This is the high desert. Yes, it's still Oregon, I promise. There's not much to this last chapter, but I suppose you could say about the desert. I woke before first light, and was out of Shaniko before most everyone else found themselves willing to leave their sleeping bags. Up here, vulnerable to the wind, it gets pretty cold at night. I found a note on my bike from the last of the Eugene riders saying that he was freezing and split at 3am, and best of luck to me. The beauty of this early departure was coming from all sides and, windless, I was mashing along in my hardest gear waiting for Haggerty Lane. Again, I'm starting the day after a brief look at the route for the first turn, at which point I'd rely on tire tracks and dumb luck to carry me through. This is not the recommended approach to riding your bike on backroads across Oregon, but if you're dumb like me then knock yourself out.
Being dumb is safe here. My morning's comprised of desert, farms, and gravel roads as straight as yard sticks. In these conditions I'd consider it a challenge to not find north, and highway 97 runs as an eastern border the entire way to the route's end: Deschutes River State Recreation Area. These are the things that I'm, naturally, repeating to myself as I hook that left I mentioned onto Haggerty. It's been a quite morning, only saying a brief hello to David of The 5th Floor as he flew by, focused on finishing before his shuttle arrived to take him back to Portland. The sound of my tires crunching through gravel returns. It's become a comforting sound. I catch the sweet smell of sage and it reminds me of how god awful I smell. I stop, pick a few handfuls, and rub it all over my clothes. The fresh scent provided by the scrub has an effect almost like caffeine, and I decide to get my heart rate way up and really speed through the next few miles. My legs hate this idea, but what do they know anyway?
It's fun though, when the soreness of your body becomes normal- the default. I can kinda move away from being in the pain or discomfort to observing, almost from the outside, how hilarious what I'm doing is. It breaks the reality, and I feel like I'm just crushing it up this last great hill that's making almost a full u-turn to an out-of-place building amongst the land's barns and sheds. What is that thing anyway, a radio station? A weather station? When you're out here, you'll see what I mean.
But the view from up here is (you guessed it) good. It makes for a lovely place to eat my last apple before launching into one last sketchy gravel descent and before transitioning to a road that looks so freshly paved I wonder how much of this had still been gravel just a year before. The gravel's gone, yet the descending continues. In hindsight, that was the last stretch of gravel of the route, and I should have took the time to give it a proper goodbye. I'd be taking it with me in a way. On my bike, on my clothes, in my bags, and probably in my lungs; the past few days have loaded me up with Oregon dirt.
A final canyon. It's fast. I'm fast. I'm in my hardest gear but can't pedal fast enough to really make myself go any faster so I just tuck in and figure out how to hold my camera and my phone to take photos as the canyon's walls grow higher around me. A few frames later and I'm spat out onto the Columbia River. I'm ecstatic with my choice to wait to do this last stretch in the morning, knowing that canyon descent would have been dulled by darkness. I see other riders, signs of civilization. It's not even noon. My friends with whom I suffered through Washington just days before are waiting for the same shuttle that it turns out David was booking it toward as well, and I take the opportunity to climb aboard and take the easy way back to Portland.
Going along the Columbia River, the road is parallel to the train tracks I've ridden to and from Portland from Chicago before. I'm reminded of the amazing views I've seen from the train, which then reminds me of all the amazing views I've seen just in the past few days. I turn my camera off and for a few minutes let my eyes stay closed.