Sunday, July 24, 2011

Out of the Forest, into the Desert

Day 16: Portland to Mosier, OR: 76.7 miles

Today went like I expected, and continue to expect, most days of this trip to go.  Despite a somewhat late start, I put in the longest day I've had so far through beautiful, scenic country in varying weather conditions.
Cheryl really took care of me before I left this morning, putting together a HUGE egg scramble filled with goodies, as well as a homemade muffin which is one of the best I've had in a long time.  I spent some time trying to find a place to stay in Kennewick, where I plan my next layover.

Leaving Portland was quite easy, and I followed bike routes and paths the whole way, even crossing the Columbia river in a bike lane which runs down the middle if the Interstate 205 bridge, with 4 lanes of traffic on either side of me (see photo).  This was exciting, but I felt very safe with tall guard rails on either side, and no evidence of anyone ever having crashed into the center.  After 8 miles of pedalling, I was in Washington, and I turned Eastward on the old Evergreen highway, which joined shortly with the Lewis & Clark Highway, which runs along the north bank of the Columbia river for most of the length of Washington.

I exited the highway shortly and continued to follow the Google bike route, which makes a strong effort to keep cyclists off of main highways, but at what cost?  I found myself pedalling up a HUGE hill that I did not expect to encounter while following a river.  At the top, rain started pouring down and I got quite soaked on the fast, steep ride back down to the river.

The rest of the day was smooth and simple, and I ended up camping by the side of an abandoned road near a small lake.

Day 18: Paterson, WA to Richland, WA: 41.5 Miles

Yesterday, I arrived at the home of Alicia, a woman who accepted my request to surf her couch on  The morning that I left Portland, I sent out requests to 5 people who were listed as having a couch available in the Kennewick, WA area.  I had decided that this would be a good place for a layover during my trek from Portland to Spokane, rather than trying to bike and camp for 7 days straight.  Two of the five gave me positive replies, 1 of whom later withdrew, saying that she had mixed up her dates, and would not be home on the day I was planning to arrive.   So I am staying with Alicia, her 10-month old daughter Cinda (who is completely delightful) and her brother and uncle (who has Alzheimer's).

 Alicia lives in what I imagine is a typical neighborhood, in Richland, which seems like a pretty normal American town.   Situated on the west bank of the Columbia river after it leaves the famous gorge which separates Oregon and Washington, Richland is dry and hot and fairly flat.  It used to be a company town for a big piece of the Manhattan project back in the 40s and 50s, and as such, has aging infrastructure and lots of companies with "Atomic" in the name (Atomic Brew Pub, Atomic Bowling, Atomic Auto Body).

Earlier tonight, after some great pizza at the Atomic Brew Pub, I went with Alicia and Cinda to a local park, where a volunteer organization had set up a series of fun events for Saturday night, culminating in the screening of the movie "Rango," which I had already seen, but enjoyed thoroughly for the second time.  The park was amazingly crowded, especially by the pre-teen crowd, who were happily playing games and socializing, enjoying some good, clean fun.  It was nice to see.  The movie was projected onto what must have been at least a 25 ft screen with an inflatable 2 ft diameter tube as its structural support.  It was great fun, and the temperature stayed mild all the way to the end.

The previous day was EPIC.  I started the day in a fairly dry area (having biked through pouring rain in lush green forests the previous day) and it continued to become more dry and desolate as the day went on.  The towering, green forests west of the cascades became dry, golden fields of grass and steep basalt cliffs as I continued east along the north bank of the Columbia River.  After pedalling 51 miles, I stopped to take a dip in a calm, flat tributary.  The water was cool and clear and I filled up by bottles.  Then I got back on the bike for what I expected to be another 25 miles, to round out my day somewhere between 75-80 miles so that my next day would be similar.  At mile 65, just before 5 pm, I passed through the town of Roosevelt, which consisted only of a mini-mart and a bar/grill with what seemed like "pleasantville" tract homes in a small bundle tucked in next to the river.  This neighborhood was much newer and more planned than anything else for miles.  I considered stopping at the grill for dinner, but decided I wanted to get some more miles in before eating, as I had been dining at 7:30 or 8 pm most nights.  So I continued on.

The next town on the map, at mile 81 for me, was Alderdale, which consisted of a turn-off to a winery, and nothing else.  The next town on the map was Whitcomb, at mile 86 for me, which consisted of a nice state park (with RV camping only) and an island which had restricted entry due to its being a wildlife santuary.  I stopped on the side of the highway here, near a green pond (I was getting low on water) and considered camping in the bushes.  The other problem in the back of my mind was that I had very little gas left for my stove, and would only be able to cook up a small dinner unless I found a restaurant in which to get a proper meal.  So I had a big snack, made some Gatorade from the powder I've been carrying, and pushed on.  Food immediately gives me energy!  No matter how many miles I've gone, or how many times I've snacked, my body seems to make food into energy very quickly.  So I rode on, into Paterson, the next tiny town on the map, at mile 98 for me.  There, the only store/restaurant happened to be having its once monthly rib and tenderloin dinner, which I happily said yes to, scarfed down a huge portion of absolutely delicious meat, and found a place to camp in some tall sagebrush a few miles down the road.  After 102 miles, I wanted to sleep so badly, but it was warmer than it had been anywhere else, and my down sleeping bag made me sweat.

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