"If one wanted to restore their faith in humanity, touring on a bicycle would be a good start," said Greg Van Donge who just competed a cross-country cycle with fellow Walla Wallan Randy Rogers.
In the planning stage for three to four years, the trip unfolded over 73 days this summer. Departing the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, Ore., on May 25, they made the Atlantic Ocean at Bar Harbor, Maine, on Aug. 5.
And people were kind and friendly everywhere, Greg said.
"They were interested in what we were doing and were willing to point us in the direction of a library or food. A few people were actually extraordinary. That included Walla Wallans Wanda and John Archer," Greg said.
John helped get them to Seaside to begin the trip and Wanda arranged their stay in Devils Lake, N.D., with her parents Richard and Kaye.
They met up with another Walla Wallan, Tricia Schulte, who provided a place for them along the shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.
"The owner of a small motel in Michigan gave us a car ride of about 10 miles to get something for dinner, and then offered to wash our clothes. A complete stranger in Lewiston, Maine, gave us directions, then a while later we saw him again, driving this time, at a critical point for turning. He honked and hollered to make sure we didn't miss our turn.
While covering the 4,330 miles, the friends fixed eight flat tires and replaced three tires, two chains, one wheel and a few brake pads.
They experienced a few bone-chattering moments.
"Yesterday while descending a hill at over 30 mph, both of us hit a major pothole in the road that was big enough to cradle the front wheel. It had the potential of stopping the descent and catapulting us and our trailers up over the front wheel," Greg reported Aug. 5 on their blog, 2guysbiketrip.com.
"With no time to brake, we each instinctively did a 'jerk-the-front-wheel-up-to-make-a-jump' maneuver, and let the back wheel and trailer crash through the pothole.
"Both front wheels made it across, then there was a little wobble trying to recover, but neither of us crashed."
The next day, they noticed some damage and replaced the split tire on Randy's back wheel. He continued the trip on a damaged rim. A little later in the day Greg's rear tire went flat.
Elsewhere, they happened to be crossing North Dakota while the Souris River rose and wreaked havoc.
"One of the most memorable events was traveling on Highway 2 past Minot, N.D., when it was beginning to flood," Greg recalled. Water lapped the edge of the highway as they pedaled past.
They camped that night about five miles east of Minot and the next day Highway 2 and Amtrak were both shut down.
"Riding on Highway 2 was eerie," he said. "It was almost deserted, and later that day we had to ride our bikes through water about 3 inches deep covering the highway.
"The people we met definitely made the trip worth while, and we met kind and gentle people virtually every day," Greg said.
This cross-country trek didn't do them in, though. "Randy and I talked about a trip next year, a shorter one. But for now, Randy is going back to work (as adult corrections cook at the Washington State Penitentiary), and I am ready to stay home and see my grandchildren Natalie and Noah a little more often."
A newly retired Walla Walla Fire Department captain, Greg didn't put the bike away. When we last communicated, he was headed west to cycle the 13- to 36-mile Providence Bridge Pedal in Portland on Aug. 14.
Forty adults and 88 younger people banded together to experience what pioneers went through on a 1,300-mile trek on the Oregon and Mormon Trails 150 years ago.
"Pushing and pulling a 20-square-foot wooden handcart up a long sandy canyon grade is a daunting task," observed David Walk, a member of the Walla Walla Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Church members trudged along 20 miles in the Bing Canyon outside Patterson, Wash., one recent weekend, said David, who also spoke with other participants.
"The trek made me appreciate all my forefathers went through back then," Julia Marley said.
Pioneers, emigrant members of the Mormon Church pushed their belongings in specially designed handcarts as oxen and horses needed to pull traditional wagons were too expensive. Between 1856 and 1860, families afoot hauled their things this way during the summers while en route to Utah.
Participants from 14-18 years old, were arranged into families of 10 supervised by an adult Ma and Pa for the contemporary trek. They did this to encourage new friendships among the youths, who come from several different local LDS congregations, David said.
Ryan Cornia, a handcart trek organizer and trainer for the group, said rules were laid down by the Ma and Pa for each family.
"We had to make sure the kids stayed hydrated and took good care of their feet. Their physical well-being was very important to us," said "Pa" Rick Garrett.
The family groups pushed those carts over dusty trails, camped out, danced and struggled in ways similar to their pioneer ancestors for 21/2 days. Trekker Austin Gore said, "Sleeping on the ground was hard, literally hard. It must have been hard for them, too."
The sheer physicality of hauling provisions and belongings for a family of 10 was a challenge.
"The woman's pull was when just the women pulled our handcart up a hill. It was back-breaking and definitely not fun," Julia said. "But it definitely taught me that you have to work together to accomplish great things."
"I admire their strength and willingness to keep going on," Jenny Wall said of the pioneers.
Maren Rehburg, a veteran of two handcart treks said, "It's tough. It helps me realize the strength I have and I love the strength it gives me."
"I wasn't particularly focused on the spirit, I was mainly focused on not dying," joked Justin Marley. "But whenever we stopped for a rest we'd have a small devotional that helped me keep on going. The pioneers before us had to keep on going or else they'd die in the middle of nowhere."
"That kind insight and its accompanying spiritual development are just what handcart trek leaders hoped would occur among the participants," David said.
"We saw the kids go from boisterous, loud, happy kids to where they were more introspective. We saw them drawing on their deeper faith. The pioneers did what they did because they had the inner faith to continue step by step," said Jim Lewis.
Wayne Chabre's whimsy knows no bounds. The Walla Walla artist has been commissioned many times for his fine art, functional and architectural metal sculptures, which are visible on Main Street Walla Walla and around the West Coast.
One of his latest pieces, "The Great Combine," is now featured in Stockton, Calif.
Holt Manufacturing Co., which built and sold farm machinery, took root in Stockton. The company's name was familiar to Wayne, who was raised on a farm here.
"There were remnants of early Holt machines sitting in the back gullies of the farms surrounding my home town of Walla Walla. I remember the great 'pull machines' with their incredible combinations of gearing and belts."
Wayne's "The Great Combine," described as "a water-born, gold-reaping/threshing/bagging machine," blends the water transport, gold mining and machine works that were the engines of early Stockton's economy.
He conceived it as a fanciful, dynamic celebration of Stockton's energy and vitality.
It measures 10.5 feet long, 6.5 feet high and 3.5 feet wide, comparable to a Volkswagen bug.
The city commissioned it for $94,000, as part of a road improvement project that was postponed when the economy crashed, said Wayne's wife, Jeanne McMenemy.
"Stockton was one of the worst-hit cities in the country by the burst real-estate bubble," she said. But the artwork portion of the project was funded somehow by money that was set aside and couldn't go away, so they decided to go ahead with the sculpture."
Wayne, however, had to cover out-of-pocket costs to cast, deliver and install the piece and that was $50,000-plus. He got the rest for designing and sculpting the piece, which took most of a year, Jeanne said.
Coincidentally Wayne had another project in Stockton about a year earlier making aluminum medallions, bronze filials, and bronze and stained glass benches for the Joan Darrah Promenade, a pedestrian mall along the marina.
He evidently doesn't just have one or two irons in the fire at the same time. While working on the promonade project he also created a free-standing bronze for the new Seattle Fire Station 28 in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. "Fire Tower" stands 8.5 feet high by 3.5 feet by 3.5 feet. Its four bas-relief sides depict the history of the Seattle Fire Department. That commission was $90,000.
Currently he's working on two projects, Jeanne said, one for another Tri-Met MAX light rail station in Portland and one for West Valley High School in Yakima.
Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8313.