I woke in my hotel room in Baker City a bit dazed and not sure that I wanted to leave the coziness of a bed to go out and ride through the lonely Eastern Oregon desert at night, but I quickly gathered my things and headed out. As I left town, I went by a gas station and supplied up, prepared for a night without services.
As I left the lights of Baker behind and climbed the hill outside of town, I was afforded a fantastic view. I didn’t pause to take it in, but instead glanced over my shoulder a few times and plunged into the desert with intent. I really wanted to have my next sunrise be in Idaho, but there were a few obstacles to deal with to make it happen so I needed to “make hay” as Grandma would’ve said.
As I dropped into the desert, the road came alongside the Powder River. Soon I was in the gorge of sorts that the river flows through. There wasn’t much pedaling to do and I coasted along, enjoying the night. A few times rats would run across the road in front of me. This made me a bit nervous. I wasn’t afraid of the rats, but rather what might happen if I ran one over. Would it send my careening off the road and into the river? Who knows. Twice I saw big owls in the road in front of me, perched upon one of the aforementioned rats that they had caught. It was a little disturbing to suddenly see a 2′ tall bird standing in the road in front of you, mostly because my light system didn’t give me a great amount of time to deal with going around them and they had zero interest in moving. I could kick my head lamp on high and have a better view, but it would only last a few hours in that mode. Better to leave in on low and conserve the battery. That did mean I would need to be careful of the wildlife.
I went miles without seeing a soul or even a car, then suddenly there was a vehicle behind me. I could tell it was a pickup truck and strangely it refused to go around on the winding road. Without a shoulder to get off on, I felt a bit trapped, but continued to ride. They never honked the horn or got too close, just far enough away. I let myself get a bit creeped out by it when they seemed to be staying behind me way too long and refused to pass. After what seemed like a very long way, I came up on a straight stretch of sorts and the truck went around. It was an old beater with a wooden rack across the back of the cab in the bed of the truck. Sticking up from the rack prominently as they went by was a shovel and an axe. My mind immediately went to crazy-axe-murderer thoughts. I carried on in the dark, once again alone with the stars, the river and the rats.
A mile or so farther down the road, I saw the sign for a rest area. I remembered this little spot and had stopped there in both of my previous bike trips on the Trans Am, but both of those had been during the day. This night I didn’t need to stop, but curious of my surroundings, I kicked my light up on high to scan the small parking area, thinking there might just be another racer hunkered down there. No racers were lit by my beam, but there was the axe-murdering-beater pickup, sitting parked, engine off, lights off and in my mind at least, stalking me.
I bolted. Not initially, as I didn’t want to give anyone the thought that I knew I was being chased, but rather slowly built up speed until I was around the next corner and then I laid it all out. I just wanted to get to Richland! Around each corner I watched for headlights behind me and prayed to see some in front of me coming the other way. If I was going to die, I wanted witnesses! I saw neither and soon made my way into Richland. Looking back now, I am sure it was all on the up and up. Nothing for me to worry about, but in that moment I was truly terrified I was being stalked. It is really silly what our minds will conjure up when we let it run away with adrenaline and exhaustion.
Richland was all shut up. I paused outside a cafe that I have eaten at a few times, missing that part of this trip. Sitting down and chatting with folks at little diners across the country is one of the things I absolutely love about bike travel. It just wasn’t to be on this trip.
I left town and began the long slog of a climb up the unnamed pass Northeast of town. The pass was long, but the worst part was the descent. As I came off the pass, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was shouting, slapping my face and doing everything I could to stay awake. It scared the crap out of me. Once at the bottom of the pass, I saw the turn for the little town of Halfway in the pre-dawn light. There is a large wooden sign denoting the turn with a planter around the bottom. I decided to go behind the planter and roll out my bivy for a nap.
I slept 2 hours and was awoken just before dawn by a very strange sound. A thrumming sort of noise, at first I thought it was a cow mooing and that I was getting checked out by some bovine escaped from it’s fence. I realized as I woke that it was a bird, but had no idea what it was. Over and over I heard this strange mooing sound, just over my head. Having since researched it, I now know it was a common night hawk. Check out the video below to hear what I heard.
Back up and on the road, I made fairly quick work of the remainder of Oregon, cruising into Hell’s Canyon and across the Brownlee dam into Idaho. One state down!
I made the significant climb out of the canyon without much ado and rolled into Cambridge for a resupply, then it was on to Council. The slog up to New Meadows wasn’t any fun, especially with some rude drivers and a bit of traffic, but I tried to take it in stride as I was looking forward to the big drop in elevation that was ahead of me from New Meadows down to White Bird.
I ate Subway in New Meadows, grabbed supplies at the gas station across the street and headed out of town. Immediately there was fresh oil and chip-n-seal so new it had not set up yet. My 25mm tires couldn’t navigate it well at all, so I rode along a small bit at the edge of the shoulder that wasn’t covered with the goo and rocks. It was maybe 2″ wide. I was really bumming as it seemed that I would be in for a long haul of road construction. Not far ahead was a road crew stop sign and I was told I couldn’t ride the next few miles. I would have to ride in the pilot car. I’ll admit being torn as I wanted to make the trip within the race rules and under my own power, but was told by the crew that no riders were being allowed to ride through and the others in front of me had ridden in the pilot car as well. I took the ride and as we zipped along for about 3 miles, I found myself thankful I didn’t have to ride the chip-n-seal!
The road from New Meadows to White Bird follows the Little Salmon River and descends some 2500′ along the way. It is beautiful and hot. I stopped in Riggins for drinks and a snack at the same general store where I had sat at the year before with Scott McConnell and Andi Buchs. Great memories flooded in and I missed the camaraderie of other riders around me. I didn’t stay too long and headed back out into the evening heat, headed for White Bird.
When I arrived at the small spot in the road know as the town of White Bird, I was disappointed to see that the GPX file I had downloaded from the TABR website showed that I was supposed to climb the “new” pass, a boring, traffic-heavy grade with multiple lanes. It is the main highway through the area. I knew that the real Trans Am route went up White Bird Hill via a beautiful switchbacked road that was much longer, but a much better way to go on a bike. In the twilight I saw the lights of a couple other racers up ahead on the correct route, so I made the executive decision to do what I knew was right and ignore the GPS. The climb was fantastic and I was grateful to be there after dark so it was cooler. The only thing that would have been better would be to climb it at daybreak. It was a beautiful night.
Once over the pass, I rolled quickly to Grangeville, grabbed food at the 24 hour gas station and went across the street to the Super 8 for a room. It had been a long nearly 24 hours on the bike. Riding through the night, I had made 245 miles despite my nap in the morning and felt really good about my progress, but I was beat. I showered, ate while I washed my clothes and then slept hard.