Day 74. Today was supposed to an easy 53.5 miles from Halfway to Baker City. So we started at 7:30AM and headed south again to Richland.
We've been going North, South, Northwest, Southwest since Colorado but rarely just west, but after Richland it looks like we turn West seriously.
But first we had to get up the hill or pass between Halfway and Richland. It was only 3,653 feet. A little steep but otherwise John and I just slogged through it. Hills and climbs are my Achilles heel, I can get through them but it my speed lingers between 4 to 7 MPH.
But for every foot we climb, we drop more, and the descent after the pass was another incredible thrill ride into a valley, with the town of Richland off in the distance, a shining destination, with this gray ribbon of a road unfurled against the hillside as I coast down it in speeds reach 47 MPH.
It's better than any Disney ride.
Almost everyone had stopped at the cafe. Corn Beef Hash and Eggs - really well done and tasty and then we filled our water bottles and headed West toward Baker City.
We're following Highway 86 which runs only from Baker City to Richland along the Powder River. This has an added benefit that the mile markers start in Baker City so it was a countdown to our destination.
The Powder River runs to the East in this dry, scrub canyon. It's hot, dry, and there is no water except for the river which runs by us. As tempting as that is, there's a fair amount of algae in the river. A sign (Bill said later) that it is formed by a lot of agricultural runoff.
But then the river left us completely and now we were just on this plateau (called the Virtue Flat) with just igneous rock, scrub and vast nothing for as far as I could see except for sparsely snowcapped mountains way in the distance. It felt like Nevada.
And I was going slow, really slow. John had kicked in his homing beacon mode which he sometimes does when he feels overheated, and he will just go, and go, without hardly any stops on auto-pilot until he reaches our end destination. (Then he will nap for almost twenty hours depending upon the heat exhaustion.).
So it was just me and Phil, kindly putting up with my slow pace since he is the sweep past this nothingness. We're used to rural, but this is beyond Wyoming. I've run out of words to describe it - no ranches, no roads, nothing. Empty. Barren. Desolate. Just igneous rocks. Tan. Sage green scrub.
Plus it was a climb so I put on the podcasts and just kept going, occasionally stopping for water, since anytime I looked down it would be a constant drip-drip-drip of sweat pouring off my head in this heat. I called them fat tears because when a fat cell dies it get just one tear.
Finally we reached Flagstaff Hill, and then from there it suddenly became a little easier coasting over the top plateau and then down toward Baker City.
Oregon Trail Ruts
In the 1840s, particularly once South Pass was discovered which was an easy, covered wagon "friendly" crossing of the Continental Divide hundreds of thousands embarked upon this massive journey west. We've joined back up with the Oregon Trail after leaving it back in Wyoming.
There is a massive Interpretive Center here outside of Baker City, but it would be another mile bike ride, in the heat, and an elevation gain of 370 feet. I just didn't have the heart to do it.
We did stop at the roadside marker and walked the hundred feet or so to see the ruts from the wagons and oxen passing by here in such numbers so many years ago. They only travelled about thirteen miles a day and the entire trip took about six months. Such journeys do not exist anymore.
Baker City, Oregon
Baker City, Oregon is situated in a valley between the Wallowa Mountains to the east and the Elkhorn Mountains, part of the Blue Mountains to the west, with the Powder River running through the center of downtown on its way to the Snake River. Interstate 84, which runs Southeast from Portland to Salt Lake City also runs through the valley by Baker City.
The valley is green with irrigated fields including this odd scene where a farmer has placed over a century of cars and farm machinery along the edge of the property. What made the sight memorable was the single white horse walking through it as a curator inspects the exhibits.
A long hot day is rewarded with ice cream (Huckleberry Shake), a Greek salad, and two deviled eggs.
We're staying at the Mountain View RV park which also has a sizable mobile home portion to it as well. The camping area is shady and grassy so we are content. The office and general store facilities are decorated as if we are in an ersatz old West Town complete with a repeating loop of banjo music playing. Thankfully the music turned off at 9:00PM.
There's been a definite trend in where we stay. Back through Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Missouri we were mostly in churches. Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas were city parks, county fairgrounds, and state parks. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and since have seemed to be mostly private RV parks. Exceptions abound of course.
Most have been nice and some, like Halfway, Montana, have been tolerable. Now after seventy days I am able to sleep perfectly soundly and happily in my tent or hammock. In fact (I think I've written this before) I preferred the churches to even the hotels.
A good basic dinner, sloppy Joe's, beans and macaroni salad. I've dropped the beer. It was too expensive chipping in twenty dollars every ten days or so when I drink maybe seven beers, and instead bought a medium size bottle of Bacardi and have been enjoying a cuba libre or two in the evening.