It’s hard to judge a place by its summer, especially when the locals tell you that “If it were like this year ’round we’d be Southern California.”
Or, “It’s green like this for a reason.”
Or, “Hills make you tough but wind makes you mean.”
Or, “All those roads are closed after November.”
Or, “The winter inversion is so bad that when it gets here we just leave town.”
Or, “Summer is perfect, but it’s short.”
Or, “Don’t ever ride to The Dalles alone unless you like solo 25 mph headwind trips home.”
Nope, you can’t judge a place by its summer coffee shops, its summer ice cream, its summer huckleberry pie, its cool summer evenings, its lush summer green, its cornucopia of summer fruit, it summer mountain vistas, its summer freshets and gurgling streams, its endless gravel roads perfect for every single summer day.
Especially, don’t judge a place by its county parks, like the one I’ve been at for the last three days. Tucker Park is gorgeous, sits on the rushing Hood River, and is an old-school park which means that it has few slots for RVs and no slots at all for the giantesque junk haulers. The people at the park are in cars or pickups and most sleep in tents; in the day they’re gone because the people who come here don’t come to drink and shut themselves up in a cage, they are here to ride, to kayak, to kite, to hike, to fish.
But here’s what you can judge a place by: Its people. For example, the guy who got me down here in the first place, Dan Melkonian and his wife, Laura, people who define hospitality. People like Steve Ryan, who manages Tucker Park and makes a point of keeping it spotless, welcoming, friendly, happy.
People like Mitchell Buck and his crew at Dirty Fingers, who kicked me to the head of the queue to help get me back on the road.
What about Jeff Brauss, who gave me the extra can of propane I needed to cook dinner and let me ooh and aah over some very choice bicycles? What about the guy at Mike’s ice cream, who only takes cash or checks, and when we had neither, gave us an “IOU.” What about the gal at Shortt Supply who, when she saw I was on a long bike ride and had no propane, and knew that everyone in town was sold out, rummaged around behind the counter to find me a couple of canisters that had been saved for someone who had asked they be held but failed to come pick them up.
What about Walter the German dude who advised me re: wildfires, and especially, what about Nick Hardin?
I was at Kickstand Coffee this morning and this guy, Nick, came up to me and started asking about my trip and my route. As soon as I told him, he began giving me alternate ideas. Before long we were poring over maps together, he pointing out spectacular, can’t miss roads and spectacular, can’t miss breakfast joints that serve huckleberry cobbler at the foot of Mt. Hood.
He helped me find places with unbeatable names like Lolo Pass, the town of Zigzag, and various back roads to evade some of the wildfires that had cropped up in the last couple of days. He wanted to share the beauty and the hidden spots, reveal the solitude and gorgeous scenery that I’d never find on my own. His payback? Knowing I’d taken the right way after all.
I got the feeling after a few days that it’s okay to come for the summer. But what’ll keep you here are the people.
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