La Grande to Baker City, OR

One year to the day after finishing our last tour, we’ve started on our next one. And since it’s a new tour, we thought we’d start with something new: getting an early start.

Last year’s West Coast tour was amazing. But it was also all-consuming for over a year, between planning, training, and actually riding. We wanted to do something a little lighter. We had a great time biking in Oregon both down the coast and on our earlier Cascades tour. Anne found us another loop, in the northeast part of the state, the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway. We’re doing the 135 mile loop in three days.

We did very little training or prep. I haven’t even ridden with a full set of panniers. We used our well tested pack list from last year. Since we’re only biking for a few days in a small part of the country, we could limit the amount of weather to pack for. It was surprisingly difficult to leave behind rain pants and the green torpedo, despite weather expected in the 80s and 90s and 0% chance of rain. I ended up keeping my rain socks as a talisman against rain.

We planned the trip around the Fourth of July holiday, since my vacation time is still a little scarce from last year’s binge. That puts us in the hot season. As we were looking at the forecast last night, we realized we couldn’t just ignore the heat, expected in the 80s. Last year we didn’t really set alarms, and ended up rolling out around 9 or 10. This time, we decided to set a 4:30 alarm for a target 5:30 rollout, a little after sunrise.

Between last minute prep, packing the car, and getting the kids awake enough to stuff breakfast down their throats, we actually started the ride at 6:20, which I consider a success. It was cool enough to start the ride with arm warmers.

We rode through La Grande, quickly getting to the outskirts of town. Houses gave way to farms, growing wheat, corn, and basil. There were cattle, horses and sheep as well.

It was quite flat for the ride into Union, where we’ll be staying tomorrow night. Union has a rather cute downtown and central strip, with big brick buildings. We stopped briefly at the gas station, and Anne chatted with a patron who worked at the wind farm we’d be driving through, and gave her a verbal preview of the route.

Then it was on to the only proper climb of the day. It stayed at a fairly gentle 3% as the surroundings shifted from farms to undeveloped countryside. Our kind of road. We got ever closer to the wind farm we had seen earlier on top of the ridge line in the distance. The temperature had picked up a bit, but we had a nice tailwind to compensate.

Traffic died down, too, but didn’t disappear. An SUV got stuck behind us for a moment while an oncoming pickup went by. When the lane cleared, the SUV slowly came up, and was clearly going to tell us something. I was a bit nervous. When motorists want to tell us something, it often is to tell us to get off the road, or sometimes commentary on our parenting choices. I guess it was the latter, but encouraging commentary. “What a nice family outing.” I called out thanks as they zoomed off.

We climbed ever closer to the wind turbines. Ruth liked to count them as we got clearer views. The largest number I heard was in the thirties, but there must have been more. As we got higher, the wind got stronger. But it stayed to our rear, simultaneously a cooling breeze and accelerating aide.

We finally hit the summit, and were treated to a short downhill section, before it leveled off on the plateau. The wind was less consistently on our back, but it calmed down once we decended a bit.

The terrain transitioned back to farms. We started climbing a vampire hill – an incline so gradual you just feel slow without really feeling like you’re climbing – and passed into North Powder.

Like Union, North Powder has a cute downtown. The houses vary from manufactured homes to really interesting designs, in assorted states of repair. We were getting hungry, so we found a playground at a school to stop at.

Usually the kids fight over who gets to have Mommy pull their trailer. We let one pick in the morning, then let the other pick for the afternoon. Today, for whatever reason, Max decided he liked me better. He wanted me both in the morning and in the afternoon.

It was 11 am, and continued heating up. But we had half the miles and most of the climbing behind us. Maybe there’s something to this early start business.

After lunch we continued the vampire hill along farms. Many were being irrigated. There were more cattle ranches. The cows here are collectively excited to see cyclists. Horses, too, for that matter. The road flattened out, but we still had lots of flat miles to go. We circled around Haines, but didn’t enter it. We stopped a couple of times when we could find shade and sprayed some water using Anne’s fancy new mister. Max napped for much of the afternoon. The snow capped mountains in the distance crept closer, though they won’t be anything but backdrop on this trip.

Traffic picked up, though it was still pretty calm. A giant tractor drove by in the other direction, driven by what looked like a ten year old boy. He had things under control, though.

We came to the last climb on the cuesheet. It was really just an overgrown vampire hill. We conquered it, then got a surprisingly nice downhill part, before we had to make the last few miles into Baker City and our hotel.

It was still pretty early, so we managed to hit the pool before dinner. We ate tastey barbeque in a restaurant converted out of train cars, much to the kids’ delight.

After dinner and groceries, Anne took us to a Chinese graveyard across from our hotel. It was used from 1880 to 1940, and had some informative signage.

We’re definitely out of practice, but it was still a good ride. Tomorrow is a bit shorter in mileage but more climbing, which should be nice. The forecast is hotter than today, so we’re doing the early start thing again.