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Day 6: Gravel, A Clavicle, & Bull Riding
The Continental has been rogue for 2 days and we are camping in Emigrant State Park outside Pendleton, Oregon. Carey and I put together a route the evening before while using the wifi at a Pendleton Starbucks with absolutely no idea what the ride would be like other than basic elevation changes and that we would be riding through the Umatilla National Forest. After Tuesday’s adventure we were all hoping that any gravel roads would be kinder and gentler, but still wanted to seek them out. The plan was to drive about 20 minutes east on I-84, get on our bikes at highway 244, then do a big loop and head back into Pendleton to hang out with the cowboys in pink.
We have two new awesome riding companions, but we lost Hahn. Greg Johnson drove out from Portland the previous night and Tracy flew in to spend the weekend riding with Aaron for their anniversary. We load up the van and drive to our starting point with the sun starting to break out from the clouds and light rain. It looks like the weather is going to be perfect.
We all pile out of the van and get ready to roll out. We throw on stowaway and knees but it is warming rapidly and most of us take them off even before we start. The first stretch is roughly 13 miles on Highway 244 and it turns out to be a beautiful road along a river with very little traffic. Tracy and Greg roll out ahead of us and we work to chase up to them with Landon motoring along at an uncomfortable pace. This pace continues until we hit McIntyre Rd., the moment of truth. The road that would define the day? Or would it be just another forest service road?
Suddenly we are on gravel, not surprising.
Umatilla National Forest has diverse terrain consisting of beautiful forests, grasslands, mountains, plateaus, and V-shaped valleys. While Tuesday we spent the entire time in mountainous terrain, this ride was on a plateau that we would descend and then climb back up before returning to our starting point. The gravel on McIntyre Rd. qualifies as loose but not overly difficult. Or at least it started that way.
We only make it a few miles before the first flat, Cole. We fix the flat and get rolling again. The gravel is deep and loose but is on top of hard pack. As we get farther along the road begins to get worse. Large rocks start to poke up from the road. Then the road becomes all rock. Not the loose rock of a gravel road, more like a rock garden you might encounter on a mountain bike ride. We notice a single track trail paralleling the road in the trees and give it a try. It’s not any better, we move back onto the road. Amazingly, it doesn’t get better at all, it actually gets worse. Almost everyone has flatted at this point and we are starting to run low on tubes. The final insult is two sections of road that resemble scree fields with a road plowed through the middle. A road made of fist sized rocks, insane! The only way to make it is keep moving and let your bike find the line. It’s jarring and and feels like our bikes could shake apart at any moment, but everyone cleans the section.
Finally, and gratefully, the road improves and we begin a ten mile descent. It’s fast and smooth and we fly down the hill. Our joy is short lived. At the bottom of the descent we hit epic washboard. Several miles of it. We split on the descent and Landon, Kansas, Greg and I are desperately trying to find any clean line we can through the washboard. We finally hit pavement and stop to wait for Aaron and Tracy. We are at an intersection and the direction we need to go is uphill and, predictably, gravel. The wait starts to get long and we begin to worry. The van appears and Aaron and Tracy are inside. After surviving the worst gravel road we’ve ever ridden, Tracy was felled a mile from pavement on some washboard. She’s bloodied and is holding her arm the way people do when they have a broken collarbone. We try to clean her up and make a new plan.
"TO THE RODEO"
Despite Tracy’s protests we decided to abort the ride and continue into Pendleton to get her shoulder checked. We feel only slightly disappointed to cut the ride short, the gravel we had endured already was insane. It’s a flat, windy ride into Pendleton with Landon, once again, setting a blistering pace. We take Tracy to see the Cycle Oregon medical staff. They diagnose a broken collarbone and suggest going to a hospital. At this point we split up. Tracy, Aaron, and Carey head to the hospital and the rest of us head in to explore Pendleton. Jake (photographer) and Benji (videographer) secure their press passes to get into the Pendleton Round-Up to watch a little rodeo action first hand. Not surprisingly we couldn’t get tickets, I guess the other 90,000 people visiting Pendleton (town of 10,000) bought all of them. We helped Benji buy a cowboy hat, a prerequisite for getting into the press area, and then continued to a brewpub,The Prodigal Son, in the center of town.
We drank some beers(good ones!) and ate food waiting for the hospital and rodeo crews to arrive. After a while we see a couple guys wheel a mechanical bull into the back of the pub. We are going to get our rodeo fix after all! Cole knowingly refuses to ride the bull, but the rest of us fall into line. Conti rider after Conti rider getting slammed to the ground. I can’t speak for real bulls, but mechanical ones are hard on your groin muscles. It was difficult to walk almost immediately after riding the bull. Turns out Carey isn’t too bad at mechanical bull riding and she developed a following of guys in full western wear that isn't just for show but authentic. Aaron, over-hears one of them saying to another “now that’s a real women”. As we get ready to leave the cowboys corner Carey to shake her hand and express how impressed they are by her riding ability.
We head out on the streets where pink shirt clad cowboys are roaming about in large numbers. There is a band playing country music on a nearby street that has been shut down and couples are swing dancing in front of a large crowd. A maniacal looking man is on stage during the song holding a giant corn-dog. Apparently, this man has made the worlds biggest corn-dog at 7 lbs. Impressive, I guess. The man never stopped smiling the entire time we watched him. People queued up after the song to get photos with the corn-dog. Greg managed to muscle his way in for a photo op, presumably to get a pic with the crazy looking man, not just the corn-dog. The man is still smiling maniacally, which is how we all feel after the awesome week of riding and improvised adventures.