9/7/19 – Day 4 – Ukiah to LaGrande, OR
After Ukiah, I took another scenic ride toward La Grande. I met Ethan a bow hunter on the road who told me of a group of elk cows up ahead. I looked for them but the only cows I saw were black Angus.
Feeling safely out of bear and cougar country, I enjoyed the scenery, the smell of sage and pine, on a road with so few cars I often found myself riding in the center of my lane instead of on the shoulder. As I approached La Grande I entered a rest stop. A tent camper across from the restroom came over to learn about the bike. He told me he was homeless at the moment, unemployed but thinking about going to North Dakota where one of his Iraq War buddies had a business bringing water to the fracking crews.
“He’s making $4,000 a week and told me if I can get out there he’ll put me to work. I can do most anything,” the 40-year-old confided.
After listening to more of his story, how he lost his children because he was homeless, with one bad event after another finally I asked.
“What’s your name soldier?”
“Mike,” he answered.
“I hope life gets better for you. You’ve served your country and you deserve better.”
I’m always torn about giving money to the needy. Once in downtown Portland I gave a woman $20 to catch the bus to Eugene. Afterwards, guys in the sporting goods store I entered asked if she had “gotten me” with-the-bus-fare-to-Eugene story. I instantly realized I had been had. Maybe I should have given Mike a little money. $5 or even $20 wouldn’t have gotten him much closer to North Dakota and I wasn’t sure I wanted to contribute to the fracking enterprise.
On the freeway going into La Grande I was greeted by strong head winds. I ran over an iron hay bail hook that flipped up and caught my big toe. I wasn’t injured but that mean-looking piece of steel could have really hurt me or my bike.
Fortunately it wasn’t much further into town. I checked into the first place I came to: the Rodeway Inn at the west end of town. I ordered a nice Thai dinner to go while I watched college football in my room. I must have been quite tired from my adventures, climbing steep hills, worrying about bears and cougars, and having to travel at times on the freeway with glass and other obstacles. I fell asleep mid-way through the Stanford/USC game.
I awoke after 10 hours of sound sleep. I heard the rain pouring outside. I opened the door and sure enough it was raining hard. I decided not to go to First Presbyterian Church for the 9:30 service I had planned the night before. Instead at 9:30 I would read the Gideon Bible in my room for an hour. As I opened it up, a Four Spiritual Laws booklet from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association fell out of the pages. I remember the first time I saw them, 40 years ago, in Kansas City when my VW camper van broke down and needed a new engine. My family that included two-year-old Jonathan and newborn Jenny Mae were stranded and in peril until a saving mechanic offered us the Four Spiritual Laws to read while he replaced the engine. We were on our way from Oregon to Tennessee. We never made it. We used up our money and had to head back. The booklet brought a smile to my face. I read it through and fell asleep again. I awoke at 10:30 just like at church at home.
The Rodeway Inn offered a nice free breakfast. I had two bowls of Raisin Bran, orange juice, yogurt, a banana, apple, bagel and cream cheese. I was eating like a horse on this trip yet my tummy was getting tauter. Maybe all those hills were doing me some good. Some of the food I took for later, which turned out to be a good thing. The host at the Inn gave me an extra hour to wait out the rain before check out. I departed just after noon, a full 24 hours after I had arrived. I was rested and eager to ride again. The skies cleared and I was off to Baker City and beyond.
I rode through Baker on Main Street where I had once consigned my book FOOTPRINT: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Extinctionto a bookstore there. Two years later it was still on the shelf. I wondered if it had ever sold. I wouldn’t find out this day, it was Sunday and most of the town was closed. Barley Brown’s, the tavern, was open, but not for me. I had miles to go before I sleep.
I made my goal to reach Huntington 44 miles ahead. That would be a good place to get to in order to arrive in Boise the following day. As I rode the not so heavily traveled freeway I could see parallel tracks in the grass along side the road. These had to be the old Oregon Trail where tens of thousands covered wagons brought more than 300,000 settlers west. The first time I came that way as a 23 year old Coke “spy” I had this wonderful feeling I had been there on the Oregon Trail before. From Platte, Nebraska to Portland, Oregon it seemed like I was coming home. I reached Portland during Rose Festival when the drawbridges came up to let the big ships into the downtown docks of the city. I fell in love with Portland – if one can fall in love with a place. It would become my home for the rest of my life.
Now, going in the opposite direction I was retracing my steps. I was moving at an average speed of 19.5 miles per hour, five times faster than the covered wagons would have moved. I would travel 87 miles that day, four or five times as far as the early settlers, many of whom walked alongside their wagons. Imagine walking from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon, drawn on by the hope of a new life. I was gliding along almost effortlessly powered by sunshine and a gentle tail wind. My only complaint was a tired bottom and a growling stomach, the latter of which I satisfied with the bagel I’d brought from the hotel breakfast.
When I got to the Huntington exit it was nearly dark. It was another two miles into town. On the outskirts a yard full of dogs barked frantically at Sunride and me as we passed. A young woman came out into the yard to see what all the commotion was about. I told her I needed to find a place to camp and plug in my bike. She gave me detailed instructions that turned out to be exactly as she said. I reflected on how thoughtful and helpful people had been along the way; and on the few occasions I had plugged in, everyone refused to accept payment for the energy. Even though the energy amounted to just pennies (4 cents in The Dalles, 6 cents in Ukiah), they didn’t know that. The generous spirit shown along the way was Biblical. I was meeting Good Samaritans everywhere I went.