That was a mistake. The hour that followed was a nightmare, We found ourselves brushing away strange hordes of crawling, biting insects inside of our bedding, while swatting swarms of mosquitoes around our heads, We fought a losing battle. Sleep was impossible, Finally,, we packed up our gear and stumbled back into town.
For the remainder of the night,, itching, dirty and swollen with bites, we wandered aimlessly around the streets of Pendleton,, where it seemed that everybody in town was roaring drunk—except for stone-eyed girls, insinuatingly decorated, who beckoned provocatively from dimly lit doorways.
When we pulled out of the old cow town, heading east, the gods were smiling. Shortly after dawn, on our first ride of the morning, a wheat farmer in a battered truck picked us up and took us all the way through the range lands of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, The tribal lands spread out around the base of the rugged. Blue Mountains. The farmer was an affable old geezer, but he had an ugly habit of chewing a wad of tobacco while driving. As we rolled down the highway, he would spit out the truck window between his thoughts.
He tossed cold water on our idea of working the wheat harvest and making good money. He informed us that we were too early for that year’s harvest. Then, after shooting another gob of spit out the window, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and gave it to us straight. “Fellas,” he said, “you also gotta understand. Most of the harvest crews hereabouts are regulars we’ve already got lined up. Ya know what I mean?”
We knew what he meant.
Beyond the Indian lands, he dropped us off at Emigrant Springs., which had been a popular campsite for emigrants on the Oregon Trail. We were bone tired, Settling in at the springs, we cleaned up, washed some clothes, set a fire for our fried spuds and boiled coffee, gnawed on some beef jerky and collapsed for a day or two.
I have trouble reconstructing how we made it to the very edge of the remote Wallowa Wilderness Area and a small town named Cove. I think we were already beyond the Blue Mountains, sitting on a park bench in the town of La Grande,, when we first heard rumors they needed fruit pickers in a valley further east, near the base of 10,000-foot Eagle Cap.