Eastern and Central Oregon at a long bicycle glance seem to have more cows then people and more people then fresh vegetables. Highway 26 snakes through the flats of eastern Oregon, down and over the mountains passes of central Oregon and into the beautiful city of Portland. The facts in this article are accurate. The stories are thoughts inspired by the solo bicycle ride. Just because your body moves as fast as a trotting cow doesn’t mean your mind slows down.
Boise to Vale
9:10AM to 5:10PM
I begin my journey at the Starbucks on McMillian and Eagle. My parents live 2 miles away. The bicycle ride idea came about while walking these 4 lane busy roads lined with box stores and nasty restaurants. Before the move to my parent’s house, I had wandered the Pacific Coast, New Mexico desert, central Idaho, the Chugach Mountains, and Cape Cod. This summer, when not working at the Flying M Garage coffee shop, I’d wander West Boise. Everywhere I walked made no sense. The West Boise desert has been swallowed by artificial greenery. West Boise resembles the tree lined banks of the Boise River. Imagine a person who enjoys the desert moving to Portland, where the new resident mows all the vegetation and chops down the trees. These desert loving home owners install sensors that detect precipitation. When the alarm goes off, massive amounts of energy used to power a dome shell that roles over the sage brush, dirt and lava rock to protect the yard from the desert killing rain. The desert lovers can’t get enough desert. They petition to build more hydroelectric dams to power more and more dome shells to protect and build more acres of Portland desert. This notion seems silly but that’s what has happened to West Boise. Too little precipitation equals sprinklers that simulate rain, springs, and rivers.
In all my visits to Portland I’ve never seen a yard that looks like a desert. This has become one of Portland’s selling points. People who live in Portland are at least content with their climate and yards.
After having one last cup of Starbucks coffee, I take Eagle Road down to State Street (also called Highway 44). A majority of State Street has wide shoulders. Upon reaching Middleton I stop at the park for a water break and to take photos of the tank.
This tank inspired a series of photos called “Weapons in Parks,” shown at the Flying M Coffee House where I used to work. Back on the road I found out the park is infested with goat heads, thorns that eat tires alive.
Both the bicycle back tire and bob tire are flat. I stop at the Shell gas station to change both flats.
About 4 miles after Middleton Highway 44 crosses Interstate 84, I take a left on Farmway Road which intersects Highway 20/26. This is the highway that I will pedal 457 miles all the way on to Portland.
From Parma to Vale, bicycle riders share the shoulder with farm equipment. At first it’s unnerving to hear the sound of a big combustion engine coming up slow and not pass. To look over my shoulder means the bike will veer into the traffic lane. All a person can do, accept the fact that there’s a massive tractor riding their ass and be patient.
When planning the trip the first stop I intended was to be Parma. No, not the famed land of cheese in Italy – we’re still talking Idaho, here. Years ago I camped at the Parma Moto Vu, an old drive in theater that still shows a double feature on the weekends. I contacted the owner and the theater closed for the season the last week in September. Parma also has a park that offers camping and showers for $7.00.
On HI 26 there’s lots of cows and mono culture.
The smell of shit
fills the nostrils.
Around the corner
the sight of cows
packed side by side
caked in mud and feces
makes the mind start to think,
Oh hamburger sandwiched between two buns with American cheese
The mouth starts to salivate
and yell, “Yum Yum Yum” at the stinky cows
Several small towns post signs that read “Drug Free Zone.” I would have appreciated signs that read Vegetable Free Zone or Fair Trade Coffee Free Zone to save some disappointment and time.
Around 5PM I pedaled into Vale, OR. Stay at the Vale Trails RV Park right off of HI 26. For $10, I got clean bathrooms, showers, wifi and a grocery store within walking distance. When I arrived, the bathroom was heated which made patching tubes enjoyable and I was lured into a peaceful sleep. I awoke at 7AM freezing. The weather report on the Ipod Touch read 31 degrees. Need to get an early start because today there’s two passes. While loading the gear I notice the back tire flat. At this point my gloved fingers could barely move. No way am I going to replace a flat in these temperatures. I load up the rest of the gear and walk to the Starlite Café across town. Vale and the Starlite Café are very proud of the fact that the Oregon Trail pioneers traveled through the area. Inside the café murals depict the settlers and the buffalo. Manifest destiny was rather violent. Unlike today’s travelers, eager to take photos and make an attempt, at least that, to leave nature the way they found it, travelers back then slaughtered nature. For some reason seeing pictures of dead buffalo makes a person hungry for a buffalo burger.
