Hell on Wheels – Pioneering Spirits – Day 1
DAY 1 – Sunday, September 13 Baker City to Farewell Bend 51/66 Mi
It is always advantageous to design a first day route that is not too difficult, allowing riders to “warm up” for the week ahead. This is an almost perfect example of that theory, as the day is short, without much climbing. In fact, with the exception of the little “bump” a few miles before the finish, the day is almost all downhill! Okay – Okay, so there is a gradual climb from Baker City for about eight miles, with a grade that maxes out at about 2%, and THEN it is all downhill.
There are only two roads traveling from Baker City to Farewell Bend, and our route uses both of them. We avoid the freeway for the majority of the day by riding on Old Highway 30. This two-lane road parallels and crosses Interstate 84 for thirty miles before ending at the Durkee Cement Plant, and then riders must use I-84 for four miles. We exit the freeway for lunch at the Weatherby Rest Area (think grass and trees), at the beginning of the Burnt River Canyon, and then ride on the freeway shoulder again for another 6.5 miles until exiting at the abandoned community of Lime.
The cement plant in Lime closed in 1980 when the local limestone supply was depleted. The current plant near Durkee (the only cement plant in Oregon) was built in 1979, and obtains the necessary limestone, shale and clay at the plant. The current owner, Ash Grove Cement Company, merged with the Oregon Portland Cement Company in 1983.
After leaving Lime, the route continues on Old Highway 30 to Huntington, the Catfish Capitol of Oregon (the 30th annual catfish derby is Memorial Day Weekend – winning fish last year was 35 pounds). The final stop of the day is in the city park, and then its time to climb the “big hill” of the day, a whopping mile and a half or so, followed by a fast downhill for two miles to Farewell Bend State Park, on the banks of the Snake River.
Farewell Bend was the last stop on the Oregon Trail along the Snake River where travelers could rest and water and graze their animals before the trail turned north through more rugged country to follow the Burnt River towards Baker City.
For those who think 51 miles on the first day just isn’t enough, a 15-mile loop option is being offered at the beginning of the day. This option travels north of Baker City, and then makes a loop on flat roads through agricultural fields to return to the starting point for a water stop. Then, riders will be at the very back of the pack to start riding the main route.