By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Its more than the mountains that keep two Hermiston flatlanders returning to the Old Oregon Trail Ride each year.
I wouldnt miss this for anything, says Cheryl Van Auken.
And to illustrate her point, she tells about her trip two years ago. She was bucked off a horse two days before the ride began, but came anyway with fractured ribs and a fracture pelvic bone.
Thats how much fun this is, she says.
As residents of land that grows abundant crops of watermelon and potatoes, she and her mother, Shirley Butcher, are especially appreciative of the trees and mountains that surround them during the trail ride.
Van Auken, 44, took a weeks vacation from her work as a teachers assistant for the Umatilla-Morrow County Education Service District to attend her fourth trail ride. Butcher joined the ride three years ago. The 65-year-old also took vacation time from her job as a security guard in Pasco, Wash., to head for the mountains.
For the second year, the riders took day trips from their camp base at Union Springs near Balm Creek Reservoir east of Medical Springs. Some participants rode horses, some walked and some rode in horse-drawn wagons.
Van Auken said a friend told her about the ride, and she first saw it as a good opportunity to ride her horse in the mountains. It has since evolved into an opportunity for a mother-daughter getaway with good friends.
Ive met a lot of nice people since the first year, Van Auken said. We sort of become family. We cry when we have to leave.
Van Auken, a lifelong Oregon flatlander, has developed such a love for the mountains that she plans to move to Baker County when she retires.
The trail rides have taken her to places in Baker County that even her husband, who grew up in Huntington, doesnt know exist.
For example, the group walked about a half-mile uphill to visit the site of the Sawtooth volcano near Balm Creek Reservoir Friday.
Fridays weather was clear and warm, in stark contrast with the hail, wind and rain that shook the womens tent the night of June 11. They awoke to 28-degree weather the next morning.
Trail ride participants officially gathered on Tuesday, May 12. Most broke camp to head home after breakfast Sunday morning. George Johnson, president of the Old Oregon Trail Ride Inc., was this years wagon master.
Relying only on word-of-mouth advertising, this years ride drew 75 people from Idaho, Washington and Oregon. George Bud Dimick of Madras, in his early 90s, was the oldest participant. His 9-year-old great-granddaughter, Marissa Cook of Estacada, was the youngest.
The week was cut short for at least two participants, according to Johnson.
An accident sent one woman to the hospital with a broken hip Wednesday when her buggy seat flipped up and caused her to fall. Lee Doehny of Calama, Wash., was taken by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Health Services. She was sent home Sunday, according to Ron Bloom, who also helped organize the event.
Another woman went home after the first cold night.
She left a note in her chair and said she was cold and was going home, Johnson said.
The trail ride fee is $150 for adults and $100 for children. That includes meals provided by members of the Baker County Sheriffs Posse. Posse volunteers served a hearty breakfast and then prepared sandwiches for each days ride. Dinner meals included hamburgers, fried chicken, barbecued steak, hot roast beef sandwiches and ham and scalloped potatoes, according to Posse Capt. Cindi Nichols.
Entertainment also was offered during the nightly campfire programs, Bloom said. Ten-year-old Hilary Broadas of The Dalles played the guitar one evening; Gordon Stack, a 12-year-old from Sultan, Wash., gave a trumpet performance; and Betty Cook of Estacada, Bud Dimicks daughter, presented plant identification information. Marihelen Ciesiel, a Baker City storyteller, also entertained the group one night.
Johnson, 70, who grew up on Clover Creek in the Keating Valley, said the people are what make the ride a pleasure.
I enjoy talking to people as much as any of it, he said. You get to meet people from all over and get their views.