Day One, Springfield to Belnap Springs: Welcome to the Northwest


The cadre met at International House of Pancakes - old reliable IHOP. Pigs in a blanket, boysenberry syrup, potato pancakes - we had the works. Yesterday evening, driving into Eugene, the sky had cleared, shadows appeared again, and we allowed ourselves a bit of optimism that the "chance" of showers promised for the morning would remain only a rumor. A slate grey sky, fluffing up against the foothills' toenails to the East, reminded us that this is, after all, Oregon, and the greenness all around us had to come from somewhere. But coming out of IHOP, the air remained dry.

Just as the last bike was taken off the rack, and its front brake clicked down, the moist air coalesced into discrete falling, though very tiny drops. If you've ever been here for more than a month, you know the day - not heavy enough to be rain, or even drizzle, but certainly the downward trajectory of the misty drops means it's something more than fog. And at 15 mph, even very wet air can soak you through in less than 30 minutes. Most of us chose warm comfort over macho clothing, donning various combinations of booties, over pants, rain jackets, and whatever else might offer hope of fighting back the oozing wetness we'd find on the highway.

The road more than made up for the air, though. Following the "mighty" McKenzie River east into the Cascade foothills, first on back roads, then on the wide-shouldered main highway, we carried the rolling rumble of free-flowing rapids to our right, and to the left, the view of mossy second growth fir, hemlock, and cedar, brushed with ever-present maple and an undergrowth of black- and salmon-berry. And all green, a green that penetrates even the amber or blue tinted sunglasses we had to wear. Without seeing the sun all day, the diffuse light nonetheless seared into the eye with a subtle, sneaky persistence. After all, more sunglasses are sold per capita here in the northwest than any other region in the country.

I tried sag duties for the first time in my life. I've always biked, never supported. But driving the Suburban, having to go all of 35 miles between 9 and noon, I got to see the country side in a different way than either biking or driving. No need to speed, but I also stayed dry, and didn't burn out my legs. And, I got to buy groceries for the day. Sure, maybe I went overboard with the 24 cans of Diet Cherry Coke, and the 12 bottles of beer, but, hey, I got to splurge on two terry cloth bath towels, sure that people would be overjoyed with the opportunity to dry themselves off after spending an hour pushing pedal into the maw of the mist. Those towels never left their plastic grocery bag. As Craig said, "Why bother, you're just going to get wet again as soon as you start biking?!"

Lunch was at the Vida store, where they had a real espresso machine, not a "push-button coffee pooper" as Leigh had feared. Unfortunately, despite the intense searching of at least five of us, Craig managed to lose the nose-piece to his $1000 Oakley sunglasses (at least, that's the way he talked about them). After riding on and seeing no noticeable difference in their operation - I mean, they still stayed on his nose, and kept the light from frying his eyes - I ventured that he might have actually lost the nose piece long before, and only just noticed as he was cleaning the glasses. He glared at me, and said he didn't want to feel better about his tragic loss.

The good news, I can safely report now that we've finished, is: no flats!. Today was a perfect day for someone among our eight different bikes, totaling 430 miles of biking, to flat. For some reason, wet pavement seems to make little glass or sharp gravel particles stick to tire surfaces, slowly rasping their way into the tread, and eventually causing a tiny, but inescapable rent in the inner tube. Sssshhhh, whhnn, thmmp. You're stopped, and trying to fix it as semis roar by spraying a grit shower all over you, your bike, and anyone foolish enough to have stopped with you to help. Don't know why, but no flats today. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

At the end of the trail was Belnap Hot Springs lodge. Volcanic steam heated water is captured across the river, piped over, mixed with a cooler flow, and fills a pool at 103 F. Perfect way to end the day, ought to be a required amenity for all bike trips.

Now, Belnap Lodge has a beautiful kitchen and dining room, but no food service. Why? Well, it's located within 200' of the river, and so Oregon environmental law proscribes any food service that close to a body of water. Given how much it rains here, it's a wonder there's any public place to eat in the whole western half of the state! So we bundled eight of us in the SAG, trundled 5 miles back to McKenzie Bridge, and ate at the 100 year old Log Cabin Inn. Reminded me a lot of Rancho de Cimayo, between Taos and Santa Fe, except no one was out on the beautiful patio, enjoying the garden and mist with their dinners.

Inside, we regaled ourselves with the latest in Internet jokes, none of which are repeatable here. Cheryl laughed enough for both of us, so I just smiled at the funnier ones (sample: Traveling salesman knocks on a door. Four year old kid answers, smoking a cigar, vodka tonic in hand. Salesman asks, "Is your mommy or daddy home?" Kid says, "what the f*** do you think?!").

After that, it was definitely time for bed, but not before a thorough re-arranging the of SAG, cleaned up for the two ladies who will be sharing the driving over the pass, McKenzie Pass, tomorrow. This one goes 22 miles and 3800 feet up into a pumice wilderness desert, then down the western, and hopefully dry, side into Sisters and Bend. See you then!

Miles: 61. Elevation gain: 870'. 63 F, overcast with periodic heavy misty wet falling tiny drops of water. (That's Kwakiutul for "Here's rain in your face!")


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