The back roads of Morrow County are paved with silence. The landscape is too vast, too remote, for small talk. No trees, no birds. Nothing but the dull dun scrub, the gutted gullies, the pitiless sun, and the western wind that bends the ears of the parched yellow grass. The endless road seems less like a highway of commerce than an effort to interrupt the emptiness, to mark the territory as belonging somehow to the human race.
At least, that’s how it feels when you’re pedaling through Six Mile Canyon, lungs aflame, the only sound your wracking breath and the scrape of the chain on a mutinous derailleur. I’ve come out here with Daniel Thomas ’89 for our annual bike ride. In past years, we’ve crossed the Coast Range, climbed the Deschutes River canyon, and explored the byways of Baker County. We’ve pedaled through places like Mist, Ruggs, and Shaniko, some of them pushing the definition of “settlement” to illogical extremes. Medical Springs was a roadside shack and a swimming pool. Jewell was a forlorn farmhouse. Kent was a grain elevator and a length of garden hose.
Why do we seek out these desolate places? Cycling is fundamentally a solitary pursuit and yet we do not feel alone. Morrow County offers a respite from the clamor of the city, the tedium of parking spaces and red lights and the mistyping of emails. Out here we move at our own pace. Out here we can take stock. Out here we can open up and talk about our hopes and fears, shout them to the world, let them echo through the canyons.
So when I found out that Reed’s new president, John Kroger, had pedaled solo across the country as a young lawyer escaping New York City, he went up a couple of cogs in my opinion. Not for the physical conditioning—this is Reed, after all—but because he read Anthony Trollope along the way. And because a self-propelled expedition is not about conquering the landscape. It’s about mapping the interior—and contemplating the long and sometimes perilous journey that begins in youth and ends, if we are lucky, in wisdom.