Portland, Oregon to Chicago


Fall 2008


Denis Kertz, ©2008


Day 0: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 - Naperville, IL to Portland, OR

I got up early and completed my packing for my flight to Portland, OR.  My friend Dave picked me up at 10 and took me to Midwest Airport for my Southwest Airlines flight.  This was an easier flight than my typical touring start because I had shipped my bike to Portland via UPS on Monday and it was delivered on Friday and already waiting for me at the Courtyard near the airport.  So I only had to deal with my large duffel bag and my 2 rear panniers lashed together as a luggage unit.  That was much easier than having to also lug around a bicycle box.


However, I wasn't too keen on boarding.  Southwest doesn't assign seats.  Instead they board by groups and everyone picks out their own seats.  The last time I flew Southwest you could print your own boarding pass starting at midnight before the flight.  I assumed that was still true but when I printed my boarding pass at midnight I discovered you could do it 24 hours in advance of your flight time.  So I got a boarding pass in the B group.  Consequently most people got to board before I did and I was resigned to a poor seat.  However, the flight was not completely full and I not only got an aisle seat but also one without a middle occupant.  So the flight to Portland was rather pleasant.


Once I landed in Portland I caught a Courtyard shuttle to the nearby airport Courtyard where I had a free night compliments of my Marriott reward points.  I had debated staying at a Courtyard downtown which would have been more interesting but decided it would be better to be located away from downtown to make the cycling getaway easier in the morning.


When I checked in, I immediately claimed my bicycle and took a couple of hours to re-assemble it.  I discovered I had left my multi-tool kit at home with its hex wrenches and screwdriver but I had a small adjustable wrench and a Leatherman tool with a flat and phillips screwdriver so I was able to make do quite nicely.


When I had the bike assembled I took a break and walked across the street to a restaurant for a sandwich.    The area didn't have much selection outside the motels but I had an OK sandwich.  Then I walked back, dodging some rain on a day with intermittent rain, and set about re-packing my panniers.  It's always a bit painful to have to first pack everything up to get everything on the plane and then re-pack it after the flight to fit it all on the bike.


I got directions from the front desk on how to get to US26, the Mt Hood Highway, from the Courtyard.  It sounded pretty easy to pick up.


The big news on this trip is that I have an Asus eeePC 901, a very portable PC with a 9” screen and a 20G solid state hard disk.  My version has Linux rather than Windows XP.  I'm using it to type in this trip report.  It also has WIFI so I'm connected to the Internet using the Courtyard's free WIFI.  The big issue with this PC is how long the battery will last.  By using battery conservation, it may last as long as 8 hours as long as I’m just doing something simple, like typing in my trip report.


Day 1: Mon, Sep 01, 2008 - Portland, OR to Government Camp, OR [56.5, 6:42:23, 8.4 mph]

I got up pretty early which was no suprise since the time here is 2 hours earlier than my norrmal time.  I took advantage of the Courtyards $8.95 all-you-can-eat buffet and had a large breakfast.  Then I completed my packing and left around 8:00.  The weather was overcast and cool, not quite 50F, with expected clearing later and good weather predicted for the rest of the week.


It was an easy route from the Courtyard to US26, called the Mt Hood Highway.  I rode 2 traffic lights on Airport Way and turned on 122.  The plan was to catch Burnside which would take me to US26.  However, as I was riding I was caught by Cody, a fireman, who was commuting home after his shift  and we got to chatting.  Cody hopes someday to sail around the world although his wife is not enthusiastic about that idea but Cody figures she will put up with it.  Cody was headed straight ahead to Happy Valley and alerted me that the upcoming street was Powell Boulevard where I should turn.  I had forgotten all about my route while we were chatting so it was good he reminded me.  Turns out Powell Boulevard was actually US26 at this point so I just turned east and I was on my way, as I bade goodbye to Cody.


There was nothing terribly exciting about this route since I was just leaving the Portland urban area.  Portland is reputedly one of the best cycling metropolitan areas and I had no problem riding on the streets.  However, after Gresham US26 was just a high speed 4-lane road with a good shoulder.  It wasn't dangerous but very noisy with fairly constant traffic so it wasn't great riding.


I stopped in Sandy to do my first food shopping at a Fred Meyer's.  I would have preferred to wait but I wasn't sure what food selection would be like later on.  As it was, the route climbed essentially from sea level to almost 4,000 feet so the less weight I carried the better.  Nevertheless, I probably added 5 pounds to my load.


