Looking for the Columbia


On the gravel road, on the steepest part of a climb, a car is coming from the opposite direction. The shining black machine slows down and comes to a stop right next to the bike. A tinted window slides open and the head of a young woman of about thirty years old appears.
‘Who are you?’ she asks in a resolute way. I’m a little perplexed by this strange question.
‘Uh…why do you want to know?’
‘Because you are on private land’
Oh shoot, here we go again. Every time I think a found a nice off road, I’m not allowed to ride it. Normally I’d see three or four ‘no trespassing’ signs (with bullet holes, to emphasize the intention) but this time I didn’t see any at all.
I apologize, and the woman helps me find an alternative. I can either go back to the highway, or take another, but a longer, route. She shows me how to find it, but I can’t see any road where she puts her finger on the map. Still, she seems very certain about it and it is obvious that she lives around here; I just got kicked off her land. It looks like she really knows what she’s saying. Besides, only a wimp would turn back to the highway.

Not long after I take this new route, there is a sign next to the road, that says; ‘WARNING – DANGER next 3.4 miles 6% down grade’. This makes me doubt my earlier decision for a moment, but I really don’t feel like riding this whole way back.

The gravel on the road down is very deep, probably because of all the trucks braking at this point. And the deep gravel is only alternated with even deeper gravel. I gear down as much as possible, but it’s not enough to slow the bike down; I have to use my brakes as well. Several times, I think I can feel the front wheel slide a little.
It’s only on the less steep parts that I have the courage to take a few pictures. And after every photo session, I hope I can kick the bike back to life again, I don’t want to get stuck in these lifeless and hot surroundings. Fortunately I’m on a pretty steep grade.

About half an hour later, I’m back on the trusted ‘blacktop’, and in the town of Biggs (population in 2010: twenty-two) I finally leave the steaming hot canyon, straight to the Columbia River. I’m trying to find ‘First View Monument’, a reminder of the fact that on this spot the emigrants saw, for the very first time, the mighty Columbia River, the river that would take them to their destination: Willamette Valley.
I ask a waitress where the monument is, but all I get is an empty stare. ‘I’ve lived here for twenty years, but I’ve never heard of such a monument!’ she exclaims. One mile down the road I find the stone marker.