Mike, the good Samaritan from the previous day, was right. Today did get better than yesterday. As a matter of fact, I would have described today as a "great day". On this day I would enter into the final state of my bike journey, Oregon, and rediscover my feelings of connection to water which had been dormant since I left Chicago.
I awoke in my crummy motel in Dayton. Having been so shook up the previous day, I decided it would be best to spend some money on a hotel to get my head properly screwed back on. The strategy worked. I was feeling more like myself after a good night's rest. I'll tell you, little things, like not having to spend the first 40 minutes of my day packing up my tent, make a world of difference when living on the road. Comfort becomes sparse when your entire life is stuffed into four panniers.
The first 50 miles of my ride were more of the never-ending yellow fields that I had been riding through for the past few days. In Waitsburg I was pleased to diverge from the busier route 12 to follow back roads to the town of Walla Walla. On this twisty route I became immersed in the patterns of the farmlands which surrounded me. Ahh, it was nice to again enjoy being on the saddle. As my bike meandered through the hills, so did my mind.
Around midday I arrived in the town of Walla Walla. I intended on spending a few hours in this town at the library to get caught up on my blog. Upon arrival at the library I discovered that my plans had been foiled. The library was closed for Labor Day weekend. Remember that point I made earlier about "little things"? Yup. Stuff like this also gets under your skin while living on the road. Not faced with much of a choice, I decided to keep peddling.
Leaving Walla Walla was weird. First, the ridges surrounding the valley that I was riding through were covered with wind turbines. I had never seen such an expansive wind farm in my life. You could not avert your eyes to these things, they were simply everywhere. Second, Walla Walla didn't feel like a terribly upscale place, but it did have many nice wineries all around it. It seemed like there was a new winery every quarter mile or so. Finally, there wasn't a lot of roadkill out here...thank goodness. Instead, there were vegetables all over the road. I honestly lost count of the number of fresh onions, carrots and corn cobs that were sprinkled about the roadway. I would also be lying to you if I said that the thought to pick up one of the onions and take a huge bite didn't cross my mind. I don't know, it's just that everyone raved about Walla Walla sweet onions. I didn't eat one off the ground, so chill.
I initially planned on sleeping at a campsite around mile marker 50. The ride was progressing so smoothly that I opted not to, and boy was I glad that I didn't. Around mile 55 my spirits were lifted Rocky Mountain high. Awaiting me on the other side of the road's bend was the Columbia River. Seeing this tremendous waterway was a breath of fresh air. I had seen many rivers, creeks and lakes during this trip. None of them, except perhaps the Great Lakes, had had such an effect on me as the Columbia. It's blue water, glimmering beneath the afternoon sun, appeared to go on forever. It seemed to me that any of the rivers I had previously witnessed would hardly cause a splash in the Columbia. This river was truly great.
I was mentally transported back to the Severn River of my youth. I imagined those joyous days when we would cruise the length of the River to arrive at the grand Chesapeake Bay. The sensation of wonderment, the mystery of not knowing how far the body of water reached, returned to me. Seeing the blue Columbia was therapeutic. A very simple realization dawned on me: I am a water person. As much as I loved the mountains, there was nothing as mentally liberating as the endless possibilities of the abyss. I couldn't believe that I had been landlocked for so long.
My elation grew when I spotted a green sign in the distance. Before the characters on the sign were even legible, I already knew the message they would relay to me. They would let me know that the 16th and final state of my bike journey was upon me. They would assure me that the Pacific was nigh. They would give me reason to believe that my weary legs could soon rest. What did the sign read? See for yourself:
I shared a couple of uplifting phone calls with my brother and friend Ben. The river, the new state and the telephonic encouragement all fueled me forward. I had no intention to adjourn this ride. The Pacific was calling! How could I stop now? Oddly enough, the winds actually grinded to a halt this afternoon instead of picking up. I had every reason to continue riding, so I did.
Around mile 70 I arrived at the Sand Station state park, a small campground located on the south shore of the Columbia. I realized that it was getting late and that I should make a decision about where I would sleep this evening. It seemed that my choices were to stay at the Sand Station or ride another 15 miles or so to Umatilla, the next town on my route. As I pondered the merits of each options, I got to talking with a couple that was hanging out by their camper. Jodie and Lisa were very welcoming folks. In no time they had a Coors (pronounced "Cures") Light in my hand and were asking me all about my trip. I explained to them that I was unsure if I would stay at Sand Station for the evening or make my way downstream. They very quickly ended my internal debate by offering me a warm shower in the RV and inviting me to join them for carne asade that evening. Sold!
The sun set on my wonderful day by the Columbia. As the daylight dissipated, I joined Jodie and Lisa as well as their friends Jim and Tracy to a great dinner of carne asada. The food was great and the company was even better. Jodie, a native of the Virginia, struck up a nostalgic conversation with me about the weather back East. He marveled at the powerful lightning storms and beautiful fall colors that were so characteristic of the mid-Atlantic. His comments helped me to realize how unique it was to be raised in a region with four distinct seasons. My nostalgic reflections shifted to rip-splitting laughter when Jim began telling his stories of everyday life in Eastern Washington.
All night Jimbo was raving about some of the (supposedly) inbred, six-toed folks who inhabit certain part of Washington state. He recounted the time when a couple of dingbats drove their car into the lake behind his house during a low-tide, then got trapped when the tide returned. He described how he had to tow their car out of the mud to get these boneheaded young guys out of there. I asked Jimbo, "Why did they even drive their car out there in the first place?"
Without hesitating he responded, "Heck, I dunno. They probably looked down, started countin' their toes, got to six and got confused!" He did me in with that comment. I was laughing so hard that I may have woke some of the other campers.
I had a special day and night along the Columbia. My decision to stay at the Sand Station site was redeemed, not just because of the great friends I made, but because of the truly unique character of this little park. From where we sat we watched barges float down the river, cars zip by on the highway and dark trains power across the ridge, all beneath the cover of a brilliant night sky. That night I camped right next to the shoreline of the Columbia, where the rhythmic crashing of the river's gentle waves whisked me away into the solace of sleep.