Day 102, to Richland, OREGON: Bat(s) Out of Hell('s Canyon) - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

August 2, 2022

Day 102, to Richland, OREGON: Bat(s) Out of Hell('s Canyon)

The clouds hanging over the mountains alight with an orange undertone as sunrise nears, and the color reflects in the Snake River to the left. At right, small mountain ridge bears the flat line of a road, Highway 86, which we will follow north before crossing the river into Oregon.
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Tuesday stats

Start: Woodhead Park Campground, deep in Hell's Canyon, Idaho

End: Eagle Valley RV Park, Richland, OREGON — we've reached the last state in the tour!

The Daily Progress: 45.3 miles

Cumulative climb: 2857 feet

Cumulative descent: 2748

Elevation at endpoint: 2217

Ice cream flavors: No actual ice cream, but we both got huge frappes at a coffee shop in the town of Halfway, Ore. I saved half of mine in my thermos and enjoyed it after the ride. If I ever do another tour, I'm taking two large thermoses because they are so useful, even if only to carry ice water. Insulated water bottles don't keep water cold for long, but a thermos filled with ice on a blazing-hot day is proof that miracles do happen.

Food expenses: $15-ish for frappes and pastries, $25 for dinner at the restaurant in Richland and $12 for groceries. Oh, I forgot our first stop at a gas station / outfitter, where we spent about $12 on snacks.

Lodging expenses: $10 for a tent site, with electricity and water and showers and WiFi (what a deal!), plus $3.75 for laundry.

Tuesday ramblings

What a difference a day makes. Or, really, what a difference to escape from Hell's Canyon! I'm feeling a million times better than I did 24 hours ago, largely because we are no longer in oven-like conditions. 

Last night, we both found it pretty uncomfortable trying to sleep at our campsite. In the hammock, I spent almost the entire night in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, and Dani, who had the tent to herself, told me she had eventually put a towel between herself and her sleeping pad to absorb the sweat. When we awoke, the  warmth was disorientingly intense in the early-morning darkness. Could it really feel this warm at 4:45 a.m.? 

At least it made getting dressed easy. Every other morning of this tour, I (and in the second half, we) would dress with at least a light jacket and maybe a removable layer of pants on top of the bike shorts, expecting to remove layers as the temperature rose,  and flip to hot-weather / intense-sunshine mode. No need for such nonsense today. Straight to the bare minimum layers!

We began the steady ride along the Snake River and were treated to a beautiful dawn (see photo above) as we approached the point where we crossed the river and entered Oregon, the Chris Cross America Tour's final state to cross out of 12 states or state-like-but-not-actually-a-state Districts. (In order, those states and state-like Districts are: the District of Columbia, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.)

Now that we've left Idaho, I think it's time to weigh in on Idaho drivers. We had been warned by cyclists headed eastbound on the TransAm that Idaho drivers are the worst. I didn't think they were bad — only a couple of them rolled coal on us, which is about as bad as the drivers in western Virginia. I guess the lesson here is: Don't take too much stock in the someone declaring superlatives when they're barely a quarter of the way through the route.

But I do have to come back to the issue of rolling coal, which is belching plumes of black smoke at someone, thanks to modifications made to the vehicle. How depraved do you have to be to go through the trouble and then do this to someone? The first few times someone did it to me, it infuriated me. Eventually I decided not to let it ruin my day, and now I wave gleefully at people who do this, as if to say, "Have a nice day! (And by the way, you're not gonna bring me down.)" I think I have started to pity these people. They must be exceedingly angry individuals if this is part of the way they drive. 

Speaking of people acting like jerks when driving, we passed a cyclist from Amsterdam the other day who said he thought of Americans as very friendly people, but on the road, it's another story. He couldn't understand why Americans acted so differently when behind the wheel. Of course, not everyone is a jerk of a driver, but it was sad to hear him say this.

One last thought about driving. I do have to say that many, many motorists who are approaching cyclists from behind seem to forget that they have brakes. A surprising and scary number of motorists who have come up behind us act like they must pass us immediately, as if slowing down and waiting a few seconds for a safe place to pass is truly not an option. "Gotta go the speed limit!" many minds seem to be thinking. "These cyclists are in the way? Surely we'll just push past them; they should be in the two inches of shoulder we have set aside for them! Or really they should just not be on the road at all, so it's not my fault if I get dangerously close. Crazy cyclists. Why on earth would they try to ride a bicycle on a road?"

Okay, so maybe some of the drivers in Idaho weren't that great after all. Clearly, they got to me. Okay, Chris, settle down now.

Moving on.

