Day 7 - Clarkston WA to Walla Walla WA (96 miles)
The confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers in the homeland of the Nez Perce people was a major milestone of the expedition. Here they continued down the waters that would lead them to the Columbia River and ultimately to their long sought-after goal, the Pacific Ocean. This area is the semi-arid Columbia plateau where there are few trees. William Clark wrote at this point on 10 October 1805 "... worthey of remark that not one Stick of timber on the river near the forks". It hasn't changed today.
When Lewis and Clark explored the west they were faced with fast flowing, dangerous rivers. They wouldn't recognise the place today. A series of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers have turned them into a series of large reservoirs. This makes it possible for a town like Lewiston, hundreds of miles inland, to be a 'port' which can ship produce to the ocean. This has had a devastating effect on the salmon fisheries. Whereas at one time the rivers teemed with fish, providing a livelihood to indians and early settlers, today they are an endangered species. Less than 7% of the fish hatched make it back to the spawning grounds. They've tried fish ladders, barges (!) and a range of other 'solutions', but the fisheries are dying. It basically comes down to the fact that the newly hatched fish need to swim hundreds of miles through still water, finding their way through huge reservoirs, whereas before the current not only carried them but it showed them the way.
Today there is a move afoot to remove the dams to restore the fisheries. Lewiston would be devastated as its economy is predicated on the bulk moving of commodities via the river, but the potential benefits of a return of the salmon runs apparently significantly outweigh the disbenefits. Easy to say when it isn't your job on the line, but they will make a decision soon. There is a precedent wherein they removed a dam in New England to allow a river recover so the 'greenies' are working hard to achieve their goal.
The road followed the Snake River for about 6 miles and then cut inland, along Alpowa Creek. There was an old bridge which was in memory of 'Chief Timothy' who was an early supporter of the colonists. It was maintained in his honour by the highway department even though it had been bypassed by the new road. Very good form.
The road continued upwards to Alpowa Summit (2785') which was crossed by L&C on their eastward trip in May 1806. I had the photograph taken at the rest site below by a fellow from Portland. He was a cyclist as well and was most interested in my trip. He kindly offered me some protein bars which I was grateful for. He told me of the STP (Seattle to Portland) ride he did the previous week. Sounds like quite the ride with several thousand people doing the 150 odd mile ride.
The rolling terrain was treeless, accompanied by a strong headwind, but it was still delightful cycling. I stopped in Pomeroy and phoned my wife and parents. Unfortunately, the local museum was closed otherwise I would have visited. As it was, they had put pictures outside of the various local buildings describing their history. It was quite interesting to wander down the street and see the gradual transition of the town. Unfortunately, it was past its prime, but still a very livable place. A fat woman rode up on a bike and went to the store. I thought good on her.
Continuing west I went through Delaney. I stopped for a rest and chatted with a fellow taking a rest in his car. I noticed a hard hat with a US Corps of Engineer's logo so I asked if he worked on the dams? Score one for being observant. He was a senior maintenance engineer who lived in Walla Walla and was returning from a site inspection. He was able to answer some of my questions about the dams so I really enjoyed the engineer to engineer chat. When cycling one has ample opportunity to think about things, such as the rate of silt build up on dams, and other esoteric subjects.
I stopped in Dayton for lunch which was a vegetarian hamburger. It was over 100 degrees again and I really appreciated a break from the heat in the air-conditioned restaurant. I even treated myself to a milkshake. Anything to drop my core temperature a bit. If nothing else this trip gave me a good sweat! As I was was getting back on my bike I noticed a queue of vehicles waiting for their orders. It's a shame that people are so wedded to their vehicles as if by an umbilical cord. How much effort does it take to go inside? But only about 1 in 5 actually got out of their car.
From Waitsburg I headed through the hills towards Walla Walla. This took me off the route that L&C followed; I'm note sure why the Adventure Cycling planners chose this route, but decided to follow it anyway. The area was full of wheat farms and the golden wheat stretched for miles. In some areas they were harvesting so it was interesting to see the machines at work, with clouds of chaff blowing in the wind.
At one point I crossed an embankment which had several cars sticking out of it from the bottom. It seems that they were used a fill when building the road! There will definitely be some settlement in the future.
It was an extremely hot afternoon and I had to stop for a while in the shade to rest. Fortunately, I had a lot of water with me otherwise I would have been in trouble. I was quite tired when I got to the outskirts of Walla Walla. I had hoped to visit a friend in College Place, but they were away. I was disappointed, but also glad that I didn't need to do the extra 5-10 miles.
Walla Walla as named after a local tribe who lived in the area when the L&C expedition passed through. In fact many of the names of towns and cities in this area are from the original tribes (eg Seattle and Tacoma).
I found a hotel in the centre of town which was run by Gujarati's. They were most interested to hear that I was to be heading to India in September. I went for a swim in the pool to cool down; it was wonderful.
I asked the proprietor if she knew of a good vegetarian restaurant in town but all they could do was to recommend a Mexican restaurant down the road. Pity. I had hoped that there was an Indian restaurant. I opted to wander over to the Safeway where I was able to buy a salad and sandwich from the delicatessen. So ended another long day through great terrain. Tomorrow I would finally reach the Columbia river.
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