Day 12: Fremont National Forest to Winema National Forest - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 7, 2014

Day 12: Fremont National Forest to Winema National Forest

We wake at the first light of day with the bulls mooing in some kind of great distress in the woods not all that far from where we lay. The next thing we notice is that the world outside isn't freezing and oppressive, just kind of cold, which is a surprise because we're up at 5,700 feet. But the more I think about why that might be, I realize that this morning, unlike so many of the others, we're on the side of a mountain and not at the bottom of a valley where all of the cold air sinks and pools. In fact, when the sun crawls higher up into the sky the forest around us becomes the perfect temperature for sitting around, making tea, eating breakfast, writing, reading, and packing for the day. So until almost 10 a.m. that's what we do.

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Compared to even eight miles ago, the trees we see grow more closely together, the dark green bushes are thicker and come to the edge of the pavement and then a little over, the chipmunks are bigger and redder, and we notice burrow holes just off the road that we haven't yet seen. They're the kind of subtle changes that are easy to miss from behind the windscreen of a car or a motorcycle but become obvious at ten miles per hour from the seat of a bicycle.

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Soon we pick up an amazing downhill, the kind where multiple mile markers fly by before it levels out. The last the cool morning air washes over us, hawks circle in the deep cloudless blue above, a broad valley appears in the distance, and as we drop altitude any bad feelings or fatigue from yesterday fall from our panniers and onto the baby pine trees that grow in the ditch beside the road. There will always be struggles when you travel by bicycle, because it is by definition a challening pursuit. There's a reason most people haven't done it and never will. But to overcome those struggles and to feel as fulfilled as we do this morning, to be content exactly where we are, is one of the greatest rewards I can imagine.

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We rumble over the grates of cattle guards and dodge piles of poop left by cows who seem to have this preternatural ability to take a shit right in the center of the white line that marks the edge of the lane. It's remarkable. I'm not sure I could be that precise even if I tried my best and had someone standing beside me to guide my aim.

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We drop a thousand feet and coast into a wide valley where the juniper trees and bitterbrush fade into cattle pastures that shine in an almost blinding green under the brightness of the midday sun. Oregon continues to impress us with its diversity of landscapes. When we come to a T in the road we turn right, to the west, and pick up a stiff headwind as we head through a narrow passage along the Sprague River that shoots us out into another broad valley of yellows and greens and blues that could fool me into thinking we've traveled all the way to Western Montana.

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By the time we pedal into Beatty around 2 p.m. we've gone almost forty miles and we're out of water and almost out of food. But we see our saving grace as we reach the far end of town and spot a tiny store with a giant Open sign and text painted on the wall that reads 7 Days a Week. Yet just as quickly our hopes are dashed when we find the front door barred and a handwritten note behind the bars that explains how they're closed this Sunday — today. We're something like twenty miles from the next town, which we won't make with no water, empty stomachs, headwinds, and eight-five-degree temperatures.

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Kristen looks across the street to a dilapidated building with a bar-and-grill sign out front and the remnants of a gas station canopy off to the side.

"When does that bar open?" she asks me.

I stare off into the distance and sigh and say, "Never," which is confirmed when she walks over to take a look and finds bullet holes in most of the windows.

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I look south along the adjacent gravel street and see what might be our only hope: the Beatty Valley Gospel Mission, a little white church building with red trim and a row of connected red plastic chairs out front that might have been salvaged from a Dairy Queen.

Well, hallelujah.

In a shaded corner we find a faucet that pumps out the kind of cold and clean water we so badly need. Under the shade of the awning we sit on their conformtable and unevenly balanced chair row and cook up some spinach and garbanzo beans and pair them with an avocado and the last of our cheese. It doesn't leave much for the rest of today and tomorrow morning, but it's enough to keep the lights on.

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As our food settles and we refill our bodies with water, we get a look at what life is like on Sunday in this 323-person town. It mostly consists of the wind rustling the trees, an old man coughing over and over again in his garage, red-tailed hawks circling above, and a long stream of people stopping in front of the store but continuing on when they find out that it's closed.

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We leave town and ride west just before 6 p.m. The highway takes us up out of the valley where we just passed the afternoon and then drops us into another. The setting sun casts deep shadows all across the landscape, so that every cabin and fence post and sprinkler burns with color and depth. And the cows, as they have all afternoon, moan and bellow and run away from the fence line in deep concern as we pedal past.

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At the end of the valley we climb for a mile before pulling off into the forest and setting up the tent in a narrow flat patch between a line of trees and a barbed wire fence. In the darkness the moon is a spotlight cast down from above that reaches our tent through a filter of pine tree branches. Inside, illuminated by the pale and spider-webbed glow, we talk about tomorrow, and how we'll at last say goodbye to Oregon and hello to California.

Today's ride: 47 miles (76 km)
Total: 507 miles (816 km)

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