I slowly eat the buffalo burger, waiting for the sun to hit the park bench across the street. Around 9:30AM I’m basking in the morning sun working on the flat.
Vale to Brogan
10:30AM to 1:15PM
By 10:30AM the tube has been patched and the bike is in working order. On the way out of town I stop by the Bureau of Land Management. There I pick up a free map showing Oregon campgrounds. I pedal 22 miles to the small town of Brogan. There’s a sign that reads “next gas stop 42 miles.” The campground map does not show any campgrounds between Brogan and Unity. With the late start I decide it best not to attempt the 42 miles. There’s a city park with water and a port-a-potty but no camp signs. Private farm land borders each side of the highway. I like the idea of guerilla camping but don’t like the idea of getting settled and then to have to unexpectedly move.
I decide to stay at the Brogan RV Park. The park has a rustic trailer park feel. The manager can’t remember the password to the wifi. I am invited into his trailer which acts as a residence and office. On the modem there’s a password he can’t read because of the tiny print. I can’t figure out the password but get the impression if I want hang out, pet his dog, smoke cigarettes, and listen to Metallica that would be fine. Instead I choose to walk to the only store. The shelves are lined with processed food. There’s no clerk.
At the RV Park there’s a club house consisting of ashtrays, chairs, a pool table, and old hunting magazines. For hours I read hunting magazines. I decide the best way to kill a deer would involve buying a lot of acreage. Then grow a certain type of foliage that attracts deer and a certain type of foliage that corrals the deer. BAM SPLAT THUD shoot the critter when it’s got a mouthful of fresh organic greens. Now a lot of people don’t have disposable income to set up lunch program for a deer. Also keep in mind a person will need a large vehicle to transport a deer to the taxidermist. I recommend to start on the cheap; with a bb gun and humming bird feeder. Once you bag your trophy, you just need a shoe box, a bicycle or enough change for the bus to transport it to the taxidermist.
Brogan to Unity
8AM to 2PM
Straight out of Brogan the highway starts the climb to Brogan Hill elevation 3981 followed by Eldorado Pass elevation 4623. On the way to Unity I hear the large engine of some yet unknown gas guzzling machine come up slow. I keep looking straight ahead, expecting the large piece of farm machinery to pass. The large machine doesn’t pass. Next to my side there’s a large flat bed Ford 350 truck, with a smiley sheep dog and a man wearing a large cowboy waving from the driver’s side. He yells, “where are you going? How’s the ride?” I mumble panting, “Good.” He wishes best of luck and hits the gas pedal leaving me in a cloud of diesel fumes.
The main street of Unity has a fairly large convenience store with free wifi. I stop in to look for organic chocolate milk. No organic section to be found, however a great selection of processed food. The attendant, a very friendly lady, asks where I am going. I told her I was headed up the road to the campground. Her face suddenly took on the look of a concerned mother. She whispers, “the bears and cougars have taken over the forest around Unity.” She made it sound like the wild wild west. Outside the safety of the stockade, bandit bears and native American cougars will tear the god fearing apart. Her advice: camp behind the hotel for $10. I thought this was reasonable when it came to my safety. The rest of the afternoon I sat out front of the convenience store enjoying the sun and wifi. When there weren’t customers buying snacks or trucks to fuel, the attendant would hang out and smoke.
In the morning I went to the Unity Cafe. The bar has an oval shape in the middle. The bartender has some sort of a branding iron that elegantly becomes a long prosthetic limb used to push drinks out to the customers. Pasted onto a large hot sauce bottle is a small breakfast menu. Their specialty seems to be biscuits, gravy, sausage, and eggs. A couple bellies up to the bar to start their day off with a cup of coffee. The woman loudly proclaims that everyday bad people are murdering and raping the good people. My first thought, SHIT where the hell am I!! Unity has murdering bears and cougars but also murdering people! Unity really needs a closed gated community. I haven’t felt this type of fear since hanging out with a particular couple at the Spaghetti Factory, where, while I was innocently enjoying a plate of spaghetti, I was informed that terrorists want to kill me. I started to look around paranoid, more slowly slurping noodles. I wondered if it’s a smart idea to hang out with this Fox news loving couple. Out of all my friends, why is it that they seem to be the only ones constantly targeted by terrorists? I think they only date on terrorist level code green days.
“It’s a sunny day today, honey. It’s code green!”
