The plan almost panned out perfectly on day 2. After a nice cup of coffee, some oatmeal with peanut butter (our breakfast for the next 5 mornings), and a heartfelt goodbye to Judy and the puppy, we loaded our things and headed for Baker City. We took one more obligatory look at the beautiful property we were leaving behind and thought to ourselves, ‘Some day…’
Our second day brought us from Union to Baker city, only 49 miles. From Union the road gradually went uphill for about 10 miles and then got steep for the last few. We eventually got up above 4,000 feet, a climb of about 1,500 feet with the steepest section being a 6.7% grade. We thought that was pretty impressive; our perspective would change on our way to Joseph.
The landscapes transformed the farther south we rode. We went from ascending a steep forest pass, to rolling hills in an open meadow with forest surrounding us, to undulating arid ranch country in the span of about 25 miles. We had planned on filling our water up in a small town called Medical Springs, but I guess Medical Springs wasn’t open for business at 10am on a Thursday; we didn’t see a soul. We each had to make due with 2 water bottles plus one extra 500 mL water bottle to share. It’s funny how when you meticulously plan a trip, even the littlest oversight – like assuming all towns would have easily accessible water – makes you feel like you should have planned even more, and that you’re somehow unqualified to be doing such an extravagant adventure. In retrospect, this feeling is the antithesis of cycle touring. But you know what they say about hindsight.
Anyway, the ride into Baker City was beautiful. The terrain consisted of rolling hills through rugged ranch country. Trish and I are accustomed to the lush greenery of the Willamette Valley, so this was a different world to us.
The last 10 miles into Baker City were a bit rough. Trish and I ran out of water and were on a road with massive cracks running right through the middle every 20 feet. We were ecstatic when we finally reached the overpass that would herald our arrival into the bustling metropolis of Baker City (population just under 10,000).
After rolling into our campsite for the afternoon – Trails West RV Park – we were flagged down by a guy in a big white truck. After a few pleasantries, we learned that he was also a biker from Missouri and that he was biking from Missouri to Portland following the Oregon Trail. We told him that after we had set up camp, showered, and eaten, we’d find him and talk a bit more.
The biker’s name was Brad, and his wife, Sheila, was also along for the ride, acting as his SAG wagon for the trip. Sheila was a retired PE teacher and Brad was a middle school teacher, and the trip was actually part of a video blog he was making for his students, showing them what kind of terrain the early pioneers crossed on their journey west. It was a really cool sounding project, and his website, www.pedalingpioneer.com, explains everything in more detail.
Of course, as is custom with any cycling enthusiast, we both had to analyze each other’s rides and talk gear for a while. Brad was a bicycle mechanic in his earlier years, so his mechanical insight was very engaging, and he likewise found our trip exciting because he had never done a self-supported tour before. He scrupulously analyzed our setup and asked a lot of questions about loaded touring. We spend most of our night bike-talking and getting to know these two individuals, and after heading back to our tents, added another mental checkmark next to ‘awesome people we’ve met on our tour.’ Laying down in our tent for the night, I thought about what had prompted our initial conversation with Brad and Sheila; it felt good realizing how quickly complete strangers can become friends through a shared interest as simple and as profound as a bicycle.