Thursday, August 21, 2014
Cool, yet sunny desert mornings are always pleasant. Our Wednesday work day was productive and with a quarter of the TAT left, we were anxious to get back riding. Due north we rode to reconnect with the TAT at the town of McDermitt on the Nevada / Oregon border. Skies were mostly clear, with cloud streaking their way from west to east.
When we left US Highway 95 from McDermitt, we were in the middle of nowhere Nevada and Oregon with no way to know which state we were riding, except little fictitious lines on our GPS receiver screens. As always, the route always starts out as basic gravel roads, which degrade as our distance from populations increases.
The ubiquitous browns and yellows of plants that were past their prime envelope most of the landscape; although, occasionally we can see lush greens concentrated along creeks and springs that attract life to the desert even in the middle of summer. Frequently, these creeks and springs are where the ranchers established their homesteads. And in some cases, like the Pacheco Ranch in New Mexico, the TAT passed right through the middle of the ranch. This particular ranch occupied land on both side of the Oregon and Nevada line. As we approached the homestead, we had a fun water crossing before we stopped by the campus of barns, home, and other ranch buildings.
When we crossed into private property, we were often opening and closing gates. The variety of gates and the mechanisms that keep them closed spanned the horizon. The gate shown below had a leverage bar that made closing the gate more reasonable, as it was under decent tension.
This Oregon / Nevada TAT section was quite manageable for all of us; that is, until the road changed from decent to rough two-track that hardly had seen human presence, except for what appeared to be recent motorcycle tracks that wove back and forth, from left to right in an effort to find the path of least resistance.
We struggled up and down hills with rocks the size of baseballs and softballs, determined to not let the TAT get its way.
Fortunately, clouds and the haze from wildland fire smoke managed to keep the temperatures in the high 70s. All was relatively well, until we reached creek crossings that had turned into a mucky mess thanks to the free range cattle.
The first creek crossing wasn’t bad. The second was a different story. We had dealt with mud, but this was a combination of stagnant water, mud, cow crap, and cow piss. It was a real s*#t hole! No big deal if we’re talking about a couple of feet to cross, but this was close to thirty feet. First assessment was to grab willow and sage branches to create some substance to facilitate crossing the muck. Twenty minutes later, we had made about five feet of progress and things were looking promising.
But wait, where does that path go? Seems that those pesky cows had found an alternate and drier route not too far upstream. Upon evaluation, we’d need to remove our saddlebags and as much weight as possible, since the “alternate” route was truly off-road and more technical than our TAT adventure so far.
Weight reduced, Kendrick was willing to be first and almost made it without issue. Almost made it. The uphill bank where we needed to exit was more sand than dirt and before we knew it Kendrick had his bike buried to the rear axle. Digging, pulling, and muscle were necessary to get the bike out, but once it was free, meant that we could get the others across.
Scott rode Madelyn’s bike across and up the bank without getting stuck and then he rode his bike across and up the bank without getting stuck. This little exercise cost us about an hour and a half, but we were victorious!
By the time we had re-loaded the bikes, it was time for our noon-time break. Madelyn opted for a nap in the dirt, while Kendrick and Scott enjoyed salad in a bag, pita chips, and hummus.
The TAT wound its way out down to a big valley with most of the land belonging to what appears to have been the King River Ranch.
The trail then heads back up an adjacent valley using roads that we’re not sure are technically roads any more. Again, we found ourselves later in the day with large uphill, rocky sections that were more technical than our skills and energy levels would accommodate. So, we needed to find an alternate unpaved road over to the next valley and eventually to Denio Junction.
Then we found our connector road! Called “Nine Mile Road”, it passed more or less from east to west, up and over the mountains to US Highway 140, not too far south of Denio Junction. The views were spectacular, the road wasn’t too gravelly, and we could make good time.
By 6:45PM, we made it to Denio Junction. Even though the restaurant was closed for the night, our bartender offered to make us sandwiches and given our appetites, we gladly accepted her offer. Not only were we in luck for grabbing a decent bite to eat, they had one room left with two beds, bonus!
You can’t be picky in the desert, 98 miles from Winnemucca and 140 miles from Lakeview. Denio Junction was the perfect place to call it a day, as we put ourselves that much closer to Port Orford.