I notice the woman’s eyes at the bar not looking at me but turned towards the TV airing CNN news. Thank god the killers and rapists are only in the TV. I have heard similar talk from people who live in all white middle class suburban communities. I ask them when was the last time someone has been raped or murdered on their street. As of yet I have never met a person who’s neighborhood post traumatic stress disorder has been related to actual trauma. Rather, they seem to purposefully invite the terrorists, killers and rapists into their living rooms and bedrooms via the television.
My Mind’s Been Abused
open up the curtains
take in the sun
warm a cup of coffee
sit on the couch
turn on the TV
let’s have a
of car bombs,
murder and rape
clean up the mess
give a thank you squeeze
spoon into the night
lay on the bed
turn on the TV
let’s have a
of car bombs,
murder and rape
wipe your dirty ass
take a heavy sigh
light a scented candle
relax on the toilet
turn on the smart phone
let’s have a
of car bombs,
murder and rape
Everything that scares
lives in your head
lives in your head
fox news says
don’t trust your neighbor,
barely trust your friend
remember Jesus only died
for your sins
it’s best to be mindless
lock your doors
and just be scared
with a good
of car bombs,
murder and rape
Unity to Clyde Holliday State Park
8:10AM to 5:15PM
Around the Bates, OR area there’s the Austin House Cafe & Country Store. They serve up some delicious huckleberry ice cream. They are hunter friendly and bicycle friendly. A bicycle rider can camp for $5.00.
Highway 26 running through John Day Valley is smooth with wide shoulders. John Day has grocery stores with fresh fruit. Apples travel well if carefully packed.
Clyde Holliday State Park has a $5.00 hiker/biker site waiting, as if exclusively for me. Still no other bicycle riders. Unlike the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route that still attracts bicycle riders from around the world in October, Highway 26 hasn’t developed much of an October following. I spent another evening day dreaming and listening to This American Life.
Clyde Holliday State Park to Mitchell
7:40AM to 6:30PM
The town of Dayville has a charming park with water and bathrooms. Inside the men’s bathroom there are cut flowers. Also, there are actually mirrors on the inside of the bathroom door stalls. It humbles an individual to watch oneself shit — and can also be fun.
The Dayville Cafe takes pride in their quality of food. It was actually my first, and I hoped not my last, experience of this sort in a small town on Highway 26. The cafe proudly advertises Painted Hills Natural Beef. A husband and wife run the cafe. After ordering a meal, the Mrs. asks guests to pay. That way a guest can immediately leave when finished. Smart when there’s only one person who cashiers, busses, and serves.
Between Dayville and Mitchell, a nail blows out the back tire. The inner tube has been shredded. The narrow John Day Canyon doesn’t always have enough shoulder space to change the tire. I walk till I find a spot to comfortably change the flat. The Mike Seeger song Whoopin’ Up Cattle performed by The Charles Potts Magical Windmill Band captures the mood. “Nothing to do but flip the bird. Look up in the sky and yell curse words.”
Up till now I had been a good judge of determining distance. With two tire flats and the slow 39 mile uphill climb, I watched the sun start to drop below the horizon on the 6 mile 6% grade downhill into Mitchell.
The reward after a long bike ride was the Oregon Hotel.
Next to the hotel there’s the Little Pine Cafe and Lodge. I walk through the door and am quickly greeted by a young woman. This is the first woman I have seen of child bearing age in a Highway 26 small town. The future for towns like Brogan, Mitchell and Unity look bleak. These towns are soon to become dependent on sperm banks, mail order brides or Gods’ miracle sperm that can jump start an old women’s womb. I ask, “What are you doing in Mitchell?” She explains, “Collecting bottle caps for an art project.” I didn’t see an art gallery in Mitchell. Maybe she’s an artist from San Francisco who makes country art for the city folk. This is a good lead in to mention Erik Behnke, one of my favorite Alaskan artists. His unusual take on Alaskan wildlife has started to make an impact on the art scene in the lower 48. Check out Brown Bear Products.
Mitchell to Prineville
9:45AM to 4PM
Ochoco Reservoir Camp closed. The camp has a large day use area with running water and bathrooms. Lots of people boat and enjoy the picnic area. I head to the RV Park in Prineville. Made camp before sundown. The temperature drops. Instead of doing the nightly thing of being layered and huddling in my sleeping bag, I head out on the town. Prineville has some delicious Mexican Food and a movie theater. I watched the new Wall Street movie.
The next morning the tent was frozen. Most RV parks have heated bathrooms. A breakfast consisting of an apple, dried fruit, and cliff bar I enjoy in warmth.
