9/6/19 – Day 3 – Arlington to Ukiah, OR
I started the day’s ride on Baseline Road which took me due east toward a series of tiny Oregon towns off the beaten highway. I went into Heppner visiting the farmers market. One of the vendors was very curious about Sunride.
“Where you headed in that thing?” he asked.
When I told him he recommended I go up over the pass at Willow Creek, but advised me to be watching for bear and cougars.
“I see them crossing the road sometimes. I even saw a cougar here in town walking right down the street. There are a lot of big cats up in those hills. They like to attack from behind. I’m not trying to scare you or anything, but just be on the lookout.”
I had a hearty late breakfast at the Cornerstone Café where a group of motorcyclists were also dining. They advised me of the best route and scenery through the mountains. Bears and cats didn’t concern them. These were tough guys, all leathered up, plus they could easily outrun the fastest cat on their Harleys. I asked the proprietor if I could get a sandwich to go that could be packaged in ice. He left for a minute and came back with a suitable container and a zip lock baggie for ice. There was no extra charge for the needed implements and the time to acquire them. It was just a kind person doing something nice for a total stranger he would probably never see again. This is the soul of America, and it is very much intact.
I began my climb up and out of town. As I got higher in elevation pine trees crowded the highway. An excellent place for an ambush by a cougar I thought. I rang the bell on my bike to scare away predators. I knew that helped with bears but what if I were signaling the far less shy cougars that lunch was being delivered? What if the young ones were thinking, “Here comes the ice cream man?”
I kept looking into my mirrors to see if a cougar was running up from behind. I had my bear spray ready. The safety was off. My plan was to jump off the bike but keep it between me and the cougar. If the cougar ran up on the left, I’d jump off on the right. I would barricade behind Sunride and take my shot with the bear spray. I tested it back in town to see how far it would reach. I convinced myself not to be afraid; this would be no time to panic. I had to quickly and efficiently assume a defensive position. Like a warrior preparing for battle, I rehearsed my plan over and over in my brain. What if the cat leapt out of the bushes right now? At first sight I would jump off the moving bike that would quickly slow on the steep grade. In the front pouch of my sweatshirt I would grab the spray and fire. What if I had no warning? What if I my first knowledge of the attack was in mid-attack? I would ball up, tuck my chin and reach for the spray. I figured out how to pull the trigger with my eyes closed so if the cougar’s teeth were in the back of my neck only the cat would be blinded. A strong tension accompanied me all the way up the mountain. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tightened. My batteries were getting low and my peddling was not token but forceful, no doubt dissipating some of the tension.
Finally I reached the top of the mountain nearly a mile in the ski. I saw a group of hunters parked with their travel trailer just off the road. I made my way to their campsite and asked them if they knew where I could plug in. It was late afternoon. The sun was low and the road completely shadowed. I would get no help from the sun if I continued. There was no electricity in camp but they offered their generator. They turned it on and showed me how to turn it off and close up when I was done. They were eager to go hunt. Relieved, I sat on one of their folding chairs and took out my sandwich. I positioned the chair in the middle of the long side of the trailer so if a bear came around from either side I would have time to react. The bear spray canister was cocked and ready at my side. I realized what a fool I’d been to pack a sandwich up the hill. A bear would have smelled me, and my sandwich, long before she heard my bell. At any rate, it was I who gobbled down the sandwich while my battery was being charged by the kind hunters’ generator.
Some other hunters from across the lot called me to come over and show them the bike. There were five of them, tough looking hombres in camouflage. Even their faces were painted to match their outfits. Here I was in my long biking tights looking like an out-of-place city pansy compared to these self-described killers.
“We’re up here to kill deer and elk but we’d kill a bear or cougar if we saw one.”
I was comforted they hadn’t seen one; and, as it turned out, neither did I.
I charged for about an hour, gaining about 100 watt-hours of energy for my battery. Even though I continued down hill there were plenty of ups and downs along the way. The ups required energy. Finally I broke out of the trees into the clear. The sun’s rays were coming at a low angle and through much atmosphere. Still with the ambient light I was getting 42 watts of charge and a few bars of energy from coasting down hill. I arrived just before sunset, acquired a camping spot, then walked to The Thicket Tavern where I had a big dinner and listened to Vietnam tales from big Mike sitting just around the corner from me at the bar. Tears came to his eyes as he told of how he was stranded 337 miles up the Mekong River in a boat in a hot zone until helicopters came and rescued him and his company. I was on that river, but not in the 1960s as a soldier, as an American pilgrim trying to make sense of that strange war. The Mekong is a gorgeous, wide, swift river forcefully moving to the sea. It’s good to hear Vietnam veterans talk about their experience. So many won’t. My new friend big Mike and my old friend Angus are the exceptions.
I always think of my sage friend Jack Lang’s statement that Vietnam was a contrived war (contrived mainly by LBJ in my review of that period of history) and that no Commander-in-Chief should ever put our troops in harm’s way for any purpose other than to defend our country against direct attack. I think by now everyone believes the sacrifice of 58,000 soldiers and 2 million Vietnamese (mostly civilians), together with the even greater ongoing physical and emotional suffering of that war, was a terrible mistake. If anyone has any doubts read In Retrospect by Robert McNamara.
Walking back to the campground I saw doe darting all about me. I slept in the open air under the stars that stretched in all directions to the domed horizon. I thought of America, this special place, so beautiful, so good. I fell asleep in perfect peace.
I awoke well before dawn to a wet sleeping bag. The stars were still bright but the dew was falling with a vengeance. Even the plastic chair I was provided had a pool of water in the seat. The expression, “There’s always something” holds true, even down to the morning dew. However, just as true as “there’s always something” to mess things up, there’s always something to make things better. God is good; good is sovereign in the universe; and somehow all things work together for good.