August 7, Eugene, OR, 245 miles to Astoria.
This is another post by Pierce, aka dad, as Nash has fallen asleep after a long day of travel. We got a very early start yesterday in anticipation of our final big climb of the trip – a route that would take us over the Cascades at McKinsey Pass, then down into the Willamette Valley. Blue skies and cool morning temperatures set an optimistic tone, and all seemed to be going our way. Then, a few miles outside the town of Sisters, the drive train started making ominous ratcheting sounds, then ceased to function. We’ve long since learned to deal with chain and sprocket issues, but this was something different: a bearing had come unseated from it’s carrier, affecting the electric drive, but not our ability to pedal. Short of turning back and hoping to find a machine shop in Prineville or Redmond, our best hope seemed to be pressing on to the much larger town of Eugene… which meant continuing our 3,400-foot climb up to McKinsey Pass. Back in Kansas, we’d spent a morning limping towards to a repair facility using pedal power along, but that was on the relatively flat terrain of the Great Plains. Taking on a major climb without the electric assist seemed far more daunting, but we decided that we’d press on at whatever speed possible, getting out to push if necessary on the really steep bits. And so, we spent the remainder of the morning and early afternoon inching upwards at 4 mph or less, and there were indeed a few occasions when I dismounted and put my shoulder to the stern of the cart while Nash applied full power to the pedals and steered. Our chosen route was a scenic byway that disallowed commercial trucks and larger trailers, but as the day wore on, recreational traffic picked up, and the road turned narrow and twisty, with limited sight distances. A few miles from the summit, the route intersected a massive lava field, and in many places the road builders simply cut a canyon-like swath through the dark rock rubble, creating narrow conduits with precipitous walls just beyond the pavement sidelines. On several blind turns near the top, we took turns walking well behind the vehicle to flag down any approaching cars that might otherwise round one of these entrapping chasms and discover our slow-climbing vehicle too late to react. Needless to say, it was a relief to reach the top, relax a bit and take on the view, Our true reward came in the form of a carnival-like swoop along nearly 15 miles of descending switchbacks. We could smell the brake pads heating as we slowed to keep the cart upright on tight turns, and on more than one occasion the speedometer moved north of the 40mph mark. Once safely into the river valley, the challenge wasn’t over, as the scenic route intersected with the far busier Route 126, which carried a heavy load of weekend traffic. For the remainder of the afternoon, we hugged a narrow shoulder while long lines of RVs and SUVs thundered passed. After passing several small resorts and campgrounds that were filled to capacity, we found the McKinsey River Inn, were we were able to pitch our tent on velvet-soft grass in an apple orchard not far from the river. After a quick plunge in the cool, fast-moving water, we enjoyed a late dinner and an early turn in. Today, well…. It was more of the same as we slowly pedaled our way along Route 126, making use of every available scrap of shoulder, and sometimes pausing on narrow stretches to wait for a break in the seemingly incessant lines of traffic. After hundreds of miles of light contact with automobiles, it was quite a wake up call. There not much to be said of the remainder of the day, other than it involved long, slow hours of effort, with a final respite in downtown Eugene. Tomorrow, (Monday) we will spend the morning getting the drive bearing repaired, and begin our final week of touring up the Willamette Valley, then over to the Oregon coast. If there is an up side to our past two days of toil, it is bragging rights. We proved ourselves capable of moving our 700-pound cart/cargo/passenger ensemble significant distances using human effort alone – albeit at an average of 6 mph – and did so while climbing one of the West’s major mountain ranges.