Down to Galena - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

April 17, 2020

Down to Galena

That ride to Monument was crazy yesterday.  Several cars, three dogs, a branding party.  Who needs all that excitement in their lives at a time like this?  Today we seek out something a bit more serene, and find it - blissful county road 20, quaintly named the ‘Up the Middle Fork Road’.  

This road, as you might have divined from its name, follows the Middle Fork of the John Day downstream for 40 miles, from its beginning by Austin Junction in the Blue Mountains to its junction with US 395 at its west end.  From the map it looks like forty miles of quiet wonderfulness, with scarcely a settlement along the way.  

It would be a fine day ride if you had a shuttle or were going one way, but neither of those fits us at the moment.  Instead, we’ll break it in half.  Today we tackle the east end, driving east on US 26 to Austin Summit and then biking down Up the Middle Fork Road to its midpoint near Galena, the only settlement along the entire forty miles.

Galena, now a virtual ghost town, began as a gold mining community but was renamed when another type of ore was discovered nearby.  Bonus points if you can guess what they discovered.

Austin Summit is roughly 25 miles east of John Day.  On the drive there we climb over 5,200’ Dixie Summit and case it out to see if we want to tackle it as a day ride from home before leaving the region.  Three miles and a thousand foot descent later, we pull in at Austin Store.  It’s open today (coincidentally, for the first time this year), so I walk in and ask if we can leave our car in their lot for about four hours.  The owner is agreeable, if we’ll agree to give her our business when we return.  Deal.

Austin House, high in the Blue Mountains.
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Up the Middle Fork Road really is as serene as it looks on the map.  It feels like we’re biking through a park all day long.  For the entire route we’re alongside or within sight of the Middle Fork as it meanders through a string of meadows and modest canyons, steadily growing as we follow it downstream.

Some metrics for the ride: one state park, closed for the plague; two National Forest service cabins, both also closed; one small roadside ranch; and at our endpoint for the day, another small roadside house.  An lone passing car every mile or so.   Zero trucks.  Zero dogs.  Nice.

Along the way, we often see evidence of habitat restoration activities.  This has been ongoing for the last fifteen years, in an effort to restore the  river to something like its former natural state before the miners had their way with it 150 years ago.  There has been extensive excavation to reestablish meanders in a two mile stretch that was straightened for dredge mining.  Miles of the river are fenced off to protect it, young tree plantings are fenced off to protect them from deer and elk; snags and logs are strewn across the river here and there to create shallows for spawning fish.  It’s work that makes us feel proud of our region and fortunate to be able to call ourselves Oregonians.

Starting out down Up the Middle Fork Road, with Dixie Butte ahead on the left.
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Video sound track: Out in the Country, by Three Dog Night

Along the Middle Fork of the John Day.
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Dixie Butte. Note signs of restoration work along the river’s edge.
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Shawn AndersonKind of reminds me of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness...without the fence.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Shawn AndersonYou’re right, it does! Also, it’s missing a young person walking along scuffing their feet kicking up dust.
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3 weeks ago
Along the Middle Fork of the John Day.
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Along the Middle Fork of the John Day.
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Along the Middle Fork of the John Day.
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Dixie Butte again.
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In the Oxbow Conservation Area.
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In the Oxbow Conservation Area.
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Finally, 18 miles into the ride, we come to the first inhabited structure beside the road. Scary, but no dogs today.
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The Middle Fork was barely a trickle when we started today’s ride, but it’s gathering stream.
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Another biker! Might as well stop for a brief chat.
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Jen GrumbyHey! She looks familiar .. and friendly!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyHope so. I have to be careful now though - she’s armed with pepper spray.
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1 month ago
Back east.
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Lots to choose from back at Austin Summit in exchange for parking privileges. There’s also take-out available today, but we tell her we’ve already made dinner plans. We’re excited about them, and she shares in our excitement.
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Huckleberry milkshake! Wow! I can’t recall the last time I’ve had a milkshake of any kind.
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Jen GrumbyYum! Great way to end the ride.
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1 month ago
On the drive back we pull off at the viewpoint on the climb to Dixie Summit to take in the expansive view of both the Strawberry and the Aldrich Ranges. We may be back here by bike before we leave, but in case not we’d better stop now.
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Date Night

