Day 3 – the big climb

June 11, 2008

Peter writes: Well, today’s ride redefines the term “epic”. I mentioned that day 1 (Reedsport to Eugene) was epic, but today’s ride beat that by a mile. Actually, in terms of miles, the rides were almost identical (76 on day 1, 77 today), but in terms of doing battle with the elements, including gravity, today’s ride over the Cascades wins, hands down. After a flat 7-mile opening to the ride, we began an ascent that was to last for the next 25 miles. I’m not joking. This first part, from Belknap Springs to the junction with U.S. 20, consisted of a steady climb at an average grade of 4-6%. Our speed wavered between 10 and 13 mph, which is about all we could muster over such a long distance. On the way, as my mother and Ian write in their blogs, I suffered a flat tire (a whopping 3 miles into the ride) and a snapped chain, at about mile 20. Nothing like standing on the pedals only to find that you no longer have a chain on your bike. Makes the thing useless, you might say. And by this point none of the other guys wanted to be around me, as they feared I’d been struck by some vicious cycling curse that might result in my bike snapping in half or my head suddenly flying off my torso.

In any case, after a lengthy repair job (thanks to Dad and Ian — yours truly has no mechanical skills whatsoever) we were underway again. By this time, however, we had climbed so far that it was really freaking cold. At the stop for repairs and lunch, we all began throwing on whatever layers we could find. I ended up with three layers, all of which were winter gear, which I quickly discovered wasn’t enough. Had I packed flannel pajamas for the trip, I would have ridden with them on. Swear to God.

We were feeling pretty good with ourselves at the juncture with U.S. 20, which is the highway that we’ll be on all the way to Sioux City, Iowa, which is maybe 15,000 miles from here. So it’ll be tough to get lost. Our elation at finding U.S. 20 lasted a few miles, when we hit the first of two REALLY BIG CLIMBS. I mean, these suckers made the climbs on the first day look like a couple of zits. The first might have been 3 miles in length, with an average grade “somewhere” in the double digits. Where exactly, I don’t know, because my entire attention was dedicated to two things: turning the pedals over just one more time so as not to fall over from my lack of speed, and not being hit by a truck. Oregon’s infatuation with gravel continued to make our lives miserable, as we were informed that the Oregon DOT just loves to shower the road liberally with gravel during the winter. Yes, that’s right, gravel. Red gravel, to be precise. And where does it end up? On the already marginal shoulder that is there to protect you from being hit by a truck. So here we are, climbing a couple thousand feet on a 12% grade risking our lives for gravel. I hate gravel.

Two really interesting things happened on the first climb (I don’t include agony in the category of “interesting”). First, about a quarter of the way up we began to notice snow, which only became thicker as we went to the summit. At the summit, the whole place was covered in snow. It’s June. Right now it’s 90 degrees in Washington, D.C. This is a big country.

Second, we ran into a couple of young women who had also reached the summit on their bikes. Turns out they’re sisters, riding across the U.S., just like us. Except they don’t have a support van, which means they were toting a serious amount of stuff on their bikes. Unfortunately they didn’t have money, either, which means they’re camping all the way. They also didn’t have any winter clothing because they didn’t think it would be cold in the summer — evidently they don’t have the internet where they live. They did, however, have a ukulele and a banjo, both of which come in very handy when climbing mountains. Or fending off bears. In any case, they were freezing (because they had decided to take a ukulele and a banjo instead of warm clothing) and were looking for a ride down to Sisters (a town at the other side of the Cascades). Good thing we came along, as they hitched a ride with my mother, instead of your random trucker. These girls really were trusting souls. Best of luck to them, may they complete their journey unharmed while enjoying many ukulele-and-banjo campfire singalongs.

Well, after a short descent off this snow-capped peak we immediately hit the second huge climb of the day (if you don’t count the 25 miles at 4-6% in the definition of a climb). Unfortunately for us, this climb really, really, really hurt. Did I say it hurt? I cannot begin to describe the agony. While the grade was no steeper than the first climb, the length is what did it. This thing was around 5 miles in length, which was not only two miles or so further than the first climb but more importantly was 5 miles of climbing after 3 miles of climbing, which in turn was after 25 miles of climbing. Well, after an eternity of suffering we all reached the summit, which of course was snowier and colder than the first. But we were elated, to be honest, because we all knew that this was the last big climb of the day. I believe the summit was 4918 feet.

The most exhilirating experience of the entire ride to date was the following descent off the mountain, which my odometer pegged at 7 miles. This thing was hairy. I won’t forget flying down the descent doing almost 40 mph while riding the brakes. Spectacular, to say the least.

At the bottom we hit the last 35 miles of the ride, which in retrospect shouldn’t have been doable. However, we received a gift from the cycling gods and were rewarded for our suffering over the mountains with both a beautiful 4-foot red-gravel-free shoulder and a massive tailwind. These things conspired to push us past Sisters and into Bend at what for us was a record speed. We must have averaged a good 22 mph for the last hour of the ride.

I can’t say enough about what we experienced today, collectively. To a man we were amazed by what we had done. We couldn’t believe we had ridden 77 miles over those peaks, in those conditions. I mean, it was freezing nearly the entire day (no rain though, thank goodness), and the amount of climbing is almost too much to describe. Brian proved he was strongest, again, although Ian is turning out to be quite the billy goat. And thanks again to my mother, who has proven to be not only the best at saving our collective behinds from various forms of bonking and mechanical breakdown, but who also appears to be having a genuinely good time.

Well, tomorrow we begin our journey into the heart of the high desert, and as a result we leave civilization. There are no cities or even big towns between here and Boise, which is something like 200 to 250 miles away. So we probably won’t be able to get online again until Friday, or maybe even Saturday, unless we can get wireless in our tent tomorrow night. Wish us luck!

  1. Cindy Said,

    WOW! We are following your trip, and we are totally amazed and amused! You guys have incredible stamina and determination, and a great sense of humor. What an unforgettable experience. Praying for your safety – can’t wait to read about your next day!

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