On my way out of Sandy I stopped at a Wells Fargo in another grocery store to get cash.  I had gotten cash before I left home but somehow I apparently forgot to put the cash in my wallet since it wasn't there last night when I was going to pay cash for my dinner.  I had stopped at a couple places in Gresham but they wanted $3 for service fee.  I hoped to do better but Wells Fargo charged the same $3 fee.  A little further I found a bicycle shop so I stopped to get a multi-function tool to replace the one I left behind.  I got a nice Park Tool MTB-3 for $30 but it was over kill.  I just wanted one that had the hex tools and the box end wrenches.


I rode further with the noisy traffic and stopped just past Wildwood for a break.  I found a WIFI cafe so I decided to whip out my mini PC and see how it worked.  It was a bit of pain to drag it out of my rear pannier but otherwise it worked fine.  The small keyboard takes a little getting used to but I find I am quickly adapting.  And there are definitely advantages to have one of these gizmos.  I was able to log on to my bank account where I have my VISA credit card and send them email to warn them that I was on this trip and that they shouldn't get excited about seeing unusual charges on my card.  I also sent a couple of emails since it was easy to do.


As I was preparing to leave a local asked me about my trip.  When I said I was going to camp at Timothy Lake he expressed surprised that I was going that far.  Then I learned it was 14 miles off the road so I got a few tips on more reasonable sites.  It was 12 miles to Government Camp which didn't seem all that far.  Then I learned quickly from a sign that I was only at 1500 feet so I had about 2500 more feet to climb.


Not far out of Zigzag I started climbing more seriously.  First I was going at 6 mph, then before long it was 5 mph, and then a little further on I was climbing at 4 mph most of the rest of the way.  For the day the scenery wasn't much to talk about.  Then I started rounding a turn where the road turned left and then right, hugging the contour of the mountain.  I stopped for a photo, the first of the trip.  When I rode around this left/right section I was staring at Mt Hood ahead, at 11,249 feet the highest mountain in Oregon, thrusting itself into the sky.  There were a few small clouds partially obscuring the top a little but they moved on and I had a pretty unobstructed view of Mt Hood.


This view continued for a little ways as I rode straight at the mountain and then I veered right and the view was gone.  I continued riding up the fairly steep hill on a route that was close to the old Barlow Road that was part of the Oregon Trail.  Originally, Oregon Trail travelers had to float their wagons down the Columbia River at The Dalles and that was a very dangerous route.  Then in 1846 Sam Barlow built a toll road leading from Hood River around the southern end of Mt Hood and on to Oregon City.  This included the infamous Laurel Hill where travelers had to lower their wagons down the steep slope with ropes.


At Government Camp I turned off the road to head into the town which was mostly a few motels and a few restaurants.  I wanted something quick so I could get to my campground.  I found a cafe that advertised $2 brats as the special of the day so I had two of them.  Not a great dinner but the best I could do while wanting a quick dinner.


Then I headed back to the road and continued on for about another mile and turned off at the Silk Creek Campground which was just off the road.  I took the first site I saw which was pretty decent and set up.  While I was there the ranger pulled up and collected $16, which was somewhat exorbitant, given the place had only an outhouse and no showers.  The site itself was pretty decent otherwise.


I cleaned up as best I could with a sponge bath and settled in for the night, which was supposed to get down to the upper 30s.

Day 2: Tue, Sep 02, 2008 - Government Camp, OR to Prineville, OR [66.4, 6:12:16, 10.7 mph]

It was chilly in the morning and I learned in town that it was 33F so it was down around freezing over night.  I packed up and headed back into town for breakfast, climbing out of the campground back to the road and then back up the hill to town.  My cyclocomputer didn't work.  It caught on momentarily a couple times so I attributed this to cold weather reducing the battery output and it would just have to warm up a few degrees and be OK.  That would turn out not to be true as the computer didn't come back until it warmed up to about 50F.


I ate at the Huckleberry Inn restaurant and asked for the stack of pancakes.  The waitress warned me they were large so I knew I had made the right choice.  They were large and fluffy, and the best of the trip so far, since these were the first pancakes of the trip.


Back on the road I descended for about 5 miles but that wasn't as enjoyable as it should have been since I knew I would have to reclaim that lost altitude shortly as I climbed about 5 miles to Blue Box Pass at 4,024 feet.  Then I descended again for real and enjoyed that much more.


After about 20 miles I started seeing views of Mt Hood again looking back.  Then the tall pine trees that hemmed in the road gave way to open meadows that morphed into the high desert as I headed south.  I also saw Mt Jefferson, at 10,495 feet the second highest peak in Oregon, off to my right and just on the edge of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.  Eventually I also caught a few glimpses of the Three Sisters off to the southwest.  Riding was relatively flat and it was nice to have open vistas rather than being hemmed in by tall pines that prevented any views.


