Friday, August 7, 2009

Jerry's Excellent Adventure

Last Monday, I headed out West to see my friend Jerry. He has been on a cycling trip across America. Our original plan was that I would catch up with him in the wilderness fastness of Northern Idaho, but alas, Jerry biked too fast.

That's getting a little ahead of my tale. I had a nonstop AirTran flight into Seattle. I upgraded to Business Class (yay!!). The flight arrived ontime at SeaTac, and I was in a rental car headed south on I-5 before 10 a.m. PDT. I'm getting ahead of myself, again. I had a window seat. I enjoy flying across America, because I'm always awestruck at how big this nation really is. From the air, it mostly looks empty. I love looking at the topography, seeing the mountains, the farmlands, the towns and cities below. Sometimes I know what I'm looking at, and other times I don't, but it's a fascinating and amazing kaleidoscope below.

Because of the time change, I was hungry about the time I hit Kelso, WA. After a tasty bean soup and a tuna sandwich, and a flirty waitress, I headed on down to Oregon, missing the I-205 bypass around Portland, my mistake.

Welcome to Downtown Portland. I knew that US26 crossed I-5 somewhere in Portland. Just as I was about to despair, I saw US26 East on a sign, and I believed in miracles. The miracle was shortlived, because I first missed the turnoff, and instead of being on US26, I was headed directly across the river into downtown. I turned around and headed back across the river, took the exit ramp, and found myself in the middle of a detour that ended in a parking lot. I ended up on SR99-E going south. I pulled into a Shell station, and they hadn't a clue where US26 East was. I turned around and headed north to run into US26, bigger than life. Then I got to see many, many miles of beautiful Portland stretch out before, then Gresham. Many a stoplight, many a store, many a strip mall, and not a few places to buy liquor. I finally stumbled out of the metropolis and headed on the open road.

I was about the only car on the road. The mountains are beautiful, and Mt. Hood is spectacular close up. The car ate up the pavement, and I arrived in Mitchell, Oregon around 5 p.m., hot and tired, but a happy guy. Jerry had already arrived at our motel (The Sky Hook), but was out shopping for food for dinner. I met him on the road to town. He was on the way back with fixin's, and I went to the store to buy some libations.

Our room was actually a suite! The owners, not having a lot of business this week, gave us a free upgrade. The Sky Hook is an old roadside hotel that the owners have (evidently) extensively renovated into a quaint, nicely furnished down home accommodation. It's not the Ritz, but it's great for crackers. We liked the room very much.

It was really nice to see Jerry. For all you Jerry fans, he's looking good! All that cycling has turned everything into sinewy muscle, and I'm more than a little envious of the results. Although I'm not sure that I want to cycle all the way across America to look like that. He gave me his killer smile as we boiled water for the pasta, and I chopped celery.

Jerry's not a vegetarian, but he's not much of a meat-eater, either. He's kind of like Ron in that respect. But an onion, celery, lemon, cottage cheese, pasta, salt, and pepper do a meal make. It was a very tasty and filling meal, indeed. I really need to reflect on my personal biases, and get over them.

The next Jerry and I decided to stay another day in Mitchell, do some hiking, poke around, find a swim hole, that kind of stuff. We had a breakfast at Route 26 Espresso, at least that's what was painted on the side of the cafe. The food was tasty, typical breakfast fare. It's open only for breakfast and lunch, and the opening time is sometimes later than the posted 7 a.m. That didn't curb our appetites. We met a local at the cafe who proceeded to tell us (several times and in incredible detail) what hike we should take in the Painted Hills national monument. I had eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. The local had sausage gravy and biscuits.

Jerry and I drove into the Painted Hills, and they are worth the visit. They are clay deposits colored by volcanic ash and mineralized water. The clay is so absorptive that it prevents plants from growing on the hills, so there is a bright, vivid hue across the hills. We hiked in where the local guy suggested. He should have given us some more incredible detail, because it wasn't quite enough to see the panorama that he promised. On the other hand, it was a very nice hike, lots of flowers, and it was just fun to be out on a trail in the middle of nowhere.

After the hike, we drove around the park, looking at several formations. We took lots of pictures, which someday will be published in the blog entry. I promise.

When we got back from the park, we headed to the Little Pine Cafe for lunch. They have a very good, if a little salty, split pea soup with ham. Jerry and I recommend the BLT. The Cowboy BBQ Burger is also very good, but very messy. It's worth the risk. Way too many flies in the restaurant on a hot afternoon: they were very friendly.

We asked our waitress and some of the other cafe help where we could find a swimming hole. They pointed us toward Spray, Oregon, about 26 miles away. We headed into the mountains.

The road winds up and down several grades, some of them kind of exciting. Just before the junction where SR207 joins SR19, Jerry pointed out a swimming hole in the creek. The creek is far enough off the road that we felt we could probably skinny dip with causing too much offense to the local population, so we did. The day was hot, and the water was not so hot, so we enjoyed the dip. Then on down the road to Spray. It's a town a little smaller than Mitchell, but a better stocked general store (although that's relative). Jerry is quite adept at assessing stores in small towns to the adequacy of a cyclist's diet on the road. It's one of the challenges of biking across vast empty stretches of America. Most of the food is expired. A long time ago.

We took a different road back toward Mitchell. We wound up a long, wooded, mountainous hill, turned a corner and were suddenly crossing an irrigated flat with some contented cows. The sun was at an angle that turned the pastures into gold and green wonders. We were taken with the beauty of the moment. And finally we turned onto US26 and headed back into Mitchell for dinner at the Little Pine Cafe.

This time we ate outside, and the flies pretty much ignored us. The location also gave us the vantage to accost all the cyclists walking up and down the sidewalk, and inquiring where they were headed, then Jerry and the newfound friend would start geeking out in the secret language of those who cycle across America. It's a secret society. Every cyclist seems to know about every other cyclist, even if they've never met. And each cyclist passes secret lore unto other cyclists so that it spreads up and down the trail. After listening to several of these conversations, and having Jerry tell me stories, I have a newfound respect for cyclists, and I was grateful to witness it's society on the move. Remember to share the road the next time you see a cyclist. It's their road, too.

After dinner, we visited Henry the Bear, then headed back to the Sky Hook. The day was magical. But I think Jerry's magical, too.

Thanks for the excellent adventure.