▶️ ‘I got this’: Remembering the famed ‘Prineville Wheelie’ 40 years later

A feat of strength.

“Your attitude, it’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

A crazy idea.

“I wanted to go down that hill and I knew I could do it.”

Maybe a little bit of both.

Whatever you want to call it, Pat Simpson pulled it off 40 years ago on Highway 126 west of Prineville. But before we get what “it” was, we have to learn more about the man.

“I was born in Prineville, July 4th, 1955.”

His family had moved to California. And 10-year-old Pat was being a 10-year-old.

“I was a brat as a kid. I was up in the tree collecting walnuts and I was waiting for the other kids to come bay and throw walnuts at them. The branch broke that I was on and — uhhh there we go, payback,” Pat says with a laugh.

Some tough karma.

“Crushed my spine at T9.”

He was admitted into a rehab program at Stanford Medical Center.

“They did rehab films of me and stuff, so on and off I was there two and half years.”

RELATED: Prineville man who walked 33 miles to work gifted car from total stranger

Five years after his fall, the family moved to Bend.

“Wherever we’d come and visit, it was always going down that hill was a big thing.”

A defining piece of Prineville geography — The hill. The grade. Whatever you call it. — defiantly defined Pat’s visits to grandma’s.

“Exploring, stuff like that so yeah that was our playground when I’d come visit.”

The childhood accident pushed him to attempt a stunt on his childhood stomping grounds.

“After I had my accident, you go down the hill it’s like ‘Boy, I gotta do that in the wheelchair.’”

Pat Simpson Prineville Wheelie

Pat Simpson’s plan was in motion.

“Well it’s a lot better than going uphill!”

What if he could ride a wheelie down the hill into town?

“Everyone thought it was a crazy idea, and thought ‘I can do this. A you have to do is hold back the chair.’”

He trained with his pastor.

“He was a runner so, every night, we’d do O.B. Riley Road and we did that for months.”

But..

“I didn’t really try any of the downhill stuff until I actually did it.”

The date was Friday, June 18, 1982. Ronald Reagan was president. “Ebony and Ivory” topped the music charts and “Dallas” was No. 1 on T.V.

And there was no shortage of fashion in Prineville.

“We show up and the hill is just orange with t-shirts and news crews and police. It was just a little overwhelming and everyone was there for me so it was like ‘Oh my god, this is a pretty big deal you better pull this off.'”

Prineville wheelie shirt

Yes, there was merchandise.

“I think it was about $3,500, which was pretty good for back then.”

With the help of the Women’s Council Of Relators, Pat’s feat turned fundraiser for the Easter Seal Society.

They also donated the 50-pound wheelchair.

“They insisted I wear the helmet. They had me with the knee pads.”

He rolled with a crew running alongside.

“Yeah just in case something happened.”

Prineville wheelie Pat Simpson

A two-mile ride.

“And it burnt through the gloves so my hands were getting toasty.”

Down a 12% grade.

“I got to the next to the last corner I didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” Pat says. “By the time I got to the finish line, I was going pretty good speed.”

It took 19 minutes by some accounts. Plenty of praise awaited him at the post wheelie party on the courthouse lawn.”

“When I had my accident I was paralyzed from my neck down and it’s like ‘God, you give me my arms back, you’re not going to hear a peep out of me.’ And my arms came back and it’s like ‘I got this.’”

Pat Simpson got it.

“I’ve had an awesome life.”

Including that exciting day 40 years ago.

“I wanted to go down that hill and I knew I could do it.”

A day he’ll always remember.

“I think about it every time I go down the hill.”

And hopefully after hearing his story you will too.

Some pushed for Pat’s wheelie attempt to be documented in the Guinness Book of World Records, but a representative from the organization didn’t show.

Pat Simpson Prineville Wheelie

▶️ Red-eye: Oregon fire detection plane looks for new starts in dead of night

Lightning storms and drought conditions are a recipe for wildfires, a mix Central Oregon has seen over the last few days. But what if firefighters could detect those fires before sunrise?

The Oregon Department of Forestry has a small aircraft that looks for wildfires. And what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for in technology.

It’s a red-eye flight utilizing a thermal imaging camera and night vision goggles.

“We’re taking the two and blending them. The military’s been doing that for a long time,” said Dan McCarron, ODF’s Chief Pilot.

