Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hermiston, OR to Tollgate, OR, 71.1 miles, ugh.

Gmap Pedometer of our route.

Aus set the alarm clock for 4AM on the morning of Monday, July 5th in anticipation of another 100+F day (or as they say in Aus' home of Canada, 40C). The 71 mile ride was to culminate in a 4,000 ft climb into Tollgate. The goal was to get the cycling day done before noon, and then relax at the lake at Tollgate when the real heat hit. Wow, that plan was optimistic.

Koshi waffled for hour on whether his health permitted a brutal ride. Seth made the executive decision that Koshi need to go see a doctor in Hermiston that day, and we would take a rest day. Few of the tiny towns we were to cycle would even have general stores, much less doctors.

At 4:45AM, after Aus & Seth had comfortably returned to sleep for several minutes, Koshi vetoed Seth’s decision, and we were on the road by 5:45AM. Koshi's sunburned and swollen lips scared (and scarred) little children and added at least five pounds to his load, but he is not a quitter, so we set out. Koshi kept quoting the scene in "Harold & Kumar" where Harold is talking about the oozing boils on Freakshow's neck while gently rubbing his heatstroke rash. Slightly distracting.

We packed our racks full of every water bottle we could find, knowing that we wouldn't be hitting a town with a store for 30+ plus miles. As it turned out, that goal-store (in Helix) would be closed (damn Sundays).

The ride started with a pleasant 5 mile downhill to the Columbia River, during which we used our long sleeve jerseys for the first time since Seattle. By 6:30AM, we were back to short sleeves.

Along Highway 730, parallel to the Columbia River, we passed a brush fire. Not sure why I mentioned that, but it seemed exciting at the time. I think that might be because we were trying to draft off each other, and cycling in a tight line, so anything other than the ass of the guy in front of you was a welcome distraction.

From Highway 730, we turned southeast on Highway 37 to Holdman, Oregon. Along the way, we passed the end of a road we had passed on the way out of Hermiston. If we had taken that road, we could have cut 8 miles out of journey, but Seth's maps had failed him, earning him a cock punch from his fellow tourers.

Holdman is a dead town. There was a creepy school that may once have been used in aught-four, but now has broken windows and vines growing out of it. No living people, much less a store. From Holdman, we turned southeast in the direction of Helix, and started the "rolling" part of journey. We rolled up and down, hill after hill, trying to keep enough inertia on the down hills to make it up to the top of the next lump. Lumps are not good in your testes, breasts, or your tours.

We finally made it to Helix at 9:45 AM where we discovered the general store was closed. (Sunday. Damn the Lord’s day straight to hell.) And there had been a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the high school girls’ basketball team (state champs?) that had ended at 9:30AM. At this point, we had ridden 30+ miles with no breakfast except for an apple and 1/3 of a day old peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Aus made the smart decision to crack open our emergency can of Chef Boyardee Raviolis which was surprisingly satisfying. Seth also ate the remaining peanut butter with a spoon, grossing out his fellow cyclists.

We quickly set out to Athena, Oregon hoping the general store(s) would be open, and wondering if we had enough water for the 12 miles from Helix to Athena. At the final house in Helix, we ran into a couple hosing off dead fireworks from their driveway from the previous night (USA! USA! USA!). Seth asked if we could fill up our water bottles using their hose. The wife insisted on filling them up using delicious filtered and iced water from her home while the husband teased us for cycling in 100 degree weather.

Thank goodness for generous Helix’ers, as we would drink all that water as the day heated up, and we kept hitting rollers on the way to Athena.

We finally reached Athena at about 11:45AM, and had our first real meal of the day (roughly 45 difficult miles at that point) at the awesome general store there. Tracy, the lovely woman behind the counter, even walked to her home to get balm for Koshi’s frightening lip. We stuffed ourselves with sandwiches and other goodies, and set out for the three mile ride to Weston, the launching point for the dreaded 20 mile climb up to Tollgate.

Just as we hit Weston, Aus’ tired tubes finally gave out, and we had a two hour stop in the shade while he changed three different punctured tubes in both his front and rear (2x) wheels. During the wait in front of the Weston general store, Koshi discovered that keeping a plastic bag full of ice on your head is an amazingly effective way of staying cool. Friendly locals offered advice and continued to tease us about cycling in this heat.

We started the climb out of Weston to Tollgate at about 2:15PM, in the peak of the heat. By mile 10, we had spread out. Seth knew that the Tollgate general store was likely to close by 5 or 6PM, and so set a blistering pace to try to ensure a supply of beer at the destination. At 4PM thunderstorms were rolling across the mountain, and Koshi took cover at a nice local’s house, making friends with his dog in the process. Seth and Aus decided that their rubber tires would insulate them from lightening strikes, and soldiered on. By 5:15PM, Seth reached the general store, found it open, and immediately ordered a 16inch pizza and pitcher of beer. Koshi and Aus joined him shortly thereafter where much celebration ensued.

Meanwhile, Jess, the leader of the support team, flew up from San Francisco, drove from Seattle to Tollgate (picking us up delicious supplies at the Wal-mart in Richland, WA).

Koshi convinced us that camping at a mosquito infested lake was really not necessary, and we all retired to the Tamarack Inn across the street from the Tollgate general store. There, our host Uncle Wally, welcomed us with open arms and blogs were posted.