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Day 4. September 7
Having gone to sleep around 9 o'clock, it didn't surprise me to wake
up at 4. I turned on my computer and it seemed to work OK. I checked
for AOL connections and found that Sunnyside is out in the boonies, so
I had to use the 1-800 access, at $6 per hour. But it took only a few
seconds to download my few e-mail messages. I then wrote the report
for the first three days. After finishing around 7, I tried to log on again
to download my photos to yahoo. But the 1-800 number was evidently
overwhelmed at that hour, and I heard the squalking-and-squealing
sign-on noises for more than two minutes before I gave up and hit
CANCEL. I'll sign on in the middle of the night from now on.
I reorganized the contents of my panniers, trying to find some
extra space for any groceries I might buy. My route is following the
Oregon Trail, and like the travellers of old who discarded items along
the way, I'll do the same. Among the items I'll send back home is my
gasoline stove. I've realized that I'd only use it if camping, and if I camp
I'll be too tired to fire it up. So it, together with about another third
cubic foot, was put into a pocket destined to be boxed at the first opportunity.
Since I still felt tired, my plan was to have an easy 45-mile day,
stopping at Kennewick. I left at 11:30 under a clear sky, temperature
in the mid 60's.
The highways in Washington are very friendly to cyclists. Although
the paved shoulders in Mt. Rainier National Park were a bit narrow,
elsewhere they were never less than 4 feet wide and occasionally so
wide and for such a great distance that I was afraid a car might think
it was another lane. The best got even better: I found a bike path
(I was the sole user) that took me the six miles from Sunnyside back to
the interstate. There I biked alongside the long line of trucks heading east.
Around three o'clock I reached exit 113, shown on my map with a
big Kennewick next to it. But it turned out that the town was really
about five miles north of the exit, with a considerable downhill. That
meant that tomorrow I'd have to return over the same path uphill, adding
a total of 10 useless miles. So I decided to push on to Umatilla,
another 20 miles.
Nature didn't like my decision. I began a long climb to the south
over Horse Heaven Hills (which I renamed Harry's Hell Hills). Although
the climb was only about 1500 feet, a 20-mph wind was directly in my
face and I couldn't go faster than 4 miles an hour. I began to doubt that
I'd be able to bike the 20 miles before dark.
An additional problem was that I was running out of water. I carried
one water bottle in a bottle cage, and another half-gallon in a rear
pannier. I waited until I had about two swigs left and then followed my
emergency procedure: I held my empty bottle stretched out in my left
hand with stopper open. Whenever a likely-looking vehicle would
approach from the rear I'd shake the bottle, and hope someone would
get the message.
After about a half-hour an SUV pulled over and I cycled up. "Need
water?", asked Mike. He and his wife understood my message perfectly,
and were very generous in filling my bottles. I managed to return the favor:
They were dragging their tailpipe and I just happened to have some plastic
ties that helped solve their problem.
Back to battling the wind, but at least I wasn't thirsty. Finally I
reached the top and began a downhill to Umatilla, just across the
Columbia River, which I crossed as the sun got low.
I was now in Oregon (one state down and eleven to go). I got a motel room that
was barely large enough to hold the bike. Compared to the night before,
I got 50% of the room at 150% of the price. I staggered across the
street to get some orange juice, tanked up, showered, and hit the
sack. Distance for the day: 68.5 miles.
Day 5. September 8
My body was rebelling. My normal resting pulse (on wakening) is
about 48. After a day of intense exercise it usually rises 3 or 4 beats a
minute. But my morning pulse has been over 60 for the past three
mornings, indicating "overtraining". I've had little or no appetite (all I
ate yesterday was one peach and one apple), although my strength seems
not to be affected. My major concern was that the last three hours of
the last couple of days were nothing but misery, and I began to think of
all the fun I could be having back home, working in my woodshop,
playing on the computer, fixing up my sailplane. What have I got
myself in for?
