What the heck are these guys doing?

Matthew, Weston and Nathan are first year medical students with a passion for community health and biking. Along with Daphne, a first year Veterinary student, the 4 companions will embark on a five-week trip through 1,000 miles of rural Oregon wonder. Along the way they will be working in conjunction with the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians to facilitate community discussions on improving local healthcare options. See our photo album

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's All Mash Potatoes and Gravy

Howdy from The County!

We just wrapped up our final presentation with the Rotary Club of Enterprise. As we pulled up to the meeting location Matt's odometer read 975 miles. Anne Taylor and her fellow Rotarians were an active and receptive crowd. As has been our modus opperandi for the past few gatherings, Nathan., Matt and I presented as a team.  The meeting began with a short talk on serving one's community and it ended with active discussion of how rural towns like Enterprise can pull together to attract and retain more primary care physicians.

Before heading towards Enterprise we had a few days to recreate with our friends Nella ane Euell.  We loaded up the car and took in the Chief Joseph Days rodeo and the post-rodeo dance in the aptly named Thunder Room. Earlier in the day Matt, Daphne and I got a crash course in western swing dancing courtesy of Nella. To the credit of our fine teacher, we spun, cuddled and pretzeled our way through the night. The evening's activities were punctuated by the cowboy breakfast (served from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.).

The following day we returned to LaGrande for some river time in the Grande Ronde and a fairly intense game of ultimate frisbee that left Matt and Nathan with a slight hitch in their step. We spent the evening packing and preparing for an early start. Eager to return to the road, we looked forward to our last long ride of the trip.

Our trek to the far north-eastern corner of the state included an 84 mile day from LaGrande to Wallowa Lake - our longest day yet! For the first portion of this stretch we were joined by Katherine and David, a couple of LaGrande cyclists. They guided us along some beautiful back roads and dropped us off just outside of Imbler. After coffeeing up in Elgin we set our sights on the notorious Minam Grade. We took the hill like the grizzled, road-hardened pros that we like to think we are.  The rest of the day was easy going despite the dry heat. A few water stops and one pilgrimage to the Little Bear Drive In later we rolled into the Wallowa Lake campgound.

We spent the next day soothing our tired muscles in the cool waters of Wallowa Lake, logging some quality reading time and exploring the local hiking trails. Later that evening we took part in a few rounds of Wallyball, a variation of volleyball created and refereed by an amazing camp volunteer named Lou. Sleeping in the tents felt like a return to home and we all enjoyed a long and deep sleep.

Returning to the present, we are sitting on the lawn of the Terminal Gravity Brewery reflecting on the trip and soaking in Eastern Oregon scenery. The trip will come to an official close on Friday when we will join the Oregon Rural Health Alliance and Enterprise community members for a discussion on rural health and a celebration of this trip.

We will surely post again before disbanding.  As always, thanks for keeping in touch!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Family, Friends and Eastern Oregon

It's been an eventful end of July for the crew.  Matt, Daphne and Wes agreed to take a few layover days at my family cattle ranch in Sumpter Valley.  The ranch has been in my family for over 100 years and is nestled between in the Elkhorn Mountains between John Day and Baker City.  I love sharing the ranch with visitors and could not have had better guests.  Matt and Daphne jumped right into work and moved cattle like seasoned ranch hands with the help of our trusty collie Roy.  Wes was no slouch and made short work of morning chores.  My sister, brother, mother, father and grandfather were all busy putting up hay but took the time to feed us and put us up.  Thanks family!  A special thanks goes to my Grandpa John for a dynamite send-off breakfast.

Mom, Dad and the Cyclists in Sumpter Valley

After stopping in to see the family we gave two presentations in Baker City, where I attended high school.  It felt like a real homecoming to be presenting to familiar faces at the Lion's Club and Baker City Democrats meetings.  The current Baker City Lion's Club president Chris Knoll is the clinic manager at St. Luke's Eastern Oregon Medical Associates in Baker City and kindly offered to give us a tour of their new facilities.  We were impressed by the quality of the clinic and the services they were able to offer to their patients.  Thanks for the tour Chris!

