In Dreamland - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

March 27, 2020

In Dreamland

It feels like we’re in Dreamland, here in our idyllic little vacation cottage in John Day.  Or living in a different century for awhile.  John Day: population 1,700, one stoplight, a reasonably well stocked grocery store, a gas station, a hospital, snow-capped mountains only a few miles away.  If you ignore the numerous very conservative, alien posters and flags (“Hillary for Jail!”, for example) it all feels quite idyllic.  

The house is great.  We comfortable staying inside, but comfortable too going out when weather is conducive.  When we do venture out, the roads are almost empty and we rarely see another person.  It feels so strange to read the dire news and then look around here.  We could be on a different planet.  In Dreamland.

It’s another dry day today, but still quite cool.  We’ll go out, but we’ll stick to one the lowest routes available - it’s undoubtedly too cold on higher elevation roads, most of which climb up to 4-5 thousand feet as soon as you leave the river and could easily end up in snow.  Today we opt for a ride downriver along the John Day, from Mount Vernon to Dayville.  Another ride a bit like yesterday’s - generally flat, but gradually losing elevation as we follow the river on its long, free-flowing journey to the Columbia.  We’ll drop a thousand feet today, before turning back and reversing our route.

A brief note on this river before we start.  The John Day, undammed for its entire 284 mile length, is the second longest free-flowing river in the country, after only the incredible 670 mile long Yellowstone.  It was named for fur trapper John Day, who had the misfortune of being captured and stripped naked by Indians near the mouth of the river.  The main branch of the river originates in the Strawberry Mountains not far southeast of here, and is joined first by the South Fork at Dayville and then the North Fork (combined with the Middle Fork, which merged with it about 40 miles upriver) at Kimberly.  And, of course, along the way it also absorbs many other smaller tributaries.  So the river we follow today, even though it is the main branch, is fairly small still.

It’s a grey day when we start peddling west from Mount Vernon, biking into a light headwind.  It’s cold enough that we’re both well layered.  Rachael has on her balaclava and warm gloves; and I’m wearing my bike jersey, a light long-sleeved jersey, a heavier long-sleeved jersey over that, and my rain parka.   It’s just enough for comfort.

Heading west from Mount Vernon, with the Aldrich Mountains ahead. We’re riding on U.S. Route 26, on a section of the TransAmerica Trail. Well shouldered along this stretch, it sees plenty of bike traffic in season. Today, the road is nearly empty.
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A typical roadside view, this one looking north. The river meanders a bit through the broad valley, leaving room for wide margins of flat pastureland.
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Looking to the south, at the Aldrich Mountains. The high point of the range is Fields Peak, at 7,362 feet.
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The Aldrich Mountains.
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Looking across the willow-lined river.
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Along the John Day.
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It seems like we’re showing you a lot of photos of the Aldrich Mountains, but this one is special. Look in the foreground.
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Pronghorns!
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Another view north.
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As usual on out-and-back rides like this, Rachael pulled ahead of me long ago.  It’s a shame today, as she missed the antelopes.  When we meet up again, I’m still a mile and a half shy of Dayville and she’s on her way back.  We link up, pause for a few minutes to bolt down our lunches by the side of the road, shed a layer, and then head back to  Mount Vernon.  We stay together this time and even though it’s slightly uphill we make better time, pushed upstream by a modest tailwind.  As we bike, the sky breaks up a bit and the sun breaks through, brightening up the scene.

Back in John Day, we stop in at a video store to pick up some DVDs.  There’s a surprisingly good little video store here, just one more thing that feels like a relic of a different age.  Rachael is very excited about finding Rocketman in stock, but we also pick out four others when the owner offers us a deal for five movies for a week.  We like her, and like giving her our business.  She’s European, with an accent I can’t quite make out - perhaps Slavic - and she quickly warms up to us and points out films we might enjoy, including subtitled ones that she can’t find much market for in this conservative community.  If we stayed around long enough I’m pretty sure we could strike up a friendship.