Mix in some weather data and what you get back is highly-accurate location information and a detailed look at really small fires.

When storms like the one we experienced this week pass, they crew saddles up and gets airborne. 

“We’ve found as many as 10 or 11 new wildfire starts in a night,” said Cole Lindsay, ODF’s Northwest Area Aviation Coordinator.

RELATED: Eyes in the sky: Married Deschutes fire lookouts share day in their life

The FLIR system on board is from military surplus.

The Italian-built Partnavia P68 has been with ODF since 1984. It’s been doing post-storm night detection flights for three years.

“We just fly a path through the lighting and as we’re looking we’re just doing one of these looking for sources of light.”

“We’ve found as many as 10 or 11 new wildfire starts in a night,” said McCarron.

RELATED: Remote Oregon wildfire cameras become key to finding new smokes quickly

The plane is strategically based in Redmond for much of the fire season and is dispatched all over Oregon.

ODF is one of the few agencies in the country blending those technologies for nighttime fire detection. Daytime detection flights are still used for spotting fires, but those crews are usually looking for smoke.

▶️ Remote Oregon wildfire cameras become key to finding new smokes quickly

When it comes to wildfires, finding them fast can mean the difference between a 25-acre blaze and a fire that burns for weeks.

Part of the job of finding those fires before they get too big falls on spotters perched in fire lookout towers. But technology is also helping to spot new smokes.

At the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Redmond detection center, staff watch over the landscape with cameras that are mounted atop towers on high points around the state.

“All fires are verified by a human heartbeat, a human person that looks at them,” said Jamie Paul, ODF’s camera coordinator for the state.

No, cameras aren’t new. They’ve been in use in other parts of the state for over a decade. The Douglas Forest Protection Association in Southwest Oregon was an early adopter.

“And when we saw how effective it was for them, the Southwest Oregon District was the next to pick them up,” said Paul.

RELATED: Eyes in the sky: Married Deschutes fire lookouts share day in their life

Wildfire lookout camera

The cameras have spread like — well — wildfire.

“It came down to funding and it was kind of proof of concept. And so we needed to build the infrastructure,” said Paul.

The legislature helped fund an expansion through a senate bill in 2021.

“These cameras statewide catch 25% of the fires at initial detection,” said Paul.

“Where our cameras are more remote, a lot of times, they’re our first detection just because there’s not as many eyes out in the forest or the lands that ODF protects,” said Guy Chamness, the center’s assistant manager. 

RELATED: See the view from new fire detection camera on Bryant Mountain

Wildfire lookout cameras

These remote smoke detectors can do more than just watch.

“You can go back to use the cameras to try to pinpoint when the fire actually started,” said Chamness.

“It can go straight to mobile devices or tablets in an engine or aircraft,” said Paul. 

“It’s absolutely critical and very helpful to our firefighters to have an extra set of eyes,” said Ben Duda, Prineville and Sisters Unit Forester.

Some fear the digital devices will replace the analog.

“No, no not at all. I think it’s going to augment and dial that in. There’s still lookouts in the forest that we coordinate with,” said Duda.

Wildfire Lookout cameras

That includes an ODF-staffed lookout on Henkle Butte northeast of Sisters.

But over the years, the agency has placed cameras on decommissioned lookout sites. While there are a lot of bells and whistles, it doesn’t have a Siri or Alexa to sound the alarm.

“It’s the human being, the heart beat, that makes the decisions about an alert,” said Paul. 

The detection specialist can watch up to a dozen cameras with software cycling through a 360-degree view.

Fire managers call them another tool in the toolbox.

“One fire can go over $1 million so quickly, so the work these folks do here in the detection center is really really important,” said Paul.

With extreme drought conditions around much of the state, more of these will hopefully save more land and lives from wildfire.

ODF will continue to build out their network of cameras around the central and eastern parts of the state. They opened a detection center in La Grande that will monitor those digital eyes in the sky over Northeast Oregon. 

▶️ Eyes in the sky: Married Deschutes fire lookouts share day in their life

They’re called eyes in the sky and there are eight sets of them on the Deschutes National Forest.

They are fire lookouts — those trained spotters perched atop buttes around Central Oregon.

On these lookout towers, some days are busier than others.

“First thing in the morning when you get up you’ve got your coffee, you’re scanning, you’re looking around,” says Shannon Hodgson.

For Shannon and Joey Hodgson, a Friday morning in July was one of the latter.