After the stop on my home turf we headed north towards La Grande.  The ride was just a tiny bit windy as we cruised under some of Oregon's newest wind turbines into Union, just a few miles before La Grande.  On our way through town Dr. Kim Montee flagged us down in the middle of the street.  Dr. Montee had heard we were riding through town and fortunately was looking at the right time to stop us for an unplanned visit.  Not only is Dr. Montee a family physician but he is also an avid cyclist, so we had plenty to talk about.   He showed us around the Union Community Clinic and a brand new mobile clinic that will be visiting schools in the small communities of Cove, Union and North Powder.  Dr. Montee then directed us to Papa's, his favorite local eatery.  We were all impressed by the BLT marketed as having over a pound of bacon.  I was the only one brave enough to give it a shot.

Matt Ponders the Windmills Outside of Union

Loaded down with a hefty lunch we finished the remaining miles to La Grande in time for a BBQ and an evening presentation.  My friend Nella Parks at Oregon Rural Action and Jillian Currey with the Oregon Rural Practice Based Research Network hosted the presentation.  It was really fun and a dedicated crowd.  They have been putting this up this weekend and treating us like royalty.  Thanks Nella and Jillian!

Daphne's Special Peach Pie
Tomorrow we leave at 7am from Mountain Works in downtown La Grande if anyone wants to join us.  Next stop, Wallowa Lake.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rose Colored Hills of John Day

We descended from the summit south of John Day, and then crossed the valley and climbed an 11% grade to the home of Dr. Bob Holland and his wife Karin Holland. Why do all these doctors live on top of mountains? :)

They very graciously invited us into their home, but then Wes and Nathan reciprocated by inviting Dr. Holland and his rotating 4th year medical student, Gabe, to a friendly game of golf at the local golf course. Little did the boys know that they were up against a very experienced golfer. After Dr. Bob easily took the game, they came back to the house for a party hosted by the Hollands. We were able to meet many of the physicians that work in the community, and it seemed like each had a medical student or resident in tow.

Right now the John Day community has a relative plentitude of physicians. Dr. Holland has his own family practice, and in addition to that there is another family practice that now has six providers. Their goal is to be able to see patients the same day they call in for an appointment or the next day, and for the most part, they have been able to do that.

We gave the presentation to a group mostly comprised of participants in the John Day Chamber of Commerce. They were a very interested crowd with lots of good insights and questions. One topic we discussed was the need for the community to both actively recruit and retain medical providers but to also support the local public school system. Many physicians and other professionals move to rural Oregon with their families, and so their children are going to be students in the local school system. One of their priorities is a healthy education for their children. This means that without a strong local school, physicians will not move to or stay in that community. This is just one more example we have found of the network of support necessary for a strong rural community.

The next day, we rode from John Day to Nathan's parent's ranch in Sumpter Valley. It was a beautiful ride - about 57 miles with three mountain passes all over 5,000 ft. The weather was perfect. We had a cool, overcast morning of cycling, and arrived to the ranch in time for lunch! Now we are slated for some work with the cattle and a presentation in Baker City tomorrow. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hot Hot Hot

We've found the heat now, there's no escaping it. The freezing rain of the Cascades is nothing but a distant memory. From Paulina we climbed long sweaty miles up through the Malheur National Forest to a high camp at Starr Campground. Initially we had hoped for a delicious stop in Izee, but were disappointed to learn that there was nothing there except an abandoned school house. Our hopes of a general store stocked with cold soda vanquished, we made due with a scrap of shade beneath a juniper tree on the side of the road.

This day would turn our to be our most isolated. We passed a few scenic ranches, but otherwise found our route civilization free. We left the sage and juniper behind as we climbed up into the Pine of Malheur - the shade much appreciated. It was our longest day yet, pushing up against 70 miles for the day and taking us over 700 for the trip so far.

