Russell Fisher - TransAmerica Trail 2000 - Oregon and the End of the Trail
First off-road across the USA - Oregon and the End of the Trail
August 28, 2000 - Nevada - toxic waste dump in waiting or the epitome of the wide-open wild west? You tell me...
I've seen (and, er, tasted...) more than my fair share of it now and I'll still opt for the latter, but strangely the majority of Americans still seem to voice a preference for the state's possible future as a vast chemical crapper (nuclear waste seems the favourite just now). It's a pity.
Yeah, OK, I come from Britain. "Gee, you guys have got so much history over there," the average American citizen inevitably says. Yes, but we've got nothing that can compare to this - no vast areas of nothing, no enormous tracts of unspoilt land where the wildlife wanders around in a generally untroubled manner... no room to swing the proverbial pussycat. It's YOU who are the lucky ones. YOU who can enjoy the benefits of all this space. THIS is history, even if you didn't take much of a hand in its creation. Just because it lacks a shopping mall every 20 miles or a convenient RV hookup site doesn't mean you should move the people out and the toxic trash in.
Back in the UK I live bang next to a building that's stood there for 850 years, but somehow that tiny piled of ordered rubble just pales into insignificance...
Right, rant over. Where were we?
Nevada. Heading North from Battle Mountain to a one-pump stop in the called Denio Junction, then on westwards across more rolling and treeless high hills and plains where the antelope outnumber the people by a factor of...well, rather a lot. The wildlife, even this far into the journey, still amazed me - I'd come chugging over a rise and rudely disturb a group of 20 or more wild horses who'd freak and take off across the sage in a massive cloud of dust and generations-old mistrust, or groups of two or three antelope who, despite their popularity among the camo-wearing, gun-totin', fauna-poppin' fraternity out here, would display an amazing curiosity at my presence. The eagles were omnipresent, the prairie dogs prolific and...well, if that wasn't a chunky example of a wolf I saw just before the California state line then someone somewhere had lost a particularly resourceful, large and muscular grey alsatian.
Nevada was fantastic - it nearly finished me off inasmuch as there were at least two occasions when, sick of digging the bike out of sandy washes, tired of the lashing I was taking from the undergrowth which threatened to enfold over the trail and worn down by the nagging concern about my isolation, I'd come close, VERY close to cutting and running to the nearest strip of paved highway I could find on the map and scuttling sharpish to the closest can of cold beer. But fortunately something kept me going - quite possibly the fact that I'd have to admit to it on this website.
Tsk. The wonders of the world wide web, eh? Can't even crawl off and admit defeat when you want to ;-)
After a brief foray into Northern California, Oregon awaited - my final state! And, yes, once again the big topographical switch was thrown and the landscape changed dramatically - strange; did they divide the states up by all getting together and saying stuff like "right, you take this bit with the hills and all those sage bushes, and right there, where the trees start and it gets all green again, that'll be our bit, OK?" No, probably not.
The trouble with trees is they get in the way of the view; after days, weeks of being able to squint across the horizon and see roughly where I ought to be going, the thick timber cloak of Oregon closed down tight around me and disorientation set in - as did the cold. It wasn't too bad (despite frozen feet during my first night outdoors in this westernmost state) initially, but as the trail worked directly north from Lakeview towards Gilchrist then west over the mountains to Canyonville, I'd dug out my near-forgotten jacket, pulled on every T-shirt I carried and taken to stopping every hour or so to wrap my numb fingers around the tailpipe, burning my gloves in the process. A country of contrasts, eh?
The route through Oregon was nearly 600 miles, but with the exception of a few sections of trail which clung tenaciously and spectacularly to high ridges where the treeline dropped away to either side, it was comparatively dull stuff with memories of Nevada, Utah and Colorado so fresh. And, of course, I was tired and - for the moment - down again; for no good reason I could think of apart from the journey was nearly over, I was approaching some big fat decisions and... well, it was a Tuesday or something.
