Apple Pie in the Desert
566km Lakeview to Pendleton
“Please let them have ice cream,” thought Friedel. “And a shower.”
“Something cold,” said Andrew. “Anything.”
We never knew Oregon had a desert but we know it now. A small forest of pine trees on the outskirts of Lakeview quickly gives way to one of those classic, desolate roads, where you can see for miles and yet see nothing. Nothing other than scrubland and rugged rocks and an endless ribbon of asphalt stretching to the horizon.
To be fair, there was a lake. But Lake Abert is an alkaline lake so there’s no swimming here, just a healthy supply of brine shrimp to feed the migrating birds that flock here for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. After a few kilometers, even the lake ran out and its salt-encrusted shores gave way instead to sand dunes and stunted little bushes that would barely give shade to an ant, let alone two cyclists.
So all day we’d been pushing through the heat and the hot breezes blowing across the landscape with one goal in mind: Wagontire. “They just re-opened that place,” the lady in the Lakeview tourist bureau had said. “You can get water there. And there’s a restaurant.”
We couldn’t imagine cycling this road without something at Wagontire. As it was, we were already covering over 100km with no services in constant sunshine and temperatures pushing 100°F. What is this place like in August?
As we rolled our bikes up the driveway (directly across from the Wagontire International Airport), we spotted a fridge. A good indication. We stepped inside to a warm welcome and instantly fixed our eyes on one sign: Apple pie à la mode. Never have two slices of apple pie, topped by vanilla ice cream and accompanied by two glasses of ice water been so welcomed. We devoured them and then sat back to admire each other’s greasy hair and dust-encrusted faces.
“Any chance of a shower if we tent here for the night?” we asked. Soon the modest sum of $10 had us set up by a stand of trees, with access to a shower in one of their motel rooms. Money well spent and a small contribution to one family’s efforts to make a go of it in a harsh environment.
Night fell. A thunderstorm rolled in and the winds picked up, whipping dust and grit into the supper we were trying to cook. This was a wild land and we didn’t envy the ranchers who’d been out here for decades raising cattle.
Howling coyotes woke us in the morning, a haunting sound as we set out on the remaining kilometers to Burns, the biggest town around for some distance. Now we were edging out of the desert and flying past greener, irrigated fields but Burns and the whole area around it had a different problem: employment.
As we learned from our host Scott (another amazing WarmShowers member, who loaded us up with his Costco favourites for snacking before we left) and many other people we spoke to over the coming days, the whole area used to be built on lumber but now most of the mills had closed, leaving behind a series of worn villages and towns.
We reflected on this as we pushed over another endless run of mountain passes and towards Pendleton, particularly in Long Creek, where the gas station, grocery store and cafe all sat abandoned.
“They all closed in the last 6 months,” said the woman at the post office. “It’s devastating for the town.”
Someone down the road had a different view.
“Did she also tell you that there are 7 marijuana growing operations in that town?” said the older gentleman with a smile, going on to tell us how the State of Oregon allows marijuana to be grown for medical purposes, although he clearly had his doubts about where most of the drugs grown in Long Creek were going and was concerned about the crime it brought to the area.
A little further down the road and a mountain pass later we came to Dale, marked only by a general store but one that looked interesting enough for us to screech to a halt. As we were picking out candy bars for energy ahead (that’s one Idaho Spud please and one Baby Ruth) we got chatting to the owner Butch and his wife Charlene, who were intrigued by our trip.
We were more interested by their story, their own 3 years of adventure as they put it, leaving the big city of Portland for life out here in hunting country. Over a cup of coffee they told us stories about the wildlife “Do you have a gun,” they asked? “Because we don’t go to the hot tub out back of our house without one. For the cougars.”
Butch also told us about his hunting exploits and how just 2 weeks previously the road we were finding so warm and sunny was pummeled by a blizzard.
Waving goodbye over an hour later, we slipped downhill through a gorge, now watching for cougars on the ridge, and alongside a river that gushed and bubbled with cold, springtime water.
We crossed the 45th Parallel and turned our heads towards home, Nova Scotia, on the same latitude and then continued pushing on, emerging from the trees and back out into the sweltering plains, not unlike those around Wagontire, that led us downhill into Pendleton, our last stop in Oregon.
By the supermarket, Andrew debated whether he’d be better at Barrel Racing or Steer Wrestling, two of the activities advertised at the famous Pendleton Rodeo, but decided to stick to Bike Touring instead. We also passed up the offer of a new cowboy hat and set of chaps from the shops downtown and instead turned our bikes towards Washington, the next state on our ride to Edmonton.