Back at home, we’re just in time for dinner.  There’s a crock-pot here, and Rachael threw in a slow-cook meal before we left this morning.  It’s delicious, and another exotic experience for us.  We’ve gotten by for years without ever really cooking anything.

Heading east again with the breeze at our backs now, it’s warm enough that we can afford to shed a layer.
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Along the John Day.
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Along the John Day, a bit west of Mount Vernon.
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This is surely an old one-room schoolhouse, but I couldn’t find any information about it.
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A good country to visit if you like weathered barns.
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An octagonal barn.
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Jen GrumbyWow! I've never seen such a many-sided barn.

Once again .. you inspired me to look it up, and here's what I found on Wikipedia:

'The years from 1880–1920 represent the height of round barn construction.[1] Round barn construction in the United States can be divided into two overlapping eras. The first, the octagonal era, spanned from 1850–1900. The second, the true circular era, spanned from 1889–1936. The overlap meant that round barns of both types, polygonal and circular, were built during the latter part of the nineteenth century.[2] Numerous round barns in the United States are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[3]"
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1 month ago
Approaching Mount Vernon, with the Strawberry Range beyond.
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Mark HoffmannHi Scott,
We live in B.C. and recently found your many journals as we are researching options for touring north of the border for the spring (and maybe summer?) due to current circumstances leading to a closed border. So, your documented travels in Canada have been of particular interest to us.
Your photos are all great, and you have so many good telephoto shots, but also lots of close-ups of flowers and such. Can we ask: Are you carrying two cameras, or just one that lets you get both types of shots. Do you mind sharing which one(s) you use?
Thanks, and we hope you will continue to be able to head out on those eastern Oregon roads in April!
Mark Hoffmann
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonHi yourself, Mark! It’s nice to hear from you and thank you for the generous feedback. I sympathize about your change in plans. Coincidentally, we have our own plans for a short tour up your way late in July. Before all this chaos descended we had booked ourselves for a loop up the Sunshine Coast, but it’s looking less likely by the day.

Until about a half year ago I carried two cameras, both higher quality Panasonic point and shoots. I used a Lumix LX10/LX15 for most photography, and think it’s about the perfect camera for cycle touring - light, compact, fast, takes great photos, has a bit of a wide angle. I also carried a ZS-60 (a superzoom) for zoom shots - wildlife and cathedral ceilings, mostly. I’m really a novice photographer technically, so I always just use its ‘intelligent auto’ setting. Its computer is much smarter than I am.

Unfortunately, the LX15 broke about half a year ago in the middle of our tour of Iberia. I’ve replaced it but haven’t actually broken it out of the box yet. Lately I’m only carrying the ZS-60, so the current tour, California and Arizona and most of Iberia were shot just with that. There’s a bit of quality loss and I miss the wider angle, but it’s versatile enough that it works for me. If I could only carry one camera it would be this one. One of these times I’ll start carrying both again though, I’m sure.

Enjoy exploring the homeland! There’s some wonderful country up there. And write it up here, so we can enjoy it too!

Scott
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1 month ago
Mark HoffmannThanks for the camera info!

I don't think 'novice photographer' really applies to you, even if you did add 'technically.' Your composition is way above average I think.

Since you added 'write it up' regarding our own plans, I'll add the additional feedback that when touring, we find it just too much of a daily extra to write and post an account. I think your commitment and skill in doing that is very commendable. For us, between doing laundry, getting food, finding and booking the next night, and mapping and downloading the next day's route, we're ready for the sack. I've always admired, and greatly benefited from, those of you who post extensively while on the road. Thanks!

We did a clockwise Gulf Island-Vancouver Island-Sunshine Coast loop in August, 2018. Very nice. Hope the border opens and you can do it sooner rather than later.

Your current Oregon riding reminds me of the Cycle Oregon route we had when I did that several years ago. We were a bit farther north than you are at present. (That was with a couple of my brothers. My wife I do not camp anymore.)

Mark
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1 month ago