In camp we made the acquaintance of a a very interesting gentleman. Jim Jenson is a 91 year old, retired anesthesiologist. He pulled into the campground late in the evening, and we all got to chatting. He related his story about starting out in medicine in 40's as a GP, then moving to anesthesiology in the 60's. We he started, they were still using ether! Now he's traveling around in his one of a kind RV, moving between California, Montana, and Idaho. Sounds like he's been through many adventures, and still manages to be a hit with the ladies! I think all of us dream to be as healthy and active as he is at 91.

Today's ride was fast downhill 16 miles to the residence of Dr. Holland in John Day. We're thrilled to be here, take showers, and enjoy the hospitality of the Holland family. Tomorrow we present to the John Day Lions Club. See you there!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thunder Over the Ochoco

Trip Log: Day 18

We bid farewell to Prineville this morning and set our sights eastward. Some friendly bikers we crossed paths with a ways back pointed us towards route 380 in lieu of the less scenic and more traveled 26. The friendly advice paid off and we enjoyed a day of beautiful riding through the high dessert. Much of the road followed a branch of the Crooked River that provided us with several great blue heron sightings (GBH!!). We also spotted our third bald ealge of the trip!

Daphne lead the majority of our 60 mile day, earning her major steam donkey points. Flash Back: On our first day of the trip we stopped at the Tillamook Forest Interpretive Center and learned about an old mechanical beast of bourden that pulled giant logs down the hillside, a.k.a. the steam donkey. From that point on we have developed the custom of bestowing steam donkey points upon an individual who distinguishes themselves through feats of strength, endurance and gusto.  In other words, it's our trip's equivalent of getting a gold star in kindergarten.

The trek along 380 has been smooth and hot. The miles were melting away at a good clip as was our water supply. Luckily there were two towns on our way that proved to be perfect pit stops.  We pulled into the general (and only) store of Post, Oregon around noon and took an extended lunch break. Nathan and I indulged in the daily special, the meatloaf sandwich, while Daphne and Matt strategically supplemented their lunch with ice cream and coffee.  Slightly heavier and much happier, we continued to push east.

A few hours of riding later we arrived to the small hamlet of Paulina. Here again, the general store was the (only) pace to be. We met the owner, Rose, and got the word that we could sleep for free at the local rodeo grounds. That was all we needed to hear. We changed into our evening wear, kicked our feet up on the front porch of the store and delved into stories and laughs with a small group of locals. The unofficial mayor of Paulina, Greg, was even kind enough to share some of his famous barbecue chicken! After thanking the welcoming committee for their hospitality we pushed off for the home of the annual Paulina Amateur Rodeo.

The rodeo grounds are a perfect campsite - picnic tables, flat grassy areas for the tents and even an outlet to charge our beloved computer! After settling in we decided to host our own rodeo. The links below will usher you to videos of a few of our better attempts to last eight seconds on the wild bucking Kona Jake. We have all had a few cracks at her and so far Nathan holds the record at seven seconds... tomorrow's another day. Yeehaa!

It sounds like it's going to be even hotter tomorrow. We're hoping to hit the road extra early to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. That means it's bed time. Even bicycle cowboys and cowgirls need their beauty rest.

Buenos noches.


Eastward Ho! Over the Cascades We Go!

We last posted from the summit of the Cascade mountain range. It's all been downhill from there. We coasted from Willamette Pass onto the Cascade Lakes Highway where we spent a night at the beautiful but rugged Little Lava Lake. Wes burned us up some delicious burritos for dinner and we went for a twilight walk around the lake to spook up some deer. An added bonus was the view of South Sister, Broken Top and Mt. Bachelor.

