John Day: Sheep Rock

June 28, 2008.

Everyone awoke bright and early, ate breakfast and packed up the cars. I did as much of my rehab as I could while people got their stuff together. I was unable to get a full set in, due to the logistics of being outside. But I figure something is better than nothing. I brought my weights and resistance band, and I have my brace to lock down my knee while I’m sleeping. I hope this week doesn’t set me back too much.

After stopping for gas in Dayville, we drove through Picture Gorge to the Sheep Rock unit of John Day. We arrived just in time for a ranger tour. The group was thrilled because they got to learn all about the geology of the area and ask all sorts of questions. I was thrilled because that meant a really slow hike! I met another slowpoke in the back of the group, an old man who preached the wonders of total knee replacement, which he’d had a few years ago. He also mentioned he was beginning to suffer the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I felt bad for the guy. And he still whooped my ass walking down the trail.

Ambling along at a snail’s pace, I observed the various plants and crows and colors and whatnot. I was mostly focused on walking steadily without a limp, and not dying of heatstroke. Normally this hike would have taken me about 20 minutes, including the gawking stops. Today, I didn’t bother looking at the time. I’d say at least an hour went by. I was never truly aware of how vitally important my knees are to my quality of life. I appreciate them now with a much deeper respect.

There were occasional places that I caught up to the group, under a shade tree, listening to the ranger speak. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. I was happy to reach the end of the trail. This was a huge accomplishment for me–the longest distance I’d walked in weeks. On the way back I noticed how different the scenery appeared from the walk in. The pastels of the dusty canyon contrasted with the deep browns and reds of the area outside. I took my time crossing each bridge and stepping over every rock. Members of the group slowly trickled past me as they headed towards the cars, and shade.

Eventually I joined them. We decided to eat lunch outside the nearby Cant Ranch house. The grounds are lush and green, with giant shade trees offering respite from the broiling heat. After a lazy lunch, we made a stop at the Condon Museum. Hot, tired, and dragging, I made my way through the various geological and paleontological exhibits at the museum. It was well put together, minus the lack of benches to sit on, and on a different day I might have actually enjoyed myself here. I longed for the couch, cold ice packs, and a nap. Maybe this trip wasn’t a great idea. I summoned up as much patience as I could. The rest of the group was in nerd heaven. We must have spent 1.5-2 hours in there. This wasn’t a big museum.

By now I was really worn down, mentally and physically. Greg had been dying to check out a swimming hole recommended by the park ranger that led the tour this morning. He convinced Kristi to divert from the group and drive out there. (He really didn’t have to twist her arm). The river ran just beyond a small thicket of marshgrass bordering a smal dirt pullout. I used my trekking poles to help me walk down to the riverbank. While Greg stripped to his speedos, Kristi and I walked in, clothes and all, to the cool, soothing water of the John Day River. WOW! My senses reawakened, my spirit lifted, and my body rejuvenated all in the act of entering the river. Simple pleasures often make the most memorable highlights of my day. We walked over to a sandy spot covered in tiny, frightened crayfish.

On the road again. We drove into the rockin’ town of John Day, where we did some grocery shopping and stopped at a diner for some greasy burgers. The next stop was Magone Lake, where we would camp for the night. By the time we got there it was the early evening, and since we’d already stopped for a swim the novelty of getting into the water was somewhat lost for me. Besides, the walk to the lake (although short for a normal person) was a real stretch for me. I took the stroll with Katelyn, who ironically was recovering from the same surgery in the same exact time frame.

This water was painfully frigid, and the screams of others in the water made it even less pleasant. By the time I got there most of the wading area was in the shade. There were droves of people here, most with RV’s. It was not my idea of a quiet vacation in the woods anymore.

I walked back to the campsite ever so slowly, had a nice dinner, and retreated to my tent for some peaceful reflection. I wrote in my journal and fell fast asleep. The croaking frogs didn’t even keep me up.

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