Prineville to Madras
10AM to 1:30PM
This day, I decide to give my body a break. Madras really felt like the end of the Highway 26 adventure. The next day I camp in the Cascades on Mt. Hood, then it’s a short ride into Portland. Madras has the type of coffee shop I have been longing for since leaving Boise, ID. The Great Earth Cafe serves fair trade coffee. I find the first menu since Boise where everything sounds delicious. Young and healthy appearing people frequent the coffee shop. I spend the night in a hotel, managed by a friendly couple. It wasn’t easy finding the right hotel. Madras has two main one way streets. Having got to the end of the north running road I didn’t feel like going down the south running road. Later I found out I missed the opportunity to stay in the Historic Madras Hotel.
Madras to Government Camp
7AM to 4PM
The 65 mile route will be another long day of mostly uphill. I pedal North West towards Mt. Hood in the far off distance. I quickly lose sight of Mt. Hood and the sun when I enter Crooked River Canyon. The temperature dramatically drops. Between the speed of the downhill descent and the loss of sun, my fingers start to become useless. I have to pull over to put on winter gloves otherwise I’d have to walk through the canyon. A digital sign in the canyon reads 33 degrees.
Still Creek Camp located 1 mile East of Government Camp closes in early fall. Government Camp did not have an RV park. It’s lonely camping in an empty campground. I don’t find peace in the solitude. The wood was too wet to burn. Too cold to write or read. It’s 6PM, I lay in the sleeping bag and hope to fall asleep before running out of This American Life podcasts.
Government Camp to PDX
9:45 AM to 2PM
I start the 58 mile ride into Portland at the Huckleberry Inn. I was craving the huckleberry pie. I love to hunt Idaho huckleberries and Alaskan blueberries. Not being one to start the day with sweets, however, I first order the mushroom omelet. I quickly remember why omelets are the perfect date or friend food. This omelet was so big it could have fed two average size adults, a newly weaned baby, and a miniature dachshund. The size of this omelet made me nervous. Usually the notion of quality comes into play with large food items like a huge iceberg salad or a monstrous rice burrito. Thank goodness the omelet was loaded with cheese and sautéed mushrooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish the omelet and there was no room in the belly for huckleberry pie.
I start the day out using the Google Bicycle route. The bicycle route kept taking me off highway 26 then back onto highway 26. I decide to stay on Highway 26 until Boring. When I pedal through Sandy, a large car pulls over in front of me. A man jumps out and motions me to stop. He wants to know if I’m the guy who had the flat outside of John Day, 273 miles west. I told him that was probably me. At this moment he found me very inspiring. He couldn’t believe I made it all the way from John Day to Sandy. He then grabs his belly and jokes about how he could never ride his bicycle through the desert and mountains. I tell him fitness has little to do with bicycle touring. It’s all about the mental attitude and bicycle gearing. He doesn’t seem convinced so I switch subjects. I notice on the back of his car the fish symbol above the tail light.
I say check this out, “Christians believe they are born into sin and it’s their nature to sin. If that is the case why do only a small group of Christians ride in horse drawn buggies or missionary around on bicycles. You seem like a nice guy but I bet even you don’t always break for squirrels. It’s too easy to drive and sin at the same time. The bigger the vehicle the more room there is to sin (orgies and blow in limos). Only in the sinless land of heaven will Christians be able to drive vehicles responsibly. In the meantime Christians should ride bicycles because it’s hard to sin on a bicycle and they will be setting a good example for the gentiles.
Case in point:
Who has been involved in a bicycle drive by shooting?
When has a non-married couple lost their virginity on a bicycle?
Serial killers and the mafia don’t transport bodies on bicycles.
Who has ever heard of a person being raped on a bicycle?
Never seen a bicycle rider pedal with a 40oz then toss it in the bushes.
How many Lucky Strikes can a pedaler smoke going over a mountain pass?
Never seen a bicycle rider eat french fries then toss the wrapper in the bushes.
Never heard of a bicycle rider snorting coke off a bike seat.
How much genetically engineered corn can a pedaler hall.
The Nazi blitzkrieg wouldn’t have happened on bicycles.
Never heard of a bicycle towing nuclear missiles.
I think the man from Sandy will start bicycle riding.
In Boring I pick up the Springwater Corridor Trail. From there the trail takes me almost to the front door of Doug and Daniel’s house; the inauguration of an adventuresome month and half of hanging out on Alberta Street, playing music, job searching, and visiting friends in Portland.