Day 43: Redmond to Springfield OR: 110 miles with 2700 feet of climbing
I guess I wanted to prove that I could do a hard day's ride after being sick for several days, but initially I didn't think I had much choice. The only routing options available to me involved 100 mile days and climbing a pass or two in the Cascades. As it turned out, I could have stopped a pleasant looking motel between McKenzie Bridge and Blue River and cut this long day into two parts. That was too soon to stop today!
I left Redmond about 7:45 A.M. this morning after a really disturbing experience with my new Topeak Mountain Morph pump. I decided my front tire could use a little more pressure, so I leaned my bike against a fence in an empty parking lot, rotated the wheel to bring the valve to the bottom, got out my pump, hooked it up and pumped about 20 strokes. The metal barrel of the pump, which screws into the plastic base, came out of the base leaving most of the threaded section in the base with a spiral of metal connecting the barrel to that section. Hmm! I think the metal was too thin or the treads were cut too deep, or both. In Topeak's effort to save weight - the mountain morph weighs about half as much as a combo master blaster - they created a very fragile pump. Either that or their quality control stinks. I'm not happy about having two Topeak pumps fail on this tour! I was lucky that both failures happened at non critical times, but the thought of getting stuck out in the desert because of pump failure really upsets me. Now I have to carry a backup pump? I've never needed to use a pump as much as on this tour, where I tried using a Panaracer Pasela TG tire on the front. It is definitely not in the same class as a Conti TT and, although I like the feel of a Pasela, I won't be touring with one again. They do make a good folding spare tire, but they definitely aren't up to the demands of extended touring.
Well, I had enough pressure in the tire, so I headed out 126 for Sisters. I knew, from conversations with the ACA riders, that Sisters had a bike shop and I was planning to stop there for a second - the first was in my room - breakfast any way. Riding out of town, I could see Mt Washington's distinctive shape sticking up to the right of 126. The ride to Sisters is mostly flat with one good valley to descend into and climb out of in the middle. Only a few hundred feet of climbing and a good shoulder with light traffic, increasing a lot as I neared Sisters, made for easy riding. Great views of the Three Sisters, as well as the other mountains in this part of the Cascades, made me eager to ride west.
Sisters itself was a bit of a zoo with lots of traffic and tourists - the non bicycle kind - everywhere. I stopped at a restaurant for breakfast (pancakes!) and asked about the bike shop. It was only a block away on the street one block south of 126. It is not really a bike shop, but more of a sports shop with some bike stuff. They had five kinds of pumps: Road Morps, a Topeak Mountain bike pump - not the morp , a nice looking road frame pump - but not in a size that fit my frame, and two kinds of inexpensive MTB pumps. I bought one of those - a Chubbie. It is little, it is light, it works - and I really work up a sweat using it, and I can carry it in my handlebar bag as a backup pump. For $12 it will get me through the rest of this tour! Then I'll warranty the Mountain Morph and hope the problem was due to quality control.
As I rode away from the bike shop I head the sound of a huge, highly tuned car engine, with an, almost, open exhaust. Looking ahead I spotted a 427 Cobra! Those are beautiful, very expensive, and very rare, cars. I know this is a bicycle tour report, but that car is really a thing of beauty and, since it parked in the next block I spoke to the owner and took a picture, which, of course, doesn't begin to do it justice.
Getting over Cobra envy, I headed west for McKenzie pass. I had two options: McKenzie or Santiam passes. McKenzie is higher, narrower, more curvy, and has far less traffic, so it the better choice for bicycling. It was really nice bicycling, although climbing nearly 2500 feet in about ten miles means it has some steep parts, mostly it seemed to be a 3 or 4 % grade. More importantly, it varies in grade and this makes it more enjoyable than a pass like Ochoco which climbs at a nearly constant grade for about the same vertical distance. There is no shoulder on most of this pass and the road is quite narrow, so large vehicles are banned.
I was passed by two idiots in very large Recreation Vehicles that were probably 35 feet long. They were also as wide as the lane so I just got off the road to let them by. The first was rented. Just what a bicyclist likes to see on a narrow mountain road: a too large vehicle driven by someone unskilled at driving it and who has no better sense than to drive it where it doesn't belong. Since there were only two of them in the two hours it took me to climb this pass, it wasn't a big deal.
Mt Washington with lava field in the foreground
Going through the lava field near the top of the pass
The Sisters from the top of the pass
For quite a while near the top, the road runs alongside a lava field produced by the last eruption of Mt Washington some 1300 years ago. Just before and after the pass, the road runs through this lava field. After the lava field, the road heads gently down for a while and then more steeply down for the next fifteen miles.
I was very appreciative of my Koolstop brake pads - thanks Sheldon and Harris Cyclery - as their extra stopping power made braking on this long twisting downhill much easier on my hands. The road loses more than 3000 feet in fifteen miles or so. Then, when the route gets back on 126, it drops another 2000 feet in the next 50 miles. It would be a hard ride to do in one day going east.
The road over McKenzie pass ends at the McKenzie river where it Ts into 126. 126 follows the river down to Springfield, about 50 mile away. This would have been an easy ride except for the headwind - Oregon going west in summer = headwinds! - and the traffic. Most of the time there is a very good shoulder, but, even with that, the traffic was heavy enough to be tiring. Some of the time there is just an adequate shoulder, and this is, unfortunately, in the last twenty miles or so where the traffic, and especially the truck traffic, is worst. A little bit of the time there is no usable shoulder: one bridge and a few dozen short sections of the road near the end. These were very stressful riding. Riding into Springfield improved things, but then I had to content with a teenage idiot who had his girlfriend roll down the window so he could stretch over the middle of the car in order to yell something cute at me. I couldn't understand what he said, but I was kind of annoyed by the fact that he swerved over at me, I think because he was leaning to yell out the window, in the process. I also had one horn blower and a very aggressive city bus driver who passed me multiple times as he stopped to pick up passengers, several of them with bikes. He (or she) even started to pass me just as we were reaching a bus stop with waiting passengers. Fortunately the bus backed off on that one. I was tired and it wasn't fun. In fact it was very focused hard riding with some really nasty bits that I would hesitate to do again. So much for Oregon as a cycling paradise.
I stopped to snack once on the way up McKenzie Pass, once on the way down, and once at a boat launch site near Nimrod - beautiful. I stopped to eat at The Log House in McKenzie Bridge (good, expensive) and at the Vida Cafe (not as good, expensive). There were no services from Sisters to McKenzie Bridge - forty miles with McKenzie Pass roughly in the middle - and country stores pretty regularly after that. Lots of National Forest campgrounds between Sisters McKenzie Bridge and a few RV parks and such after that. Pretty riding