Day #52) August 3, 2011. Vale, OR to Juntura, OR: 56 miles in 5:07 hrs.
I did the walk-around in Vale late last afternoon, and it was actually quite interesting, what with all the Oregon Trail murals on the buildings throughout town. Some were very detailed and colorful. Now the temp by that time was a whopping 96-degrees, and we’re talking like 6:30 pm, so I was feeling the heat for sure with just a couple of miles of walking. I’d planned on doing this diner for supper, but at the end of my walk-around in the center of town (my motel was on the western outskirts) I came to a Mexican restaurant, and I figured what the heck. Might as well give it a try. And again, just like the place in Utah, there were locals coming and going so I figured that it was authentic. Heck I was the only gringo in there who was speaking English. Ordered these short ribs braised in a red spicy red sauce with refried beans and rice, and then got a large burrito on top of that.
My God was this food good. Now honestly, I’m a Chinese and Asian food junkie, so Mexican is not high on my list, but the Mexican I’ve had in the past couple of weeks has just been so amazingly good that I could definitely swing that way. Trouble is that in Ohio, I have NEVER tasted food that even comes close to what I’m eating right now. NEVER! The short ribs in the first dish were just like melting right off the bone in this crazy good red sauce, and they came with hot corn soft shells, so I mixed meat, beans and rice and sauce into the shells and had some wonderful eats. Then the burrito. Got the crisp pork burrito, and again, just like up in Utah, this burrito was so good that I cannot explain to you. Now Judy and I love to eat at Taco Tonto’s in Kent, and Judy thinks these are the best burritos on earth – and I love them to – but let me tell you that they are as phony as a three-dollar bill compared to what I’ve eaten thus far at Mexican places out west. I was so satiated, so stuffed, and so overwhelmed by the good food that I had a Buda belly that was to die for!
Went back to the motel and vegged on more TV with more cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef. Then beddie bye at 9 pm. And low and behold I woke up late this morning, at like 5 am. Man I just slept like a rock last night. Had to be the overabundance of Mexican food that just put me into REM-sleep land for 7 solid hours. So I threw some motel coffee into the coffee maker and then scarfed down a pre-made sandwich I’d bought at a Sinclair station yesterday eve, packed and was on the road at 6:30. Now I saw 6:30 MST. I’m in OR, but I’m still in MST and not PST. You see there’s just one county in OR that maintains MST – and that’s of course the county that I’m currently in – Malheur County. But…this was the lightest 6:30 am I’ve had in a while so I’m just one county away from PST and a 5:30 am start again. And I’ll need it on Friday for sure. More on that later.
Got going on a pretty cool morning with the temp at about 58-degrees. Wore just the reflective vest, and my arms were slightly chilled for the first 45 min of riding. And that’s totally good in my book seeing that I just cannot fcn well in the real gnarly heat. Give me cool and I’ll ride all bloody day long. Heat? That just destroys me. So I was very happy to have it cool for however long it could be. The sky was perfectly clear – not a cloud to speak of – and the air was perfectly still. So it was just a stellar morning to begin a ride. So it took me like 30 seconds to ride out of Vale and into the bleakness of the high plains of OR. Now there were farms here and there, but mostly it was just dry and barren foothills with brown and yellow, dried out vegetation – except for one place. To my right, off in the distance was the Malheur River, which is pretty much the sole irrigation source for this whole area. Around the river were a plethora of cottonwoods and tons of cropland being irrigated.
Now I noticed from the get-go that I was climbing ever so slightly. Hell, nothing wrong with this picture as I’ve been doing that for nearly 6 weeks! So I was actually riding upriver along the Malheur and very subtly climbing. Like I was working to do 11 mph, so I don’t know that the grade was but I’ll assume that it was 2+% or more. Just enough to let you know that you cannot go fast today. And then comes the first pass, this one is Vines Hill Summit, and it is a good 2900 feet in elevation. Small potatos I know, but to me it was a healthy climb. Took me about 28 min to get to the top, and I was in the little cookie by the half way point. Now it wasn’t like that crazy thing that I did on my way to Snowville, UT, but it was a close second. Descended and then the grunt work began – slowly climbing a false flat up along the Malheur River for the next 40 miles.
Couldn’t do more than 11 mph on the real climbing sections, and did like 12-14 mph on the slight descents. But it reminded me of the climb that Brad and I had done on the first day to Cameron Pass in CO. Same exact thing with the very gradual up along a river. It snaked through these beautiful bleak canyons for miles on end. Every once in a while the road would pitch up a bit and force me out of the saddle to kind of stretch my legs out a bit. And the road, it was this nasty chip-seal shit that was composed of a quartz-gravel, kind of round and pea-sized stuff that was just a major friction factor on the tires. That stuff easily took a good mile per hour off of my speed. And I could tell because the road would change to smooth asphalt when the road would cross the river. You’d get these aprons of great road for about a quarter mile before and after the river crossing and then right back to the chip-seal. Those of you who have never ridden on chip-seal – well, you’d just have to trust me on this – IT SUCKS with a fully loaded bike!
So I realized that the great times and speeds I’d logged in the past couple of days on I-84…those days are gone. Back to reality here in OR on Rt 20/26. And then the inevitable occurred…I began to feel a westerly headwind. I mean come on now – it just had to happen. No freaking way I could miss that on an east to west ride. And gradually, over time, it got stronger and stronger, probably like about 8-10 mph at times. And it became even more of a factor once I got to this real canyoned out section for road. That’s when the signs began popping up warning of strong wind gusts. Had to be the wind funneling down trough the canyons like a wind tunnel. And the road was just snaking north, south, east and west through this long canyon. So I’d get a tailwind, crosswind, and headwind at any given moment depending on my direction of travel.
