(Two posts published today - scroll down for day 9)
Today was the biggie. The biggest of the trip maybe, psychologically at least. I was to be getting my first taste of serious climbing and serious altitude. Not only that, Bend was 98 miles up the road. Stopped at the drive-in Coffee Hut for a latte. One for the road. Here I overheard a female customer moan about her ex-boyfriend, “He was either working or hunting.” To begin with it was level, then it was downhill – I didn't want downhill as it could only mean more uphill. Stopped every 10 miles and it was tortuous to wait that long on the steep parts, but psychologically it was empowering and I was totally disciplined and hard on myself. After climbing for 15 miles I finally reached the summit of Tombstone Pass and finally saw that the altitude here was 4,236 feet – and this from 500 feet in Sweet Home. I don't think I've ever been to such a height, at least not through my own exertion. However, it wasn't as arduous as I'd imagined and it's twisting through forest, so it's not as if you can see a road going straight up a mountain in front of you. I was bothered more by my noisy, crunchy peddle and also that it might drop off. I stopped for a snack and drink at a car park, and a man chatted to me, while his boy stared. They were identical in every way, except for the size difference and one of them wearing a beard. Dad praised my efforts and said the hardest part was behind me. I lied that I'd started at 9, knowing that he would praise me further. The boy just stared. There were trails here and you're supposed to enter your details in a log book in case you don't return.
Saw my first live deer, startled by a non-vehicular human, it bounced into the trees. It's all trees around here; great swathes of burnt, white skeletons, alongside the living. There were trucks fully laden with timber heading coastwards and empty ones with their back wheels turned up onto their front ones, going the other way, like salmon returning to the source. I also saw a motorbike in a trailer being towed by an SUV, being towed by a motorhome. It's impossible to describe the scale of this environment without using a string of superlatives, so I won't even try. Had my first mishap halfway between where civilization ends (Cascadia) and where it begins again (Sisters) in the form of spilling a quart of Gatorade inside one of my panniers. I was out of water too and it's a distance of 60 miles between the two settlements I just mentioned. However, I immediately stumbled across some kind of logging base with buildings, where one of the men directed me to a tap. He looked just like Hannibal out of the A Team and he was smoking a car. I love it when a plan comes together. Maybe it was a dream, but the water tasted real enough. Here's what I consumed today :
2 slices toast & Marmite
1 chicken salad sandwich
2 energy bars
1 big bag of jelly beans
1 buffalo burger & fries
Approx 3 litres water
3 pints of Oregon beer
The energy bars are made by a company called Clif and it says on the back “Named after my father, Clifford, my childhood hero and companion throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” On the front there's a drawing of a man hanging from a cliff.
Then there was a lot of downhill and then the Santiam Pass (4,817 feet) which was much easier, with the sun in my face and wind at my back, and I was out of the woods – at least metaphorically. Why were all these people snapping knobbly old Mount Washington (what was it doing in Oregon anyway?) when there was a Toblerone one next to it. There was this one fat, middle-aged man wearing shorts and a T shirt, with a camera sporting a huge lens, who looked like a Duane Hanson sculpture. He makes life-size sculptures of ugly Americans. Don't blame me, blame him. Flat for the last 30 miles, through touristy Sisters and on to a scrubby plateau with a few short trees and yellow grass. The Yanks love their country and their pride shines through their signs. Recently I've seen a kennels called Forever Fields, a dirt-track called Paradise Alley and a complex of barns bearing the name Straw Palace in big, silver letters. Had to take a dump and at least there were a few trees to hide behind, off Highway 20. At least it was dry and warm and thankfully I'd remembered to pack toilet paper this time. The bike lane is often as wide as the car lane and yet I was the only one using it until I got into Bend, like my own red carpet. There are plenty of bikes attached to SUVs, but no one uses them to get from A to B.
In Bend I saw the Shag Hair Salon and Susan's Permanent Make-up, before turning into Elgin, where tonight's host resided with her big black diabetic dog and her two elderly cats, one of them blind. I had come by Yoleen through the Pixie Pit and she had six games of Scrabble permanently on the go on her laptop. She had three jobs to make ends meet, the main one in a theatre, another organizing a farmers' market and the other one making candles, manufactured in her kitchen. We went out to dinner at The Bend Brewing Company – or BBC as she termed it. Here I had a... you guessed it... huge, delicious buffalo burger, accompanied by beer brewed on the premises, one of which had Tartan in the title. We also played Scrabble, which was no great shakes as neither of us had much luck with the tiles, but I managed to squeak home in first place. She had warned me there was a letter missing and it turned out to be a blank, the most prized tiles in the game. Yoleen had the following day off in my honour and wanted to take me on a pub crawl; however, after eight hours in the saddle and 101 miles of asphalt behind me I needed to sleep. Amidst my protests, Yoleen gave up her bed for me and slept on the couch. Yes, another lovely person.
After yet another great sleep (although today I was dehydrated) we went out for breakfast, where the waitress hadn't heard of HP Sauce. Imagine such a thing! Neither did she know Daddy's Sauce, which must be another of these fake American products we get in the UK; but she did have A1 Steak Sauce and that was tastier than both the aforementioned condiments. Yes, I like food and I like talking about it. In an Ideal world I would live in Scotland, surrounded by English people, eat American food and have a wife from Somalia.