From Where I Stand: John Day


as told to Megan Oliver | photos by Russ Roca

I didn’t ride a bike for fourteen years after moving to John Day because of goatheads. Those prickly thorns punctured bike tires like kids pop balloons. Fortunately, tires don’t puncture as often with modern technology. My love for cycling is renewed with my recumbent bike.

I grew up in Oregon, then lived in Silicon Valley among other places, but was drawn to the John Day area when some friends bought property here, and I saw the appeal of life without traffic lights (okay, we have one). I moved my three children here in 1999, and the youngest is now a senior in high school. I met my significant other, retired veterinarian and current artist Hans Magden, here in 2003. Together we opened Beyond the Perimeter Gallery in John Day in 2006 to showcase his works. The nature of my personality is to go a billion miles per hour, but life here has brought me down to a manageable million.

russ roca, john day, eastern oregon

After you pass the John Day Fossil Beds and Painted Hills turnoffs driving east along Highway 26, now designated the Old West Scenic Bikeway, you’re almost to Dayville. My first local purchase was the Dayville post office building, which was in foreclosure. I still lease out the post office, and I have renovated the back portion of the building over the years into three vacation rentals. I split my time between my two homes in towns farther east along the route in John Day and Mount Vernon. Bike Inn is my other piece of real estate—a donation-only hostel next door to my Mount Vernon home that is available to cyclists passing through.

Christy Rheu Waldner

Where I eat:
Dayville Cafe

Where I play:
Old West Scenic Bikeway

Where you must go:
Painted Hills

russ roca, john day, eastern oregon


My position as a Grant County family law mediator is what I call my one-sixteenth time position because there aren’t many divorce cases here—especially when the weather is nice. Today is an unusually warm but typically sunny winter day, and I’m having a yard sale at the post office. A few friends rode the 31 miles over from John Day to eat lunch with me at Dayville Cafe before pedaling back home. It’s a great example of how this community operates.

Ranching is the long-standing industry here, but it’s nice to add cycling to help sustain the businesses in these small, remote towns. The state designation of the 174-mile loop Old West Scenic Bikeway was a boon for businesses. There is also a task group working on promoting gravel routes and single track riding. Thirty people—many of whom are business owners—belong to our Cycling Tourism group. The Corner Cup and 1188 Brewing in John Day are two great examples of bike scene supporters.

russ roca, john day, eastern oregon

I started Over the Hill Bike Tours in 2007 to show off the beautiful area we live in, and the hospitality of our business owners and community members. This year, I’ll do seven tours between May and September for groups of sixteen people. These tours are for serious cyclists. We cover up to 300 miles per multiday trip and 27,000 feet of elevation, sleeping in motels and cabins along the route. I’m happy to break even each year and have funded my bike habit. The injection into the local economy is what thrills me. Future Farmers of America and 4-H kids even get involved, hosting dinners during the trips as fundraisers. It’s nice to bring outside dollars to programs for kids, so they don’t have to hit up the same 7,000 Grant County residents every time.

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