The heat is becoming almost unbearable. When we planned this trip we incorporated several spare days into the schedule for unexpected events: repairs to the bikes, injuries, torrential rain, tornados etc. What we hadn’t anticipated was extreme heat. Recently it’s reached 105 degrees in Oregon making cycling – and particularly climbing hills, all but impossible. The trouble is there is no-where to hide, all the hotels in Baker are booked out to the bikers and with the heat wave expected to last a week taking cover inside would mean scuppering our chances of reaching the Pacific.
So ride we must. Until now we’ve been cycling in the morning, taking cover in the afternoon and then riding again in the evening. But that means finding somewhere welcoming and cool to hide out after lunch (oh for a Crema Cafe in every town) which is not easy and with the sun still blasting away like a blow-torch at 6pm it can mean a very late arrival for our night stop. So today we adopted a new plan – we were up at 4am, broke camp, cooked oats for breakfast and by 5.30am were on the road and leaving Baker City.
The early start was especially important as we had three major climbs to make – Sumpter Pass at 5082 feet, Tipton Pass at 5124 and Dixie Pass at 5277. Anyone who thinks the TransAm is going to let us relax and have an easy run to the coast is alluding themselves. Since we started on May 7th the route has thrown up a new challenge every day. Between us and the Pacific still lie six major climbs – including the final barrier – the McKenzie Pass. Only then can we look forward to a gentler run to the western seaboard.
We are all finding riding in the heat hard, but in starting so early Terry and Mike are doing their upmost to try and get me through what has been, in many ways, my toughest part of the ride. It has not taken us long to realise that I struggle to cope with the heat. Despite constantly drinking water, wearing cold tea-towels on my head and jumping into rivers I am still over-heating, resulting usually in fatigue and headaches. It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m so lucky to be riding with such good friends doing all they can (including getting up at ridiculous o’clock) to get me through. Thanks guys.
The early start means that by just gone 9am we had already covered around 30 miles – we’ve climbed through thick coniferous forest and topped Sumpter Pass. In Sumpter Valley we pass through a wide green expanse, yet appearances are deceptive – this was once fertile farmland but from 1913 to 1954 the area was dredged for gold, uncovering around 10 million pounds worth of the precious metal. But it came at a cost – gone is the farmland, replaced with a wasteland covered in mounds of rock, silt and ponds. Fortunately wildlife moved in to fill the void and wildflowers and Ospreys have replaced the gold-diggers.
The area was also heavily logged in the past and we pass Whitney – once home to more than 150 people, now a ghost town. We carry on to climb Tipton Mountain, but by now the heat is beginning to take its toll and we descend to Austin Junction and attempt to escape the heat during lunch at Austin House – just about the only building there. We are joined by bikers travelling home from Baker City. They are hot too and despite the leather and bandanas, suck on large Strawberry floats through long straws. It’s a long way from the Hell’s Angels.
As the heat hits 85 in the restaurant we discuss carrying on. It’s only just after one in the afternoon and we are hot and fed up, but our momentum has gone and the thought of tacking a third climb in the glare of the afternoon sun holds little appeal. I also suspect Terry and Mike are worried about me and the effect of the heat. As the afternoon progresses I deteriorate. At around 5pm storm clouds gather overhead and we race to put our tents up in the woodland out back (5 dollars to camp, another 5 for a shower). As the thunder claps and rain descends, deer, which have been watching us from the forest, scatter while we dive under canvas to take cover.
By 7pm my worst fears are realised, my head is pounding like a jack-hammer. Two hours later I wake up fully clothed and the pain has subsided but I’m left wondering if I’ll have to stick to colder climes if I tackle something like this again in the future. But there’s no time to feel sorry for myself – we are getting up again at 4am tomorrow and Mike and Terry are already zonko. Bless them.
Today’s Miles: 54
Miles since First Landing: 3919 miles