At times today, I’ve never been filled with more strain, awe, and terror. We bid adieu to the Columbia River, who’s unparalleled vistas and ample winds guided & pushed us over 200 miles. We took our leave of the sight & surface of the state of Washington. We faced our first real mountains as we turned Southeast towards Idaho.
From Hermiston, the first 33 miles took us to Pendleton, a small town facing some hard times in the deserts of Oregon. The bike shop we aimed towards turned out to be closed for good. “Just another closed storefront on Main Street,” according to the man at Zimmerman & Co. TrueValue next-door.
Across the street, Main Street Diner remained open, and we fueled up for the 4,000 foot climb over Cabbage Hill & Dead Man’s Pass on our 60 mile way to La Grande. Later in the day, we were told that a cup of coffee before a long ride lessens the pain on your legs when you’re done. This may or may not be true. My legs are still killing me, but maybe a little bit less than they would’ve if I hadn’t had that cup of coffee refilled four times. Or maybe a little bit less than they would’ve if I hadn’t had that Advil & Arnica at the same time.

The route to Dead Man’s pass snakes through expansive farmland parallel to route 84. Our road switched back on itself over and over and over and was less steep than the interstate. In a few hours, maybe three or four cars passed us. It was a few hours that was the first test of our endurance. Horses, bemused by our presence, ran with us to the right. The blue sky’s dotted clouds illuminated the expansive landscape. At Dead Man’s Pass, we were excited to see our first patch of residual snow. This proved we were high up! We had accomplished something!

Our cheer at our achievement grew, in spite of the day’s hours winding down and the great distance still ahead. It was still 30 miles to La Grande, and it was 4pm. It was cold up here, and we crossed our fingers, hoping that the rest of the way was downhill. Our cheer soon began to wane as that small patch of snow turned into several, and those several turned into a full covering, several feet deep. An hour passed. We had declined some, but we had also climbed. We weren’t getting very far. Not only was the snow everywhere around us on the ground, but it was coming at us from the sky. Yesterday it was 85 degrees and today we were getting snowed on. It was getting colder. The prospect of having to camp on top of that mountain had me terrified. La Grande was still 25 miles away, but we knew it was mostly going to be downhill, and 25 miles was close enough to get us off that mountain. Another home was waiting for us down there.

The mountain began to point downward for good. The snow abated, then kicked up again, stronger. WIth the sun low in the sky and the clouds keeping us from even that light, I wore my sunglasses to keep the stinging flakes from my eyes. The road, slicked from the snowfall, curved and descended until forcing us back on the freeway. For 12 miles down the mountain, there was no other way to get to La Grande. It was gorgeous, compared to the other side of Cabbage Hill. Pine forests and the Grande Ronde River to our side. We watched the Grande Ronde grow from a brambling stream to a raging river at the bottom. On a 5% grade down 1-84 in the snow, ducked down into our handlebars to maximize our speed, we almost passed oversize-loaded 18-wheelers in the snow. It was frightening, freezing, and exhilerating all at the same time. I only wish I had had the time to appreciate the scenery. But my main objective was getting inside.