Eastern Oregon Bike Tour: Day 4

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Start: Ochoco National Forest
End: A few miles shy of Spray, OR, with a detour to the Painted Hills
Miles Biked: 64ish
Money?: $18, groceries in Mitchell

Another super mellow day. I woke up jazzed to go visit the Painted Hills and made short work of the 25ish miles between me and them. Despite a flat tire right after I turned off Highway 26, I made it there in super good time–only to discover that the road that actually takes you to the Painted Hills and all the cool viewpoints and trailheads is unpaved. With my super skinny tires, my bike doesn’t do so well on gravel. Luckily, the first viewpoint and hiking areas are only about a mile off the paved road, so I sucked it up in the interest of discovery. (I might have also been a little more paranoid about my tires than usual since I’d just flattened one of them;)

(it was well worth the gravel road)

I also met a few groups of people at the Painted Hills Overlook who were all very excited about my bike ride, including an older couple traveling with their middle-aged son. They were super psyched that I was traveling by myself (the woman especially), and when I saw them again in Mitchell with my trailer restocked with groceries, they wanted to take my picture to show their grandkids. Awwwww.

Speaking of groceries: yikes! Starting here it became very difficult to find groceries I wanted to buy. Mitchell has a little tiny store that’s more of a mini-mart than an actual supermarket–a sad discovery for someone like me who wants to eat fruits and veggies. I was able to get bananas and baby carrots, a theme that would carry me through the rest of Eastern Oregon. Apparently those are the two least intimidating of conceivable produce items. At least, they were the only two fresh things I could consistently find, and I wonder if it’s because they’re both packaged, bananas in their own dense skin and the carrots in a plastic bag. Perhaps that made them fit in better than their other fresh counterparts to stores that otherwise stocked boxes of mac and cheese, cans of meaty soup, and multiple rows of chips, candy, and other unwholesomes.

It made me wonder what people out here eat. I guess this is probably what many people think about me when I say I follow a vegan diet, so perhaps they eat just fine thank you very much. But I certainly missed fresh things.

Groceries aside, though, this was an amazing day. The Painted Hills, of course, were absolutely spectacular and the actual biking was amazing as well. Today really felt like I was in the desert: open space, very sparsely populated, no cell reception, sage, soaring raptors, big sky. At first glance, it seems so desolate out here, but once you slow down, look, listen, there’s so much going on. So many kinds of birds and animals (including a fuzzy caterpillar I swerved to avoid–who knew there were fuzzy caterpillars in the desert?), so many hardy little plants… With that much space, the sounds also carry like crazy, so I was finely attuned to what was going on around me. Though cars were a rarity, every so often one would roar up out of nowhere, then slowly be reabsorbed into the desert, again leaving stillness, birds, wind, and, once I turned onto Highway 19, the rippling of the John Day River.

(the river was a welcome companion for basically the rest of my trip)

The desert is a hard place, yes, but I was surprised how alive it was when I was going slow enough to notice.

(I was also surprised to discover that I was going both north and south at the same time on this road)

I camped pretty close to the road this evening since there was so little traffic I didn’t feel the need to get that far away. For the millionth time I was super grateful to have my water filter, since it allows me to camp in undeveloped places–no need to stop somewhere with potable water or carry a whole bunch of water with me, since I can just pump more when necessary. (This works as long as you’re near water sources, as I was for most of this trip.) It’s how I was able to camp in amazing places like this, right on the John Day River and seemingly on the evening travel path for osprey, sandpipers, and kingfishers:

(and I am so in love with this tent and its 360-degree visibility sans rain fly)

This evening, I wrote in my journal that the only thing that could have made today better would have been if it were a little bit warmer. Though I’d looked at the weather forecast and tried to pack accordingly, I spent a lot of the first part of this trip being cold. Though I’m already kind of crazy when it comes to hills, it made me positively yearn to ride up, because only then was I really, truly warm.

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