I had spent a fair amount of time combing maps, looking for places my wheels could take me. For day three I felt strong enough to do one of two rides. One option was riding to Heppner and back, an 80 mile road ride. The second option I considered was riding to Fossil on the ridge top that I was camped on, returning on Kahler Basin Road via Winlock. I was guessing that this would also be a long hard day, but on Fatbike–so harder.
I was more curious about the forest ride so I loaded up a go-pack and committed to an uncertain push over about 60 miles of gravel to Fossil and back. The roads, FR 21 and 25, would take me along a dividing ridge through timber country long past it’s boom. A few points of interest dotted my path on the map, but had not been seen yet. The road ride to Heppner would have taken me on a road I have driven several times. I generally choose unknown when given the option.
Mornings on mountain tops are a rare treat. On this morning I was a bit unsure of myself. Some coffee and I packed my bags with enough food and shelter to get caught out overnight if need be. I didn’t have an appetite. This seemed weird, but I just assumed I was nervous or something. A few miles of riding should conjure a hungry stomach.
Today’s book was a continuation of Catch-22. I had started it on my Kimberly ride the previous day. 31 hours of audio book, now just a couple of hours in, I was definitely having trouble finding myself in the story. I was told in high school that it is one of the greatest American novels. So far I couldn’t see it. The passivity of listening versus reading got me through the first 22 hours of 31. I still haven’t finished it. Perhaps I will now that road riding season is upon us here in Klamath Falls. Catch-22 is now my favorite unfinished book.
Luckily, George Clooney finished it for me, and I was able to find out how it ends on his Hulu mini-series last summer. His take on the ending was almost perfect in my opinion, but I will find out when I finish Heller’s book.
At some point you have to stop trying to find logic in politics. This book makes a good case for insanity. Institutional reality is more insane than being honored in the nude.
Cued up and facing west I pedaled until I found cadence on the ridge top, morning mist veiling the rising sun. Soon my cadence was broken with a thousand feet of drop in several pitches into the upper Kahler Basin. I chose a road (FR 25) skirting the south side of the ridge along the top of the watershed, then climbing north through a gap on the ridge, connecting with the ridge top road (FR 21) to Fossil. Views from road 25 are dominated by the John Day Valley. Buttes and mesas and desert spilling out south of me below the pine forest I was riding in.
I stopped a few times to study maps when road spurs would appear. Maybe there would be an interesting alternate route from my plan. Also, the signage is not exactly consistent on these roads, and a missed turn could mean hours of correction. I have been in that head-space far too often. These days I try to be deliberate with each move. I am too close to death for getting lost.
Every foot you lose in elevation must be regained on a bike ride if that ride is a loop. This ride was mostly level, but the initial drop had to be regained for me to get back on the main road to Fossil. This brought me to the first curiosity on my maps. A place on the ridge called “The Notch”. It is here that I found the end of my morning ride. Roads 21 and 25 intersect at a point on this ridge known as “Wetmore”.
There isn’t a lot to see at Wetmore. Just springs scattered around a pasture in the forest and a locked gate on road 21. “Private road” is what the sign says. I guess my plan had to change. Kinzua had locked me out.
I was wondering what a “Wetmore” was, and when I got to this spot I just assumed it was called that because of the prolific springs abounding the landscape. The actual reason for the name is explained here.
Wetmore is a remarkable place on earth. It isn’t spectacular like Havasupai. It isn’t even as visually interesting as anything I had seen up until this point on my trip. It is remarkable for the fact that there is almost nothing left of a mountaintop town that used to have a post office and school. All that is left is a pond nearby. I stopped for a snack but found that I was still not hungry.
That was remarkable. How did I sleep all night and now ride 15 miles without developing an appetite? I sat in peace, resigned that I would have to split up my ride to get my 50 miles in for the day. I contemplated my options for the second ride while the sun continued to rise. The morning was heating up fast. I guess summer had finally arrived.
Saying goodbye to Wetmore I thought I was due for a couple hours of exit riding, and I was, but first something caught my eye that changed my life. Maybe not my whole life, but certainly my artistic self. I saw god.
Can god exist in something that is not alive? I think so. In my mind all energy is the same. Everything observable is actually just vibrations of energy. Perhaps those vibrations have agency, even inorganic matter might have intention.
I found a rusty, crumpled fragment of culvert in the sand on the side of the road. This piece of metal caught my attention, although I do not know why. It was barely visible, camouflaged in the sand by it’s own ferrous oxide. I pulled it up and was pleased to find God. I decided at that moment that God is in everything I observe. I had felt this way occasionally throughout my life, but here, in that piece of metal, I found that truth forever.
The ride was something I had been working on since I had a life changing illness, February 18-22, 2018, when by what I can only call the “grace of God” I survived a flu that almost killed me. At that time I was in bad shape physically and emotionally. I had never liked myself and did my best as an adult to hasten my demise with alcohol, cigarettes, and negativity. I considered suicide every day, and came very close a couple of times, but remained here because a shred of optimism kept me curious about what happens next. I knew my suicide would be bad for my daughter as she grew up, so I did my best to get through each day just to be there when she gets home from school. Beyond that I had no interest in working to make my life healthy or meaningful. I found no joy.
