Lowman, Id - Juntura, Or: 175 miles. Total: 3180 miles
Yesterday evening I had a chance to draw out a plan for the next few days. LA is almost out of the equation, with this wind slowing me down I am pretty sure I won't make it to Tinseltown. But San Francisco is doable. I should pace it out. I have to be back in DC by Sep 15 so I have 14 cycling days left. If I hover around 110 miles a day I could make it. My body feels great (still don't know how!!) but my resolve has been seriously taxed by the past few days. Idaho and its winds are asking serious questions. And I am not too sure what kind of answer my mind is coming up with. I know that this is very tough challenge I set for myself. It is not touring anymore, this is a race.
With renewed urgency I shoot out of the motel at 7am. It is not my earliest start but it feels like it because it is still almost pitch dark outside. The whole world is suffused by that dark blue light of the moment between night and day. I take a second to savor this unique dawn in the middle of a narrow canyon nestled in the Idaho mountains, it is all for me, all of this beauty is for me. I feel far away from anything that is organized, rational. Civilization exists but not where I am. I am at the margins of society, this is the zenith of the senses heightened by wonderfully unspoiled nature and moved by the smallest details of a scenery that is dramatic in its simplicity. I wish others could also savor this incredible moment. They will never know. And they will never know what it is like to develop blisters on your ass after 25 days of non-stop cycling. Good for them. For me...those blisters are gone, my skin is as tough as leather. And my ass is bicycle-seat shaped. Like yesterday I also know that the wind is at its weakest in the early morning hours so I want to take advantage of it.
A few cars coming the opposite way have their lights on which I imagine reflect on me like I am ghost slowly gliding on the road. I wear my white jacket to make sure they see me but also because it is cold. Not as bad as yesterday morning but my hands go red, sore and numb within minutes. The road I ride is very scenic, it follows the South Fork Payette river and the valley I am in eventually becomes a real canyon. The hill sides rise steeply treeless and rocky, the sunlight hits the tops of the hills but it waits and waits and waits before shining on me. I am fiending for it. After 25 miles I hit the town of Garden Valley where I am in desperate need of something warm. At the gas station I drink a reinvigorating white chocolate caramel which sends some life back into my frozen body. The road continues through a tiny canyon and it is just wonderful riding at this point. No wind, very little traffic and a superb mountain setting. The road is right next to a creek which is large enough for rafters. I enjoy the ride and sing aloud for a few miles before I hit the Payette River Scenic Byway, route 52. I turn south and the traffic thickens, many RVs or Pick-ups are carrying rafters, this is the Labor Day weekend traffic, families are out camping. At Horseshoe Bend I turn west and I ride for 20 miles through some pretty arid and desolate land. Here the scenery really begins to shift from a green, tree-filled mountains and to a more arid land with long and top-less hills. This change in scenery is the roll of the drums for what's coming my way in the next three days: arid desert. But before I get there I find myself riding in a very large valley where several towns are located. I go through a number of little towns very quickly stopping only once to eat some locally-grown fruit. And it tastes like nothing. I pick up the pace and after a few more miles of riding in this valley on a freshly surfaced road, I spot the Oregon sign. I celebrate pretty wildly as I am entering the penultimate state and I am also celebrating that so far no wind has showed up. Idaho has been really tough to cross but it is definitely behind me. Windy and cold but also extremely scenic. This large valley I am riding in seems like a Ohio field. It is like a patch of Ohio field has been transplanted in the Oregon desert. The air is hot and dry and the surrounding hills are all arid and yellow but farmers here are doing their best to grow crops. Ontario seems very unappealing as a town, lots of car sales and services and fast food restaurant so after 102 miles at 2 pm I decide to go the next town west: Vale. It is not far and I am still full of life. I ride the 17 miles to Vale with a gentle breeze behind me which is much welcomed. Oregon seems to smile at me after lots of battles in Idaho. When I reach Vale I am ready to stop for the day. 119 miles is not huge but it is okay. I look for a room but the only motel in town has the no vacancy sign lit, so the two choices are either ride back to Ontario, which would mean adding 16 miles today and 16 miles tomorrow or stay at the city park on a bench. As I ponder my options I am attacked by mosquitoes, shit! no way I am sleeping outdoors. So let's keep going west and what happens, happens. At 3.40 pm with 120 miles in my legs I could still use a challenge. I am in a bullish mood, I am ready for battle. What the wind has taken from me I am going to take it back.