After about 55 miles I descended into a large ravine that I would have to climb out of on the other side.  Five miles of descent brought me to Warm Springs just after 1:00, the first services since leaving Government Camp.  I stopped for a sandwich and drink and a great pumpkin muffin.  Fortified, I descended a couple more miles and crossed the Deschutes River.  I rode along the river a little ways and then started the climb out, which was pretty scenic, especially near the top.


On top I entered a flat valley filled with irrigated fields growing alfalfa, wheat, and some other crops.  The valley was hazy and smelled of smoke and I learned later that folks were burning their fields.  I rode into Madras, a town of just over 6,000, just after 3:00 and stopped for another sandwich.  Then I had a decision to make.  Tomorrow's logical destination was Mitchell.  I could either continue on to Prineville, another 30 miles, and make tomorrow a moderate day or stay in Madras and make tomorrow a long day.


I chose to make today a long day and rode on.  Just outside of town I turned left to continue on US26 to Prineville, another 27 miles.  The first 5 miles involved some climbing and, given the slow progress, I started questioning my decision.  But after the initial climbing the road flattened out and I made good time.  The road had a so-so shoulder.  It was wide enough but it had been chip sealed and was a bit rough since traffic had not smoothed out the chip seal.  However, since there wasn't much traffic I was able to ride just inside the white line most of the time on the smooth part of the road and only veered on to the shoulder when traffic approached from behind.  I rode through the Crooked River National Grassland that was fairly scenic.


About 10 miles from Prineville, there was one last moderate climb of maybe 2 miles and then it was downhill and flat the rest of the way into town.  I arrived right at 6:00 and stopped at a Subway as I rode through town.  I ordered a foot long and ate half and saved half for later.


Unfortunately, the motel situation wasn't great.  It was possible I might have been able to camp in the city park but I was set on a motel after the long day and some things I wanted to take care of.  The best deal I found was $52 for a very modest motel that I would have thought would have been at least $10 cheaper.


After cleaning up I typed in my trip report.  Then when I looked at what WIFI signals might be available I found one called ccmotel, which I correctly guessed was the City Center Motel, where I was staying.  It was password protected but once I got the password from the motel proprietor I got access and this made the $52 room a little more palatable.


Later, I changed the battery in my VDO C3DS wireless cyclocomputer to a new one, guessing that the current one was weak.  Earlier in the year I had traded email with a VDO manager in Germany and he said the main (receiver) unit was sensitive to the battery power so I'm hoping that is the issue here and a new battery will solve the problem.

Day 3: Wed, Sep 03, 2008 - Prineville, OR to Dayville, OR [89.2, 9:04:25, 9.8 mph]

When I left the motel just before 7:00 I got good news – my cyclocomputer with its new battery was working.  It wasn't as cold as yesterday morning but it was probably in the low 40s so this was a good sign.  I rode to the breakfast place recommended by the motel proprietor but they weren't open.  Their sign said they opened at 7:00 but there was no evidence of anything close to opening so I headed down the road.  I found what looked like a chain restaurant, which is not my favorite option, but I had an OK breakfast with ham and eggs and pancakes.

The route to Mitchell was 47 miles and involved a climb of 1,600 feet over 30 miles and then a big descent of 2,200 feet.  The initial part was through irrigated fields with a modest headwind before the road climbed fairly steeply but only for a short distance to Ochoco Lake where there was camping.  Had I been known yesterday and been willing to ride another 8 miles this looked like a good camp location.

The road continued through some scenic ranching/farming areas and then climbed into the hills on another steep but short climb.  After that the scenery wasn't particularly exciting until Ochoco Pass at 4,722 feet.  Then there were some great views of hills and mountains on the descent, which I kept under control so I could enjoy the views.  At the bottom of the descent the road climbed a little to reach Mitchell.  The motel proprietor had described Mitchell as an interesting little town but the emphasis should have been on little.  Mitchell had its own business loop but there were only a couple cafes and a store and a couple other business buildings.

I stopped at the store which didn't have any prepared sandwiches so I settled for a chocolae chip cookie ice cream sandwich and a carton of chocolate milk.  I trusted that had enough calories to get me over the next climb on the way to Dayville.  I could have stayed in Mitchell and I'm pretty sure I could have camped in the town park but I was only 2:30 and I wasn't sure what I would do the rest of the day.  On the other hand Dayville reputedly had a Presbyterian Church that welcomed cyclists so I decided to ride on.

