A Monologue with the Æther

A Bicycle Odyssey

Day Sixty-nine: Wednesday 5 September 1990

Burns, OR to Lakeview, OR

I leave Burns, Oregon early. I am planning to cross more than 130 miles, nearly all of it through the high desert. It’s a 30 mile ride from Burns to Riley, Oregon, the last outpost of civilization before entering a 90 mile stretch of road through the Oregon high desert.

I take an extended rest stop in Riley, usually my breaks are 10 to 15 minutes long. I bought a Gatorade, bought some food, refilled my water bottles, and sat in the shade for awhile.

After about 30 to 45 minutes, I leave the tourist stop/store, heading south on US 395 towards California. I ride a lonely stretch of road through a treeless rolling plain of sage brush. Frankly, all this time in the high desert is depressing for someone from the Atlantic coastal plain. My knee begins bothering me again. I have now ridden south on US 395 for a couple of hours or so from Riley. The thought of camping in the desert is unappealing as I begin to doubt that I’ll be able to reach any place with facilities before night fall.

It is so quite out here that you can hear things miles away. You can also see clear to the horizon if you are at the crest of a hillock. I hear a vehicle. I see nothing ahead of me. Looking behind me, I see at the edge of my sight a vehicle probably a truck based on how clearly I can see the shape. I decide to attempt to flag a ride from the driver.

After several minutes, I can hear the vehicle getting closer. I turn and can clearly see that it is a truck. As the driver approaches visual range, I stop and stick out my thumb. Out here people are cautious but helpful. The driver stops and pulls to the shoulder.

He gets out of his truck, a flat bed tow truck. I approach exaggerating a limp. I ask if I can catch a ride, using my sore knee as the reason. It’s only partly the reason as it doesn’t really pain me too much to ride. The real reason is the depressing thought of riding through and camping in the desert. I’m sick of the desert. I want trees and water and grass and people and civilization.

He agrees to give me a lift as far as the intersection of Oregon 31 and US 395.

A few miles further south on US 395 after we part at the road junction, I see trees again. As I pass some near to the road, I spontaneously stop, dismount, and hug a tree. I really missed trees. I continue the 20 or so miles to Lakeview, Oregon. From what I can tell winter tourism seems to be the town’s prime economic engine. Rooms are very cheap and well appointed.