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  • Thomas Curran

Amarillo, TX to…Boise, ID??? to Mitchell, OR???

June 20 to July 5, 2019

What the heck?? Where have I been all this time?? Well, that’s a long answer that, if you’re following on social media, already know BUT, if you’re not, then here’s the deal.

I left Amarillo on Route 66 towards New Mexico in some pretty extreme heat. On June 20 my plan was to go about 24 miles but, after 17, I was done. I was in a very, very small town called Wildorado and I was baking. By this time my entire back had broken out in heat rash that was both itchy and painful. I thought they were hundreds of bites from some critter or another and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were from mosquitos, chiggers or even bed bugs with all the small, questionable motels I had been staying in. It wasn’t until Boise that I kinda confirmed they weren’t bites at all but either heat rash or whatever. Good news is that, after buying some good anti-bacterial body scrub they are healing just fine.

I had a host family lined up in Adrian, where I was hoping to get to, that night and Jr. Little was so kind to come out and pick me up and drive me into town. It was there that I decided that I needed to make a change. The desert heat was nearing 100 and was getting worse daily. I still had nearly 3 months remaining and all of it was through NM, AZ and the eastern deserts of California. I talked to my dad in Phoenix and they were experiencing 112 degrees. After talking to Jr. and his wife about my concerns and after several followers expressed their concerns, Jr. shared the story of a UFC fighter who had died in less than 12 hours in the same heat I was heading into. I am NO UFC fighter and made the call to change my route. I wanted to enjoy my final 1/3 of my walk and not have it be about survival (which I really wanted to do – survive). So, I figured out how many miles I had left to get to Newport Beach and hit my goal of at least 3200 miles and it turns out that Boise, where my mom, sister Megan and her family all live, gave me the opportunity to accomplish my goals in a much more enjoyable environment.

So, I jumped on a flight from Amarillo and was in Boise the very next day! Boom. Decision made! I stayed at my mom’s house and took 4 days to visit, eat, clean up and get ready for the remainder of my walk. I had a great time with my family. It was very relaxing and I got to see my friends Mel, Shannon and John whom I’ve known since high school. My mom took me around to load up on supplies and allowed me to just unwind and get mentally OK with my decision. Let me explain that.

It was during the take-off of my flight that the reality of what I had accomplished up until Amarillo really hit me. We took off northbound and I was on the east side of the plane with a window seat. It was a clear day and I could see forever as we rose above the plains. I strained to see the Atlantic Ocean but knew I never would. I also knew that, as far as I could see, I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of Oklahoma. The land was massive and I had walked as a spec on the road below me. The enormity of our country really sunk in and, I have to admit, a tear came to my eye. I had gone almost 2000 miles and I could maybe see a few hundred of it as we pierced through the clouds and I lost view. Wow. It also reminded me of how much land I still had to cover and I was a bit overwhelmed with excitement.

I want to be able to call myself a trans-continental walker. There’s no true definition for this. There are purists and there are people like me and most of the trans-cons I’ve become friends with. I didn’t want to think that anybody would doubt my walk or say I wasn’t a true trans-con because of my route change. It just really bothered me and took a lot of thought and encouragement from everyone important to me to get there. I was determined to have a straight line across the US thinking that was the rule for the title. Then I realized that’s all bullshit. Forget definitions and nay-sayers. My definition is that I will touch both oceans, I will cross at least 3200 miles on foot and I will enjoy it. Period. Nay sayers don’t matter to me anymore. AND – I get to finish my journey the way I had intended in the beginning before my first route change on day 6. So there I am. Happy with my decision, loving walking in Oregon, loving the weather and the mountains and the small towns.

My mother drove me to a town outside of Boise named Fruitland. From this location I would easily hit my mileage with room for wiggling and zig-zagging through California. From Fruitland I walked over the state line into Oregon and 20 miles beyond to a cool small town called Vale. I got a nice campsite at an RV park and had an awesome pulled pork sandwich at a local pub. I also stocked up big time on water and supplies because I wouldn’t see another gas station or market or anything for nearly 70 miles.

