Thursday, September 22, 2011
Team Turtle: No Need For Speed
Christine and I did not rush through our tour of the Oregon Coast last week and we will not rush through the telling of the tale. Fans of my wife's writing will be happy to know that she jotted down notes each night of the trip and she said to me "it's gonna be a book, I had so much fun..."
The trip was wonderful, easily the best bicycle trip I've ever been on. We started out with the riders of the Amgen People's Coast Classic, a bunch of really wonderful, caring people. My friend Tai has organized one heck of a great ride and what we saw of the food, accommodations and support were all first rate. But while the Amgen riders were intent on covering the full length of the Oregon Coast in six days, Christine and I set our goal more modestly: we'd cover what ground we could at an unhurried pace. Our camping gear, the many parks along the way and our friend Michael gave us that luxury. Michael had agreed to pick us up on Saturday "wherever you end up."
While deciding to ride with the weight of panniers, camping gear and food probably slowed us some, Christine and I never doubted we made the right choices in how we tackled this ride. We made it to the mid-day stop with the group (admittedly at the tail end of the group) but when the clear sunny weather turned to headwinds and fog as we crept along the Manzanita Cliffs we were very glad to have both warm jackets and long pants with us. We couldn't help but wonder if the speedier, less encumbered riders had frozen their lycra-clad butts on these roads!
Christine gamely rode over the biggest bridge she'd ever ridden and climbed the biggest hills she'd ever ridden. She'd walk when she had too and she's more nervous around traffic than I am but I have so much fun riding with her.
My friend Hughie and a friendly local had both suggested Manzanita and the state park at Nehalem Bay as wonderful places and we verified the truth of both of these claims. While the Amgen riders were going to camp in Tillamook, Christine and I realized that our motto of "Half the pace, twice the fun" implied covering fewer miles per day. We were totally OK with that and I called Tai from the park at Nehalem Bay, wishing the rest of the Amgen riders the best ride ever and telling him that Christine and I would be on our own adventure for the rest of the week.
The Oregon Coast is a beautiful place for riding and the state publishes a wonderfully detailed map (PDF available here). The map gives details of terrain, the shoulder width of the road and the locations of camping spots. In many of the state parks, hiker/biker camping is $5 or $6 per person and even if the park is "full" a hiker or biker will not be turned away. Touring in September, past the peak of the tourist season, we never encountered a "full" campground but we did see quite a few other touring cyclists.
Our second day of riding revealed more of the wonders of the coast including an intricately carved wooden bench at Barview and a wildly rocky island.
A six mile jog inland north of Tillamook led us past dairy farms (despite appearances, this is not where they grow giant marshmallows!) to the lovely county park along the Kilchis River.
Our general pattern for the days would involve at least one stop at a cafe, bakery or coffee shop in the morning or some time during the day and at night at camp we'd fire up the Kelly Kettle. We used the kettle to heat water for all our camp suppers (Mountain House freeze-dried meals or Kraft Easy Macs) and for tea, coffee and hot cocoa. We also used it every morning for making our hot breakfast beverages.
On the third day, over a wonderful second breakfast at Muddy Waters in Tillamook, we had to make a decision.
The map and locals told us that the Three Capes Scenic Route would take us to Cape Mears and Cape Lookout but the road is very steep with a poor surface and many places with very little shoulder. Staying on 101 and then cutting over on Sand Lake Road would take us to the third cape, Cape Kiwanda on a better road with gentler grades. We'd already learned that pretty much all of Oregon is beautiful, so we opted for the nicer roads.
This section of 101 and Sand Lake Road were lovely and we got to see more of those cows that make all the wonderful cheese that makes Tillamook famous. Some of the farms we passed have been in the same families for generations and the Tillamook County Creamery Association is a farmer-owned co-op. I know some of my vegan friends justly rail against factory farms and the awful conditions some animals are subjected to, but I have to say that the cows of Tillamook county seem to be well-treated and well fed.
The U.S. Forest Service Park at Sand Beach is beautiful and while many of our fellow campers were there to run their ATVs on the dunes to the north of the lake, the campground itself, the lake and the beach were very quiet and peaceful.
On the fourth day we continued southward.
The Pelican Pub in Pacific City is located on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was too early for lunch, but we had to stop to enjoy the blue skies and the amazing view.
Further down the coast, we stopped for lunch at a friendly little place in Neskowin.
Taking our map's advice, we turned onto the low-traffic, very scenic Slab Creek Road. On the wooded road we passed a mom cycling to the school a few miles further on with an empty trail-a-bike. Christine thinks of herself as slow but I pointed out to her that she passed somebody. "Yeah," Christine said, "but she has a trailer." Christine had panniers, a sleeping bag and a Camelbak so I think that evens things out.
