Cycle Oregon VIII

Sept. 10-16, 1995—Athena to Fossil

Cycle Oregon VIII Tourbook

Day One: Athena to Elgin, 45 miles

Elevation Start: 1,710
High Point: 5,158

These folks just can’t wheat to meet you.  Surrounded by amber waves of grain, we’ll begin our adventure in the small community of Athena, nestled in the fertile foothills of the Blue Mountains.  Bet you can’t guess which way it is to lunch.  A clue: think ski area.  That means we’re going up.  Don’t let anyone think you’re pausing to rest at the side of the road.  You’re actually just soaking up those spectacular views across Oregon’s high desert as we climb through pine forest on the way to Spout Springs.  Relax.  Enjoy yourself.  It’s downhill all the way to Elgin for some rip-snortin’, cowboy-booted, old-fashioned Western fun.

Day Two: Elgin to Joseph, 52 miles

Elevation Start: 2,670
High Point: 4,191

Get up early today.  We’re heading for Shangri-la.  This is the day we climb into the breath-taking Wallowa Valley and get our first look at the magnificent Eagle Cap Wilderness.  This is the ancestral home of the Nez Perce Indians, home of Chief Tu-eka-kas, who came to be known as “Old Joseph.”  At the end of the day, Joseph will seduce you with it’s thriving art galleries, bronze foundries and, yes, cappuccino carts.  But before you slip out of your lycra, remember to take the spin out to Wallowa Lake for a breathtaking ride on the steepest tramway in North America.

Day Three: Joseph to Halfway, 78 miles

Elevation Start: 4,191
High Point: 5,400

By now you’re in peak physical condition.  Your stomach is a washboard.  Your thighs are tree trunks.  Your buns are steel.  Let’s just do it.  Sure it’s a steep climb, but waiting on top is one of the most awesome views in the West.  Welcome to Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge.  (It has the Grand Canyon beat by a couple thousand feet!)  The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is 700,000 acres of the most rugged, spectacular wildland in the world.  There are elk, cougar and – thanks to their recent reintroduction – wolves in them thar hills.  After lunch it’s downhill all the way to Halfway.  Yes, you’re right, this valley is also incredibly beautiful.  What can we tell you?  One day: Two Shangri-las.

Day Four: Halfway to Sumpter, 84 miles

Elevation Start: 2663
High Point: 4,388

Now that we’re all in the mood, let’s just have a nice, really long day in the saddle.  This is probably the toughest day of the tour.  We’ll ride through Pine and Eagle Valleys, then stop for lunch at the renowned Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on Flagstaff Hill.  This is your chance to marvel at the pilgrimage of the 300,000 pioneers who crossed the Oregon Trail.  Take a break, hike the ruts, walk in pioneer footsteps.  In the afternoon we’ll ride through Baker City, often called the prettiest town in Eastern Oregon.  Sumpter, our host community for the night, was a booming mining and lumber town at the turn of the century.  The last dredge to work in the valley (closed in the 1950s) sits on the edge of town and the Sumpter Valley Railroad narrow gauge train still runs in the summer months.

Day Five: Sumpter to Prairie City, 46 miles

Elevation Start: 4,388
High Point: 5,277

It’s time to lighten up.  Sleep late.  Have an extra bowl of porridge.  This is the day for taking it easy.  Sure, we climb to the summits of the Tipton and Dixie Mountains, but it’s a short ride offering panoramic views across the sage-scented expanse of Eastern Oregon.  Waiting below is the oasis of the John Day River Valley and a new horizon, the majestic Strawberry Mountains.  Tonight you will have no excuse: dance until you drop.

Day Six: Prairie City to Monument, 72 miles

Elevation Start: 3,539
High Point: 5,075

In the morning we’ll ride down into John Day then turn north for a climb through the Malheur National Forest, gateway to Oregon’s famous Painted Hills country.  If you think Painted Hills are weird, just wait until you see the geological wonder of the sunken mountain sitting on a claystone bed over 30 million years old.  The good folks in Monument, which sits at a bend of the North Fork of the John Day River, will showcase their frontier spirit.

Day Seven: Monument to Fossil, 60 miles

Elevation Start: 2000
High Point: 3,788

Are you ready for the big finish?  We turn our backs on the John Day River and begin our climb – the last one, we promise – through the Umatilla National Forest.  Then, it’s all downhill (no, really) to Fossil, an area best known for its outstanding geological formations of the Eocene era over 30 million years ago.  Just behind our campsite at the high school, fossil beds are open for collectors.  In Fossil, a finish line celebration of dinosaur proportions awaits those quivering legs, pounding hearts and heavy lungs.  It has been quite an adventure, with memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime.