22nd February 2017

Cycling the Trans America Trail with Martin: Part 2

martinMartin is a Bicycle Co-op fan and intrepid cyclist who cycled over 3,100 miles from the west coast of America to the east using the Trans America Trail and his trusty bicycle named ‘Lewis & Clark’. He shares the second part of his 70-day journey here. Check out the other parts here.

Day 11

You meet the nicest people

Ochoco Lake – Mitchell Cycled 40 miles Ochoco Lake RV Site 3

After a very cold night I was up early, banana for breakfast, packed and on the road for 8ish. There was a long climb up to Ochoco Pass (4722 feet) through state forests, nearing the top as the heat was rising, and a nice downhill through high dessert landscape before arriving in Mitchell at midday.

1I stopped for coffee at the edge of town and the guy mentioned a new hostel in the church that had just opened for business. It sounded exactly what I wanted so I cycled down and had the most friendly hospitality I’ve had anywhere on my travels. Pat & Jalet recently took over the running of the church and have been working to make it into a hostel for cyclists and fellow travellers Pat immediately invited me in, introduced me to a crowd of friends who had just had a morning service, with guest singers. Before sitting down to eat amazing pancakes with them Pat took me to his house so I could shower and change.

2After brunch a great family took me out to the Painted Hills to show me one of the highlights of Oregon, they were pretty spectacular and the family were so cool, sleeping under the stars when they holiday round the country. After getting back and chilling I was invited to a great dinner with them and carb loaded on ice cream and every sauce available. And tonight I have a comfy bed in a warm church, with Wi-Fi!

I’m glad I was lucky enough to visit this fabulous hostel at the beginning of what will be a huge success. They are both the nicest and most generous people I’ve met so far on my travels and made today the highlight of my trip so far, one I’ll always remember.

Day 12

Rattlesnake Creek!

Mitchell – Dayville Cycled 38 miles

Mitchell Church Hostel 5

After a hearty breakfast made by Pam’s partner, Chuck, I headed off to climb Keyes Creek Summit (4382 feet) on a cool sunny morning. I got to the top slowly and looked back down at Mitchell thinking I should have stayed another day and offered my help to get the hostel ready, by way of thanks for their kindness and generosity. But I was at the top of the summit and obviously not as nice as the people I’d left behind.

3At one of my social psychology classes a few years ago we had discussed whether kindness/niceness was nurture or nature and how much better the world would be if each person did something nice for someone else each day, soon becoming a natural thing to do. I tried it for a few days, mainly telling my work colleague (Janette) how nice her hair was but even that soon ended!

A number of people I spoke to yesterday said Pat was the nicest person they’d ever met, I should have asked him his secret but I think he was maybe just born nice, a bit like my mum. I’m planning on trying harder in the future!

Pat’s son, also very nice had concluded that a happy life involved either being in a location you like or doing something you like e.g. an interesting job. I worked out myself a few years ago that being happy would involve 3 things in priority order, 1 being with a person or people you get on with, 2 being in a location that makes you safe and happy and 3 doing something that interests you e.g. a job, hobby or activity. Having all 3 would bring contentment for your heart, soul and mind. Not sure if I know anyone who has that but it’s worth striving for.

After the summit it was downhill most of the way, passing the picturesque Picture Gorge and the frightening Rattlesnake Creek, I had been warned about rattlesnakes in this area!

I was planning to cycle a bit further today but the temptation of another night in a church hostel was too much and I stopped in Dayville, the church has been accommodating cyclists since the Trans Am started in the 70s and has amazing comments books going back in time.

The local store owner also does bike maintenance so I took L&C in for professional TLC, within 5 mins he had fixed my rubbing front wheel, readjusted my gears, lubbed important bits I’d missed, pumped up the tyres and charged me $10. Possibly the best $10 I’ve spent so far.

After a fish and chips lunch in the nice cafe I went down to the river with a couple of cool beers and sat in the sun reading about routes and the road ahead. I think I have the church to myself tonight…apart from god obv.


Day 13

Cycling on the verge

Dayville – Prairie City Cycled 43 Miles Dayville Church 3

Not the best sleep on the church floor last night, when Rose showed me round I was impressed by the fully fitted and stocked kitchen, the shower and the laundry room and was looking for the beds when she said I could sleep anywhere on the floor, on the tables but not on the pews! And although they don’t lock any doors round here she did let slip that a bike was stolen from the hostel last week!!! Although with the help of the Mayor and a couple of locals they tracked down the culprit and brought him and the bike back to town. Not what I wanted to hear as I was on the road to disaster recovery.5

I was awake at 5 in the morning, made pancakes (put water in mixture) with banana and maple syrup and after faffing a bit I was on the road just after 7, made good time through the lovely town of Mount Vernon scooted past Murderers Creek and followed the John Day river to…John Day, where I had a pot of beef chilli for brunch sitting at the “Welcome to” sign watching the cars go past, not the prettiest town. I was in my stopover town, the smaller Prairie City, chilling before 3 summits to climb tomorrow and into Baker City.

The road across was great but cyclists have to cycle on the verge of the road where the road is a bit rougher and glass and other debris are swept onto. So a lot of the time I’m looking down checking on the state of the verge rather than taking in the fabulous scenery. It’s great that there is a verge but they should look after it like they do their precious highways.

Met some nice people along the way, an old couple of guys who asked me where I was going then preceded to talk to themselves about the mileage from John Day to every town in America!

A cool lady called Christine who works for the Forest Service, loves her job and told me about the forest fire problems in the area, its hotting up!
Then there was Libby in the hardware store, who was bright and breezy, still young!

The campsite is OK, has a bit of a rail museum going on and has fabulous views of Strawberry Mountain. An early night in preparation for an early start up the mountains!

7Day 14

Every incline is a mountain

Prairie City – Baker City

Cycled 72 miles…and 3 summits Prairie City RV site 2

Awake at 5 and out on the road by 6, I’d heard it was going to be hot so wanted to get up the mountains before it did, managed up Dixie Pass (5277ft) and then down and up again to Tipton Pass (5124ft) but by the time I was nearing Sumpter Pass (5082ft) it was gone 11 and getting hot. I made it up and over but it was hard work, long stretches of inclines, it gets to the stage that any incline becomes a mountain to climb with the extra weight on the back and the heat. It was a glorious cycle though, through dense woodland with evidence of the recent forest fires, then cattle and horse ranches on the lower ground and eventually downhill and following the river into Baker City.

There were no services along the way. Just a quiet road with logging trucks every so often. Needing water I popped into the large campsite at Phillips Lake and was delighted to find a wee cafe shack by the water, Steve gave me a free coffee and a tasty burrito and a cool drink and I sat and chatted to him for an hour or so. He had been a logging driver, driving through 48 states but not seeing much, he drove past the Grand Canyon, the Niagara Falls etc. but didn’t stop to have a look, he was too determined to get to his destination. We chatted about families and the fact that his parents had divorced which meant the large family of grandkids didn’t get together anymore. As with most American men he got round to hunting and said he had 2 close encounters with Big Foot, he didn’t actually see it but he said he’d never forget the distinct smell, I thought of the running top I’d thrown away a few days ago.

8He said Idaho would be the best place I’d see on my travels but that the mountains there made the 3 summits I’d just struggled up look insignificant …cheers. As I was about to leave he gave me a book to read called The Shack, which he said explained everything! Unfortunately I didn’t have anything to give him so lost out on the nice person thing again! Maybe tomorrow.

Tonight I’ve been lucky enough to have a Warm Showers (couch surfing for cyclists) with a great couple called Will and Julie, I’m hoping to stay another night in their lovely house, visit some sights in Baker City and not cycle!

Day 15

Historical Baker City

Cycled 0 miles

Warm Shower (Will & Julie Baker City) 5

A great nights sleep in a warm comfy bed, heaven. Then Julie made me a proper big American breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes with maple syrup, with dam fine coffee of course.

Had a long chat with Will over breakfast, he’s a retired drug & alcohol dependency counsellor, now a volunteer with the food bank in town. He’s obviously well informed about America’s problems and the current opiates issues. He has a socially caring view of the world and does his bit to improve things, help people and is generally a very nice guy. Leaning more towards the Bernie Sanders political ideas he fears for the election in November and is dusting his passport down in case he needs to get out.9

I went into Baker City for some art and culture, met Myrna at the museum who gave me a brief history of Baker City in the gold mining days and the recent changes, its become quite a cool small town with nice bars and great art places. Myrna said the homeless need to be homed as a starting point to the current escalating problems, then start helping them with work, addictions etc. But the government won’t pay for it!

