finish line! Hood River to Portland

First, a note: We arrived home a week ago, but got a little too swept up in the excitement of being back to update the blog. Thank you to those who checked in on us! We are alive, well, and trying to figure out how not to ride our bikes all day. 🙂

Last day of the tour! It felt wonderful to head toward loved ones and familiar places, but bittersweet to end our big adventure. The scale definitely tipped to the sweet side as we battled some intense headwinds while trucks whizzed as we left Hood River on I-84… not a highlight of the day, but we survived.

Cascade Locks marked the first place we intersected with our departure route. We had our final snack break at the same little store we had our very first one. We’ll never again look at coconut water, bananas, and Tillamook Greek yogurt without a little heartstrings tug. 🙂 The whole route back along the gorge felt a little surreal, but maybe this is where it started to really sink in that our tour was coming to an end.

The quiet wooded bike path was a peaceful counterbalance to I-84, and another reminder of the first day of our tour. Especially when we arrived at those familiar stairs! It was funny thinking about the version of us who five weeks ago probably spent fifteen sweaty minutes trying to navigate these steps with loaded bikes before giving up on that strategy, reluctantly unloading, and spending another fifteen minutes getting situated at the bottom. Packing the bikes had a definite learning curve, as illustrated by the five easy minutes it took from arriving at the bottom of the stairs to riding away at the top.

Highway 30 was packed with summer traffic, but otherwise lovely. We stopped at Multnomah Falls for a banana break and found ourselves lingering. Being this close to home, we really started savoring the soon-to-end feeling of being on our tour. As luck would have it, our relaxed timing ended up working perfectly, because look who we ran into…

Stephanie!! We met her in Whitefish while she was on her solo Portland the Portland tour. We knew she’d recently finished and would be sightseeing before flying home that night. It was so cool to be able to see her again and give her a big sweaty bike touring hug at the end of both of our adventures.

vista house again, five weeks later

We also got to see another one of our favorite people along the way – Carl! Yes, 13 lb backpack wearing, triple breakfast eating Carl from Missoula also recently finished his cross-country tour, and met up with us to ride the last 20 miles into Portland. What a treat to be able to reunite with people we met along the way, especially while rolling back into familiar sights. It was a great tangible reminder of one of the best parts of our journey – meeting and connecting with other people. Bicycles are a powerful uniting force and were the common denominator in so many easy bonds we made along the way.

As we rounded the corner to Sasha’s house, where we started five weeks ago, we were greeted by the cheers of some wonderful family and friends, cold beer, brownies, and even a hand-drawn finish line.

What an enthusiastic, love-filled way to end our incredible journey. So many people gave us encouragement, help, and companionship that kept us going along the way, and this tour wouldn’t be the amazing adventure it was without all of those experiences, as well as the ongoing support and love of our friends, partners, and families.

To everyone that encouraged us, fed and sheltered us, waved and smiled, cheered us on online, shared advice, helped with bike maintenance, spent time with us, and sent good vibes, thank you! We soaked up your positivity and felt it every step of the way. Thank you for being part of this with us.

Cheers!

Numbers:

  • Miles today: 66
  • Total miles: 2111
  • Elevation today: 3600
  • Total elevation: 97,750

almost home: Cottonwood Canyon SP to Hood River

Waking up surrounded by the massive arid hills of the canyon, it was hard to believe we were so close to reuniting with the familiar sights of the Columbia River Gorge. 

cottonwood canyon
As soon as the sun rose above the hills it was hot. Guess who handles heat better… the Florida-raised lizard or the Oregon-raised wilting pine needle? We were both feeling pretty tired and overheated, but Sasha had some good energy to provide a sturdy pull through a couple hours of wind turbine country. 