I would pass through a few more towns before my next services, though. Out of Vale I had a long but fairly easy walk to a pretty weird little town called Brogan. I was warned about Brogan from a few people back in Vale. I guess this town, which is really just a few buildings and an RV park, has had some significant problems with drugs and crime and the RV park had been raided a few times in the past year or so for said problems. I was told by one man to “sleep light with one hand on my gear”. Although the RV park was a bi sketchy looking, the people that lived there couldn’t have been nicer. Most of the residents made their way over to say hello and all of them asked if I needed anything. The owners offered to let me use their phone due to lack of cell service and I was able to do laundry, shower and chill out in an air conditioned room that doubled as a mini pool hall. I’m not saying the place was glamorous but I never felt concerned for my safety or my gear. I slept well and was off the next day very early – big climb ahead!

I tackled my biggest climb of my walk called Brogan Hill and this is also where I passed my 2000 mile mark!! Woot woot! That was a pretty amazing feeling. 2000 friggin miles under my shoes! Brogan Hill is where my friend Lindsay literally collapsed from heat stroke a few years back and was rescued by a family from Ironside where she recouped for a few days. Luckily for me it wasn’t too hot out. The hill kicked my butt. Someone back at Brogan RV park told me it was 2 miles to the summit. The reality was closer to 7 or 8 and it was relentless in it’s ascent. Long, long steep inclines with little to no recovery before the next climb. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I made it to the top. I did have a nice time at the summit, though! My mom, Megan and her two kids drove to meet me all the way from Boise!! They brought me a sandwich, a cup of coffee and some replacement fuel so I could make coffee and top ramen and heat up other foods. It was nice to see them again, on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, eating a sandwich and watching the kids play. Thanks family!! OK, back to my walk.

I was on my way to Ironside when I met a girl named Maggie who was just a few days away from finishing her Trans-America cycle ride. She was really excited and her father was following her in an RV to get her across safely and celebrate with her. I was connected to an awesome woman named Dona who lived in a town called Ironside. Dona hosted Lindsay through her recovery from Brogan Hill. Ironside is a town of 12 people. 12! Like Brogan and many towns I will pass through in the coming days, Ironside used to be a big, busy town. This corridor of Oregon, at one time, was the center of mining, logging and ranching around the turn of the century. As those industries declined, so did the populations and buildings and businesses on this long stretch. I heard from several people that their towns once boasted 10,000 plus people with hotels, bars, restaurants and curio shops. Now, most of those buildings are completely gone. There aren’t even slabs of concrete where they once stood which makes it very hard to imagine what life used to be like here. I thought about Ironside quite a bit and wondered what will happen when the last 12 habitants pass away. Will people move here or will that town just disappear completely. Sad to speculate and I think I will continue to check in on these places as the years pass ahead of me. Dona let me crash on her recliner but, before bed time, we made steaks and creamed corn and fried potatoes. We sat at the dinner table and exchanged stories of our lives. Dona was a true treat and I appreciated her hospitality.

Unity was next up on my route. I was pretty happy to get to Unity because I was getting a little low on supplies. A few hours after leaving Ironside I met a cyclist named Shane who was heading east. This was the first time I realized that the highway I was on was part of the Trans-America bike route. I would, over the course of several days, meet dozens of cyclists heading east to the Atlantic. Shane is from Ireland and it didn’t appear that he was packed for a ride across the country, more like a day trip to the next town. But he was winging it and I admired him for that. We talked for a bit and, when he told me he was heading to Boise, I gave him my card and told him to call if he needed help there. Well, later that day, the call came. His housing fell through so I called my mom and asked her to host him for the night. Shane made it to Boise the next day and I’ve seen pics of a big dinner spread that my brother in law Doug had made for him. So happy that my mom could pay it forward for all the amazing families who helped me out along the road. I made it to Unity and booked into a small, small, small motel that had a cafe and market next door. Not much to say about Unity except that the people who worked the market made a really good burger and were super cool!