It was another big climb of 2,000 feet but this one was steeper than the previous one, riding mostly at 4 mph and dropping down to 3.5 mph on occasions.  There were some great views when I reminded myself to glance back occasionally.  It took me 1.5 hours to make the 6 mile climb to Keyes Creek Summit at 4,372 feet.  From there it was 30 miles to Dayville and it was mostly downhill, where I coasted augmented by some pedaling.

Initially I passed through a low valley with treeless hills and some cattle grazing with the road extending straight out for miles.  Along the way there was a farm with a water tank for the cattle that 4 antelopes obviously figured was for them.  Then the hills moved in and squeezed out the valley and the road followed a small stream that twisted its way between steep hills, sometimes so steep that the sun couldn't peek in.  The last 7 miles into Dayville opened up into ranching/farming territory and I rode into town at 6:00.  There was a mercantile and cafe at one end of town and I found the church on the other end of town.  I checked in at a house next door and then headed out to get something to eat.

The only cafe was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so my only option was the mercantile where I nuked a chicked sandwich.  As I was leaving two locals both made sure I knew about the church.  The church had an extension to the side that included a meeting room for lunches and such along with a kitchen and a bathroom.  All of this was made available for cyclists passing through since at least 1997 according to a log book of cyclist comments.  All I needed was a shower and a place to sleep so this place certainly fit the bill and I was the only resident this night.

A long day with the hardest climbing so far but also the best scenery.

Day 4: Thu, Sep 04, 2008 - Dayville, OR to Prairie City, OR [47.8, 4:53:18, 9.8 mph]

I slept very well even if the linoleum floor was hard.  Since there was nothing open for breakfast I had bought milk last night and used that for my cereal breakfast.  Then I packed up and left at 7:45 on a sunny but cool morning.

After two successive hard days I decided to make this an easy day since I wasn’t in mid-tour form yet.  The ride to John Day was a moderate uphill through the John Day Valley as the road followed the John Day River.  Early on I saw another touring cyclist pass in the other direction.  The scenery was mostly irrigated fields with some cattle and a few horses.

After 22 miles I pulled into Mt. Vernon.  I wasn't sure I would find much of a town but it had a couple motels and a cafe serving breakfast so I stopped for an OK breakfast of ham omelet and pancakes.

It was only another 8 miles to John Day.  About mid-way I met 3 touring cyclists headed in the other direction.  They pulled over and we chatted for a while.  Two of them were from Virginia and the other from North Carolina.  The North Carolinan met the Virginians after some 2,000 miles and was traveling with them since.  The Virginians had an RV support vehicle that was transporting most of their gear and they were riding recumbents.  The other guy had a typical bike.  He was very interested in my Rohloff hub since he has worked in a bike shop.  It was good to meet some fellow travelers.

I continued the short distance into John Day which was a real town with several motels and a downtown area.  I wanted to get on the Internet but didn't see anything in town so I asked at a Radio Shack and was told the Subway was a hotspot, which I would never have guessed.  There I checked email and did some browsing.  I've decided it is really nice to have my own PC where all I have to do is find a WIFI spot.  In the past I relied on libraries which often have strange hours and limited access in small towns.  In this case, there is no library in the town.

From John Day it was an easy 13 miles to Prairie City.  Along the way another non-touring cyclist caught up with me.  He had ridden to John Day to do some shopping and was returning to Prairie City.  We chatted a little but it was somewhat awkward because he insisted on riding behind me rather than riding abreast, which was no problem due to the light traffic.  Eventually, he took off with his much lighter load.

I rode into Prairie City around 3:30 and scouted the town, including the RV park just south of main street.  I couldn't find any WIFI hotspot in town so that looked like a lost cause.  I went back to the RV park and got a tent site for $6, a special rate for cyclists although it cost $1.75 for a shower.  Still it was a pretty good deal and just a short walk to town, which I did after cleaning up.

In town I stopped at one of the two restaurants open for dinner and struck gold.  The place had a hotspot and I had brought my PC along, in case I found something and because I didn't want to leave it unattended in camp.  So I ate and surfed away.

After eating I walked across the street to a bar for a beer, the first one of the trip.

Day 5: Fri, Sep 05, 2008 - Prairie City, OR to Unity, OR [43.2, 4:43:42, 9.1 mph]

I rode the half mile back into town for breakfast at the only place open.  I ordered the pancakes and the waitress warned me that there were large and they were.  They would have tied with Government Camp for the best pancakes but these were cheaper so they won on that score - I was stuffed for $6.

