The first day’s route led from Heppner up Oregon Route 207 to Spray. (Photo courtesy of Nora Erdozia)
“Bike ride in Eastern Oregon visits Painted Hills, John Day River, back side of cows” By Allan Brettman | firstname.lastname@example.org August 02, 2013
UKIAH — Pedaling and puffing up a sun-splashed canyon at about 6 miles per hour, I could see the cattle trotting down an off-road path on my left. They were slightly ahead, moving swiftly onto the road.
The cattle swarmed onto the asphalt near Twickenham in Wheeler County on Saturday afternoon, covering the two lanes of Rowe Creek Road in a territorial fashion befitting a street gang. There were 11 of them trotting, looking over a shoulder, trotting faster than I could pedal. I rode behind at a safe distance. Three of them were pregnant, a few were calves and, thankfully, none of them were bulls.
They were quite capable of moving uphill at or above 6 miles per hour, and they did.
This running of the non-bulls was just one of the many memories I’ll take from a five-day ride in Eastern Oregon that began Friday in Heppner and concludes there, the Morrow County seat, today — Tuesday. Along the way, the ride will have covered about 300 miles, stopped in Spray, Mitchell, Monument and, tonight, in Ukiah. I spent quality time with the geologic wonder that is the Painted Hills for the first time since moving to the Northwest a quarter century ago. I lost track of whether we were crossing the main, middle, north or south fork of the John Day River. And I learned to come to terms and maybe even appreciate more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain. In short, the experience was magnificent.
Christy Rheu Waldner, organizer of the five-day ride, gets water from one of two sag drivers, Michael Snyder of John Day.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
The ride was organized by Christy Rheu Waldner, a John Day-area resident who works part-time as a family law mediator.
She has been putting together rides mostly for fun and very little profit since 2008.
“It gets lonely in Eastern Oregon!” Waldner said, riding up a road and explaining why she does what she does.
Waldner books motels, plans meals and maps the routes. The first rides were mostly for John Day-area friends, usually held in June and September. She’s assisted along the route by her partner, Hans Magden, a retired John Day veterinarian and renowned expressionist painter.
Ride routes stick to Eastern Oregon, as far west as Madras, as far east as Unity, as far north as La Grande and as far south as John Day.
A 4-H group in Mitchell cooked lasagna with a chaser of pies and ice cream.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
Word got around, meaning Portland, and the likes of me starting signing up for the rides. It is a bargain. For $430, we have been supplied route maps, provided with two sag pickups that carry our luggage, stayed in clean and sometimes quaint motels, and fed dinners (half of a baked chicken tonight; grilled tri-tip beef on Sunday night) and breakfast from Thursday night to Tuesday night. (This same route starting in Heppner will be offered in September.)
Riders pedal to Spray on Friday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
Waldner is only now getting around to forming a tour company — Over The Hill Bike Tours — and plans to launch a website next year.
Waldner’s also a community booster. Nearly half the meals on our trip helped community groups who served them, like a the Horse N 4-H club in Spray (population 158) or the Future Farmers of America in Monument (population 127).
In addition to Magden, Waldner’s other accomplice is Mike Cosgrove, who was among the nine riders who rode the five days of this journey. (Five others rode for two days.) Cosgrove, a retired John Day school counselor, calls himself the Grant County Cycling Ambassador and he’s chairman of Oregon State Parks and Recreation’s Scenic Bikeways Committee.
Riders pause at a convenience store on Oregon Route 19 in Service Creek on Saturday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
The Oregon Scenic Bikeways is a collection of 12 routes the state has promoted as ideal places to bicycle. The idea was hatched by Cycle Oregon about four years ago as a way to advance economic development in tiny communities year-round and not just in the one week for which Cycle Oregon, co-founded by The Oregonian, has become known.
Traveling through the Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument on Sunday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
“It’s the first in the nation,” Cosgrove said of Oregon Scenic Bikeways. “Most states have scenic roadways but we’re the only state that has a scenic bikeways program.”
Four other scenic bikeways are under consideration, in Lakeview, Oakridge, Ashland and the southern Coast. Communities apply for the designation and the Bikeways program checks it out, for community involvement as well as the route itself.
The routes for two of our days have included roads in the Blue Mountain Scenic Bikeway and the Old West Scenic Bikeway.
The conclusion of riding on Saturday in Mitchell, gateway to the Painted Hills and National Monument, called for bellying up to the Sidewalk Cafe & More bar for the largest chocolate shake available. Quickly dispatched, a root beer float was then ordered.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
Cosgrove and Grant County bicycling advocates also have promoted a program called Two Wheels Spoken Here, encouraging businesses to know and cater to bicyclists’ needs. (Waldner, by the way, offers a Bike Inn by donation to cyclists in Mt. Vernon, including those riding the Adventure Cycling TransAmerica route and the state’s Old West Scenic Bikeway.)
Travel Oregon, taking a cue from Two Wheels Spoken Here, has started a similar program called Bike Friendly for a handful of other counties.
“We’re starting we realize we have some very special areas to attract bicyclists from all over the world,” Cosgrove said, “and by doing so it augments our economy.”
The Dale Service Station, on U.S. Route 395 in the Umatilla National Forest, features photos of the station and post office from decades ago and a range of taxidermy.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia
In September, John Day will serve as the host community for the first two nights of Cycle Oregon. Those two days will mean $75,000 to $100,000 a day will be left behind in the community, Cosgrove said.
Finally, a word about that 20,000 feet in elevation gain, closer to 25,000 by the end of tomorrow. I’m not an expert in these matters, but that’s quite a bit of elevation gain.
But it goes with the territory. While this ride has had its share of unrelenting uphills, for which I was pretty much totally unprepared, it has offered the flip wide with screaming descents. Mercifully, no flats on those descents.
Every day has offered a new view of a Eastern Oregon. The weather has been perfect. I’ll be back.
As for the cows, they kept trotting. I kept riding. A cow would look back, see I was still riding, and the pack would accelerate. This went on for about two miles.
Finally, the road flattened a bit, I picked up speed, kept to the far side of the road and the cows stopped in their tracks and stared at me with all sorts of The Far Side thought bubbles appearing over their head.
Cattle rustling in Eastern Oregon. Time to check mark another box on the bucket list.
— Allan Brettman