Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 4 Eastern Oregon Mountains and Desert; Mitchell-Unity, OR 119 miles

Today was a mighty pull. It felt like a long day, not just due to the mileage but the variety. In the morning I made the first of three climbs – a sharp six mile hill out of Mitchell. The cool of the morning helped me. After that climb I made a long gradual descent into the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, where the John Day River scours through red cliffs. The John Day is a very unusual river. It has several forks to it, and almost doubles back on itself enroute to the Columbia. The wild and scenic part is supposed to be a fantastic float, but only if you do it in the spring or fall. This time of year - and this hot dry summer - the river runs little more than a trickle. One if the most unique wildlife sightings today was an osprey fishing over the river. I caught a glimpse of this water bird hovering in front of a back-drop of sage-covered desert hills. A moment later I passed a sailboat in a parking lot – in the middle of a desert. I must have been dreaming of home….

Dayville was a picturesque little town where I re-hydrated. I then got to the relatively large desert town of John Day in mid-afternoon. The thermometer read 91. After a break there I made off 15 miles for Prairie City under hot skies. My goal was farther up the road, and two more steep hills before bed. In Prairie City, I watched a cooling cloud bank move east across the desert hills. This made the nine mile climb starting at 5 PM a bit easier. Tailwinds eased me up the long grade that wound into the forest. I met a couple other tourers at the top of this hill – Dixie Pass - and we exchanged words of encouragement and half-truths about how tough other hills would be; ‘not too bad’ in bike language means burning legs!

Eastern Oregon is home to tremendous natural variety. At the top of Dixie Pass, the forest had fully returned. These Blue Mountains are just high enough to capture precious moisture to grow trees. The dry forest here consists of stately ponderosa and lodgepole pines, firs, and tamaracs. By this time of day, Route 26 was virtually deserted and I descended Dixie Pass at 25 mph on a smooth, wide-shouldered road through a beautiful forest. The smell of huckleberries filled the mountain had me day dreaming about Mom’s blueberry pie. I tackled the final summit of the day – Blue Mountain - starting around 7 and getting to the top about 45 minutes later. It was an equally wonderful descent from Blue Mountain. Over the two evening climbs I roused about 20 mule deer from their feeding stations along the side of the road. They hopped away upon being startled, several looking back at me inquisitively.

With about 5 miles to go, and sensing my destination of Unity, I returned to desert. As if somebody had flicked a switch, the wind picked up dramatically and blew into my face at 30 miles per hour! What a way to finish a long day as a dust / thunderstorm pummeled me. Tumbleweed blew everywhere across the road. Just crazy wind. I barely made headway into this tiny desert town, and found a little campground whose owner is related to the Midgett family of the Outer Banks. Small world, I was meant to stay here.

1 comment:

  1. It was great visiting with you here in Unity! Be safe and have a great rest of your journey! My best to the OBX!
    Cindy Stohler,
    Granddaughter of Barney and Zenora (Nornie) Midgette, Colington, NC (with 1 L) ;)