At long last, a blackberry-scented descent ushered us into the gorge! Although we still had a day and half of riding ahead, it kind of felt like we were home. Across the water was familiar highway 14, which we rode on our way east. We recognized Maryhill Winery and the hot, dry rolling hills surrounding that lovely green water/snack break location several weeks ago. 

pose like it’s your last one!
Rounding a bend to a sweeping river view on the way to The Dalles, a loud pop announced the final flat of the tour… Flo’s temporary tire boot gave out. Sixty miles and an exciting explosion – now that’s a bang for a buck!
george is not amused

After a refreshing lunch stop at Petite Provence, we carried on toward Hood River. It felt surreal to be on familiar roads that we’d ride on a day trip, but this time with panniers full of supplies and minds full of memories of our month-long adventure. 

rowena crest climb
rowena crest view
Our bodies were also feeling the effects of the month-long adventure, especially the recent heat, headwind, and hill-filled days. We felt pretty worn out arriving in Hood River, and wondered whether our lack of energy could be some kind of end of tour mental slump. It could’ve been, but after realizing we’d ridden over 400 miles and climbed almost 25,000 feet in the past five days, the tired feeling was understandable. 

Luckily, we were able to rest well that night at our final WS home of the trip. Daphne and Matt made us feel at home, and after probably our sweatiest day of the tour, a shower felt extra amazing. 

These strong blondes enjoyed some Strong Blondes at Pfriem, alongside the burger/veggie burger we’d dreamed about since the start of the tour. Sodium sufficiently restored, we slept well on the final night of the tour. Hard to believe we would be sleeping in our own beds the very next night!

Numbers:

  • Miles today: 71
  • Total miles: 2045
  • Elevation today: 4200
  • Total elevation: 94,150

mountain majesty: Heppner to Cottonwood Canyon State Park 

Ever since we entered Oregon, the journey has felt more like a quest, with a new challenge to face every day. 

  • Day 1: flat tires
  • Day 2: hills
  • Day 3: wind 
  • Day 4: distance 

Days 5 and 6 had all of the above, plus heat. Heat so hot tar bubbled up from the road and crackled under our tires. Heat in treeless wheat field canyon country, which is pretty much the definition of unforgiving. 

Before leaving Heppner, we found one little glimmer remaining from the sparkling stars, shining city lights of the previous night: a tiny piece of glass in Viv’s tire. First flat of the day and we hadn’t even left yet! On a positive note, there are worse places for a flat fix than a motel bed with a sink around the corner. 


On our climb out of town we finally got to see this mounded terrain we descended the night before. 

heppner nestled in the mounds

At the top of the climb awaited an exciting sight – the faint, ghostlike outlines of Mt Hood and Mt Adams! This was our first view of the familiar peaks, and they popped on and out of view all day -looking a little bigger each time – as we climbed and descended the canyons. 


There were some seriously amazing roads curving through the canyons. It felt surreal again, like we were on another planet. A few motorcycles whizzed by, but otherwise we were pretty much alone out there with the bounding deer and occasional roadkill snake. 

Flat #2 came with a bang as Sasha’s tire boot finally gave up. She changed out tire and tube (with a folded up dollar bill as a stand-in tire boot in her other haggard tire). 



We were rewarded for our long, hot, hilly day with the most stunning sunset mountain view. Photos can’t do it justice; we were surrounded by layers of blue fading into pinks and purples, with an amazing view of Jefferson, Hood, St Helens, Adams, and Rainier. 


We’ve had so many great descents this tour, but this may have been the ultimate. Huge mountain view at sunset, warm air, buttery smooth road, and even the silhouette of a herd of elk galloping away as we soared down into our final canyon of the day. 

We camped at Cottonwood Canyon State Park under another clear, massive, starry sky. 

Numbers:

  • Miles today: 72
  • Total miles: 1974
  • Elevation today: 5100
  • Total elevation: 89,950

aliens: La Grande to Heppner 

We had the luxury of packing while sipping lattes made by our WS host, Emilie. Later, over bowls of her homemade granola we traded stories about adventures by bike. A passing comment we’ve heard so often on this trip is “oh, youth;” as though the option to be active and adventurous fades with time. Most of the people we ride with at home, and the many cyclists we’ve stayed with and talked to along the way have a few decades on us and keep pedaling. As two people who plan to age for a long time, this is inspiring. 

art at emilie’s home
Emilie suggested we check out the downtown farmers market before heading out, which was a great idea. The town square was bustling and full of fresh fruit, delicious pastries, coffee, and all good things. We got to chat with more cycling enthusiasts before heading on our way. 

We had to be on I-84 for eight miles to get out of town. The shoulder was wide, but fast traffic and lots of sharp things on the road made this less than pleasant. It also resulted in another flat for Vivienne. On a positive note, the slow leak allowed for a flat change in a nice park a few miles off the highway. 

