Scott’s Big Adventure, Days Two & Three: Pendleton to Burns to Boise

Around Pendleton

If I could have left Portland early enough to have gotten into Pendleton by mid-afternoon, then this next bit would have taken place then and I wouldn’t have gotten further off schedule for Day Two. As it was I got into Pendleton late at night, so my tour around my old personal landmarks took place on the morning of Day Two. I stayed the night at a Best Western motel on top of the plateau near my old Jr. High School. (Pendleton sits down in a valley formed by the Umatilla River and McKay Creek, and looking around on top of the plateau, you’d never even know its there.) Here are the places that visited, working my way from one end of town to the other. As you can see, things have changed quite a bit.

  • John Murray Jr. High School, which is now a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture office building.
  • The old Firestone tire store which my step-father used to own and manage, now a Sherwin-Williams paint store.
  • Main Street looks quite a bit different due to lots of renovations.
  • The Tapadera Inn, the prominent, big hotel in downtown, burned down years ago to be replaced by something unremarkable.
  • Hamley’s, the big Western Saddle maker, has expanded enormously, adding a steakhouse, a coffee shop, a museum, and a much bigger store.
  • The Little League ballpark where I used to play baseball. Looks about the same as it did, maybe a little spruced up.
  • The Pendleton Woolen Mills, looking pretty much the same as it always did.
  • My old church, Peace Lutheran, up on the hill, also looking pretty much the same.
  • Helen McCune Jr. High School, which is now City Hall. The attached gym and auditorium were detached and converted into a public rec center and performing arts center, respectively. The must have build a new junior high or middle school somewhere, but I didn’t bother with it.
  • The Arctic Circle restaurant where I used to go eat lunch during 9th grade, now an insurance agency.
  • The A&W restaurant where I used to go get root beer floats while waiting for my bus–which was always one of the last to arrive–torn down and replaced by something unremarkable.
  • The Round-Up (rodeo) grounds, looking the same as always, but with a nice red and yellow paint job.
  • My old house on Marshall street. We lived there less than a year, and I couldn’t remember exactly which one it was. But the neighborhood in general has gone a bit seedy.
  • The grocery store at the top of Southgate hill, now an RV dealership.
  • Sherwood Elementary, where I did 6th grade. Still there but its been expanded and there are external modular classrooms. Also, it no longer holds 6th grade but stops at 5th.
  • My old house on Jay Street. Still there looking about the same as I remember it. But this neighborhood has also gone to seed somewhat.
  • Andy Peterson’s house around the corner from mine. I knew which one it was, but it didn’t look the way I remembered it.
  • McKay Creek, at the bottom of the hill from my house, which we used to float down on inner-tubes. Still there, of course, but the area around it has built up a bit. I talked to an older guy on the street leading to the creek who’s family had lived there since before I did, who filled me in on a lot of what has happened over the years.
  • Hill Meat Company and surround pastures, gone, replaced by new (to me) houses and a park.
  • The hills behind the Seventh Day Adventist school, where we used to ride dirt bikes (this was before motocross became popular). A bit of it is still there, but its mostly houses now.

In general, things just look a lot more developed, with a lot of familiar franchise locations, which didn’t used to be the case. The thing I found interesting was that while everything seemed to be more developed, the guy I talked to said that the population had only grown by about 1-2 thousand from what it had been in the 70’s, and that no new industries had opened there. So why was there any growth at all? Doesn’t seem to add up.

Day Two: Pendleton to Burns

All of the above sight-seeing obviously took a while, and I didn’t end up leaving until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Late again.

Once you leave Pendleton, you’re back up on the plateau, and all you can see for miles in any directions are rolling tan-colored hills. To the south and east you can see the foothills of the Blue Mountains, also bare and brown. They are about 15-20 miles away, but because there is nothing in-between you and them, they seem to rise up out of nowhere and seem close enough to almost touch. Heading south on Hwy 395, you eventually get up into the Blue Mountains, and the brown landscape turns green as the sparely-spaced pine trees of the Umatilla National Forest start to appear.

About 50 miles south of Pendleton is the little town of Ukiah. I turned off there for a little side trip to Lehman Hot Springs. I used to camp at nearby Frasier campground in the winter, and on the last day we would hike over to Lehman to soak in the hot water. I had been planning on taking a dip there, but since I was running late, I just took some videos before heading back to the main highway.

On the road near Lehman, I encountered a small herd of deer who were grazing along the side of the road. When they heard me coming, they started running through the brush next to the road, then they dashed out in front of me to cross the road. It all happened pretty quickly, but I did manage to catch the dash across the road part on video.

