Monday, 15 August 2011

Day 74: Fossils and tough hills

Day 74
Mount Vernon to Mitchell 66miles

I tell you what, this ride doesnt get any easier as I near the end! It's kind of finishing as it started with a succession of tough days in the mountains. And also with that slightly nagging feeling that all the effort is quickly undone when you then shoot down the other side, only to have to go back up again shortly after!

A couple of eastbound riders turned up at the Bike Inn last night, so we all had a bit of a chat and watched a film. I think they were going to take advantage of the free place to stay to have a day off today. I set off about 7.30, and we all wished each other well.

The first part of the ride wasn't that eventful. I was riding alongside the John Day river and it was fairly flat. After 23miles I stopped off in Dayville briefly for a drink, before heading on. Soon after, I came across Picture Gorge. A pretty spectacular looking bit of scenery. It was built up over millions of years of volcanic lava deposits (apparently there are 17 distinct layers each corresponding to an eruption) and then a few more million years of the John Day river cutting through it. Highway 26 now also goes through the gorge, and it was a lovely bit of riding, with the steep cliffs on both sides of the road.
The entrance to Picture Gorge...

...somewhere in the middle...

...and coming out the other side!

This area of the John Day river is also a rich fossil area. So I took a 2mile detour off the route to go have a look at the visitor's centre which has all sorts of fossils. The ones found in this area are all plant and animal fossils, not dinosaurs, but still very interesting. Some of the mountains are also spectacular, none more so than Sheep Rock which towered over the visitor's centre.
Sheep Rock

Some other rock, name unknown!

After getting back on the main route, I soon started today's climb! It was a long, gradual one, with a few steep sections. Over 25miles, I rose about 700metres. It was quite a energy sapping one, and the fact I hadnt eaten much today didnt help. The one good thing is that it wasnt too hot today. Bit of cloud cover which was nice. It's also much less humid in this part of the country which makes things much more pleasant. In Kansas I could set off at 6am, and still be soaked in sweat within 30 minutes, here that doesnt happen.

Although it was at least of some consolation to me that, as hard as I was finding it, clearly other people find it tougher! I caught, and overtook, 4 people (2 groups of 2) on the climb today! I havent seen anyone else going my way for ages, so I was quite surprised to be honest. The first people I met were a German couple who were having a rest by the roadside, about 6miles from the summit. They have done a lot of cycle touring in the US and Europe (including a 1,200mile tour of the UK!) and were currently doing the TransAm and then heading down to California when they hit the coast. Had a nice chat, including an in-depth critique of the American diet before setting off. We were all planning on staying in the same town tonight (although there wasnt really much choice as things are pretty spaced out round here) and as I was a bit quicker than them, I said I'd see them later. Then just as I was getting near to the top, I saw someone else in front of me so set my sights on overtaking them too! Just as the summit marker came into view I went past the rider with a shout of “Race you to the top!”. Although it turns out I still lost, as her husband was already there! They were an American couple who had started in Washington DC on the east coast, and have kind of been making up their own route, although they are no on the TransAm for a bit. They even offered to take my picture under the sign, so I have actually got in one of my own photos for a change!
I always seem to be wearing these clothes in a photo - I do have others honestly!

They were also planning on stopping in Mitchell, and we all set off down the 7mile descent into town. Whilst it was good fun, we all know that tomorrow is a very, very steep looking climb to get back to the kind of height we were just at. I'm not looking forward to that one to be honest.

Mitchell is a tiny, tiny town. And we were all planning on staying at the same place. I got a hostel style bunk-bed room as it was a lot cheaper than a proper room.

We all then ended up at the same cafe (only one in town open) and there was also another cyclist there who was going east. He was actually planning on climbing out of Mitchell this afternoon. So in this tiny little cafe, they had 6 touring cyclists. I ordered a chilli-burger, and got an absolutely huge portion. It was only after I had worked my way through loads of chilli, that I realised it also had an actual burger patty underneath too! It was a struggle to finish it, but I shouldnt need anything else for the rest of the day!

Spent the afternoon resting up. I now only have two big climbs left – although I think tomorrow's will be the worst of those. It's going to be a tough one!

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