The ride to Ukiah (our snack break town) was really nice; a surprise to both of us, as we’d expected eastern Oregon to be dry, hot, and full of sagebrush. Instead, we rode along a river with plenty of trees nearby. We had a climb to the Blue Mountains summit and then a long descent into town. 


Ukiah was an interesting small town… we got the impression that locals may not be fans of Portland. Why? Responses when we said we’re heading there/are from there: 

1. “Hm.” (walks away)

2. “This is God’s country out here. Portland is… (pauses, mumbles under breath) stupid country.”

It’s kind of understandable; people tend to like what’s familiar. For our part, we were pretty excited to continue getting closer to our city full of people stupid enough to bike up hills for fun. 😉


Speaking of biking up hills, we started on one on our way out of Ukiah – maybe at 6ish – and kept climbing until the sun went down. It just kept going. At the top of the hill at dusk, we had two choices: stop at a campground a few miles down for an 80ish mile day, or keep riding all the way to Heppner. 


Portland is a very enticing dangling carrot, and we’d yet to do a night ride, so Heppner it was! The sky grew dark as we descended, so this was a pretty slow and cautious descent – we could only see as far as the headlights could shine, and needed time to stop quickly if necessary. 



It felt surreal to ride under the huge, starry sky. Other than our lights and the moon, it was just darkness and the faint silhouette of huge rounded hills around us. We stopped to take it all in saw millions of stars, and the Milky Way overhead. 

The air was chilly, so it felt comforting to finally see the town of Heppner. Rolling in, the lights felt extra bright and harsh to our starlight-adjusted eyes. It was the strangest feeling to arrive in civilization… almost like we’d come from a different planet. 

Luckily, there was a room for us at the one motel in town. These earthlings got to sleep in a bed two nights in a row! If we’re not careful, we might start expecting daily showers. 


Numbers:

  • Miles today: 105
  • Total miles: 1902
  • Elevation today: 5900
  • Total elevation: 84,850

swimming upstream: Joseph to La Grande 

The day started with a beautiful ride from camp to Joseph around the lake. Cool morning air, light traffic, and the promise of a hot breakfast made for a really pleasant morning. 



We haven’t met many breakfasts along the way we can’t demolish, but we met our match at Cheyenne Cafe. Plate is not the word… platter. Highly recommended for the highly active and hungry. It’s delicious and you’ll leave with leftovers. 


It was a good thing we filled up, because we battled winds all the way to La Grande. Apparently, the time has come to pay back our wind debt from the amazing eastward tailwinds along the gorge early on in our tour. 


Luckily, other than the wind, the ride was pretty pleasant. There was nice scenery along the Wallowa River on the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway, and a good amount of gradual downhill most of the way to Elgin (still a significant effort due to wind), until a pretty respectable surprise hill. 

With the wind, it kind of felt like taking a deep breath in Joseph, and then diving underwater and swimming against the current until Elgin. Snack break was very necessary. Favorite non-bar snacks… Sasha: banana + pb. Ashleigh: cottage cheese with berries. Maybe a with coconut water or chocolate milk if we’re lucky.  


Leaving Elgin, we dove back in against the current and battled winds all the way to La Grande. Felt a little weary, but luckily we had a WS host to stay with in town. Showers, laundry, and beds… ahhhh. 

Numbers:

  • Miles today: 80
  • Total miles: 1,797
  • Elevation today: 2,200
  • Total elevation: 78,950

up: Oxbow to Joseph

“That’s an… interesting choice of a road to ride. People don’t usually ride that road. You know it’s straight up, right??”

– parting words about NF-39 from convenience store clerk at the bottom of the hill

Well, we rode it anyway! And we felt pretty great about doing so while also carrying everything we’ve needed to live for the last month. 💪

The hardest part of the ride was the (somewhat) flat before the up. Not knowing exactly what the climb would be like, all we could do is imagine the worst (no shade, 10+% grade for 60 miles) and try not to get our hopes up for the best. As soon as the climbing began, it was actually a relief. It was generally a gradual, winding uphill shaded by trees and cooled further by a nearby creek. 


