Cycle Oregon X
A Bicycle Ride from the Idaho Border to the Pacific Ocean
September 7 - 13, 1997
By Neil Mishalov
I gazed across the Snake River. PHOTO:Snake River It was Sunday, September 7 at 7:00 a.m. I was in Idaho, and west, across the river bridge, lay the beautiful and diverse landscape of Oregon. Soon 2,000 bicyclists will start our 7 day, 530 mile journey across Oregon with the intention of finishing the ride at the Pacific Ocean. We will cross 3 mountain ranges, climb 21,800 feet, descend 2 mountain passes in the rain, encounter 95° heat, 30° cold, be buffeted by wind storms and mesmerized by lightning storms. What fun!
This year will be the fifth time I have participated in Cycle Oregon. Each ride covers a different route in Oregon; usually traveling over obscure and scenic back roads with very little motorized traffic. The ride organizers provide 3 meals per day, camping facilities, and medical and bicycle repair facilities if needed. Of the 5 rides I participated in, this was the best. It had great scenery, a sense of adventure, and gave me satisfaction knowing I was crossing the entire state from the Idaho border to the Pacific Ocean.
This particular route was not done in previous years because of the complex logistics that were required. For the first 3 days we would be traveling in a very lightly populated and remote area. There were no communities large enough to accommodate 2,000 bicycle riders, and an additional 200 support personnel and camp followers. So, for the first time, Cycle Oregon was 100% self contained. As in the past, we had our own transportable shower PHOTO:Showers and sanitary facilities. However, now we also had large transportable kitchen PHOTO:Kitchen facilities PHOTO:Kitchen Crew.Therefore, all we needed was a large flat field, and we were able to set up camp. A self sufficient society on the move!
I got on my bicycle and started to pedal west, across the Snake River bridge towards Oregon.
So, are you ready for the ride? Join me as we bicycle 530 miles across Oregon to the Pacific Ocean.
Day One: Sunday, September 7
Nyssa to Ironside
Distance: 69.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,940 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 1: Go Here
Nyssa (elv 2,174 ft.), founded in 1883, is a small agricultural and cattle ranching community situated on the Snake River. The area grows onions, sugar beets, wheat, mint, potatoes and corn. There is a moderate size sugar beet processing facility in town PHOTO:Sugar Factory. We camped on the high school grounds PHOTO:Nyssa Campsite the night before the ride started.
The morning of the first day of riding was sunny and warm PHOTO:Leaving Nyssa. The terrain was high desert sageland PHOTO:Keeney Pass Descent. We headed out towards Vale (elv 2,245 ft.), a small town that was a way stop for the pioneers traveling west on the Oregon Trail PHOTO:Vale Rest Stop. In getting to Vale, we first crossed Keeney Pass (elv 2,893 ft.). There were visible traces of the ruts PHOTO:Oregon Trail made in the soft ground by the thousands of wagons that climbed the pass more than a 150 years ago in the pioneers quest for "Edens Gate" . . . the Willamette River Valley, 400 miles to the west. We had some easy riding from Vale to Brogan (elv 2,612 ft.), 23 miles down PHOTO:Willow Creek Lunch Stop Route 26. However, it was warm, and we had a 8 mile 1,400 foot climb ahead. No shade, just 92° heat! The organizers of the ride always urge the bicyclists to stay hydrated. Cycle Oregon even puts up signs along the route which state " Drink Water". About 40 riders did not heed the advice, and became dehydrated on the climb. They had to be put into sag wagons and driven to the finish.
After reaching the summit (elv 3,978 ft.), it was an easy roll into PHOTO:Descent to Ironside Ironside (elv 3,784 ft.). Let me tell you a little something about Ironside (Population 40). The name is bigger than the town! 4 or 5 houses along the road, and that's it. Nada mas. At one time Ironside had a grange hall, six schools, and a sawmill. However, over the years Ironside has become a ghost of its former self. The campsite was 2 miles down a dirt road.
Day Two: Monday, September 8
Ironside to Seneca
Distance: 80.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 2: Go Here
After yesterday's arid sagelands and high desert, today we are in for some real mountain climbing PHOTO:Climb out of Ironside and glorious forested land. We will be cycling through the Strawberry Mountains, and the Malheur National Forest. PHOTO:Kelley & Don 9 miles into the ride, and after a steady climb, we turn onto Forest Service Road 16. We will stay on FS Road 16 until we enter Seneca, 71 miles down the road.
We soon cross a 123 mile long water ditch built by Chinese laborers PHOTO:El Dorado Ditch. Work was started on the ditch in 1863, and continued until 1874. The ditch, known at the time as the El Dorado Canal, was built to serve gold placer mines in the Willow Creek area. The ditch gathered water from the mountains, providing an important source of water that was put under great pressure. By using a system of pipes and nozzles, the water was used to literally wash down the sides of gold bearing hills. There was however, one problem. The ranchers were not pleased that the water was being diverted from their ranch lands. So, they did what any self respecting rancher would do. They got some dynamite, and blew up a trestled flume carrying the water over East Camp Creek. Eventually the ditch fell into disuse. Remember Senator Bob " Gimme A Kiss, Baby" Packwood? Well, his grandfather William Packwood, was the engineer who designed the El Dorado Canal.
The highest elevation point of the entire ride was reached today: 6,094 ft. We do a whole lot of ups and downs today, and get many great views of large valleys PHOTO:Logan Valleywith not a house or telephone pole in sight PHOTO:High Valley. After a strenuous day of climbing we roll into Seneca (elv 4,735 ft.) PHOTO:Seneca School. Seneca was a company town founded in 1928 for the employees and families of the Hines Lumber Company. Now the mills are gone, and it is a quiet little community. It gets cold in Seneca, very cold. Seneca registered the coldest temperature in Oregon: -54° below zero! On the average, Seneca has 17 frost free days per year! The night we camped in Seneca was not one of those 17 days.
Day Three: Tuesday, September 9
Seneca to Paulina
Distance: 68.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,250 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 3: Go Here
It's chilly heading out of Seneca at 6:45 a.m., but we soon warm up, and after going north on Highway 395 for about 7.5 miles, we turn west on to Forest Service Road 63. PHOTO:Valley We are cycling through ranching country, PHOTO:Cycling Down the Road and the vast open plains provide lots of grazing feed for the cattle.
We have a lunch stop at mile 33 in Izee PHOTO:Izee Lunch (elv 4,104 ft.), and then after a 10 mile 1,000 ft. climb, we have a 20 mile downhill PHOTO:Descent to Paulina into Paulina (elv 3,684 ft.).
I broke a rear spoke about 50 miles into todays ride, but I was still able to cycle. One of the wonderful things about Cycle Oregon is how well supported the cyclists are, and how smoothly things work. I cycled about 10 miles down the road PHOTO:On The Road with the broken spoke until I got to a Cycle Oregon water stop. There was a very friendly bicycle mechanic PHOTO:Bicycle Mechanic at the water stop, who after hearing my tale of woe, acted upon it, and in 10 minutes I had a new spoke on the wheel, and I was rolling again!
Paulina (Population 22) was founded in 1870, and was named after a Pauite Indian chief. At its peak in the late 1800's Paulina had a hotel, two sawmills, a saloon and a general store. Nowadays it's a lot quieter and smaller.
Rain. There, I said it! Now we all know that it is supposed to rain a lot in Oregon. But I can honestly say that in the 4 previous years that I participated in Cycle Oregon, it did not rain. Ok, well maybe a little drizzle or two, but no rain. Honest. This year was different. The early evening in Paulina gave a hint of what was in store for us. We were camped on a large field, and we had some great views. The sky to the west looked ominous. It was dark and gray. . . signs of a storm. But did that stop Cycle Oregon? Not hardly! A leisurely dinner was had, and then some fine entertainers, including a great rock group called The Substitutes, performed on the portable stage PHOTO:Paulina Entertainment. Of course, we occasionally took a quick furtive look towards the west, and the dark sky was definitely moving east, heading right for us. Now we could see lighting flashes in the distance. The wind was also picking up, so I decided to head for the camping area and make sure the tent was secure PHOTO:Paulina Camp Site. As darkness enveloped the area, the storm was on top of us. Some of the lighting flashes were so bright that they hurt your eyes. Looking out from the tent fly was a sight to see. Lightning flashing, rain pelting against the tents and the wind trying to pull the tent stakes out of the ground. Before long the storm moved further east, and it was quiet and peaceful in the campsite.