It just so happens that the day we were shooting this story, Incident 406 broke out. People in Central Oregon know it as the Old Wood Fire — that 26-acre fire that started between Sunriver and La Pine on the afternoon of July 15.

RELATED: 26-acre fire between La Pine and Sunriver

Shannon and Joey were all over it.

“Is that a smoke out there Shannon?” asks Joey.

“I think it is,” says Shannon.

Shannon Hodgson
Shannon Hodgson

From their location at Round Mountain Lookout, they get on the horn.

“Hey Lava, this is Round. You’ve got both of us here. We think we see a real smoke near Sugar Pine,” says Shannon.

“Small blue-gray column,” says Joey.

“Burlington Northern has a crew on scene. They’ve extinguished the fire at this time,” says a voice back over the radio.

“I just want to let you know it’s still visible from here,” says Joey.

Old Wood Fire Lookout
A look at the Old Wood Fire near La Pine, Ore., from the Round Mountain Lookout tower, July 15, 2022.

A studio apartment at 5,900 feet

“They call us eyes in the sky,” says Shannon.

Complete with a tiny office and a fold out bed.

It’s overlooking the Deschutes National Forest — one of eight lookouts on the front lines of detection.

This husband and wife team has 26 seasons under their belts. Fifteen of those are on the Deschutes.

“We’re really fast and we want to be good at our job because we love this forest,” says Joey.

Sure, this is a story about wildlife detection. But it’s also a love story about a couple married 28 years.

The Hodgsons were staying at Warner Mountain Lookout in the winter of 1996. They went snowshoeing and got stranded. They dug a snow cave and awaited rescue.

That epic outing put them on a new path toward becoming fire lookouts.

Joey splits his workweek between Round Mountain and Lava Butte.

Shannon, whose uncle was a lookout for one season, pitches in even on her day off.

“You can’t help but jump in,” said Shannon.

Joe and Shannon Hodgson
Joe and Shannon Hodgson work the Round Mountain fire lookout tower.

The job is not without its downsides.

“You end up with eyestrain, says Shannon. 

There’s lighting storms

“Scare ya, it will scare ya,” she adds.

And paychecks that are smaller than the views.

‘It’s a lifestyle,” says Joey.

But it’s a critical gig during fire season.

In addition to spotting fires, they’ll also send back pictures and give real-time information to crews on the ground. It’s a critical job where minutes matter because where there’s smoke, there’s a fire.

▶️ Oregon whitebark pine survival is being tested. All-out effort to save it.

Ride a chair up Mount Bachelor, hike to the top of Tumalo Mountain or drive up Paulina Peak and you’ll see Whitebark Pine. It’s a species under pressure from a fungus.

Libby Pansing has a passion for this scrappy species.

“It has this very gnarly, gnarled silhouette,” said Pansing, a forest scientist with American Forests. It’s the oldest conservation group in the United States.

“Whitebark Pine is iconic. It really is representative of many of the places that we think of as being wild in the west,” said Pansing.

Deschutes National Forest plant geneticist Matt Horning can spot the blight — blister rust infection.

“This is evidence that these populations were larger and healthier in the past and we’re seeing a decline,” said Horning.

Blister rust infection on whitebark pine at Paulina Peak
Blister rust infection on Whitebark Pine at Paulina Peak in Oregon.

It’s a downhill slide Horning is working to stop.

“If you remove Whitebark Pine from these elevations in Central Oregon, the ecosystems would look very, very different to the public,” said Horning.

RELATED: ‘Most destructive’ pest in North America now in Oregon, threatens ash trees

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Whitebark Pine in the Pacific Northwest has been in decline for decades, according to Andy Bower, the restoration program coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service.

White Pine blister rust was accidentally introduced to North America nearly a century ago, slowly killing the slow-growing pine.

“It’s a keystone species at high elevation,” Horning said. That means it provides food and cover for wildlife and protect the snowpack from melting off too quickly.

Whitebark Pine at Paulina Peak

“It really is the lynchpin that holds together these ecosystems,” said Pansing.

The rust is throwing a wrench in the system.

“The rust is a fungal disease and it has a pretty complicated life cycle,” said Bower.

That’s led to a complicated effort to save the iconic trees. One of the ways the Deschutes National Forest is doing this is finding and tagging potentially resistant trees. One of those, tagged No. 80, lives on the southern slope of the caldera.