We woke the next morning to a nasty Central Oregon rain storm. It was only a 40 mile ride to Bend but it felt much longer fighting through the wet and the cold. By the time we got there, we were frozen through. Luckily, we had a place to stop and warm up. Wes' parents and younger brother live in Bend and were kind enough to put us up for a few days as we recovered. We spent our R&R time soaking in the hot tub, eating too many cookies, reading, and watching the new Harry Potter movie. Matt thought it was probably the scariest one yet. Once the weather improved we took advantage of Central Oregon's natural amenities - I went climbing with my good friend Mary out at Smith Rock State Park while Daphne, Matt and Wes tested the water by floating down the Little Deschutes.

Yesterday we thanked our hosts and reluctantly departed. It did not take long to enjoy being back on the bikes. We were on the road to Prineville to meet with a community health advocacy organization called the Rimrock Health Alliance. We have been hearing great things about what Rimrock has accomplished in Prineville so it was a welcome chance to see for ourselves. Sharon Vail is the Executive Director of the organization and had invited us to join her and local medical providers for a discussion over pizza and beer. We soon learned that Rimrock Health Alliance was making a big difference in Prineville. As a non-profit health care advocacy group, they have been able to recruit family physicians, mental health workers, dentists and other providers. They take an active role in retaining these providers and making sure they are a good fit for the community. Yet their mission expands far beyond recruiting providers. They are improving the health care of their community while decreasing overall cost. One of my favorite examples was what the emergency department at the local hospital was doing to address dental pain. Prineville emergency room doctors had noticed that the number one reason for a visit was because of untreated dental pain. Not only is a visit to the emergency room much more expensive than a visit to the dentists office, but patients receive more effective care at the dentist than they can in an urgent care office. The physicians took this problem to the Rimrock Health Alliance to see if they could help figure out a solution. Rimrock helped bring in another dentist to town and increase the access to primary dental care. The emergency department started referring more patients to local dentists and the number of E.R. visits for dental pain is going down. This saves the patient and hospital money and provides better care. A real win-win project that seems so simple in retrospect.

We're finding that small communities are able to be much more mobile than their larger counterparts. It is really inspiring to see what big changes can be made in rural communities. For more about Rimrock, check out their website at www.rimrockha.org.

We now depart for John Day. We're taking the back roads from Prineville through Post, Paulina and Izee. A real adventure awaits!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Misty Mountains

We have entered a stretch of the trip that will be full of long days on the road and the beautiful high lakes of the Cascades. Upon the recommendation of Reedsport native, Brian Swift, we departed the coast along the Smith River.  It would be hard to ask for better biking. The soft rolling hills of the Smith River road treated us to two days of nearly car-free amazingness. For most of this section we were able to ride four-wide as we took in the incredible riparian scenery. At one point our relaxing roll was interrupted by three giant birds that tore across a break in the canopy. As they looped overhead it was hard to mistake the distinct feather patterns of two bald eagles chasing an osprey through the sky.  This was just one of many reminders that we were cutting through section of Oregon's wild landscape.

We emerged from the Smith River and stopped in on our gracious classmate and class Vice President Carrie Litchman for a night in Eugene. As has been the case along our journey, we were spoiled with hospitality at the Litchman house. After a full night's rest we were treated to a home-made french toast breakfast courtesy of Dr. Mark Litchman. Bellies full, we returned to the road for our first day of riding in the rain.

Despite a leisurely start to the day, we decided shoot for McCredie hotsprings in foothills of the Cascades. 60 miles and a few repairs later our weary muscles were enjoying a well-deserved soak in the hot waters along Salt Creek. Again, we benefited from some local knowledge and found our way to a hidden campground near a lesser-used part of the hot springs.

Today was all about the climb. We are currently eating lunch at Willamette Pass after gaining over 3000 feet this morning. After a calorie recharge and some stretching we will head for the Cascade Lakes Highway and find a lake to cozy up to for the evening. Tomorrow we will stop in Bend to say hello to my family and prepare for the next round of presentations.