My first experience in Pendleton was nearly getting stranded at the airport.
It was October of 2006, and I was in town to interview for the position of sports reporter at the East Oregonian.
We landed late at night after a stormy, turbulent flight, and the promise of a ride from the sports editor apparently came with a time limit that had expired.
Thankfully one of the flight attendants was kind enough to offer me a lift to my hotel, spinning what could have been taken as an ominous sign into an uplifting tale of small-town hospitality.
When I accepted the position I told then-managing editor Steve Brown that I would give the paper a year, minimum, but I couldn’t see myself staying more than five.
I guess you could say the area grew on me.
It was a big transition coming from the congestion and 24-hour convenience of living near a large city, but the friendly locals, wide open views and nearby mountains were acceptable trade-offs.
Eventually, with a cheap pair of hiking boots and some ridiculous ideas about what it meant to properly pack for a week in the wilderness, I began to really explore the region’s backcountry. What I found there was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and it was after that first hike into the Wallowa Mountains that I officially adopted Oregon as my new home state.
Throughout the years, as other sports reporters came and went — eight at my last count — I’ll admit there were times when I thought there might be greener grass to be had. But when it came time to actually send out resumes, the idea of leaving all this natural beauty behind kept me from following through.
Ironically, the mountain ranges and well-maintained trail systems that made it so hard to leave, actually planted the seeds for my departure now after more than 10 years covering the athletes and teams of Umatilla and Morrow Counties.
In my time here I’ve seen 10 Pendleton Round-Ups, too many state championships to name, and a never-ending flow of student-athletes using sports as an avenue to further their academic opportunities. I thank those of you who allowed me into your lives, even if just briefly. I hope I was able to do your stories justice.
The East Oregonian was my first job out of college, and although there were certainly some tumultuous times in the early years as the business changed before our eyes, I was lucky to work in a newsroom full of dedicated and creative journalists who were willing to take chances and learn from mistakes.
It was never a job I took lightly, and although it was definitely extremely stressful at times, I always felt lucky to be earning a living in my chosen field. If it wasn’t for the athletes of Eastern Oregon and the readers who follow them, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Thank you.
But now I’m ready for something a bit different.
I’ve logged hundreds of miles in the Wallowa and Blue Mountains, hiked up and down the Columbia River Gorge and spent more nights under the stars in the last five years than I did in all of my previous existence. And there’s so much more out there.
After a few warm-up hikes in Glacier National Park, the 211-mile John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range will be my first big challenge. It will take three weeks to complete hiking southward from Yosemite National Park at a leisurely pace of 10 miles a day, and will by far be the longest backpacking trip of my life.
I’m not sure what 21 days in the wilderness will be like, but I know after four days and nights on the Rogue River Trail earlier this summer I was not ready to re-assimilate, and the last couple miles of that trail were some of my least favorite hiking memories to date.
The John Muir Trail’s southern terminus is the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous states.
Where I’ll go from there is still to be decided, but I’ll have plenty of time to think about it on the trail.
The options are numerous: Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail, Kentucky’s 323-mile Sheltowee Trace, South Carolina’s 500-mile Palmetto Trail, New York’s 560-mile Finger Lakes Trail, the 567-mile Colorado Trail, the 800-mile Hayduke Trail in Utah and Arizona, Wisconsin’s 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail, the 1,445-mile Buckeye Trail in my original home state of Ohio — that should be enough to get started.
And then there’s always the Triple Crown — the Appalachian Trail (2,189 miles), Pacific Crest Trail (2,650), and Continental Divide Trail (3,100).
What good can come of all this? I honestly don’t know, but I mean to find out.
So it’s been a fun decade, with lots of ups, downs and hilarious stories to tell around future campfires. I’ll always speak of Eastern Oregon and the people I met here fondly, but now I think it’s time I hit the old dusty trail. Until we meet again.
Matt Entrup can be reached on Facebook (Matthew Entrup), Twitter and Instagram (@Entripping).