As I study the map on the GPS I see that the next motel out west is in Juntura, 56 miles of total desert road. With no wind and with some luck, it is certainly doable. I take a deep breath and I decide to go for it. The worst that can happen is that I fall short of it and I hitch a ride before it gets dark. Hitch a ride! Easier said than done, this is the desert, I am gonna be riding on the Central Oregon Highway. The next large town out west is Bend, 345 miles away. That's three days.
Anyway, to be safe I call the motel in Juntura to reserve the room, I gulp down one liter of gatorade, buy an extra bottle of water which I carry in the backpack, I put my headphones on and I am on my way. If I make it I will have clocked 176 miles in one day, my PB. It is funny how confident one gets after he has been through some tough times. Wind 1 Luigi 0, but today I am getting on the board. Maybe I am borderline crazy, not just confident. We never know how tough we can be until our back is against the ropes.
The sky is bright blue and the wind is almost non-existent. I have three bottles of water and a small pack of fig biscuits. I hit the highway, I ride on the white line and I often slide inside the lane because traffic is very light, my music blasting in my ears, I look like a bulldog who wants revenge on the wind, I am staring at the highway right in front of me thinking I'm getting back at you today you sucker. I zoom through the first 20 miles without touching my water bottles. The road beings to climb and as I have to put some serious pressure on the pedals I am thirsty, I need a lot of water. I stop at a speck of a town called Harper, just three shack houses really. The only people I see are kids with clotted hair and dirty clothes. They are white but juding from their attire they could be gipsies or Native Americans. As I am drinking water from my bottle one kid comes over and asks me what would I want for my bicycle. I smile and say "nothing at all, kid". I leave this weird world behind and I am back on the road. My legs begin to feel heavy, the 20mph average of the first 20 miles is not attainable now and the spring I had is gone. I've got my hands full. I still ride at 15 mph but I am suffering. The prospect of 38 miles to go begins to dawn on me and I just start talking to myself to pump myself up, dI rink some more and try to focus on doing what I do best: move those legs. The road climbs a little and then enters a canyon, more of narrow valley, and the wind picks up. It gets messy, it is a headwind and I am struggling big time by now. I go from one mile to the next like I am not moving, time is ticking and the sun is beginning to dip behind a large gray cloud right up ahead. I drink almost all the water and I regain some strength. I focus on the desolation around me, the scrubby bushes and the arid land that surrounds this crazy loner on a bicycle riding across the country. At 7.15, after 3 and half hours of riding from Vale and 12 hours rom Lowman, I summit a long hill and from the round top see a group of houses tucked in thick trees in a small valley. It is Juntura, I find the motel right away, I take possession of my room and it takes a quick shower for me to regain some coherence in my thoughts. I gingerly walk to the diner before the place closes at 8 pm. The hostesses offer me soup in addition to a ribeye steak, two salads, two mash potatoes and veggies and two cherry pies. I am stuffed. I wobble back to my tiny room in this podunk of a town but 175 miles in a day it is something that I am proud of. And behind a mask of pain and concentration, I am smiling.
It doesn't get any easier tomorrow, more desert and long stretches of road without services. I could go for a short day and stop at Riley tomorrow night, about 85 miles from here. However, the menacing clouds to the west are still there and the forecast for tomorrow is not good at all. And even worse for the next day. I wouldn't want to be stuck in this desert oasis for two days, there is nothing to do, they don't have wifi and I can't update the journal. I am gonna go for it tomorrow again. Let's be daring. As I try to fall asleep my legs are still warm from the effort and my muscles are pulsating with life. I hear the wind rushing through the trees and nothing else. Wind 1 Luigi 1.