Oh, what a difference a downhill day makes! We left Baker City — elevation 3,450 feet — early this morning and arrived in Ontario — elevation 2,150 feet — by mid-afternoon. We also climbed 2,100 feet. Work the math and we must have descended 3,400 feet, making for a very nice day. This is truly the country where the skies are not cloudy all day. Today, they were not windy either, making everything easier.
A variety of minor maladies are affecting us. Three guys sat out the day because of blistered bums. Another had to drop out because of a sharp pain in his knee. The Locomotive had to fly home to recover from the viral infection in his chest; he’ll rejoin us in Idaho Falls. Come to think of it — it’s only the guys who are dropping like flies. The women are doing fine. Is this yet more evidence that women are stronger than we are?
We’re getting a real education in the riverine West. So far, we’ve followed the Columbia and Deschutes Rivers, Crooked Creek, the Powder River and the Burnt River (did the Powder River explode and burn the Burnt River?), the Malheur, the Payette, and today, the Snake River. (You can see in the image at the left why they call it the Snake). Without exception, the rivers were filled to the verge of overflowing. And there’s still plenty of snow left in the mountains. It’s going to be an interesting flood season.
We’re now leaving the pine forests and entering potato country. Orgeon’s pine forests look pristine and healthy. In other words, just like Colorado’s pine forests looked before the bark beetle got the upper hand in Mother Nature’s arms race. Bark beetles burrow in to a mature lodge pole pine, suck the life out of it, and then swarm to another tree to repeat the process. Roughly 3.5 million acres are affected — that’s the size of Delaware. Forestry experts say 100,000 pine tress are falling in Colorado every day. To control beetle colonies, you need temperature of minus 40 or so for a week or two. Colorado got such cold spells regularly in the past but no more. So the beetle colonies never die — they just come back every spring, more numerous and hungrier. And they’re moving west. They’ve already crossed the continental divide. They haven’t reached Oregon yet but I expect they will in the next five to seven years. Memo to Oregon: enjoy the pine forests while you can.
Day’s distance: 84.7 miles (136.3km)
Average speed: 17.9 mph (28.8kph)
Day’s climb: 2,150 feet (655 meters)
Total distance: 583 miles (938.2km)