a.k.a. The One In Which I Hit The Deer
Breakfast at the Pilot Butte is good indeed! But instead of lingering over good coffee, I am hitting the road early this morning in front of the other gals. I'm on a quest to bag two extra national parks in two additional states, which will make for a long day's riding! No one else in the group is too interested in the kind of long sightseeing day that I love, so we'll meet up at day's end in eastern Washington state, and I head out of town while they are still nibbling on the last of the morning meal.
It's a beautiful sparkling morning as I cruise up Hwy 97. The Cascade Range slides slowly by on my left-hand side, the peaks about thirty to forty miles to the west. I don't know the names of those snow-capped volcanic cones until I look them up on a map much later -- the Three Sisters, Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood -- but they dominate the landscape and keep me company along my way. A few miles short of the Columbia River and the state line, strong gusty winds spring up. I'd been warned that wind is generally awful around the river, and sure enough, they howl through these narrow canyons.
The road spills out into the river gorge at Biggs Junction, and I cross the Columbia via the newly repaved US-97 bridge, which soars high above the water. All vehicles are fully exposed to the wind and I am careful to hold my lane and not pass anyone along here. Safe on the north side of the river, the road passes through the flyspeck town on Maryhill WA, then climbs to the top of impressive cliffs. Time for the first stop of the day.
Sam Hill's Stonehenge stands atop the cliffs at Maryhill. Built as a memorial to fallen WWI soldiers (started in 1918, completed in 1931) it is a full-sized replica of the 'Henge on Salisbury Plain, made of reinforced concrete. A roadside oddity with an absolutely magnificent view. I drag out the tripod (for one of only two times on this trip) for a photo of myself.
Then I head inland, following the Columbia upriver on the north side. This is Hwy 14, a lovely two-lane that beats the hell out of Interstate 84, the main road that remains in sight across the river. I cross back into Oregon at Umatilla, pick up hwy 730, re-enter Washington state, and eventually pick up hwy 12 heading toward Walla Walla. This will take me to Whitman Mission, the site of an early missionary settlement in the Northwest that eventually led to conflict between whites and natives, ending in disaster. I walk the grounds; it's pretty and neatly groomed, yet sad and somber all in one.
Continuing along hwy 12, I pass through lovely country in eastern Washington, on my way to the Idaho border. It's somewhere west of Pomeroy that it happens ... a biker's worst nightmare. I am just cruising along with traffic (yes I was going the speed limit, actually) and rounding a big sweeping right-hand curve when suddenly there are DEER. Deer in the ROAD. Deer in my WAY. At sixty miles per hour it all happens so fast that I have barely any time to react. There are two of them, running in lanes on the highway (in more or less the same direction I'm going) full speed and panicked and unpredictable. I don't even have time to get on the brakes, just get off the throttle, as the one closer to me veers suddently RIGHT INTO ME and thumps off the left side of my engine guard and footpegs ... WHUMP! I don't know how but the bike stays up, thank the gods, and my mind races at a million miles an hour as I check everything I can on the bike while still in motion. No wobble, no loss of power, the clutch and the gearshift both appear undamaged, but there's no safe shoulder where I can pull off and I have to wait about three miles until there's a good place to stop. I drop the kickstand and climb off, the adrenaline finally starting to ebb a bit. I find no damage at all doing a walkaround. Not even any blood or fur or deer guts to be seen. How did I get so incredibly lucky? How did I come out of the worst scenario so entirely unscathed? My angels are looking out for me, surely, on this day.
Reaching my second park of the day, Nez Perce in Lewiston ID, is sort of anticlimactic. I chat a while with the ranger, and take in the film available at the visitor's center (a better-than-average one about the historic and modern-day Nez Perce tribe) and generally chill out for a little while after my deer encounter. I need to get myself a little food, too. I know I talk about pie and BBQ and all sorts of alimentary goodies on my trips, but the actual fact of the matter is that I really don't eat much on the road ... I forget, usually, or just don't feel like eating. (I actually lose weight on all my trips, go figure.) Coming back through the town of Lewiston, I stop for gas and a Balance bar, and then strike out for the town of Sprague WA. It's a spectactular road that climbs north of the city, topping the cliffs that rise above the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. From there it's wonderful two-lane roads across the Washington countryside, the sort of roads and small towns and scenery that I would heartily enjoy under normal circumstances, but I am still pretty edgy, on Cervine DefCon 4 from the encounter earlier today. I reach Sprague without further adventures, and find the rest of the gang has already headed down to dinner (a resort restaurant, amusingly named Klink's On The Lake) and I head a few more miles down the road to join them ... and two more damn DEER cross the road right in front of me just before I get there! Wow, today is one day I am happy to be off the road at the end of the day. Too many critters for my taste.