Out of Unity I had a very long, mountainous day ahead of me. I had 3 summits to cross in 26 miles before the town of Austin. It was grueling. Up, up, up, down, up, up, up, down, up, up, up wait…what is that?? A cafe, bar and market at the top?? I was told no services till Prairie City!! I thought it was a mirage! I was in there so fast and had a big plate of food and a beer within a few minutes. I met a really nice couple in the booth next to me who ended up paying for my entire dinner! It was nearly 6 pm before I got out and I didn’t know where I was going to sleep. The next campground was 6.3 miles away with a 1200 foot ascent. Nope. I had already gone 25 miles and I would never make it before sundown and I was worked I walked up the highway a few miles till I saw a side forest service road so I made a quick dash into the tree line about 30’ off the road and decided that was exactly where I was going to sleep. I was in the deep woods and it was stunning! But, unlike down south, I had new things to consider – things like bears and cougars. Yep, both were in the neighborhood and had been seen as early as that morning in that exact area. So, my memory from bear training kicked in. I set up camp without my rain cover on so I could see all around my tent, I didn’t bring any food in or near my tent and I parked Alexa about 200 feet away in some bushes. There I was, with the sun going down, and all my weaponry inside my tent and all I wanted to do was crash! I awoke later to the sound of an animal of sorts that was certainly bigger than Wink but def not a bear. Probably a deer but it scared the crap out of me! I had the safety pulled off my bear spray and my knife was open and read. A few minutes later, feeling foolish, I put the weapons away and fell back to sleep pretty quickly. It was super cold that night and I was a bit bummed that I had sent home my cold weather bag but it is what it is! I awoke the next day and made some hot coffee and just sat to enjoy the forest waking up with me. The sounds of animals starting to stir and the sun coming through the branches and bushes was really cool. It was so quiet and it was awesome.

I had a short day after the forest as I made my way to Prairie City. I had a Couchsurfing host named Jeannine waiting for me. Jeannine was great. She worked in the forestry industry and had moved here from Southern California about 6 years earlier. We went out to dinner and, back at her house, sat in the jacuzzi for about 15 minutes which I needed badly! Then, guess what happened? That’s right! I crashed!

I took the next day off and had a room at the Hotel Prairie. My good friend Brook Gossard came to visit me as she made her way from So CA to Washington. I just happened to be near her auto path so she came to Prairie City. We hung out in John Day for a few hours. There’s a super cool museum in John Day called Kam Wah Chung Chinese Heritage Site. Going back to the turn of the century and well into the early 1900s there were over 2000 Chinese immigrants living in John Day making it the 3rd largest China Town in the US at the time. They worked primarily in the gold mines but two men, one a doctor and the other an importer/businessman, opened a center where they could perform their businesses and serve their community which was not treated well by non Chinese residents. Except for a few men, like these two, Chinese people were indentured servants and did not benefit from the same liberties that white men did. They couldn’t own homes or have businesses or run for government. But, if you were a professional, wealthy or intellectual Chinese immigrant then you were treated the same as white men. These two men were the leaders of the community and they built this house where they both lived called the Kam Wah Chung Center. One of the men died and, several years later, the other had to leave the site suddenly to go to Portland for medical reasons. They simply locked the door and left. It was 20 years later, when the city learned that they were the beneficiaries of the property and building, that they opened the doors to find a perfectly preserved market, living quarters, kitchen, healing area and the largest collection in the world of still packaged medicinal herbs, animal parts, etc. that were used in healing practices. The building was so well made that everything was as it was left 20 years earlier. Full cases of groceries, liquor, herbs, food products, and clothes were still perfectly intact. There were no signs of rodent damage at all. So, great day! The pictures below are exactly how they found the center!

Brook and I hung out that night and she crashed in my hotel room. We met another Trans-Am cyclist and a woman who was just traveling through and stayed up drinking beer with them and telling stories. It was a great day. Great to see Brook and a lot of fun to boot!

I left Prairie City and found a campsite about 25 miles out and, the next day, walked another 26 to Dayville. It was yesterday, July 4, and Dayville was in PARTY MODE! There was a beer garden and grill and rummage sale and the people were really cool! Everyone invited me to their tables and I had a great night. There was a little event they did that was kinda weird for me. All the kids lined up outside a fairly small animal pen and played Goat Roping. I know this is a thing with cows or bulls or whatever but didn’t know about goat roping. So they release a goat and a kid with a rope runs around trying to lasso it and tie it up. I’m pretty certain the goat didn’t sign up for this. Not my thing but it was theirs so no judgment from me.

I’m now in Mitchell which is a cool small town. No cell reception but I’m staying at a place called Spoke’n Hostel. It’s an old church that a couple bought and converted to a hostel for cyclists, adventurers and good people. You should check this place out www.spokenhostel.org. It’s super cool what this couple did to this place. I’m going to be here two nights as I tackle a mountain without Alexa.

Spoke’n hostel

As always, I appreciate your support and patience as I struggle to get this updated more regularly. I’m about 2100 miles in with about 1100 remaining! I’ll be in Bend, OR on the 9th!

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© 2020 by Thomas Curran

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