Tucked at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains in far northeast Oregon, Enterprise was a long day’s drive from Portland, through some beautiful scenery. One of the best parts of my counties quest is the journey itself: Cruising along the highways and small roads, passing through small towns I may not have otherwise visited, and marveling at Oregon’s diverse and vast landscapes.
I rolled into town in the early evening and located my motel. After checking in, I scouted out the park where the race was due to start. On fewer thing to worry about in the morning! I returned to my room and ordered my pre-race meal (pizza, my road trip standby), and settled down to relax and watch “Making The Band” (TV options were sparse that summer – remember reality show N’Sync pretenders O-Town? Didn’t think so).
After a typical small-town-road-trip good night’s sleep, I got dressed and headed off to the start. The turnout was very respectable for a small race, including a high percentage of local high school runners. The event included a 5K and a 10K, and as much as I love 5Ks, I decided that after driving so far I might as well see as much of the area on foot as I could, so I signed up for the 6.2 miler.
Both races started together, and not surprisingly a handful of high school runners shot into the lead. Two thoughts allowed me to let them go as I eased into my own pace: 1. “Most runners that age go out way too fast”, and 2. “They are probably running the 5K.”
When the 5K and 10K courses split at the edge of town, I was proven (mostly) correct. All but one of the young lead pack took the turn back into town, while I found myself following a single runner straight along a dirt road through the outskirts. As the road left the city and transitioned to dusty farmland, my first prediction was confirmed, and I moved ahead of a heavy breathing teenager.
The next part of the course was both the hardest and the most memorable, as we headed steadily uphill on a gravel road angling toward a rampart of snow-dusted mountains. The elevation and climb taxed my lungs, but the mountains to my right and the wide open valley to my left were even more breathtaking.
At just the right moment, the course took a left turn back downhill, and another left aimed us back toward town and pavement. A few loops around some city blocks led us to the finish.
After the race, I was surprised to find myself being interviewed by a reporter from the local newspaper. The resulting article in The Wallowa County Chieftain became the first “public announcement” of my counties project, and answered the question of what a city slicker from Portland was doing at a small race in the other corner of the state.
Before I began the long trip home, I drove further up the highway to the town of Joseph and along the edge of Wallowa Lake, knowing it might be awhile before I returned to this wild and scenic part of the state.
I’m as much of a sucker as anyone for the big downtown Portland events, but it’s the one-of-a-kind, small-town, road-trip races like this one that etch the lasting memories in my mind. Staring into the face of the Wallowas with my footsteps and heavy breathing as the only soundtrack is still one of the best.