In the months following my experience of illness I had profound uninitiated changes to my life. I would like to say that I was working on myself, but it was almost effortless, and with each passing day I found greater health and creativity. A year and a half of these changes had brought me to Wetmore and impasse.
If I hadn’t encountered the locked gate and “private road” sign I would have kept going. The gate didn’t stop me, there are gates all over the forest to keep cars out. The sign kept me out. I don’t trespass. That pivot led me to the shroud of culvert. What energy it took to create this metal form. I call it a shroud because it brought me peace in the way I imagine a soul feels while watching loved ones carefully and thoughtfully prepare a corpse for burial–or perhaps the catharsis felt by the grieving from the ritual of burial. For some reason I see unconditional love in the folds of the piece.
The metal is big enough that I didn’t want to ride the 15 miles back to camp with it. Pedaling east now I found myself coveting the metal. For some reason I was worried that someone else might find themselves in that place and see what I saw in the metal. I wanted to control my new god, not risk having to share it. Mile after mile I wrestled with this selfish idea. The possibility that it would be gone when I come back to get it was essentially zero. Why does the human in me want a material prize? Shouldn’t simply having the idea be enough?
Why do we need magic wands, crystal balls, fetish and talisman to channel a connection with universal truth?
I have always been cynical about religion for its emphasis on robes and false idols. For its worship of material crap. For is worship of money and other things of assigned value. For it’s unbounded hypocrisy. When I find myself coveting any objects I get deeply disappointed in my weakness. For my failure to see that nothing material has value. Weakness in compulsion.
This piece of metal was an exception. I spent the rest of the day very excited about it, knowing that I would come back later to get it. It had a future in my studios, and in my weakness it came home with me.
On the way back I got lost little. Bad signage and a tangle of roads at one intersection put me a few miles off course. As I noted earlier, these errors cost time, but I did figure out my error and it only added 40 minutes to my return trip. It was still 20 uneasy minutes that led me to a dead end and 20 back not knowing if I would be able to find my actual road. I did and soon I was back in my van. Still not hungry, but tired enough for a quick rest. It was early in the afternoon. Perfect for a nap with the ridge top breeze flowing through the open sanctuary of my Sienna.
When the heat of the day had past I embarked for Spray by car. To finish my 50 miles for the day I chose to ride along the John Day river from Spray to Service Creek. Just 10 miles each way, and that would take me to 52 for the day. My goal could be met. The ride was easy after 32 miles on Fatbike in the morning. There were a few side canyons I noticed for later exploration. There was a thunderstorm forming too. A daily occurrence on this trip so far.
On this evening ride I was not in a rush. I wasn’t nervous at all. There was a lot to look at and the coming storm was an invigorating challenge. Could I get my ride done before I was drenched and blown around by the storm? I was certain that lightning is not my friend on the open river bottom.
Service Creek is a place of departure from the river. North 20 miles lies Fossil, and south over the mountains lies Mitchell, a hamlet on the the way from Prineville to John Day. There is a cafe in Service Creek. That is it.
On this day I just turned around and began my return to Spray. One distraction was an old bridge under repair. A short photo stop and I was on my way again, hoping to get back up the mountain in time to obtain the piece of culvert from Wetmore before it got dark. I was cruising along with Spray in my sights when the river came alive suddenly. There were rafters and the storm had caught us all in this moment.
At my car the deluge dropped. I was inside as it started to rain as hard as I have ever seen. The lightning and thunder began immediately. I decided to scout a potential ride for the next day. It would be a good one, but for a bike I didn’t bring. Of the three I brought, none were specifically suited to that ride. It got me thinking about what kind of riding I hope to do in the future.
My future is bike-packing. I can no longer hike very far because of physical constraints, so I hope to start this new activity in the coming summer. It will be a way to disconnect from the world and reconnect to the natural world, several self-sufficient days at a time. Much like you would with backpacking, but without the prohibitive walking, and limited to bicycle friendly trails.
Up on top of the mountain I went back out to Wetmore and had one more crisis concerning my desire to possess the culvert scrap. With reservations I decided that this action was neutral to good in the energy of the universe. I cannot be sure that I am right. The metal is now here at Cafe Irie, hoping to be a sculpture some day.
In all of my activity for the day I realized that I had forgotten to eat. I wasn’t even hungry now. How was this possible?
In my training for the ride I was always hungry. I was eating 4,000 calories a day and I was still hungry and losing weight. Now, I had not been hungry for almost two days. Why? This continued until I returned to daily life several days later. It occurred to me (credit my wife with the seed of this idea) the following week that the reason was probably my brain. Brains use a lot of energy and I was not using mine much on this trip–a good thing. It was part of the point of the trip. Holiday disconnect.
I snacked on dried fruit and tea as the last light of day left me under luminescent olfactory skies of post storm ozone.
Words from Douglas Adams brought me to sleep with the notion of a super-intelligent shade of blue. I wonder what it would have to say.