I expected an easy day since my destination was Unity, 38 miles away.  After Unity there really wasn't anything until Vale and it was another 66 miles.  However, this short mileage involved two significant climbs.  The first climb began a few miles outside of town with a climb from about 3,500 to 5,276 at Dixie Pass, 10 miles from Prairie City.  This climb marked the end of the John Day Valley where the road veered to the left to leave the valley.  A few miles up the climb there was a scenic overlook of the John Day Valley with the Strawberry Mountains on the other side of the valley.  Then the road climbed into the pine trees.

Near the top there was an overlook for the Sumpter Railroad that used to go from Baker City to Prairie City until it was discontinued in 1947.  This narrow gauge railroad transported lumber, cattle, and gold during its hey days.

Dixie Pass was followed by a nice descent.  Just as I started descending my cyclocomputer stopped.  I guessed a weak battery and replaced the transmitter battery and that fixed the problem.  Near the bottom I was surprised to find a cafe/store at Austin Junction where the road split off to Baker City.  Since the TransAmerica route goes to Baker City, this marked the end of my journey on the TransAm.  This store was a logical stop for my second breakfast.  The store didn't have any small cartons of milk but the woman proprietress sold me milk in a cup which was just enough for my cereal.

After continuing on I had a modest climb and descent and then another significant climb of about 4 miles.  Then it was another nice descent followed by a flat road into Unity.  This descent took me out of the pine trees and into an open, mostly barren, hilly area.  Unity looked like it had seen better days but it had a high school, a cafe, and a small grocery store.  I stopped at the store and nuked a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich – you can never have too much breakfast. 

The woman at the store confirmed there wasn't anything down the road for another 40 miles.  So I chose to backtrack 2 miles and take the turnoff to the Unity Lake State Park where I got a tent site for $17.  This wasn't too bad since it also included a shower but it was the same price as a site for RVs, which didn't seem right, especially since the sites really weren't set up for tents.  The sites were mostly gravelly.  There were a couple of sites where I could have pitched on a small plot of grass but then I would have risked being sandwiched between RVs.  I preferred a little rocky site to that.

Since it was a short day I killed time by doing some reading and walking around the area.  At least the sites had electrical outlets so I was able to use that for my PC.  However, the outlet for my site was too far from my picnic table so I found another site that was more suitable and used it instead.  As I finished my daily report the sun was setting but it wasn't a great sunset because some clouds dispersed the sun.

Day 6: Sat, Sep 06, 2008 - Unity, OR to Vale, OR [71.8, 6:05:15, 11.8 mph]

I took my time packing up because the cafe in town didn't open until 8:00.  I got there about 10 minutes early and found it was already open.  They had a limited menu so I didn't figure this was the place for real pancakes and I had their breakfast special which was fine.

I left around 8:30 with 42 miles to Brogan, the next place with any services.  I had one significant climb of about 700 feet that wasn't that hard.  Most climbs get steeper towards the top but this one was steep at the bottom and then eased up quite a bit for the last half.  This was followed by a nice descent and then some up and down for almost 20 miles.  Along the way I spotted a herd of 9 deer in a field.  Had these deer stuck to their natural habitat I probably would not have spotted them but they stuck out in a green, irrigated field.  They were about a half mile away but they still eyed me warily and eventually took off.

About 7 miles from Brogan I began a nice descent of about 1,300 feet to Brogan through close in brown, barren hills.  At the bottom of the descent it opened up into a wide valley where I saw my first corn field, followed by more later.

Brogan had a small store where I got a bit to eat and a cold drink.  By the time I got to Brogan it had warmed up considerably and I shed both my long sleeve jersey and my tights.  Brogan also had a little city park where I imagine I could have camped.  Had I known about the park I would have been tempted yesterday to continue on to Brogan.

It was easy riding the rest of the way to Vale, with a gradual descent of about 400 feet over 13 miles.  The wide valley was heavily irrigated with crops and cattle grazed in some of the fields but it wasn’t very exciting scenery.  It was near 2:30 when I reach Vale but that was Pacific time and I had passed the Mountain time zone so it was actually near 3:30.  I stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and then debated continuing on.  It was another 20 miles to Nyssa which was easily in reach.  However, Vale had a $30 motel rate and I was unsure what I would find in Nyssa.  In the end I decided to take advantage of the cheap motel and call it a day.

After cleaning up I ate at a restaurant next door and had a filling Mexican burrito and drink for $7.  Then back at the motel I fired up my PC and discovered WIFI access to boot.




Copyright Denis Kertz, 2008. All rights reserved.