We gained about 3500 feet in the first 25 miles of the ride, and then had a fun descent before another climb took us up to maximum elevation of about 6100 feet. 


It was beautiful at the top. We looked over a sea of green trees with mountain peaks in the background and felt pretty proud to have biked there. Nailed it!


A victorious descent took us the the bottom of yet another hill – the smaller, but somewhat steep final one before Joseph. It felt great to be on the downhill side eventually, coasting through farmland with a great view of the Wallowas. 


It also felt pretty great to be back in the Pacific Standard time zone. We gained an hour today, and it felt so nice and early to finish our ride at 4:30; the only remaining agenda items eating and sleeping. 



Speaking of eating… eating has never felt better. It was like an otherworldly experience to sit down and bite into something that didn’t come out of a wrapper. We dug into dinner at the Embers Brew House, and then moved at a snails pace eating ice cream cones while strolling around lovely Main Street. 

the wise man himself
downtown joseph

We camped at Wallowa Lake, where deer frolicked and a $5/person hiker/biker spot awaited us (something we missed a lot in other states, where we often paid the full RV rates and sometimes couldn’t even find a spot in a full campground). Again, it is so wonderful to be back in Oregon! 

Exhausted, we showered and were tucked in before 9pm. There is no better way to make a sleeping bag and inflatable pad feel like a luxurious plush bed than climbing 7,500 feet. 

how do you measure, measure a climb?

Numbers:

  • Miles today: 77
  • Total miles: 1,717
  • Elevation today: 7,500
  • Total elevation: 76,750
  • Ounces of liquid consumed: 286

Oregon!! Council to Oxbow

This day… exhausting to even think about. If the thought of pitching a tent in Oregon that night wasn’t propelling us forward, we might have just called it a day early. 

Things started out well enough; we were riding on part of the TransAm route so we saw several riders headed east, and met one who is almost done with his ride! Ben actually also met our friend William along the way, and also stayed with Bruce in Missoula. It seems like all touring cyclists have maybe one or two degrees of separation from each other. As far as we can tell, Bruce is the uniting force/hub 🙂

is it a mirage? no it’s our people!
Stopped for a snack in Cambridge, which was also the scene of the first of Sasha’s flat repairs this day. First of… FIVE. Yes, really. 

…i want to make it back to oregon
idaho, we still like you too

It was a hot day, and we powered through a sweaty climb to Brownlee summit before descending into Hell’s Canyon (scene of flat #2). 


To us, Hell’s Canyon may as well have been called Heaven’s Gate; there we took in the most beautiful view of our beloved Oregon across the Snake River. 


It was just us on the winding highway, and we stopped for a few quiet, awe-filled moments to take in the view and the feeling of nearing full circle. The ride down to the bridge was beautiful, curvy, and full of smiles. 

As was our triumphant return to Oregon!! And then… Sasha promptly found a thorn in her tire. Flat #3 made the return feel a little less triumphant, but we were still smiling. I mean, Oregon!

Smiles became a lot less apparent when flat #4 arrived just a few miles later. Keep in mind that changing a flat when touring is not just a simple flat change. It’s taking off the panniers, disassembling bungee cords to unload everything – then changing the flat (which involves a major arm workout due to the hand pump) – and then putting the whole setup back together again. And given the number of flats, we were out of spare tubes and had to wait for patches to set. Check out this completely candid and honest face… 

That pretty much sums it up. 

So, you can imagine our relief when we were rolling bikes onto the road again, excited to set up camp just 12 miles down the road. But… flat #5 arrived before even hopping back on the bikes. YES REALLY. 


It was a laugh so you don’t cry situation. We laughed really really hard. And then changed the flat, exhausted and just so ready to be done with this day. A passerby who lent use of his air compressor shared that there are tons of thorns off the road. So, by pulling off to change flats, Sasha was just rolling onto more thorns. 

the culprit!

Armed with this knowledge, Sasha stayed well within the safety of the road as we lugged our bodies to Copperfield campground in Oxbow. 

What a relief to finally arrive and finish this ridiculous day. And, what a comfort to lay our heads down in Oregon. After all, we are on our way to the rose city, and every rose has its thorns… we just found them early.

Numbers: 

  • Miles today: 68
  • Total miles: 1,640
  • Elevation today: 3,350
  • Total elevation: 69,250