Detroit to Baker, 1982 - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

March 30, 2020

Detroit to Baker, 1982

A remeniscence

(Note: if you’re rereading this for some reason, you might be surprised by some of the revisions.  My long-standing friend Frank, who I knew at the time, pointed out some inconsistencies in the timeline.  He’s right, and I’ve recast the tour four years earlier than I was thinking it was).

awoke early this morning thinking back on the tour I took back in the late spring of 1982, from Detroit to Baker.  This was my first visit to the John Day country, and the last few days of biking have started stirring some dormant memories.  Being as old as I am, there aren’t that many concrete memories left; and as I grow ever more ancient, even the few I have left are apt to slip away soon.  I’d better set down what remains before I lose anything else.

I’ve never blogged this short tour, and don’t have much to draw on now.  I didn’t keep a journal and didn’t even carry a camera.  This was still in those dark years of my past when I was philosophically opposed to cameras, on the stupid theory that they robbed your memory by replacing the real experience with a flat, frozen image.

How foolish, how short sighted, I of course now see in retrospect.  Better to draw on a stack of photos to tease memories from than to just draw a blank.  

Also, I was much less observant then.  I’ve always been alert to bird life, but I was much less aware of what else I was seeing around me then than I am now.  And of course I was traveling too fast and covering too much territory to appreciate it in the same way that I would now. 

So, this will be a short entry, describing the contours and the few solid images that still remain.  As context, this tour was taken at a pivotal point in my life.  I had just completed my course in computer programming at Chemeketa College, was a budding COBOL giant, and had just been given a job offer by AFS, the state welfare office.  It was to be the first ‘real’ job of my life, as I had spent the previous 8 years raising my son and getting by on such part time, temporary work as opening tax returns, working in a cannery, painting houses, day care work, and the like.  I don’t remember for sure now, but I think this was the last week before I was due to start my new job.  A brief break, between school and career.

This was a short tour, a blitz of longer and harder days than I’ve ridden for many years now: roughly 300 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing in three days.  I can’t recall now for sure what bike I was riding, but it was probably the Motobecane I bought back in Indiana 12 years earlier and rode west to Montana on.  It must have been, because I don’t think there’s any time between when I would have mustered enough spare cash for a new bike. 

I was living in Salem at the time but I decided to start in Detroit, about 60 miles to the east in the foothills of the Cascades.  I think I decided to start there because I’d ridden the local roads many times anyway, and I didn’t have an extra day to spare.  I just wanted a bit of an adventure in a part of Oregon I’d never seen, which basically meant anything east of Bend.

Although I have no photos from this tour, as an added bit of context there is this photo from around the same time (also posted to my profile page here, so you may recognize it).  And yes, I see that I was still on my Motobecane.

Biking in the neighborhood in South Salem with my son Shawn, in about 1982. No helmet or kiddie seat in those days. I just lifted him onto a towel draped across the frame. I was carless for several years and this was the main way we got around town, day or night.
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Shawn AndersonThat was on Nina Ave. I can remember all of the times we would bike everywhere around Salem. My backside would be so sore afterwards, but we always made it.
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3 months ago

Day 1: Detroit to Redmond

Jean drove me up to Detroit first thing in the morning in her big blue Subaru, along with her three children.  I’m pretty sure Shawn wasn’t with us and would have been gone by then to spend the summer vacation with his mother.  We had breakfast at The Cedars, said our goodbyes, and I pedaled west up the Santiam Pass.

I remember very little specific about this day, but maybe it’s because memories blur with the many other times I’ve driven through Santiam Pass.  It was familiar territory to me, though never from a bike saddle.  I  have a foggy memory of biking up the Santiam River through Idanha and Marion Forks, and of sitting on a lawn somewhere having lunch; but that’s about it.  I’m not even sure where I spent the night, but I believe it was on the lawn of a schoolyard in Redmond, in my sleeping bag.  Pretty much a total blank otherwise.

