Five Pendleton High School students decided to forgo gas-powered transportation in February 1967 and instead make tracks for a basketball game in La Grande under their own power — on foot — in an attempt to drum up a good showing from the Pendleton community.
Seniors Dale Simpson, Dennis Vest, Alan Wilhelmsen, Mark McGee and Jim Lieuallen started out at 3 a.m. Feb. 10, 1967, on their way to a basketball game pitting the hometown Buckaroos against the La Grande Tigers, scheduled for 8 p.m. that evening. “It sure was cold until the sun came up,” one of the walkers said.
When asked if any of the quintet had done any training in preparation for their trek, Vest said no — “But I ran around the house last night.”
Two of the trekkers, Wilhelmsen and Vest, started out at a run but soon dropped back to a more reasonable pace. By 9:30 a.m. they were 26 miles into the 52-mile hike, and about a mile and a half ahead of McGee and Lieuallen; Simpson had wrenched his knee at Deadman Pass and dropped out at the 21-mile mark. He was picked up by the chase car driven by Steve Townsend and Don Paddock, who also carried fresh socks and the walkers’ lunch, which they planned to eat at Meacham.
Simpson rejoined the hike after a short rest and logged a total of 38 miles. Vest dropped out soon after he passed Meacham after only 35 miles. Lieuallen walked 43 miles, and Wilhelmsen a little more than 50 miles. McGee was the only one to make it the entire way.
Simpson said the walkers planned their trip carefully so they would arrive in plenty of time for the start of the basketball game, but at the end of the trek the boys were so tired they didn’t actually attend — they listened to the game on the car radio on the way home to Pendleton.
The following day, the hardy quintet vowed to make a second attempt to walk to an away basketball game, this time to Milton-Freewater. But Simpson said they would wait for their blisters to heal before making final plans.