Continuing south from Ukiah, I did some serious hill-climbing. Some of the passes that I went over were better than 5000 feet in altitude. The trees thinned out the further south I went, and the landscape gradually gave way from forest to rangeland. The views were spectacular, if you like western landscapes, almost routinely so. There are only so many times and ways to say “Wow!” before it starts becoming cliche.

As you approach the junction with Hwy 26, you drop down into the John Day River valley, where everything is nice green, irrigated farmland. the town of John Day is to the east at the head of the valley. I gassed up there and was told that there wouldn’t be any more gas stations until I got to Burns. I checked the mileage and figured that I should make it with room to spare.

Heading south from John Day, Hwy 395 immediately enters a very tight, narrow canyon with a small creek at the bottom. You follow this for quite a few miles before the road climbs out into more open “basin and range” type of country. Its really weird riding along at the bottom of a narrow canyon like that. I started thinking that it would be an excellent location for an ambush. Would have made a great place to film a western…maybe it did.

Once again into the forest, this time the Malheur National Forest. Once again, spectacular views. Once again, the forest gave way to rangeland. By this time it was getting dark, so I couldn’t see the surrounding area very well. As I approached Burns, I could sense that I had dropped out of the mountains and was in a very wide valley.

There wasn’t much activity in Burns itself. I rode through to the little town right next to Burns called Hines. Hines has a “traditional” franchise ghetto look to it. I found a cheap hotel and stopped for the night. I ended up taking for a while to another rider named Robert who was from Lichtenstein. He lives up near Spokane now, but he still holds his cigarette like a European. We talked shop for a while, then turned in.

I worked on editing my ride videos, but only got part way through Day One. I promised myself that I would hit the road early the next day, getting to my destination early enough in the afternoon to be able to get caught up on my blog entries and videos. But fate had other plans for me.

Day Three: Burns to Boise

For the first time, I actually started out in the morning around the time that I wanted to start everyday, which is about 9am. There is one big problem that I’m finding as I move further away from the coast: no civilized coffee.

The first 20 miles or so east from Burns is straight and flat. Burns is situated in a basin flanked by the Blue Mountains to the north, Steens Mt. to the south, and some other mountain range to the east. Getting up into those eastern mountains, the views were once again spectacular. If you like western landscapes, then this is the place to come to see it. There was no gas stations between Burns and Vale, a distance of about 120 miles. I made it but just barely. I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll be using that 1-liter spare fuel bottle more than once on this trip.

As you reach the eastern side of this range, the road brings you down into the Malheur River valley, which widens out into a nice green irrigated valley. Vale is a town right in the middle of the valley. Ontario is right on the border with Idaho as the Malheur flows out into the Snake River valley. About 10 miles south of Ontario is the town of Nyssa, also right on the border, which is were I headed since it was on the backroads route into Boise. Nyssa must be the onion capital of the world. I passed field after field of onions, already dug up and lying on the ground waiting to be scooped up and brought to market. Truck after truck after truck full of onions passed me in both directions. It smelled good.

Right as I was leaving Nyssa, going past a big sugar (from beets) plant, the Vespa died. Just stopped running. I pushed it over to the other side of the street where there was a vacant lot with some shade. It was about 88 degrees in the early afternoon when this happened. The Vespa wouldn’t start. I waited a while and kept trying, but no luck. I pulled everything off the bike and got into the engine compartment to check the fuses and relays for the fuel system–which was the culprit last time this happened–but everything seemed okay.

After about an hour, I gave up trying to fix it and called AAA for a tow. I have AAA Plus, which is GREAT for these kinds of circumstances. They will tow you anywhere you want to go within a 100 mile radius. They also helped me locate a Vespa dealer in Boise. I had been trying to Google the same thing on my cell phone, but for some reason it wasn’t working. BTW, the Vespa roadside assistance service is nowhere near as good as AAA. All they do is arrange a tow. They don’t help with anything else, no even in locating a Vespa-certified mechanic. And they only pay for the first $100 of the tow bill. You are responsible for the rest. Definitely get AAA Plus.

So, I rode into Boise in the cab of a tow truck. We dropped the scooter off at Big Twin Cycle, but they had already closed (I had spoken to them on the phone to make arrangements). The tow truck driver then dropped me off a the Comfort Inn by the airport, where I checked in and started contemplating possibly canceling the rest of the trip due to repeated engine problems. I was getting really bummed-out by the situation, so even though I had some free time, I didn’t do any video editing or blogging.

One thought on “Scott’s Big Adventure, Days Two & Three: Pendleton to Burns to Boise

  1. Hey
    scott – this is just such a wonderful thing to do. When you outlined the trip we were so happy for you, so just keep the long range plans in mind. You’ll get there – maybe with a few bumps along the way, but all the small wonderful things will more than make up for it. Dad and Rena

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