Ride stats today: 77 miles, 4,800’ 

Day 2: Redmond to Dayville

For some reason I remember going out to breakfast in Redmond, and being a bit disappointed in it.  Back in the years when I toured solo, I invariably went out for breakfast.  Pancakes, corned beef hash, sausage & eggs, coffee felt like an essential start to a day.  My favorite breakfast memory on tour was from a few years earlier in a small town crossing southern Iowa on horrible Route 2, when my breakfast included a stack of wagon wheel pancakes served with two aspirin on top for the morning hangover.

Breakfast in Redmond wasn’t especially memorable, but a few other points of the day were.  I remember biking beautiful route 18 between Terrebone and Prineville for the first time and seeing my first long-billed curlew along with many other birds.  I’ve biked this road perhaps a dozen times since then, but nothing equaled the first time.

Sixty miles and a climb over the Ochoco Summit later, I dropped into Mitchell and stopped for lunch in a dimly lit bar, the only choice in town.  Surely I didn’t have a beer with my burger and chips, since on a near hundred degree day with a second significant climb just ahead that would be really foolish.  I couldn’t have been that stupid when I was 35, could I?  Surely not.

The second pass of the day begins just outside of Mitchell, following Keyes Creek to the summit - the same one we were approaching from the much gentler eastern approach last week on the Picture Gorge ride.  I have a vivid memory of this climb because it was so difficult for me.  Hot, fairly steep, I had a terrible time with it.  I remember stopping at least twice to walk down to the creek, fill my helmet, and pour cold water over my head.  Maybe I was just dehydrated and fatigued, but in retrospect I think I was having an SVT episode and just hadn’t learned to recognize the condition yet.

Finally I reached the summit and glided most of the rest of the way to Dayville, passing through Picture Gorge along the way.  Fortunately I wasn’t attacked by a dog entering Dayville back then!  I forget how it came about, but I spent the night in the Dayville church - a well-known stopover on the TransAmerica Trail, which was inaugurated just six years earlier.  

When we pass through Dayville again I want to visit that church and check out it’s log book of cyclists that have sheltered there.  If it goes back far enough, I might be registered there.

Day 3: Dayville to Baker

Another full day, with only a few specific memories that remain.  Two though impressed me enough that I still have a very clear image in my mind, and left me with a pair of stories I’ve related many times since then.

The day began with the thirty mile flat ride to John Day, the country you’ve seen in previous pages.  Somewhere along this distance, I was attacked by a car on a long, arrow-straight stretch.  No one on the road for miles except for myself and an oncoming car that I can see and hear a mile in the distance.  As the driver nears me he revs the engine, crosses into my lane and aims straight at me, forcing me off into the gravel.  After he’s past me he returns to his own lane again.

Nothing like this has happened to me before or since.  I have no doubt it was intentional, though I don’t know the intent of course.  Maybe he was playing chicken, and planned to swerve at the last minute if I’d held my course?  Or maybe not?

Route 26 follows the river east for another 15 miles beyond John Day to Prairie City before leaving it and bending northeast into the mountains.  The last 65 miles of the day look like this:

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Ron SuchanekThose bumps look familiar!
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyYes! I'm glad we did not ride over all of them in one day. I think we rode from Prineville to Prairie City .. and that was quite enough.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyWow, impressive! But no, according to Undaunted Porridge you took three days to get to Prineville from Prairie City, stopping off At Dayville (probably what you meant anyway) and Mitchell on the way.
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyOops. Can I still blame the heat for warping my memory?

Baker City to Sumpter
Sumpter to Prairie City
Prairie City to Dayville
Dayville to Mitchell
Mitchell to Prineville
Prineville to Sisters

Good thing we kept a journal to set my muddled memory straight!
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4 months ago

Ridge, ridge, ridge, ridge.  I’m surprised when I look back at this ugly profile now.  I remember being completely whipped when I finally  reached Baker, but I’d forgotten that there were four passes in between.  I just recall it being long, hard, and green.  I’ve never visited this country since then and I’d love to see it again.  If the weather warms up enough while we’re here in John Day, we’ll have to drive over this way and climb a pass or two.