Day Four: Wednesday, September 10
Paulina to Prineville
Distance: 56.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,330 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 4: Go Here
After last night's storm the day dawned bright and clear. Today would be the easiest day of the ride, only 56 miles. The route is almost all downhill except for an 800 ft. climb at mile 38. So I decided to sleep late, and I started to ride at the decadent time of 7:30 a.m. We will be cycling through a change in terrain PHOTO:Redrocks. From high buttes, and vast plains we will enter an area which has many rock outcroppings, which are known as rimrock. We will go from the pungent smell of sagebrush to the sweet and spicy smell of pinon pine and juniper PHOTO:Lunch Stop. After the only climb of the day, there in the distance, across the valley is the Cascade Mountain Range PHOTO:Cascades. Visible are North Sister (elv 10,085 ft.), Middle Sister (elv 10,047 ft.) South Sister (elv 10,358 ft.) and Broken Top (elv 9,175 ft.). We descended into Prineville (elv 2,889 ft.) at 12 noon. Prineville was founded in 1868, and is unique because it constructed the only city owned and operated railroad in the United States. The City of Prineville Railroad was used to help harvest the vast stands of Ponderosa Pines from the Ochoco Mountains northeast of Prineville. The biggest community we encounter on this trip is Prineville. Imagine: 7/11, Burger King, Pizza Hut and telephones. Hey, this is too civilized, get me outta here!
You can feel a little tension among the riders tonight. Tomorrow is the longest ride of the trip. 100 righteous miles. Ok, ok, 97.5 righteous miles. Including a big 35 mile climb to the top of McKenzie Pass (5,325 ft.). There was some light rain this afternoon, and the weather forecast stated that a storm front was moving in from the Pacific Ocean. Time to get out the wool jersey and rain gear; there may be some trying times ahead. The majority of the riders got into their sleeping bags before 9:00 p.m PHOTO:Prineville Campgrounds.
Day Five: Thursday, September 11
Prineville to Rainbow
Distance: 97.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,510 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 5: Go Here
I was up at 5:00 a.m., and rolling down the road at 6:30. I felt that if it was going to rain, I wanted to be finished with todays ride as early as possible. I hooked up to a pace line about 4 miles outside of town, and we cranked out the miles, averaging about 20 miles per hour. There were 2 tandems and about 11 singles humming down the road. I stayed with the paceline for about 30 minutes. We had a rest stop at Smith Rock State Park PHOTO:Smith Rock, a world renown rock climbing site. After crossing the Deschutes River (El 2,540 ft.) at mile 35, we started a climb that would continue to mile 70. It was clear and cool, and I was making good time PHOTO:Llama. I arrived in Sisters (El 3,149 ft., Mile 54) for lunch PHOTO:Sisters Lunch at 10:15 a.m., and felt like I was back in grade school when we always had lunch at 10:15 a.m.
Now we start to climb the east side of the Cascade Mountain range. About 10 miles past Sisters I felt the first drops of rain. As we climb, the rain increases in intensity. We are cycling amongst fir and pine trees, when all of a sudden we turn a bend in the road, and there are huge piles of lava PHOTO:Lava. We are entering the largest lava flow in the continental United States: 65 square miles of lava. Luckily for us the lava came out of the earth about 10,000 years ago, so it has cooled down by now. The rain and wind pick up in intensity as we reach the summit PHOTO:McKenzie Summit of McKenzie Pass (elv 5,325 ft.). At the top to greet us, are some band members from Sisters High School. PHOTO: Sisters Band They are playing their instruments, and some are only wearing light clothing and sandals. They look very cold. Now, the fun part should begin. 30 miles of downhill to Rainbow, tonight's campsite. But not this time. Descending in the rain is no fun, especially when you are above 5,000 ft., and the rain is cold. I am thankful that I was wearing a wool jersey, because wool, even when wet, retains body heat. For the cold wet descent, the ride organizers requested that the authorities close the road to uphill traffic, and although the descent was dangerous, it could have been worse. As we reached lower elevations, the temperature got warmer, and the rain decreased to a drizzle. I rolled into Rainbow (elv 1,254 ft.) at 2:45 p.m. Rainbow is located on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains, and the terrain is heavily forested, almost primeval. PHOTO:Rainbow Tomorrow should be easy if it doesn't rain; 80 miles of a long gradual downhill, winding up at the base of the last, and most difficult, mountain range we have to cross: The Coast Range.
Day Six: Friday, September 12
Rainbow to Monroe
Distance: 79.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 390 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 6: Go Here
After yesterday's rain, today was a pleasant respite from tomorrow's finale. But, wait, let's not jump ahead. Today the weather was mild and clear. There was even talk that the expected storm was heading north, up to Washington, and we were in for dry roads and clear skies for the rest of the trip. But enough speculation, we have roads to ride, so let's be on our way.