The solution (I hoped) was to take a rest day. I say "I hoped"
because there was a slim possibility that the problem was due to
some water I'd drunk on the first day. As I was leaving Seattle I
stopped and filled my bottles at a tap alongside a public building. I
took a long swig from my smaller bike bottle and immediately thought
"What lousy water Seattle has! This is ten times worse than San
Diego tap water" (which scores high on the foul-taste-test). But I was
thirsty, so drank some more. It had a strange chemical taste. I didn't
think about it anymore until the next time I was thirsty and opened
the bottle again. This horrible odor similar to paint-remover came at
me. I opened my other bottle and it smelled OK. Then I remembered
that as I was closing up my bike box in San Diego, at the last minute I
decided to take along a small container of seam-sealer that came with
my new tent. It was in a sealed plastic bottle, and could conveniently
slip into my water bottle, so that's where I put it. I'd removed it during
assembly at Seattle. I inspected the bottle of seam-sealer. It was still
sealed, was not leaking, and it had no smell. But somehow whatever
was in that bottle got transferred to the plastic of my water bottle. I
wondered if my loss of appetite was due to that. I cut up the fouled
bottle and discarded it.
Anyway, I definitely decided that I was going to take a rest day at
Pendleton, which was only 35 miles east. I set off around 7 under the
broken-to-overcast skies of a dry front, and forced myself to stop
for breakfast (a pretty good short stack) after five miles. My biking
was helped by a 12 mph tailwind, forecast to increase to 20-30 by
mid-afternoon. But I pulled into Pendleton by 11:30 and started
looking for a good spot to spend two nights.
There were several motels scattered over a considerable distance,
so I decided to use the yellow pages. No phone booth had any, so I
went into the Chamber of Commerce Information office near the center
of town. Could I use their yellow pages to look up motels? Sure,
but wouldn't I rather have their list of motels, which included price-range,
address, and phone numbers? Why, yes, thank you. And wouldn't I
like to use that phone over there on that desk? Well, thank you again.
Ten minutes later I gratefully dropped a dollar into their donation box,
and three minutes later checked into the cheapest room in town, a very
pleasant place with only minor deficiencies, which I am only too willing
to tolerate for the bargain rate of $27. The TV works fine, the bed is
clean and comfortable, and there is plenty of hot water. What more
can a tired cyclist need?
I was still hauling around the stuff to ship back home, and a perusal
of the yellow pages showed that the "Shipping Shoppe" was less than
a block away. I took over my excess stuff in a sack, and it was boxed
up ready for UPS in just a few seconds, all for the charge of $3 more
than if I'd taken a box to UPS. And I didn't have to look for a box and
tape and plastic peanuts.
Besides the stove, I sent back a small aluminum pot, some cold-
weather riding clothes (I have some warm-ups that I can put on under
my GoreTex if necessary), various small items (including the container
of seam-sealer), and a 16-foot steel tape measure. Why did I bring
that along? Well, actually I didn't---it was a "gutter gift". (Other gutter
gifts so far: a three-blade pen knife, and 30 cents in change---a quarter
and a nickel that I thought was a quarter.)
I took a long nap that afternoon, woke up around 7, and to my relief
was very hungry. I walked to a barbecue place a couple of blocks away
and had clam chowder, salad bar, liver and onions, and a baked potato.
Day 6. September
I woke up at 4, and my body told me it didn't want to bike. OK, I
told it back, today we rest. My pulse had dropped to 54, so the short
ride yesterday (36 miles) evidently helped.
Pendleton still isn't big enough for an AOL number, and I really
wanted to get my first report off, so I went ahead and used their 1-800
number. I had six photos to download, which took about six minutes
each, not counting the screw-ups at my end. Finally the photos were
loaded and I sent off a report. I checked my e-mail a few minutes later
and had a copy so I guess topica is working OK.
I then downloaded my newsgroup messages. I only look at two
newsgroups: rec.bicycles.rides and rec.gambling.poker. I hadn't
downloaded messages since the Sunday night before Labor Day,
they had accumulated, and it took 30 minutes to download them all.
I'm not sure I'll get $3-worth of entertainment from the messages, so
in the future I intend to download newsgroup messages only when I
get to a free-access location.
I walked downtown, which was less than four blocks away. Pretty
desolate, but it was only 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I had a good
omelette-hashbrowns breakfast, went back to the room, asked the
maid to leave me alone, and relaxed all day. I was just following
orders---the name of the motel is the Relax Inn.