Tagged tree for Whitebark Pine restoration at Paulina Peak

“This is harnessing the natural resistance that occurs but only at a low level,” said Bowers.

Restoration workers harvest the seed, study the level of resistance and grow the best of the best.

“We’re sort of nudging natural selection along,” said Bower.

Enter American Forests.

“Whitebark Pine is a particularly expensive tree to grow and plant simply because it’s difficult to germinate. It’s remote. It’s hard to access,” said Pansing.

American Forests has partnered with the Forest Service to plant upward of 5,000 seedlings on the Deschutes, including another 100 on the nearly 8,000-foot overlook at Paulina Peak.

“Oregon and Washington are in a very unique position to be able to take proactive measures to help protect these species before it turns into these large mass-mortality events that we’ve seen elsewhere,” said Pansing.

It’s an all-out effort to keep these trees off the threatened and endangered species list.

Whitebark Pine is found at Crater Lake National Park and at high elevations across the Western U.S. and Canada.

▶️ Colorful quilts to blanket Sisters at the annual Outdoor Quilt Show

The 47th Annual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show kicks off Saturday morning.

Thousands of quilt aficionados will stroll the streets, viewing 1,100 colorful works of fabric art.

Quilts will be on display from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

You can also log on and see the quilts virtually again this year.

Watch the video above for a behind the scenes look as executive director Dawn Boyd and a team of volunteers stitch together the last minute details of the show.

RELATED: Overland Expo comes to Redmond this weekend

RELATED: Bend Summer Festival returns to downtown this weekend

 

▶️ Central Oregon Book Project compiles stories of the region from 20 authors

A new book with themes of archive, gratitude, community, and our future as they relate to Central Oregon — written by multiple local authors — is now available. And it may already be in a little free library in your neighborhood.

The Central Oregon Book Project is a compilation of stories and prose organized by a Bend writer, with an assist from 19 other wordsmiths.

“The landscape. The history. The present. The future. And a place for our stories to be seen and heard,” Organizer Kimberly Bowker said at the book’s launch party. “A space to listen, to share and to learn.”

Watch the video above to hear excepts from the Central Oregon Book Project as read by the people who wrote them.

RELATED: Paulina Springs Books celebrates 30 years in downtown Sisters

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Bend resident opens Roundabout Books

Be sure to check those little free libraries around town for a copy of the Central Oregon Book Project. Thanks to fundraising, the books will distributed around the community during June. Or, you can pick up one at Roundabout Books in Bend.

Bowker says there are no plans for a second edition, but says that you never know what will happen in the future.

“My hope for this project is for us to hear one another, as we remember our past, live our present and consciously co-create our future here together” Bowker said.

▶️ Central Oregon Book Project compiles stories of the region from 20 authors

A new book with themes of archive, gratitude, community, and our future as they relate to Central Oregon — written by multiple local authors — is now available. And it may already be in a little free library in your neighborhood.

The Central Oregon Book Project is a compilation of stories and prose organized by a Bend writer, with an assist from 19 other wordsmiths.

“The landscape. The history. The present. The future. And a place for our stories to be seen and heard,” Organizer Kimberly Bowker said at the book’s launch party. “A space to listen, to share and to learn.”

Watch the video above to hear excepts from the Central Oregon Book Project as read by the people who wrote them.

RELATED: Paulina Springs Books celebrates 30 years in downtown Sisters

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Bend resident opens Roundabout Books

Be sure to check those little free libraries around town for a copy of the Central Oregon Book Project. Thanks to fundraising, the books will distributed around the community during June. Or, you can pick up one at Roundabout Books in Bend.

Bowker says there are no plans for a second edition, but says that you never know what will happen in the future.

“My hope for this project is for us to hear one another, as we remember our past, live our present and consciously co-create our future here together” Bowker said.

Check out our 2016 story about the birth of Roundabout Books

▶️ Volunteers build so kids get a good night’s sleep

An assembly line of volunteers came together Saturday in Bend to build beds for children who don’t have a place to lay their head.

The non-profit Sleep in Heavenly Peace has chapters around the country who build, deliver, and set up beds for those in need.

The 30 beds the Deschutes County Chapter constructed will be delivered in the coming weeks.

Photojournalist Steve Kaufmann has the story of the people and the process behind the project.

For more information and how you can help, visit the organization’s website here.