My next stop, after the dollar shop was an artists cooperative on the main street where I met Tom, an ex vet from Vietnam days who, as a result of agent Orange, went through cancer about 3 years ago. He’s fine now and was very philosophical about how art has improved his life and made him really look at things and become one with them when he paints. He thought I was doing something similar with my cycle trip, getting closer to nature and actually seeing it, not just driving past, we agreed that getting rid of cars would be a good start to improving the world…as long as he could keep his sports car 🙂

I then popped into the Carnegie Arts Centre, explained to them that my friend Robert was his neighbour and chatted to a woman called Ginger who had just come back from a 2 week tour of Scotland, in the sun!!

Stopped off at the Bank to see one of the largest gold nuggets, found in 1913 weighing in at 80.4oz. Then a quick pint in Barley Browns, National IPA Champions 2013!

Pizza dinner planned tonight then I’m heading to Halfway tomorrow, the town not my distance covered!

10Day 16

On Days Like This

Baker City – Halfway

Cycled 58 miles

Warm Shower (Will & Julie Baker City) 5

A wonderful day of cycling! Up earlyish at 6, had coffee and v fresh strawberries for breakfast saying goodbye to my great host Julie who had crochet me a cool wee cross to keep me safe on my travels, Will was still snoozing when I left at 7.

I think L&C appreciated the days rest as much as me and we flew out of Baker City, a wonderful cycle with the snow capped Blue Mountains on my left and the Powder river on my right, mainly flat after the climb out of Baker and a glorious sunny day. The smell of wild sage in the air, not my favourite herb but better than sweaty Scotsman! Its days like this that I dreamt about when I was planning my trip, I feel happiest and most content with the world when I’m cycling through beautiful countryside with the sun shinning, whether up and down the coast out of Edinburgh, the rolling hills in Gascony or here.

Made good time to Richland, had a cool drink and a sandwich and 3 trans amers rolled into town behind me, 2 of them have been following me for the last 2 weeks and one just joined them yesterday, they’re going about halfway so I’m sure I’ll see them again. I left them drinking beer while I tackled the steep climb out of Richland, 7% gradient for 3 miles up 3684 feet, in the hot sun! Hard work but I was thankful I hadn’t stayed and drank beer before tackling it.

Got to Halfway and a friendly local called Wix showed me how to get to Inga’s house, a ranch with horses, cattle, a swimming pool and amazing views of the mountains, does life get any better, well yes, Inga’s friend George an ex pro cyclist on the European tour turned up with a crate of wines! And I get to sleep in a flat above the horse stables with views of the mountains…..maybe I’m dreaming?


Day 17

Moving through time

Halfway – Cambridge

Cycled 59 miles

Warm Shower (Inga Halfway) 4

Had a nice night sitting out drinking wine with Inga Thompson (ex pro cyclist) George Mount (first American to do the European tour incl) and their friend from Portland. They were a bit full on, competing for airtime and best stories but it was interesting to listen in. Its a shame I didn’t get more chance to chat with Inga as she seems a nice and interesting person, she now runs the ranch on her own, cattle and horses, its v cool, shabby chic with a great pool. I bailed out early to bed.13

Woke at 4 to the sunrise coming over the mountains and a horse peeing! Was out on the road by 5 to try and miss the hot weather forecast, 90+! It was a great morning, cool with no one else on the road, only some deer to say goodbye to before I left Halfway. Made good time but it was more rolling than yesterday and I stopped for breakfast in Brownlee before starting the big climb of the day (4131ft). A Norma lookalike served me beans on toast, not v Twin Peakish, but they were Brownlee Beans and dam fine.

The big climb was a long 8 mile slog up in the 90+ heat but easier than yesterday then I had a freewheel down into Cambridge, now into Idaho and I’d travelled through time by 1 hour.

I’d passed a couple of beautiful reservoirs where people were fishing and then past Snake river, not sure if it was named because it snaked or there were snakes in it, I didn’t check. My snake phobia eased a bit a few years ago when I stayed at a b&b in south England, on arrival the guy said he kept snakes but promised to keep them away from me only to pull out his huge python at breakfast (not a euphemism btw), things have been better since then but I’m still wary!

On arrival in Cambridge a couple of women doing a yard sale for the church told me I could camp in the water tower square for free and get a shower down at the laundrette, they were so friendly and keen to hear about my adventures, some listening American. There are a few things going on today and tonight in this small town (pop 328) incl a BBQ and bull rodeo that I’ll pop along to. I find the population thing interesting, every town has a sign saying the exact population but someone explained that they only change the signs every few years, not when a murder happens as in Twin Peaks! Seen a family of black Americans for the first time today, I presume that means Oregon has a predominantly white population, there have been lots of Mexicans, South Americans etc. but no black Americans or Indians! I presume that’ll change as I head across country.

