Cycle Oregon XIX

Sept. 9-16, 2006

Day One – September 10 – Umatilla (Lake Wallula) to Heppner (59 miles)  Map

Ease into your week-long adventure with a relatively flat morning, leaving the majestic river and rolling out through some of the richest agricultural land in the Northwest. Cross over I-84 (it’ll be a long while before you see this much car traffic again) and into historic Echo, a popular stop for emigrants along the Oregon Trail and home of 10 different buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Then begin a long, gradual incline – interrupted by fueling up at lunch – and then a thousand-foot-plus climb in the afternoon to get you primed for the days ahead, before spinning down into Heppner. Celebrate a successful first day when you hit camp, but don’t get carried away – the courthouse in Heppner is famously haunted, and you don’t want to end up spending any significant time there.

Day Two – September 11 – Heppner to Starkey (83 miles) Map

Today you’ll wake your legs up for real. Use the first five miles, starting out in the wide-open wheat country of Heppner, to get warmed up. Because from Mile 5 to Mile 31 you’re going to climb nearly 3,000 feet – one of the biggest climbs of the week. Find some salvation in the fact that you’ll be doing that climbing on the spectacular Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, a Forest Service road that offers splendid isolation and panoramic views. Put it this way: This day’s route features far more cattle guards (13) than turns (1), and the number of cars you’ll see is probably somewhere in between. Once you’ve hit that high point, it’s basically a long coast for 17 miles, dropping 2,000 feet into Ukiah for lunch. Then in the afternoon you’ll repeat the process, only less strenuously: a long gradual hill and then an exhilarating descent into Starkey. You’ve proved yourself today.

Day Three – September 12 – Starkey to Sumpter (53 miles) Map

Start out today by following the pristine Grande Ronde River. You’ll climb back above 5,000 feet by Mile 19 and then spend the majority of the day on a mile-high cycling high. By the way, have some fun challenging your pals as you climb to the high point of the day: Chicken Hill, just after Mile 22 (“Last one to the top is…”). Along the way today you’ll pass through Granite, the last town in Oregon to get individual phone service. After a gradual nine-mile climb out of Granite you’ll glide down into Sumpter, once a bustling gold-mining town that had phone service a century ago, when it was a stop on the Sumpter Valley Railway. At that time it also had 16 saloons (and just four churches) for 3,000 people – something to contemplate as you sip the beer you so richly deserve tonight.

Day Four – September 13 – Sumpter to Union (77 miles) Map

Now that you’ve really got your mountain legs under you, time for a summit assault. Start by experiencing the crest between Sumpter and Granite from the reverse point of view, then power your way up to Anthony Lakes Ski Resort, the highest base-elevation ski area in Oregon. At more than 7,000 feet, it’s the high point of the week and the perfect place to stop for lunch and congratulate yourself on your climbing skills. Then bomb down the 4,000-foot descent like an Olympic skier (a safety-minded skier, that is) and cross under Interstate 84 into North Powder. Mouth a prayer of thanks that you’re here and not on a freeway somewhere, and then roll into Union, where a meal, a massage and music are calling your name.

Day Five – September 14 – Union-Baker City-Union Options (91 miles) Map

You know what Tour de France riders do on the “rest days,” right? They ride! And so can you if you’d prefer a relatively flat near-century to a day of lolling around camp. (Of course, no one would blame you if you lolled.) And with this loop course, if you ride today you don’t even have to move your tent. Start with a cruise up picturesque Catherine Creek, the only serious elevation gain of the day – it’ll seem leisurely after your first four days – and then drop down into the Antelope Valley and cross the Powder River. From there roll on to lunch in Baker City, with its eclectic turn-of-the-century architecture. After lunch, skirt the foothills of the magnificent Elkhorn Ridge as you head to Haines and its painstakingly restored historic downtown. Then it’s back to camp in Union – and the party will still be there when you get back.

Day Six – September 15 – Union to Athena (79 miles) Map

Fully rested and rejuvenated after two nights in Union, head out this morning for a pleasant zig-zag through the peaceful Grande Ronde Valley, re-encountering the meandering river a half-dozen times before lunch. But you’re going to work for that lunch, because once again it’s being served at… a ski area (Spout Springs, to be exact). By this point in the week you’ll have the springy legs of a mountain goat, and as you shovel down hundreds and hundreds of guilt-free calories you’ll revel in that climber’s reward: gazing down upon where you’ve come from. Then it’s a carnival-ride descent of nearly 3,500 feet into the peaceful wheat fields surrounding Athena.

Day Seven – September 16 – Athena to Umatilla (lake Wallula) (49 miles) Map

To most people on the planet, a 50-mile ride sounds daunting under any conditions. For you, though, today’s finish will barely raise a sweat on your brow. Three or four hours of wide-open spaces, mostly gentle downhill, through sleepy towns like Helix and Holdman. What will you do with your extra time? Sleep in, linger over breakfast, take a nap under a tree… or just roll into the finish with plenty of time to knock back a few cold beverages and tell some tall tales of your week’s adventures.