Eastern Oregon so far is, unsurprisingly, a lot like western Idaho — desert-like, full of golden-grass-covered mountains. The environmental differences from what I would expect to see at the coast is a sign of how much ground we have yet to cover, which is more than 700 miles when you follow the TransAm from here to Astoria.

That said, it is close enough that I felt that it was time to book our accommodations in Astoria and Portland, seeing that we should be reaching Astoria in about two and a half weeks. Making these reservations is helpful in terms of having a concrete plan, and in a small way, it commits us to something that Dani and I were doing anyway, which is essentially not taking any real rest days in between the major stopping points. Instead of taking a full rest day every seven to ten days (as I had done in the first half of the tour), we're all in on the bike-early-in-the-morning-and-take-the-afternoon-off plan. It's actually a lot like my workdays, which end at 2 p.m. Even though you have to go to bed pretty early to make this work, it still feels like a luxury to have most of the afternoon and all evening off. 

I wanted to have a full day, without any real riding, in Astoria and another in Portland. And I wanted to bike from Astoria to Portland rather than take a bus, which would have saved a day. All this is to say, we have sixteen more days before we reach the Astoria area and get a day off. I feel confident we can do it without much trouble. I'd better check the wildfire situation, though.

Dani's daily digest

It was. So hot. Last night.

I fell asleep in my bathing suit, splayed on my sleeping pad, with sweat suctioning my body to every surface it touched. When I woke up (4:40 am), I was in the same state and in total darkness. There was no moon or artificial light. There weren't even stars, due to a layer of clouds. A hot wind swept through the canyon, causing the dried grass to hiss. The title of an interpretive sign I read yesterday asked "How did this place become known as Hell's Canyon?" This morning I thought "what other name would you give it?"

Chris hummed "Bat Out of Hell" as we packed up. We left camp just as dawn broke over the canyon. We biked north along the east bank of the Snake before the road crossed the river and we said Bye-daho to Idaho (without seeing a single potato) and entered the final state of our bike trip: Oregon. We biked along the west bank of the Snake for another ten miles or so before beginning our ascent out of Hell's Canyon.

We arrived at the first gas station along our route five minutes before it opened. I was down to just fruit snacks in my bag and needed some more food for the road, so we decided it was worth the short wait. The fellow working at the gas station flicked the OPEN sign on a minute or two early and was noticeably friendly to us. On the outside of the building was a very cute photo of a chipmunk with its cheeks stuffed with food. We sat on a bench in front of the photo and stuffed our cheeks with food.

Chris wrote yesterday that he's recently been finding the biking to be less fun. That's almost always the case with me. For me, the point of biking is how much fun it makes every other part of the trip. Something as mundane as eating processed food in a gas station parking lot becomes sublime. I like bike travel because it intensifies the joy of the food I eat, the places I stop, and each night's sleep. 

In that spirit, our next destination was the coffee shop in Halfway, where we hoped to repeat yesterday's transcendent frappe experience. I happily churned out 15 uphill miles knowing there would be a sweet, icy, coffee-flavored treat at the end. I made two mistakes when placing my order, though. First, I didn't exchange enough information with the barista to keep my drink's sweetness in check; I wanted it just barely sweet, and the final product was much sweeter than that. Second, when she asked what size I wanted, I said "the biggest size you make!" That was a fair reflection of the intensity of my craving, but in fact, a small would have sufficed. I enjoyed about 16 ounces of my drink but threw the rest away, knowing that I would regret consuming that much sugar and caffeine. 

My temperance served me well, as I drank just the right amount of sugar and caffeine to send me surging to the top of the steepest climb of the day. From there, we dropped to the town of Richland and scored a site at the Eagle Valley RV Park. We paid just ten bucks and we have a shady, grassy site; power; showers; laundry; and clean bathrooms with flushing toilets and running water. Hot damn! We did laundry and took showers before heading into town for a few grocery items and dinner. We also made significant progress in securing accommodations in Astoria and Portland.

One final note for the day. Cyclists heading east consistently maligned Idaho drivers, but other than one angry, unprovoked honk (to which we both responded with exuberant waves), our experience with Idaho drivers has been about the same as our experience with drivers in Montana. (Colorado drivers were really conscientious, and Wyoming roads have huge shoulders and hardly any traffic). Eastern Oregon looks the same as Idaho, but just 40 miles into the state, we've had many notably positive interactions with motorists, motorcyclists, folks working in the businesses we've patronized, and other people we've encountered. Maybe it's not that the Idaho drivers are so bad, but that the people in Oregon are so nice?

Oh! And a new notable animal! California Quail!

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 3,754 miles (6,041 km)

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Susan CarpenterYour comments about drivers rolling coal and rarely slowing down for cyclists are among the major reasons I choose to tour in Europe.
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