Making a Mountain out of a Mountain (USA Day 93)
I’ve awoken to the news that our Dear Leader has prorogued Parliament so he can make his own undemocratic agenda happen. I’ve been staring at this screen for an hour, just feeling betrayed and angry. Got to admit, I’m not feeling that playful this morning, but I’ll give it a go.
The morning’s cold clambered into our sleeping bags and shook us awake. Deserts, such as the one we’d descended into last night, sweating like baked potatoes, will do this to you. We shivered our way to standing and set off, cycling the first twelve miles of an enormous day along what should have been the easiest section: a sweet downhill into John Day with the morning sun on our backs. But the bitter wind froze us numb, and no amount of yelling at it with blue lips would convince it to warm up. My fingers wouldn’t do squeezing. Amy’s legs were clubs of goose-pecked ice. About ten miles in, she stopped responding in English sentences so we stopped and stomped about a bit, trying to heat some sense into our brains. A tough start to an even tougher day.
In John Day we thawed out beside a corner coffee establishment, sipping the largest, darkest brew the lady could squeeze us. There we defiantly applied suncream for the oncoming heatwave, and waved in Tom, who’d just coped with the same frozen early stint. Then back on the road, across the dry plains with giant-horned cattle and yellow-rocked hills for company.
Today was tough. We’ve had to cancel an upcoming rest day because of a lack of places to stay, so the future feels uncertain. Amy was most likely exhausted from yesterday, and she’d pulled a muscle in her neck. With no service and a worry about accommodation, it was causing us both some stress. We’d passed an Eastbound TATter and I’d half-stopped, half-carried on, half-asking how he was and half-veering away from a piece of passing traffic, causing all sorts of confusion and embarrassment. We cycled on sheepishly and I felt awful. The eighty-four miles planned, with the final thirty uphill, felt daunting. HiFicycle had to be postponed because my phone had failed to download Something and Here Comes The Sun, and you can’t listen to Abbey Road without those two. After stopping to marvel at an enormous bull, I ran over a patch of thorns and suffered a massive puncture, so we sat on some gravel, grappled with my tyre and ate a pitiful lunch, facing away from the mountain view because we couldn’t stand to admire it.
The afternoon started off better. The Picture Gorge invited us in, an angular stack of rock in odd formations, orange nested in pink, with streaks of yellow and grey. Here hide fossils to be uncovered, but not by us: we pushed up the gradual climb, counting down the torturously slow miles, unable to say anything positive to each other. At one point, excited by the mere two miles before a scheduled break, Amy realised there were, in fact, seven to go. That change of mental state was too much, and we stopped by the side of the road for a rethink.
Water evaporated from our bottles, our eyes ignored the view, and still we climbed, wishing for a summit that we knew wouldn’t appear until Mile 76. Nothing about the climb was physically tough. It’s the head, that tricksy bastard, making a mountain out of a…mountain.
We topped out joylessly and descended quickly, knowing that Mitchell waited on the other side of the canyon, containing a Bike Hostel that we’d been told about, in gasps of admiration, for weeks.
It lived up to the hype. Spoke’n Hostel is built inside a converted church, the main dormitory room a cool row of wooden bunk beds and deep sofas, with a piano in the corner, an actual real-life barber shop in the other corner, a stack of games in the other other corner and the fourth corner reserved for doors. Downstairs there’s a fully-stocked kitchen and homely lounge, leading to a garden with laundry, shower, then hammocks slung up by the stream, with views of the rocky hills. The place is run by Jalet and Pat, who moved the church into the basement part to leave space for beds upstairs. This is their ministry, and it’s more welcome than they could possibly have hoped for. Donation-based, it hands out dollops of kindness and trusts that it’ll be handed back in kind. Here was Erik and Sam, who’d also had a tough day, and Joe and Jeff from a few days back. Here was a couple who’re working in the local area to preserve natural spaces and reduce humans’ impact. Here were two Australian Cattle Dogs, who wagged and wiggled to see us arrive. This is the kind of place that keeps the TAT alive. We don’t want to leave, despite the excitement to come. The most we can do is urge you, too, to cool off inside these four walls when you pass. And don’t forget to sign the guestbook.