14Day 18

Encounter with a bear

Cambridge – Riggins Cycled 89 miles Cambridge City Park 4

It was a good night in Cambridge last night, all you can eat BBQ for $8 before the rodeo, something to tick off the list, not great but a good people watching experience, the whole town was there and some cowboy hats but mainly baseball caps for the men and denim shorts for the women. Americans seem much more patriotic than the British and supportive of their troops abroad, even if they don’t agree with them being there.
I was woken at 430 by the sound of birds singing and a message on my phone! I was up at 5 and on the road again by 6, a nice cycle, bit windy, through rolling hills, bit like the Scottish lowlands. After a ‘big’ breakfast stop at 20 miles the cycle got more interesting, following the Small Salmon river through forest and mountains, it was getting hot but New Meadow didn’t look great so I carried onto Riggins, a bit of a long day in the sun but downhill most of the way, a few miles added trying to find a good campsite.

15My bear encounter came when I popped into a store on the highway to try and pick up a baseball cap, to protect me from the sun and to blend in! In there was a great guy called ‘Bear’ who was aptly named and we had a great chat about cycling and the troubles with America, he was a republican but is now a constitutionalist. He wants the government to get back to looking after Americans, not big business or immigrants. On leaving he wished me well and to be careful about real bears, one had been shot close by last week!

Probably try for a short day tomorrow as there’s a big climb ahead!

Day 19

Some like it hot!

Riggins – White Bird Cycled 35 miles

Big Eds RV Riggins 2

A quiet day planned after yesterday’s exertions, I was up at 6, breakfast by the river and faffing with my cracked tent pole, which with Will’s help the other day should be fixed. I was heading out to Wild Bird by 10 as the day was hotting up and passed a guy called Tom who said he was heading up the 8 mile pass after Wild Bird, I contemplated carrying on but the attraction of a cool bar with ice water won over. Its over 100
degrees today and the hill has no shade, and snakes, so I think I made the right decision. There were 4 great women in the bar (including Maggie) who were super friendly and told me I could camp in the square and have a shower at Larry’s for $5, deal!
I did a quick review of the trip so far, 840 miles cycled over 17 days, averaging just over 50 on cycling days, Tom was doing 70 per day but only has 70 days against my 88, so I think I’m doing OK and should pick up as the weeks go on, as long as it cools down, but I’m not going to complain about the heat…yet!


Day 20

Shinning Silver Dollar

White Bird – Syringa Cycled 63 miles White Bird Park 5

After an amazing night in White Bird meeting Mark (marktrailrocks.com), a real life explorer, and Mike in the Silver Dollar bar I headed out at 6ish to climb the White Bird summit. A great cycle, 10 miles up the old winding highway 95, the road to myself with only the sound of birds, crickets and the logging trucks wheezing up the new highway above.

As with the Mitchell church people I had another experience of the wonderful generosity and kindness of people. All the restaurants in White Bird were closed on a Monday so the locals rallied round, first delivering turkey sandwiches and chilli for dinner then in the morning at 530ish Bonnie delivered fresh coffee and bacon & egg sandwiches to our tents. I’ve never experienced this kind of generosity to strangers before, is it an American thing?


From the top of White Bird summit it was 6 miles down to Grangeville and a stop at the vintage cool Cream Cafe, their own brewed coffee, by Wade, and a home baked strawberry and rhubarb muffin served with a smile by Treana and Holly. Not retro 50s Twin Peaks but the best coffee I’ve tasted and dam fine muffins.
Talking of Twin Peaks, the cop from Newport (Sam Clarke) where I got my phone stolen, responded to my email to say he had checked lost and found and my phone hadn’t turned up! He’s not going to be joining Coop at the FBI anytime soon! Coincidentally I received a text from an unknown number which just said ‘Newport?’. I forwarded onto Agent Clarke but wondered if I should respond to the text?

After Grangeville I followed the Clearwater river to Syringa, a lovely cycle along some of the original Lewis & Clark trail, I’m not sure if my own L&C was aware, he just moved on purposefully like his namesake’s did in 1805.
As I was coming out the shower at the nice cafe campsite at Syringa I met Evan a Trans Am racer, cycling over 200 miles a day to get across country in around 20 days, all don’t make it but Evan was looking good and smiled for a pic, much respect!


Check out the Best Cycling Routes in Ireland: An Infographic

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