were a romcom or if my life were anything other than the clusterfuck that it typically is, this would be where my bleary eyes would see someone on horseback coming towards me, off in the distance, but first I’m startled by a rampaging herd of….baby goats, say…….who knock me into a shallow pond which is not all muck and mud, and I’m sitting there adorably disheveled when who should ride up but Hot Cowboy himself.

This is not what happened.

Instead, I honest-to-god see up ahead Rage Cows. Unfettered. Out in the wild. The first one sturdily goes from the trees on the right side of the narrow gravel road to the left side, as I stare at him, mouth agape. I at least understand the import of this: There. Are. Rage. Cows. Not. Behind. A. Fence.

A few more trundle by, like a mirage, which hey, maybe it is? It’s been a long day, after all. But then, what (or who) do I see walking down the road towards me?

Nope, yet again, NOT Hot Cowboy. Rather, it’s an old man, probably in his 80s. I assume he lives nearby or is parked somewhere and is wondering if this silly-ass person (me) is lost and needs help.

Older Man: Howdy!
Me: Hello there!
OM: So, my wife and I are lost and were wondering if you could help us out.

I…..what? How the hell did they even GET to this extremely remote spot to even BE lost?

I then see their truck off to the right, pulled off into a little gravel side area. As we walk over, he explains to me that he and his wife are from Idaho and like to go on weekend treks to look for wildlife, and somehow they wound up here with no idea where they are. They’re well-prepared, and irony of ironies, offer me WATER. TONS of water! And sandwiches and snacks and so on. We wind up chatting and it turns out they’re beekeepers, who sell honey. Yes, I’ve run into little old beekeeper couple and they’re absolutely wonderful. They show me pictures of what they’ve seen – a baby bear and bounding bighorn sheep – and I show them my Rage Cows. It seems like an even trade.
We then have the conversation that I seem to have quite a lot in this part of the state.

OM: So you’re out here all by yourself?
Me: Yeah, I like to go on long bike rides by myself as far away from people as possible.
OM: You should carry a gun.

It is at this point that I decide fine, I’m getting a gun. If the people who live here keep telling me this, who am I to argue? This, in spite of the fact that in Oregon I’ve never had problems, while in Illinois I was almost run down by the meth-crackhead lady, and in Wisconsin was almost run down by the runaway pickup truck that the guy who kidnapped his mom jumped out of before he ran into the bar called Knuckleheads and wound up tazed by the cops after he started trying to stab people.

No, I am not making this up.

And oddly enough, while we’re chatting, we see the only 2 pickups I’ve seen on this road at all (other than the police car and the firetruck), each with several sketchy-looking guys, driving past us. Did I meet this sweet old couple right before I would have been shivved? Who knows. But it’s weird.

The lovely couple, Bill and Judy, give me a ride in their truck over the few miles of gravel road, and before we part ways, they give me jars of honey! This is why bike jerseys have back pockets, so they can be stuffed full with all sorts of happy things. And I miraculously know how to direct them back to civilization 395, so all is well in their world as well.

I wave goodbye, and continue. Onward.

(to be continued)