"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Monday, September 2, 2013

Day 27: Rainy days on the high desert

Juntura, Or - Burns, Or : 60 miles. Total: 3240 miles

The bicycle literally rests against the bed; this room is so tiny that I could barely squeeze it in. Good thing I am not claustrophobic. I have shared the space all night with two lively house flies, as tired as I was last night I could not be bothered to chase them out of my small confine. I wake up to a very dark and gray sky, I peer west and it looks even worse. Rain appears certain. As per the weather forecast things can get messy if the heavens break loose today. The real mess is expected tomorrow though, only 30% chance of rains today and tomorrow at 60% water is sure dropping my way. I would take those odds to any casino in the world.

Juntura, population 160, should feature in a Cohen road movie, this place is incredible. It is a miracle that there is a motel here; actually up to two years ago it was only an RV park for lazy or stranded drivers who couldn't be bothered to make the trip to the next town. I walk into the diner at 7am with sleep over my eyes, looking like a beggar with sunscreen all over my scruffy face. I ask the petit lady behind the counter if I can fill my water bottles. She looks at me like I am about to rob the place but one of my best smiles win her over. I buy some biscuits for the ride and before I take my leave my eyes fall on the few customers. A large-frame guy is sitting on a stool sipping coffee, another silver haired man wearing cowboy boots and dirty jeans is reading a newspaper and an old couple occupy the leather covered seats in the booth next to the door are eating fried eggs and sausages without talking or raising their heads. A strong smell of fried food enters my nose and I love it, it feels warm and cozy in here and I'm about to venture into the desert with rain and cold weather. I wish I could stay here and eat 10 sausages and talk to the old couple and ask them when and how they met and how they live. But I can't, maybe I really don't want to. I don't know what I want, I am restless. I want the ocean but it feels so far that when I think about it I get scared. Amid my inner trepidations I leave this forgotten piece of small town existence and I am on my way.

The moment I leave I know I gave it all yesterday. My legs feel like two blocks of concrete that weight twice as much. I can hardly apply any pressure on the pedals. The road keeps getting longer and I am getting slower. I try to enjoy the silence of this desert where I am only a tiny dot moving slowly toward unknown destinations but nothing works. No joy comes from my mind games or the scenery. After a few miles I start to climb and I roll up the hill with a sight and a grumble. The climb is not steeper than 6% and normally I would chew this up but today I feel like the tires are full of sand and I am not moving at all.

The ride from Juntura to Burns features two significant passes with very creative Western names, Oregon Trail names. The Drinkingwater and the Stinkingwater Pass. They both have long climbs and short descents. The first goes relatively fast even though I celebrate every yard like a mile but the 5-mile climb to the Stinkinwater pass really...stinks. It is a lot of work, my legs are asleep and no matter how hard I try to wake them up it ain't working. I round a bend and the sight of a long straight road going up is a big reason for discontent. I puff and I grumble like I have been told I have root canal work for the next ten hours. Why am I here? Why I am doing this to myself? Come on, you'll love it, you are raising funds for a good cause. Next time I'll write a cheque for 5 grands myself, that's what I'll do. Don't be stupid, this is beautiful, look around you, you are in the middle of nowhere. Exactly, what the hell I am doing here? And most importantly where the hell is the top of this freaking hill? After almost six miles at a snail's pace, averaging 8 mph, it finally arrives but instead of a long-awaited descent there is no consolation on the other side because the road stays flat. I have a sweeping vista in front of me, it is an enormous plateau. This is the Great Basin. It is a region some 600 miles wide and up to 50 miles long that covers the whole of Nevada, the western part of Utah and southeast Oregon. Interesting thing is that precipitations that gathers in the valley leave only by evaporation as there are no outlets to the sea from here. The road here is totally flat to Burns and I have 23 miles to go but it sure feels like 230. I am not smiling, today I'd rather be anywhere else. The scenery, darkened by a gloomy sky, seems boring, annoying even.

