By Paul Carew
On the 15th of October 2012 Mark Waters, proprietor of Backcountry Recumbent Cycles in Bend, Oregon, and riding partner Paul Carew set out to see a portion of Eastern Oregon’s countryside from the saddle of recumbent trikes. We thought the Old West Scenic Bikeway Tour would be a great start for a greenhorn to bike touring such as myself. We folded our trikes and loaded our gear into my pickup and departed Bend shortly after 9:00 am and headed east on I-26. Not quite sure where we would leave our vehicle to start our trip, we pulled into the parking lot of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Visitor Center located on Rt. 19 in the John Day Fossil Beds Monument. Not sure what our options were for leaving a vehicle for several days, I went in and explained our objective to a park official. She smiled and said excitedly, “Sure, you’re welcome to park at the Cant Ranch Historic building, park HQ parking lot just up the road from the visitor center!” Nice!
One catch…the lot gate gets locked after 4:00 pm, so plan your tour return accordingly.
Like a turtle with its house on its back I hooked my Burley Nomad trailer to my ICE RSX trike and with my traveling compadre Mark Waters riding his trusty Greenspeed GT3 adorned with ample sized panniers, we headed north. As we followed the river through the incredibly scenic John Day Fossil Beds Monument valley with 176 miles of undiscovered adventures ahead of us we picked up the pace. The goal for
our late Monday morning start with a 30% chance of showers that evening was the town of Monument Oregon roughly 32 miles away. Well, Mark was right about our clockwise direction of travel, with a 20 mile an hour tailwind blowing west to east we rolled into Monument, dry and with daylight to spare. After an adult beverage, we were clued in by the convenience store owner that there was a park around the corner that allowed free camping, wow! Free camping! The park was actually the town common in the center of Monument which was surrounded by residential houses and where the local children gathered to play on newly constructed playground equipment. Curious about our funny
looking bicycles a few of the local kids came over and insisted on riding our trikes; well, maybe future customers. Before night fell and the rains came, Lonnie, a local woman, offered her unoccupied trailer as shelter for the night. Despite us turning down her gracious offer, she insisted that we were welcome to use the bathroom facilities for the remainder of our stay. We chatted with Lonnie the next morning before we departed Monument and she warned us that the east bound road out of town was under construction and to be careful of large trucks. She also warned us that it was a never ending uphill before dropping over the pass and heading into Long Creek…she wasn’t kidding! As I rode out of
Monument that morning, I couldn’t help thinking about the hospitality and kindness of small town Oregonians which was very heart warming and somehow assured me that all was still right with the world.I need to get out on the road to connect with that feeling more often.
As we entered the town of Long Creek at the intersection of Rt. 402 and I-395 we indulged in a local cafe for great burgers and some of the best home made mixed berry pie ever, which had to be eaten with a spoon!…with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice-cream…yum!!! Heading north on I-395, we encountered some of the longest rolling uphills that would have challenged the best of riders stamina.
The reward would be a well-deserved 4 mile downhill to Rt. 20 which heads east, better known as the Middle Fork of the John Day River, a 50 mile canyon following the river east. We found a campsite within the first mile or two and decided we’d set camp before the sun went down. With the sun quickly dropping below the ridge above camp, I managed to muster enough energy to scramble up the hillside to the east to absorb a few last warming rays. As I wandered the hillside, I was unaware that I was being watched. Two unbridled horses wondered what a stranger was doing on their hillside. They caught my eye, calmly, I spoke to them and they wandered closer until I was patting noses. As we
were getting to know one another, I heard what I thought sounded like a donkey bray; sure enough the cutest little donkey also wandered over. He hung his head next to me much like a dog looking to be patted, so we all became friends. The 180 degree views from the high ridge
proved well worth my efforts and as the long Juniper shadows stretched toward the darkened canyon below, I headed back to camp. Temperatures dropped into the mid 20’s that night and the next day I woke to a thick coat of frost on my fairing, which softened as the sun came up. Thankful for Mark’s recent purchase of a revolutionary new wood stove heated tent, the wait wasn’t uncomfortable. After breakfast and a second cup of coffee I just toweled off my fairing and we were on our way, just another stellar day!
The day proved to be the highlight of the tour. As we pedaled southeast along the winding Middle Fork of the John Day River, my helmet barely 3 feet off the pavement, I gazed upward at Fall’s bright yellow Larches towering 100 feet above, the long miles of the day fading behind me. At the end of Rt. 20 and the intersection with Rt. 7 we knew we were in for an uphill struggle, 6 miles worth, south on I-26 up to Dixie Summit before heading west to Prairie City. Alas, the hardest and most discouraging miles thus far, maxed out on low gears. We dug deep to deal with the demons all riders face on long ascents. The summit was a welcome site to say the least! A quick bite and water, an extra layer and I
shifted into the highest gear I had! Time for a well deserved 10 mile downhill into Prairie City… Wah-hoo! As soon as we reached town I asked at the nearest gas station “Where can we get a pizza and a beer?” “Don’t know if they serve pizza, but they have beer, one block on your right.” the attendant responded…works for me! Classic–dead animals mounted on the walls and a hand carved, dark wood bar that went on forever, with a table or two of local hunters gathered round bragging of the day’s kill… Two orders of pulled pork sandwiches and an IPA while I viewed the assortment of historic black and white photos that adorned the walls. Refueled and a bottle of Bushmills in hand, we headed out to Depot Park and another cold night, totally exhausted from the day’s ride!
The fourth day was a challenge for me, 50 miles of basically flat and downhill terrain on I-26 back to John Day Fossil Beds Monument. We took off like a shot, averaging 18 miles an hour, cruised west through the town of John Day and Mount Vernon, then like a wall the pace seemed to be my heartbreak hill, Mark continued the blistering pace. When I finally caught up with him in the sleepy little town of Dayville, he was eating that piece of pizza we couldn’t find back in Prairie City. The last 15 miles and the coast through Picture Gorge were a relief, the beautiful lighting reflecting off the river taking my mind off the last mile or two to the truck. Physically I was relieved the tour had come to an
end. Mentally I was still on the road for days afterwards, what a great trip! As a novice tourer, I would say the trip was a great success, no major breakdowns, lots of wonderful camping sites and most of all we hit four great late fall days of cycling weather.
Not hard to believe…one week later and we’re talking about skiing…!