What I do recall vividly though was freewheeling down from one of these passes - perhaps the third of them, Larch Summit - getting high on the beauty of the country and the open, empty descent in front of me.  In the distance I hear a complex roar and then a pod of about six motorcycles rounds the bend and races up the pass toward me.  Suddenly, when they’re just a few hundred yards off, a doe jumps out from between the trees and into the road, right in front of the bikers.

They don’t have a chance.  The lead biker hits the doe with a glancing blow and then swerves crazily all over both lanes of the road trying to regain control.  Somehow he pulls it off and avoids crashing.  As I pass, all the bikes are down, the deer lies quivering and dying on the shoulder, and all of them are cursing and in an uproar.  No one but the deer is hurt, I confirm when I stop to ask.  A narrow escape for them, and for myself.  I could have been caught up in that chaos too if the timing had been just a bit different.

I arrive in Baker late in the day exhausted, grab a meal, and then check in at the Greyhound station.  They won’t take my bike unless it’s boxed, which is a problem.  they don’t stock boxes, of course.  It’s in the evening, almost everything is closed, there’s no place I can go to find one.  With no other choice, I canvas back alleys looking for discarded cartons.  It takes awhile, but finally I strike gold and find a few large enough so that I can fabricate a crude container.

A few hours later I catch the bus back to Salem and arrive sometime the next morning.  When I arrive I find a letter waiting for me in the mail with crushing news.  While I was out, my job offer was rescinded and given instead to another of the agency’s employees.   I’ll be unemployed for the rest of the summer, when the same agency opens up another position and hires me for real.

Ride stats today:  110 miles, 7,200’

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Bill ShaneyfeltMotobecane bought in Indiana...
So you are a Hoosier?
I was born in Ft Wane & lived there till 10 when we moved to Mojave, CA.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekThis was fascinating! Please post more of your past rides!!
Also, I seem to recall that there were entries in the journal at the Dayville church back to the 80s when we were there in 2018. Check it out!
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThanks, Ron. I should, really. There aren’t that many I haven’t published already, but it’s probably better that I do so sooner than later.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltNope. Born in Bremerton, moved to West Virginia when I was 3 when mom remarried a young sailor stationed there (she was his Arthur Murray dance teacher!), and then returned to the northwest at age 10.

My first wife and I lived in West Lafayette for about eight months in the winter of 1974, after our Peace Corps assignment fell through. I worked in the warehouse of an electronics plant all winter, saved up and bought the Motobecane for my planned ride back to Seattle. I’ve never written up that tour either, and didn’t carry a camera or keep a journal. Maybe I’ll jot down what I remember from that tour one of these days too.
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4 months ago
Jen GrumbyWhat a story! Glad the Motobecane was there to help carry you through some tough times.

Makes me think of something we keep hearing .. the only way out is through.

I hope to see a photo of you, Rachael, Rodriguez, and Straggler in front of the Dayville Church. And maybe even a photo of your signature from 1986. We really enjoyed looking through the journals there.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThat’s the plan. I’m sure we’ll drive that way again before we leave. Nice that the church is on the east side of town, well away from the little nipper.
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4 months ago
Ron SuchanekI was also a budding Cobol giant in the mid 80s. Despite several community college courses in Cobol 1 and 2, report writer and Dbase, it was clear that I was not cut out for computer programming.
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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekSo great that you figured this out and didn’t waste your time debugging business software.
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4 months ago
Bob DistelbergTo Scott AndersonOk, since we're telling COBOL stories, I took a COBOL course back in college in the late 70's, just to round out my Computer Science degree, and ended up as a student interning the course the next semester (easy credits!). Fortunately, I never had to use that particular skill in my subsequent software career.
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4 months ago