I begrudgingly continue on as the rain starts coming down. The wind is also picking up by now and I might as well just smile because between the rain, the wind, the heavy legs I recall Shakespeare's quote "death looks at him straight in the face smiling and all he can do is smile back". This is not death but it certainly comes close to it. I am 200 miles away from the next decent-sized town in the middle of the Oregon desert. I am fighting against all the elements. I stop to put my rain cover on and the trucks that zip by contribute to the amount of water that I am taking today. I smell the pungent fragrance of sagebrush after it is wet by the rain and that is probably the highlight of my ride. The tiny shoulder that I was riding on disappears and rumble strips are placed on the white line. Who is the genius who built this highway? I have to ride well inside the lane and boy if there was ever a time to pray this is it. The traffic is still light but the few vehicles are terrifyingly close to me and when I hear big trucks approaching I simply stop. I am not dying here. No way. I keep going riding in the chilly air and the rain shifts to a drizzle but the amount of water has been enough to render my shorts a complete paste of mud and water and cloth. I keep spitting watery mud from my mouth and I can feel my toes totally soaked and cold in my socks and wet shoes. I finally enter the city of Burns after 60 miles and much anguish. I am grateful I survived the passing trucks but with 62F, the threat of more rain and the legs that feel as heavy as two sacks of potatoes I could use a break. A long one. And I do call it a day.

Only 60 miles today, I wanted a rest day and I got it. At 1 pm I check in at Best Westerns on the west end of town and I am going to put my feet up for a few hours before it is time to eat like a pig and then sleep like a king. No interactions with human beings today; the more meaningful included refined curse words yelled out to an RV driver and a long litany for the ever-threatening trucks that zip past me a few inches away. I am alive but the road into Burns was very dangerous, definitely not for bicycles. My legs feel incredibly heavy. All I want to do is rest up good. I lay on the bed trying not to worry about the impeding storms and just hoping for more attractive days soon.

Tomorrow is going to be a very tough day, I have a stretch of road of 125 miles west to Bend or 115  south west to Lakeview, with no services, no gas station, not a single house along the Central Oregon Highway. If that wasn't enough and to spice things up there is a flash flood warning in effect for tomorrow for Central Oregon. The road to Lakeview is shorter but it is totally against the wind and it is more desolate. The Bend route is safer, there could be one gas station along it but it is longer. I will decide tomorrow when I will get to the junction.

The whole ride comes down to a few moments and tomorrow is one of them.


  1. Quando il gioco si fa duro i duri iniziano a giocare!

  2. Did not realize that the Eastern portion of Oregon was so arid. ^0 miles in the rain and the wind is still a good day and after such a long day the day before its a well deserved break. You're making a world of difference for those that will receive your gift of water. Keep it up you are doing great.


  3. I am feeling tired today.
    Yesterday I drove to DC and back home in one day. Left Easton at 1:30 PM, arrived in DC at 7:30 PM because we had to take a tax free shopping detour in Delaware. The rubber necking and bad drivers on 95 made me invent a few new curse words. Once we arrived in DC we had to circle the block looking for a parking space. Unpacked the car and had to take several trips to get it all up to the apartment. Too late to cook, so we walked to the restaurant about 300 feet from her apartment,had a quick 3 course meal. We never got our bread! Sheesh. After dinner and a quick hug and kiss goodbye, I hopped back in my car and drove back to Easton arriving home at 12:30 PM. Eleven hours later and 424 miles traveled. Despite the late return I still had to get up for work this morning. Ordinarily this traveling saga would elicit some sympathy from the listener. But now when I mentally compare my long day of travel to one of yours I get how lame and easy our lives are. Poor Helen had to drive to DC and back in one day. Damn, I used to love, love, love a good bitch and moan session. I'm sure I will eventually go back to my whiny ways, but for now I concede, my life is a piece of cake compared to butt blisters.