CLARKSTON, Wash. – Frost clung to the tent flaps for the second straight morning as 2,200 cyclists roused themselves for Day 2 of Cycle Oregon - an 86-mile ride from Enterprise across the Washington border to Clarkston.
As a group of us paused at the one stop sign before pedaling out of town, a man in his eighties ominously warned us about the 10-mile climb that was the centerpiece of the day’s ride. “Rattlesnake Grade? I wouldn’t go up that road in a car,” he said, shaking his head vigorously.
As we bid goodbye to Enterprise, the majestic Wallowa Mountains rose up behind the town in our rear view mirrors. The day’s route headed directly north, destined for Cycle Oregon’s first-ever visit to Washington state.
Riding 70 miles per day for a week takes its toll. I planned ahead and carried Ibuprophen in my jersey pocket. After thirty miles of mostly uphill riding, I was a popular guy, doling out “Vitamin A” to three different friends with achy knees.
We were richly rewarded for our pains, as the route brought us to a viewpoint high over Joseph Canyon. After stopping to snap photos, we coasted for 15 miles down broad, sweeping roads - and past the “Entering Washington” sign - before passing over the placid Grande Ronde River, where rustic farms dotted the riverbank.
We had one last snack stop before the big climb. Riders cued up for PB&J sandwiches. I packed a bag of jellybeans, hoping they’d provide the extra boost to get me over notorious Rattlesnake Grade, a 10-mile climb that twists from the valley up into the trees for nearly 3000 feet.
Cyclists weren’t the only ones slowed to a crawl by the sinewy road. A semi truck bursting with hay bales creaked up the road, groaning against the grade.
That struggling semi in many ways reflected the challenges facing rural counties. Many of these towns in rural, Eastern Oregon are at an economic crossroads. Their history is in the land, as farmers, ranchers and foresters. But the economics of those industries has changed dramatically, making it difficult to support families while working sustainably with and on the land. One effort to develop ways to do just that is a program called Wallowa Resources, an initiative in Wallowa County financed with support from the Cycle Oregon Fund.
After conquering Rattlesnake Grade, cyclists recuperated over lunch in the tiny town of Anitone, which greets visitors with a sign that lists not only the human residents but also the number of cats, dogs and horses.
For dessert, we feasted on a decadent corkscrew descent with sweeping views that plunged all the down to the banks of the Snake River.
Cycle Oregon founder Jonathan Nicholas likes to say: “The smaller the town, the bigger the welcome” and that was certainly true in Clarkston, where a welcome banner stretched across the road the boisterous high school band cheered riders to the finish of an epic border-crossing tour.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cycle Oregon Day 2