Maybe that's why I overlooked my usual daily bike-check routine on the morning of the last day of the Trans-America Trail, and thus forgot to pump up the front tyre which had been slowly losing pressure for the last week. Whatever, with less than 50 miles to the Pacific, I hit a drainage channel a little too heavily for a front tyre with less than 10lbs of air and picked up my first and only puncture in 5,000 miles. Bugger. The change took exactly 35 minutes which is geological-shift-speed for all those iron-fingered enduro types, but nevertheless I was pretty happy for a first-timer.
The next mile brought another first. "That's a bloody big dog," I thought to myself as I swung around a long right-hander etched into a steep hillside and saw a large and shaggy rear end waddling up the trail no more than 30ft away. "One of those big black Newfoundlands or something by the looks of i.... woaaaaa, shit, it's a bear..." My first and only black bear was as keen to get away from me as I was to vacate his personal space, and with a couple of fat, loping bounds it was off up the steep bank and into the darkness of the forest. "Bear, shit, bear, shit, bear..." I repeated mantra-style and wound back the throttle.
The third obstacle stuck in my path to underline the sting-in-the-tail nature of this run was a "grassy" track which didn't so much run through the trees as disappear into them altogether. There had been logging in the area in maybe the last 12 months and, by the looks of it, a wildfire maybe a year or so before that, the result of both being the extinction of the then-faint track that Sam (Correro) had mapped six years previously.
The map offered me no alternative but to beat my way through the woods - an exercise which proved time-consuming and painful inasmuch as a near-bald MT21 provides nearly zero traction when you're struggling to get through and over logs littering a deep bed of dust and pine needles. Three hours and just three miles later I emerged and regained the trail, but by then I'd truly had enough.
Stuck, Oregon woods
The Pacific appeared as a hazy blue line on the horizon at first, then stopped me in my tracks at Port Orford, a tiny fishing community roughly 60 miles north of the California state line. I'd finished.
The Pacific, at last
I'd crossed the USA in four weeks, five thousand miles and - occasionally - within a few inches of too much excitement for my own good. About 4,200 of those had been on dirt. I'd used three rear tyres and grown at least three more grey hairs. I'd, in turns, laughed out loud then wondered what the hell had possessed me to ever think about doing this. I'd taken risks that hadn't bothered me until I'd sat down and taken the time to think about them afterwards. I'd cooked in 106-degree desert heat and froze my feet in sub-zero Rocky Mountain nights. I'd spent hours, days, weeks on my own and, conversely, met a lot of people I know will occupy a spot on the Christmas Card List for many years to come (not that I send Christmas Cards - it's a figure of speech). I'd had the time of my life.
And what now? Well, the trip didn't (and doesn't) finish there, although the dirt certainly did. Since then I've run down the coast to San Francisco, east across Yosemite and the Tioga Pass, north back into Nevada and east again past 'Area 51' and over the deserts which so fascinated me, and back into Utah. From there, who knows?
Maybe I'll let you know.
But if you're interested yourself, drop Sam Correro a line after visiting his website at www.transamtrail.com. If you're a dualsport rider don't be put off by some of my tales of gnarly climbs and other semi-technical stuff, as Sam's busy working on alternative routes which will give the rider two trails to chose from depending on either their bike or experience. You'll miss the tough stuff, but you won't miss the wide open spaces and the... the unique view of what most of us inaccurately see as the most over-developed country in the world. It isn't. And the Trans-America Trail gives you the ultimate Back Stage Pass, the Access-All-Areas laminate to top them all.
To do this trip you will need....
1. A sense of the ridiculous.
2. Buns of steel.
3. The occasional desire to get away from people.
4. At least a month.
5. Not much else I can think of.
I need to thank these people...
Sam Correro for the route and enthusiasm and his family for their hospitality, Ernie & Christopher Phillips of Chatanooga for their wonderful company, Wendel Phillips and Family of Tulsa for the bed and warm welcome, Laree Peters of Tulsa for his company and historical insights, Howard Schultz and Elsa from Colorado Springs for their company and encouragement, Fred Hink of Arrowhead Motorsports in Moab for lots & lots, Marick Payton of Menlo Park, CA for his hospitality and front tyre...
My kids Leah, Lauren & Elliott for understanding why I wanted to do it and my partner Mary for telling me to go.
Thanks & love to all ;+)~
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