Today, the sixth day on the road, we had everything down. Things were working smoothly, and we could almost taste the glorious finish just a day away. PHOTO:Beer Garden After putting up and taking down a tent for 6 days, we could do it with our eyes closed. The ride was becoming an enjoyable routine. PHOTO:Dinner Some riders even mused about cycling across the United States. Hmmm, maybe Cycle Oregon could form an affiliate called Cycle The Whole Enchilada. You know the riders are tough, buffed and ready for anything when they are even getting used to the Port-A-Potties.
Today we follow the McKenzie River for about 50 miles as it wends its way through some of the most fertile and lush country in Oregon; the Willamette River Valley PHOTO:Victorian House. This large valley was the destination of many of those Oregon Trail pioneers of yesteryear PHOTO:Old Building in Harrisburg. Most made it, some did not. They called it Land at Edens Gate, and for good reason. We cycle past apple and pear orchards, berry fields, corn fields, and fields planted with edible's that I just could not identify! Of course there were also grazing cattle, llamas, goats, sheep, enus and horses. It was an agricultural wonderland so fertile that some of the fence posts were bearing fruit. After a pleasant day of cycling we roll into Monroe (elv 292 ft.), which is situated at the eastern base of the Coast Mountain Range.
Jonathan Nicholas, PHOTO:Jonathan Nicholas President of Cycle Oregon, is a well known and respected writer for the statewide newspaper The Oregonian. He started Cycle Oregon in 1988, and has ridden every mile of every ride. So, when Jonathan Nicholas states "The last day of this ride will be the most difficult final day of any Cycle Oregon", you seriously ponder the implications of the statement. Especially when he makes the same statement twice within a 30 minute period.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is probable rain in the coastal range starting in the afternoon. The storm was not heading up to Washington, it was coming right into where we were going. Now, where is that wool jersey?
Day Seven: Saturday, September 13
Monroe to Yachats
Distance: 79.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,780 feet
Altitude Profile Sheet Day 7: Go Here
The last day was another early day for me. I was rolling at 6:30 a.m. It was clear and cool, and we started to climb shortly after we left Monroe. The Coast Range PHOTO:Coast Range is not nearly as high as the Cascades or Strawberry Mountains, but the roads are significantly steeper. The roads are also lightly used and narrow. In many places the asphalt is broken due to the high average annual rainfall in the area, and in heavily shaded locations the asphalt can be covered with moss.
I have a triple crankset on my bicycle, and on the last day I used the highest gear for the first time during the ride. It was nice to visit Granny, and it was sure good to see her! To traverse the Coast Range requires a lot of climbing and descending. There was a 2 mile section of gravel before we arrived at Lobster Valley PHOTO:Lobster Valley (elv 367 ft., Population 4) for lunch. PHOTO:Lobster Valley Music The big climb was still ahead, and the sky was now gray and it seemed that rain was likely. After lunch we cycled for 18 miles in a narrow valley before we got to a small bridge (elv 30 ft.) with a road going off to the southwest. This was the road. The road that would finally take us to the Pacific Ocean. It would not be easy. The road started to climb immediately after the bridge crossing, and it was a relentless climb. Within 20 minutes I felt the first of many drops of rain. After some difficult pulls we reached the last rest stop of the ride. I was wet, cold and in no mood to stop and get even colder. Besides, Yachats was only 20 miles away. I continued past the cold and dreary rest stop, going ever upward. Finally, the summit (elv 2,110 ft.)! It was raining hard, and I knew it would be a dangerous descent. I slowly headed down the twisty mountain road, being extra careful on the turns. Halfway down, just around a bend, I came upon an accident scene. The cyclist had slid off the road, and was being assisted by other riders. He was standing, but his face was bloodied. I continued the descent at an even slower speed. After the descent there was 10 miles of gentle downhill to Yachats PHOTO:End of Ride where I was finally able to gaze at the Pacific Ocean. PHOTO:Pacific Ocean
The days rolled past quickly, too quickly. They all seem to blend together, and in retrospect, it was difficult to separate one day from the next. I believe that Cycle Oregon's organizers, workers and volunteers deserve an accolade. After riding with Cycle Oregon for 35 days over a 5 year period, I only have pleasant memories.
The author at the end of the ride.
This article has been on the web since October 1, 1997
© 1997 by Neil Mishalov. All rights reserved.
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