At 6:30 I was hungry again, so left the motel for the barbecue place.
As I exited my room I heard a great commotion along the main street
one block away. I went to investigate and found hundreds of people
lining the street watching a parade. It was the kick-off for the annual
Pendleton Round-Up, a week-long festival that swells the city
population from the normal 15,000 to about 50,000.
The floats were not Rose Parade quality,
but that fault was made up by the enthusiasm of those in the parade
and the onlookers. It became obvious that one standard activity is for
people in the floats to toss candy to people in the crowd.
Most of the candy didn't get as far as the adults on the sidewalk, but was
captured by the kids who would run into the street, pick up the candy and
put it into sacks, sort of like Halloween. Occasionally a piece of candy would
be kicked in front of a wheel of an 18-wheeler flatbed that carried a float,
and my heart skipped several times as kids scrambled for the piece. The other
adults observing didn't seem concerned. I guess the slower and less-
agile kids are weeded out that way.
The parade lasted over an hour and a half. As I saw the end
approach I left for the barbecue place, beat the crowd, and had
unlimited soup and salad bar. Then back to the room, got everything
packed up ready to leave at sunup.
Day 7. September
Unfortunately, there was no sunup. It was raining, lightly but
steadily. But I felt fine (pulse down to 50) so at 6:30 I put on my
GoreTex jacket and headed for La Grande (the final e is silent), 54
miles away. I immediately began a steady climb, which was interrupted
only by a detour to the Wild Horse Casino to pick up a poker chip for
my collection. (I'd called their poker room the day before, hoping to
play a few hands, but they didn't have enough players to start a game,
probably because of the upcoming celebration.) After briefly visiting
this site where the modern white man is scalped in a less-bloody way
("over 300 slots") I stowed my chip and continued to climb, reaching an
elevation of 4200 feet. I'd had a banana in my room, ate an apple later
in the morning, but was looking forward to reaching Meacham, shown
on my map as only slightly off the road. But on coming to that junction
I saw that Meacham was a mile downhill, and I realized that my hunger
could be satisfied by some crackers and peanut butter in my panniers.
I feasted under the shelter of an overpass.
I was wearing spandex shorts, a short-sleeve jersey, my GoreTex
jacket, and some heavy winter gloves (which quickly became soaked).
Even though my legs were bare and the temperatures were in the high
40's I was comfortable while moving. But after reaching the top and
beginning a fast descent I started getting chilled, and when I pulled
into the Greenwell Motel in La Grande it was still raining, and I was so
cold that my signature on the VISA receipt would never hold up if
challenged in court.
The motel operator (not owner) is a very friendly fellow from Hong
Kong named Henry. Henry wants to please you. "Does the TV have a
remote?" "Of course, no problem!" (It didn't, although I survived that
lack.) "Is that restaurant [that he recommended] very far?" "No
problem! Only 5 blocks!" (It was eight, but they were short blocks.)
After warming up under the trickle of hot water from the shower
("Plenty of hot water?" "No problem!") I napped briefly and wandered
down to the Golden Crown Restaurant, a Chinese establishment that
was probably owned by Henry's brother-in-law. There I ordered No. 1,
containing pork chow mein, pork fried rice, and pork egg foo yung.
Not a good day for the pigs. All quite tasty, and the tea and soup
especially hit the right spots. I took some chow mein back to the
motel to be warmed up tomorrow morning in the microwave at the
motel office, which Henry assures me will be open by 7 with no
As I sipped the tea in the (rather good) restaurant, I glanced at the
placemat: The Chinese Zodiac. Research showed that I was born in
the Year of the Horse, and it listed my qualities. Hmm, maybe there's
something to this stuff: Besides being intelligent and good looking
and all the other qualities that make you keep reading, it said "Your
capacity for hard work is amazing." Then I checked Mary's (Year of
the Monkey). "You are very intelligent [hey, 4.0 after four years of
college]... are always well-liked." I had to have a copy of this good
stuff and the waitress kindly obliged.
As I sipped my last cup of tea I realized that things were much
better than three days ago when I battled the winds of Hell Hills.
Maybe there was a possibility I could continue. I opened my fortune
cookie, and it said (verbatim, I swear): "You should be able to
undertake and complete anything."