It is sooooooo hard for me to shut my mind off from work, but the three-day weekend of cycling bliss known as Century Ride of the Centuries in northeastern Oregon was exactly the kind of inexpensive “therapy” I needed to mentally recharge.
Day zero was the drive down to Pendleton after work. Because it was a major holiday weekend, and involved going over the mountain pass, I was expecting a ton of traffic. To make the orientation, I left home shortly after 1pm and was making good time until Yakima, where I decided to revisit Yakima Canyon road, the serpentine, pretty alternative to I-82. I biked on during last year’s Ride Around Washington.
I was taking in its beauty, counting the little US Department of Interior stoplets dotting the area, then ended up behind a hay truck slogging along the curves as best as he can. Soon, eight of us had queued up behind him when a big honking American car comes blasting by in the opposing traffic lane, crossing the solid yellow line as if to say Get Off His Road. Dude cuts off the hay truck, causing it to swerve. I looked in my back mirror, exchanging a “WTF was that about” “hell if I know” look with the guy behind me. After the canyon drive straightened out, we saw Yakima County’s Finest was on top of the situation. Car horns tooted in your face.
Once in Pendleton, I found the Rugged Country Lodge, checked in and availed myself of the free but spotty wireless to check the official site for any late breaking information. Conspicuously absent from the site were details on the location of any orientation, the reception or time of the ride start. I drove to the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, the logical place for the ride start. It was empty. Next, I went into the actual Wildhorse Resort Casino. The security guards sent me to the RV camping area. The camp manager suggested I ask some of the cyclists setting up camp. Meanwhile, she was on the phone and calling. When I returned with the other cyclists, she said everything was happening at the Pendleton Heritage Station (downtown) and marked up maps with directions. She is the kind of person I want working for me.
After picking up my packet, and my free brightly-colored CROC socks, I took a walking tour of the town, settling in the Main Street Diner for a vanilla milkshake. I take this riding to eat thing seriously.
Day One: My motel was very cozy, but I’m plagued with not sleeping well the night before an event. Typically, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, then go on five minute sleep intervals for the next few hours. Then, forty minutes before the alarm is set, I’ll get some genuine REM action.
I got to the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute around 6:45, fifteen minutes before the official start time. Since this is a small ride, there’s not the mad dash of bodies like there would be with STP. It’s more like RSVP, where people trickle out whenever. No rush was warranted. I addressed bodily functions, stretched, at a Clif Nectar bar, readdressed bodily functions, buffed my face with SPF 50, twiddled with the GPS, talked with some other riders, peed again, then finally started riding.
The roads are gently rolling hills with virtually no traffic, and there’s very little chip seal. From a car buzzing by at highway speeds, it would be too easy to overlook the natural beauty of the wheat and pea fields. A scant forty minutes and 14 miles later, I was back in downtown Pendleton for the first rest stop. This is also the turnaround point for the 24 mile route.
One of the novel things about this event is each rest stop has a theme, and the volunteers from Pendleton on Wheels seem to enjoy getting into costume appropriate for the theme. The first stop was the “Wild West Trading Post,” complete with a mini-stage coach and teepee. The other stops for today were: Kamanawanna Lei U (mile 34.8), M*A*S*H (mile 56.7), Brachers’ house (aka “ghost stop”) (mile 66.7, unless you followed me), Bonnie and Clyde (mile 79.9) and Mission Market (mile 93.3). As shown in the picture to the right, Sue Peterson, the ride organizer, was in charge 😉
After the Wild West stop, the ride went west along Old Pendleton River Road, passing a variety of interesting geology. Best of call, there were no cars!
After the Aloha stop, there was a rider drafting me on the flat portions, but as soon as we hit a hill, she was unable to keep up. This went on for a while and finally on a long section, she introduced herself. I’m not much of a talker on the rides. After a few pleasantries, I was back in my happy place taking in the surroundings and thinking of stuff. We crossed back over I-84 again, but apparently missed a turn. We stopped, discussed it, then she went into interrogation mode. While I fiddled with the map, she blasted on ahead before realizing that the street names didn’t agree with the map. I caught up with her and confirmed this. By this point, she saw someone nearby and asked him for directions. (Insert stereotype here.)
The guy, whom I’ll call “Dude,” since I didn’t catch his name, was a little baked, but nice enough to come over and try to help. She whipped out the map and, in her New York tempo, rattled off a bunch of questions. Dude initially said “I don’t know,” then offered a complex set of directions. She paused long enough to parse this. It gave me time to ask “does this road take us to State Road 730” (which would get us where we needed to)? Dude looked surprised we were going to bike that far, but said “Yes, this is US 395. 730 is about ten miles that way.”
She then went into interrogation mode, asking poor, confused Dude why the directions we were given didn’t agree with the location we were in. Seeing no good could come with this, I tried excusing myself. This only agitated her more. Finally, I cut her off, thanked Dude and headed up US 395. She suddenly decided that “we needed to stick together,” all the while painting the grimmest scenario that “we’d never get where we were supposed to” (not believing that we were on US 395 until I showed her the sign) or that we would meet with imminent peril once we got near State Road 730. (The green packet suggested “good shoulder, but 55 MPH traffic.” Being careful is sound advice, yet nothing to panic about.) As Susan would say, What.Ever. The map in front of me confirms Dude’s circuitous set of directions would have put us further off course, headed towards the Boardman Bombing Range. Oh, my!)
The GPS told me that I was headed northwest on US 395. In Hermiston, I confirmed on the Chamber of Commerce map that this was indeed a workable route, but would add five miles to our Quality Trek on Horrible Road 730. At the turn on to 730, what I suspected was true: there was a wide shoulder, and it was no problem. She led for a while, quickly got tired from the headwinds and backed off to draft behind The Sail. Since I had to pee and I wanted to “lose” She, I stepped up the pace to the 19-24 range, including the uphill portions. Yes, I was being an ass.
At Hat Rock State Park, she found someone else to complain to. I stayed long enough to consume a baked potato and refill my water packs. Free at last!
The gradual climb along State Road 37 was harder than it should have been because of the heat and my having burnt a lot of energy from the pace I was taking prior to the rest stop. But tired is good for taking pictures of the ghost stop and decaying sweat shack. One of the weirder things I saw (photo to the left) was dead coyotes hung on a barbed wire fence. John conjectures a rancher had a problem with a few and wanted to make a visual example, Godfather-style, of what might happen to coyotes who don’t leave.
By the time I hit the Bonnie and Clyde rest stop, I was nearly out of water again. Sue Peterson, the brainchild of the themed stops, and her husband were having fun being in character. There were several antique cars scattered around the grange. My favorite was the 1949 police car, pictured at right. I was so glad no one tried leaning a bike up against one.
The remaining miles were back on busier roads closer to Pendleton, winding east towards. The final climb of the day was along a one-mile pedestrian trail constructed specifically for folks going to the Cultural Institute. The fields were even prettier than the ones we passed by earlier in the morning.
I got back to the start around 2:45, making this my first sub-7 hour century. I had a massage scheduled at 5pm, so I headed back to the hotel room for a much-needed shower and shave.