By about 10 am the sun was just beginning to make itself felt, at least by me! I’d shed the vest way back on the first pass, and what with the sun getting hotter I was half tempted to shed my top. The climbing just continued on with the road usually hugging the Malheur River. Along the way there would be little oasis’s of humanity farming or ranching. But mostly it was just nothingness, a treeless, bleak landscape of parched and sun-burnt foothills as far as the eye can see. Made me feel so little, so insignificant in the big picture.
Now I knew that there’d be nothing between Vale and Juntura, so I’d made sure to have enough water and food, and ended up making a quickie stop about 10 miles outside of Juntura. Found a section of guard-rail where I could lean my rig and then just got out the final Cliff bar my fitness class had given me (this was saved in my back bag as an emergency bar) and munched it along the Malheur while I swigged on water. Damn it had gotten quite hot by then. Then remounted the steed and continued the slow plod to Juntura, up and up and up along this false flat climb.
Got to tell you that my ares at this point is just torched. I mean it usually starts rebelling about 3 hours into a ride now. So I’m getting out of the saddle more and more at the three hour mark just to give my arse a break. When I do, the shorts – and this may sound a bit gross – kind of unstuck from my skin like skin peeling off. It’s a rather nasty sensation. And believe you me, I’ve been a stickler for arse rash prevention, doing all that’s necessary for my arse protection. But to no avail. It’s just a wreck right now with with 52 days on the road and 51 of them on a bike at least 5 hrs a day. Enough said there.
Fumbled into Juntura with 57 miles and just over 5 hrs of riding. And those were a tough five hours of biking for sure. Juntura is about as big as Maybell, CO. Nothing here but one commercial place here – The Oasis Motel, RV and Café. It’s named right – it’s a bloody oasis in the middle of nowhere. Next town to the west – Burns – some 58 miles away. Great folks here though. I went in, sat down and jawed with an older gentleman for a bit as he was waiting for a milkshake, and also jawed with a couple of black leather-clad motorcyclists in their 60’ or 70’s. They all gave me props for what I’d accomplished thus far. The waitress gave me a small card to fill out for one of the only 6 rooms available here (I’d made a reservation just in case). And then I ordered up a 50 oz fountain coke and ice water. Next up was ….come on now you have to know that it was the chicken fried steak breakfast!
So next a trucker came in and sat down as I was jawing with the bikers, and I’d mentioned that I didn’t think I’d have any cell service here. Well the trucker pipes up that he has three bars here. So I got out my phone and be damned if I didn’t have 3G service with 3 bars! Amazing in that I feel like I’m in the furthest place from any kind of service that you can be in. So I drank 3-50 oz cokes and 3 glasses of ice water and then tackled the breakfast – very good indeed, but not quite as good as the chicken fried steak in Maybell, CO. That’s the gold standard right now. This one here – silver for sure. They just didn’t pound out the steak. Had they done that it would be a draw for sure.
So I got my room key and was directed to the little row of rooms, and quite honestly I was expecting the worst, I mean worse than in Snowville. But be damned if I didn’t open up this room and it is like brand new, spacious, and extremely nice – AC, regrig, microwave, tons of room, new furniture. I mean I’m totally impressed for 45 bucks. Only draw is that there’s no cable. Actually there is no TV at all. They have provided DVD’s for patrons, and if you require more choices you can go back to the café and get more DVD’s. No biggie for me. I just plugged in my phone and have been listening to internet radio for the past 4 hours. So I have my computer going with the air card and the cell phone blaring out internet radio and all is good.
Went back into the café and got a sixer of Black Butte Porter, a microbrew made in Bend, OR, put it in the refrig, turned the refrig on super cold, and then went out and sat in the dry, hot OR sun on the porch and drank some Porters. Really felt relaxing to just do nothing after riding and working. Went through three porters out there just watching the hot as hell day go by. Kind of cool to have no TV here and just listen to my Ambient Radio on the cell.
Tomorrow…this is going to be a very tough ride, what with two 4K+ passes to do. I’m told by the gentleman who was having the milkshake in the café that that is the tough stretch here on Rt 20/20, the stretch from Juntura to Burns. Then the next stretch, the super long one, from Burns to Bend, that is more like high plains without all the snaking through canyons and such. Still, it’s a 130 mile section with no real services. I still am mulling over the strategy on that one. I guess I’ll get it dialed in tomorrow after all the climbing. But really, I’d like to think that maybe with an early start – and it being PST – I could get going at like 4:30-5 am and maybe have a good shot at doing 130 miles…IF and only IF I have not nasty westerly headwind. Get a headwind and it’s a whole different ballgame. More on that tomorrow evening.
I’m going to sign off and go over and have some dinner at the café. Could very well be the chicken fried steak dinner! God I’m a sucker for that dish….. And with the magic of writing I just got back from dinner and did indeed get the chicken fried steak dinner. Talked with the waitresses for a minute of so and they were super friendly and fascinated with my trip. They even wrote out a voucher for 5 bucks off my breakfast, and then when I thanked them but told them I’d be leaving around 5:30 am, the one pulled out a five and tried to give it to me for money off my dinner. I told her to keep it as part of the tip. Really sweet folks. What a wonderful little place to stay after a day on the road. It’s a one stop shop!
Ok, on to Burns, OR tomorrow…Pete