We’ve been keeping track of the time today, because we want to be sure to be back in town by 5:30.  We’ve been eagerly anticipating this evening for several days.  When I was looking at the 1188 Brewing Company website earlier this week to see when they were open for growler fills, I accidentally clicked on the link for Little Canyon Food Cart and saw that they’re taking orders for Pad Thai takeout Friday afternoon.  When I showed this to Rachael when she woke up she instantly raised her arms up with glee, exclaimed ‘My Hero!”, and gave me a big hug.

It’s as good or better than we’d hoped - the best meal since we came to John Day.  We’ll watch their website, and with luck maybe they’ll do this again next week.  For $10, it’s a super deal too - copious servings, which we both begin by thinking we’ll enjoy the leftovers tomorrow.  But no leftovers remain.  We’re both 4C members in the Clean Cardboard Carton Club.

After this feast, we retire to our private movie theater for a viewing of Dark Waters, the Todd Haynes docudrama that came out in December.  You really should see it, if you get a chance.  If you’re anything like us, it will upset, alarm and enrage you.  And it will give you a whole new lineup of evil characters that you’d love to see jailed (after flogging in public, preferably) to go with the large cast that you probably already have in mind for such just desserts.

Pad Thai! Yippee!
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Ride stats today: 43 miles, 900’

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Comment on this entry Comment 9
Eva WaltersHi Scott,

Thanks for keeping your journal up to date during these very unusual times. I look forward to reading it every day. Al and I are really impressed with how adaptable and creative you and Rachael have been in making the best of a crazy situation. Not to mention the dog bites--we’re so glad neither of you suffered permanent damage. I hope the town of John Day appreciates your contribution to their bicycle tourism prospects when all this is over—your photos of the area are great—and I love the food info. Enjoy your rides and stay well.

Best wishes, Eva
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Eva WaltersThanks, Eva. It’s great to hear from you again, and I’m glad you’re getting something out of this. What a crazy time, indeed. I’m sure it must be so up there also, but at least you aren’t suffering under a deranged leadership on top of it all.

Funny you should check in today though, because Rachael and I were just talking about you, Al, and Nelson this morning. We haven’t quite thrown in the towel on our planned European fall tour yet, but we expect it will be scrapped also. We’ve been brainstorming ideas for where to go instead, and heading back up to your region in the autumn is high on our list - assuming Canada will let it in by then. If you’re around, it would be great to visit again.

Take care, stay healthy!

Scott & Rachael
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1 month ago
Gregory GarceauOkay, I just finished reading about your excellent ride down to Galena via Up the Middle Fork Road. It gave me several ideas to copy for my next Cycle365 post. Unfortunately, Rocky didn't name the accompanying music to her video this time. I guess I don't blame her after the recent Great Plagiarism Incident.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Gregory GarceauYou’re forgiven. Royalties will be collected though when we meet again. The first round is on you.
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1 month ago
Bill ShaneyfeltExtra points for cubic crystals? :-)
Shiny and brittle too.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltI knew you’d know. I’ve known since childhood myself - my mineral and ore sample kit included a small fragment of galena ore.
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1 month ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonYeah, I remember finding some samples in my uncle's old stuff at my grandmother's house when I was less than 10 and was fascinated! Over and over again, I encountered it in jr hi science class, in piles of rocks a rockhound we knew had outside his house (his crystals were huge!), in college geology class, in museums and who knows where else. Then in the early 70s I lived about 30 miles from Galena, IL, but never saw any there.
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekThat stretch is one of the most remarkable in the area. When I rode it a few years ago, we didn't see a car for the first 3 or 4 hours. Did you see the free range cattle? I think they might have been closer to 395...
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekNot along here - there were really very few cattle at all. And not that many at the 395 end either, when we returned a few days later.
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1 month ago