Stampede in the dark

Some years ago, as part of a training regimen for Cycle Oregon, my wife, Annette, and I began a daily bike ride out past Emigrant Lake and up Old Highway 99. The goal was to go further each day until we had reached Callahan's.

The turn off from Highway 66 is pleasant and flat, but the swell of the Siskiyous soon commands an increasingly steep and long grade upward that doesn't spell relief until one coasts into the lodge's parking lot, many strained miles into the clouds from the oxygen ripe roads along the valley floor.

Daily we would pedal until pale, then turn around and barrel down the former stagecoach road at breakneck speeds while refilling the tanks with air and adding a few bugs to the smile. Downhill was always a breeze compared to the doldrums encountered during the strain of the seemingly endless climb.

One afternoon we got off to a fairly late start, but were determined to give it our all as we made our final assault on the summit. Locked into the ascent we cranked away until we reached our goal, cheering as we locked our bicycles together and entered the lodge.

Normally I eschew eating much when riding hard, but this was a moment for celebration. We ordered a libation and split a meal as we recounted every twist and turn of the serpentine grade we had just put behind us. I guess that I didn't realize how fatigued we were, as moments were stapled together until hours had passed and the sun escaped from a blue sky to sneak behind the further grade up to Mount Ashland. With Ol' Mr. Sol quickly went illumination, leaving us in the company of a moonless night.

We brought along some ankle lights, which were bright enough to see a few feet into the impenetrable darkness of downhill grade. We got back on our bikes and began what was soon to be a quite memorable blind drop into the valley, initially riding under a canopy of tall trees that muted even the meager starlight that meant the difference between optical strain and total darkness.

While attempting a slow and controlled descent, I heard movement in the woods to the left, quickly learning that we were in the midst of a heard of cattle that blanketed the unseen asphalt. I conjured up an image of a cattle drive, then of a concord stagecoach flying down the grade, staying on the road only by the skill of the driver, who wielded reins, brakes and a whip as gravity and centrifugal force conspired to throw the coach from the road.

In the panic of the moment, I also thought of the trains that threw sparks as brakemen strained to complement the slowing allowed by the compression of the mighty locomotives. The crew and passengers of those looming iron horses all knew that, if the train broke free from the braking forces, all might perish on such steep and twisting rails. Over time, buckets of adrenaline have washed down from the Siskiyou Pass, one of the most dangerous descents in America, as run-away tractor trailers remind us on Interstate 5.

Well too aware of the blind bovine business at hand, we could only do our best to brake, whistle and shout as we bumped our way through the herd, emerging a few hundred yards later into a break of dim starlight. We proceeded like tethered snails until reaching Emigrant Lake, then, with growing confidence, picked up the pace and pedaled with aplomb until pulling up at the porch.

The next day, I attempted to relay the near-trampling to a friend. I guess that I lost him when I ventured into stagecoaches and steam locomotives, for before I could finish I was cut off with a: "Lance, you are so full of bull."

(Lance was last seen inflating the tires of his road bike, and, judging by the length of the rope he had strapped to the frame, seemingly eager for Callahan's to re-open so he can, once again, lasso his way through the night. You may throw him a loop at

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