Day 9 - Umatilla OR to The Dales OR (97 miles)
The route took me across the Columbia river to the Washington side. The bridge was for a busy interstate, but thankfully they had provided a cycle lane on the east side. Midway across the bridge I encountered two other cycle tourists, the first I had seen for a couple of days. From Holland, they were cycling the L&C trail to Minnesota before heading home. They warned me to expect strong headwinds but that at least the roads were not busy.
I came across the Umatilla National Wildlife Reserve just west of Paterson. This consists of some islands in the Columbia which are used by migrating birds. Even though I was well out of the migration season there was still a lot of wildlife around.
As shown below, the road followed along the Columbia river, at times dropping to the river level and other times climbing high above the river. There was little development along the way, save for a few tree plantations and isolated farms. It was quite a shock to come across the latter as there was suddenly a large, well watered area, with many trees and green grass. Quite the contrast to the arid surroundings. It was so strange to see a huge river and yet only a few metres away it was dry, desert.
I stopped for lunch in North Roosevelt which was a "don't blink or you'll miss it" place. It was the only settlement for about 40 miles either way and there was a bar and grill, a grain silo, and not much else. The staff were very unfriendly and less than helpful. The only thing they agreed to come up with me was a pizza, which I had to pick the meat off. Ho hum. At least I was able to get some water.
In the early afternoon I re-crossed the Columbia River and stopped at Biggs for lunch. I had a great downhill run to the river where I hit 70 km/h, zooming around the curves. It was fun, but also challenging to keep ahead of the traffic: the narrow road didn't have much shoulder space. The bridge across the Columbia was even worse; narrow with what looked to be a potentially slippery deck and a high sidewalk. A bit of a worry at the best of times; terrifying with all the trucks.
The main claim to fame of Biggs is that it is the intersection of Interstate 84 and Highway 97. It was full of fast food restaurants and motels. I stopped at a 'Subway' to get some food. It was over 100 degrees again and it is an understatement to say that I enjoyed the air conditioning.
While in the queue I chatted with a woman who was from Kalispell Montana. She was amazed that I had cycled over from Great Falls, and impressed that I did it in 8 days. She told me they had left early that morning so it took them about 8 hours. Ahhh, but I experience much more. I declined her offer to buy me lunch but chatted with her group. They were on their way to a football (soccer) tournament in Portland. Her son's school was State Champion and they were stoked up at the prospect of playing against some South Americans. He was a real affectionado of the film 'Bend it Like Beckham'. I could relate.
When I heard that he was driving I commented that he looked a bit young. I was right; he was 15. In Montana they are allowed to drive that young so they can help on the farms. He had been driving since he was 10. I don't know how he could have reached the pedals since at 15 he wasn't exactly tall. I commented on how Montana seems to have pretty relaxed laws and his mother agreed. There was a time that there was no speed limit, you just drove an appropriate speed for the conditions and it was up to you to convince any officer that stopped you that your speed was appropriate. They had only recently had a referendum on whether or not to ban drinking while driving. You still had to be sober; you just couldn't imbibe while behind the wheel. The referendum was defeated.
It was about 15:00 when I got on the road again and it was extremely hot. Some motorcyclists commented that they thought they had it tough in the heat but that I must really be suffering. Not true. At least I wasn't wearing leathers.
The route followed the old road which ran parallel to the Interstate. It was great to be on my own private road as the traffic was drawn to the interstate. I passed a few fisherman on a bridge otherwise I was on my own.
All good things come to an end and I was dumped onto the interstate. Even though there was a very wide shoulder, it was still scary to have so many vehicles travelling by at 70 mph. The interstate was built right down to the water and it was interesting to see all the boaters and others making the most of the river.
Due to the heat I was flagging when I got to 'The Dales' so I took the first exit I could and popped into a McDonalds to cool down. Discretion got the better part of valour so I checked into a very nice motel that was next door and ordered a pizza for dinner. It was 107 degrees so no wonder I felt roasted ...
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