The Modern World Pedaled Through
THE highway that runs through Oregon's Whitney Valley is a major bicycle route and marked on the maps as such. What isn't marked on the maps is the weather. Many bicyclists ride through that area of the Blue Mountains during sunny days and nights warm enough to survive and probably don't realize what kinds of storms they've slipped between. The cyclists begin to appear in late May and early June, a period of "unsettled" weather, when anything can happen - snow, sleet, hail, graupel, rain, lightning and t hunder, even warm sunshine.Skip to next paragraph
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I worked on a ditch near the highway one early June day and stayed with the job when sunshine changed to clouds and wind and snow. I continued because I wanted to finish the job, and because I was close enough to the house that, if the storm continued, I could run for it just before I froze solid.
Two men, one with grizzled beard and hair, pedaled into view, bent low in the face of snow in the wind. One of them saw me and stopped, and the other stopped beside him. The older of the two asked me, "Don't you ever have any good weather in this country?"
I couldn't help myself. I said, "I don't know yet. I've only lived here for seven years." I could see why they didn't find my answer as funny as it appeared to me. They weren't backed up by a warm house a hundred yards away. I said, "This snow might keep up for a while yet. Come on down to the house, and I'll fix some hot tea."
The members of my family, who would usually have been there with a fire going, had gone to town. But it took me only a few minutes to get a blaze roaring in the kitchen stove, and a few more minutes to bring water to a boil for tea. My guests were grateful for the hot stove. I think they might even have regretted not having laughed more heartily at my joke about the weather. In any case, we talked amiably about the weather, local wildlife, my job, and where and when they had started their trip, weeks and
hundreds of miles before.
People ride bicycles clear across this wide nation. More power to them, but someone should write on the maps, "This area has unpredictable weather. Go prepared with all manner of clothing, tents, and sleeping gear." Maps did use to warn, "Here there be serpents," so that the sailors would not be caught unaware.
We finished our second cup of tea. Their clothing was almost dry. Clouds and snow blew away to the east. The sun shone warmly, and the wind calmed to a pleasant breeze.
One of the men asked, "Will the sunshine last?"
He probably only wanted reassurance, and his question might better have been, "Is there any future in returning to the pedals?" and I could have answered, "Always. Excelsior," since the stretch of highway they had to pedal next was a steep climb of over a 1,000 feet in five or six miles. But I gave an accurate, mundane answer, "There isn't any way to tell. If you're not equipped for bad weather, you should probably make all possible speed over Huckleberry Summit. Once you clear that, it's downhill most o f the way into Baker, about 43 miles from here. When you get off the mountain, you're a couple of thousand feet lower, and whatever the worst of the weather does there, it will be warmer than here."