Day 10: Deschutes National Forest to Deschutes National Forest - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 5, 2014

Day 10: Deschutes National Forest to Deschutes National Forest

The forecasted below-freezing temperatures never come, so when we wake up our first instinct isn't to burrow deeper into the sleeping bag and stay there for the next four hours. Today we only settle in for two. When at last we return to the road, our ride takes us south toward La Pine, past a few expensive ranches but mostly a series of small, middle-income homes. We cruise on flat roads, shaded in part by stubby little pine trees, and follow the curves of the Lazy River while talking about Nickelodeon TV shows from the 1990s that we loved, like Salute Your Shorts and Hey Dude.

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When the surface becomes gravel, all of the traffic falls away and we ride side by side.

"It feels like Christmas morning," Kristen calls out to me.

"How so?"

"It's like this combination of peace and excitement. Like, you know how you don't have to go to school or work and everything is calm?"

"And where does the excitement come from?"

"It's just ... Everything is new, everything is spectacular and beautiful. I can't believe this is my life. Every day is a gift."

She pauses for a moment.

"Also, I'm in love, and that feels wonderful."

Speed blur.
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In La Pine we load up on food and water because we're passing through only one town for certain in the next two and a half days, and there's no guarantee what kind of food the town will have — or that we'll pass through town when the only store that sells food is open. The only thing I know for certain is that our tent will be the kind of place you'll only want to hang out in if you have extreme nasal congestion, because we load down our food bag with no fewer than five cans of beans and chili.

Kristen stands in line at the grocery store with a bunch of stuff laid out on the conveyor belt. Unprompted, she hears a voice from behind. It's a larger older guy with suspenders and a Carhartt shirt and a huge white beard, buying only a tub of hummus.

"That looks weird," he says matter-of-factly, referring to a package of blue corn flax seed tortillas.

Pause.

"I like corn tortillas. If anybody tells ya you got a soft shell taco but it's in a flour tortilla, that's a damn burrito."

End of conversation.

Loading up.
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Just south of town we hook a left and head to the southeast on Highway 31. The signs just after the turn refer to the area as the Oregon Outback, but with pine trees in all directions that seems like a line of crap. And for the rest of the day that's what we see: pine treets that become thicker as we head up, along with occasional dust devils and markers that make it clear what's private property and what's national forest. There's also an endless stream of roadside garbage, because of course this is America: broken glass, forty-four-ounce plastic soda cups, spent handgun shell casings, beer cans both crushed and uncrushed, chewing tobacco containers, and bungee cords.

Goodbye Cascades. It's been wonderful.
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A healthy headwind means the procession of green and white mile markers on the right side of the road passes very slowly, but there's nowhere we need to be so it doesn't much matter. We pass the time listening to crows squawk as they hang a few dozen feet above the tops of the trees, trying to fend off a hawk that circles their nest. Chipmunks no bigger than a candy bar sneak up to the road's edge and then, when I pass close enough, beeline off into the bushes at top speed, chirping and squeaking all the way like they've gone crazy. When the car noise fades — and it does most of the time, because there's so little traffic — we hear the wind swell up and the world fills with a low swooshing sound as the needles of the pine trees pull at the breeze that rushes past.

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We see nothing man made after La Pine except for roads and signs — no homes, no businesses, no farms, no logging operations. Nothing. It's the kind of untouched isolation that's so hard to find, even in a country as huge as the United States. And it's a great day to experience everything. The temperature never pushes past seventy-five degrees, the pine trees mean it's not hard to find shade, and when the sun starts to go down the long shadows of the trees extend over the road and leave us cool even on the climbs.

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The road goes up in gentle steps — never so steep that we have to drop down into our lowest gears — until at last we top out at about 4,800 feet. We think about staying up there, but instead we choose to shoot down the other side of the hill along a winding road and into a canyon. As soon as we hit the bottom, a huge headwind funnels toward us and all I can think about is how we're down to one bottle of water each and that there's no hope of finding more until tomorrow morning, another fifteen to twenty miles down the road.

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And then, like a vision from heaven, they appear — four signs on fence posts laid out in the following order: Ice. Cold. Beer. Pop.

Hallelujah!

We're saved.

The sign out in front of the tiny store reads Open Always, which seems like a big over-promise. But when we reach the front door it turns out to be true. There's a buzzer connected to one of the trailers behind the living room-sized building that will wake up the cashier if you need beer or chips or a hash pipe at 3 a.m. out here in the middle of nowhere. I've been eating far better on this trip than I did three years ago, but with a dry mouth and a creaking stomach I revert to some primal urge and buy a Mountain Dew, a Wild Cherry Pepsi, a Gatorade, and two Twix bars. I feel like I've just won the lottery. Kristen gets soda water and an apple because she is not eight years old.

Joy.
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With our bounty jammed into every spare space in our panniers, we travel a few hundred feet up the road, unhook an old gate made from barbed wire and thick tree branches, and then slip into a quiet corner of public land with soft yellow grass, widely spaced pine trees, and cow patties turned dry and gray with age. There we set up the tent within earshot of the highway but hidden away in our own private corner of Oregon.

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As soon as the sun drops behind the hills the night turns cold, a preview of the freezing temperatures to come. With the rain fly crinkling in the last gasps of the day's breeze, all noise from the highway gone, and a chorus of coyotes howling to the west, we look over maps and elevation profiles and plan out how we want to approach the next couple of days, when we head off the highway and travel south on Forest Service roads. If the restrained beauty of today's ride was any indication, we're in for something wonderful.

Today's ride: 50 miles (80 km)
Total: 399 miles (642 km)

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