I couldn't figure out why Christine was not downshifting as we climbed. She was still on her middle ring as the grade increased. I guessed it was close to a 6% climb through the trees.
"Are your shifters working OK?" I asked, trying to be helpful.
"Yes," she hissed through clenched teeth, "my shifters are working."
"Can you see what gear you're in?" I further pressed, thinking perhaps she was unaware she still had lower gears to shift into.
"Yes!" Christine fumed, "I can see what gear I'm in. I'm sorry I'm going so slow on this flat road but I'm doing the best I can!"
"Uhmm, this isn't a flat road. This is the biggest climb of the day."
"We've been climbing for miles. I think we're near the top."
"I was saving my low gears for the climb. I was waiting for the big climb."
"You're on it."
With a click she shifted to the granny gear. "I just thought lunch had made me very sluggish."
"Nope." I explained to her about the phenomena called the "false flat" and how the lack of long sight-lines in the woods make it hard to sense the lay of the land. "Any time you think you want to downshift, do it," I advised, "low gears are there to be used."
We looked for, but never saw, the Neskowin Creek Campground. Perhaps it is on the main road or perhaps it doesn't really exist, so we pressed on to Lincoln City and the state park at Devils Lake.
Rolling into Lincoln City at rush hour is not an experience I'd recommend. The main highway in Lincoln City is very busy with no real shoulder and the suggested alternate off the main road doesn't turn off soon enough to avoid the traffic squeeze. Fast moving cars had us retreating as quickly as possible to what slender bits of sidewalk we could find and the hilly side route was really not much of a respite either.
While Lincoln City did not place high on our list of favored places, it does have a state park right in the center of town. And Devils Lake is pretty.
At the hiker/biker site we met Chuck, a young man traveling from Arizona to Portland via longboard. Chuck manages to cover as much ground per day kicking his way along as we do pedaling!
Dawn of the fifth day was lovely with the sun rising over the lake. A heron, a beaver and I shared the quiet moment before the city woke.
Our camp breakfasts consisted of granola bars, tea or coffee and some sausage and cheese on a bagel. While this would be more than enough to get us rolling down the road, it wouldn't take much of an excuse to get us to stop at a likely spot for a "second breakfast" or an early lunch.
This morning the excuse was a bit of rain. We'd stopped at a small market to get some more food, some instant mashed potatoes for dinner and a nice big bag of peanut M&Ms for my on-bike munching. It was raining when we came out of the market and I explained to Christine that whenever it is raining and there is a coffee shop nearby, the weather is telling you to stop for coffee. Pointing across the street at Captain Dan's Pirate Pastry Shop I said, "I bet they have coffee there."
It turns out that Dan and Kathy have not only coffee but the best turnovers I've ever eaten and a quirky pirate-themed shop. It's a place that's fun for kids of all ages, even though it's rated Aargh!
Our plan of waiting out the brief rain worked perfectly and we rolled on down the coast. Picture postcard views revealed themselves with astounding frequency and we stopped often to marvel at the beautiful interplay of wind, water, rock, trees and sunlight.
The tiny town of Depoe Bay claims to have the world's smallest harbor and while it looked like a fine place to linger, we rolled onward down the coast.
Christine is happiest when the road has a good shoulder or a bike lane and northern part of the Otter Crest Loop is a great example of such a bike-friendly road. The road features a single southbound lane for the cars and lane for bikes. Since there is no northbound traffic on this stretch of road it completely avoids the heart-stopping "two motorhomes plus a bike squeezing onto one tiny road" problem.
Today's big climb crests at the scenic Cape Foulweather, which we could see rising up in the distance.
Christine had no illusion today that the road was flat and she geared down and turtled upward.
The weather at Cape Foulweather proved to be surprisingly good and we lingered there a while, taking in the view and checking out what may be the world's most picturesquely located gift shop.
Christine jokes that the SLOW signs are the ones that she has no trouble obeying.
Newport was much nicer than Lincoln City when it came to routing cyclists through town.
The bike route directed us onto quiet streets that featured artsy little shops and restaurants. If we'd needed a bike shop, Newport has one.
Christine is not a fan of big bridges, but the bridge in Newport features a great sidewalk.
The evening's campsite is South Beach State Park, just south of Newport.
At the hiker/biker site we see familiar faces, Jerry and JoAnne who we'd first met back at Nehalem Bay. They are headed down to California.
The sandy beaches in Newport are a result of the jetties that stick out into the water. The jetties block the wind-driven waves and sand deposits over time, forming the broad beaches.
Day 6, our final day of riding, began with a bit of excitement. I'm careful to tree my food in bear country, but I'd grown complacent on this trip and the raccoons took advantage of that complacency. They used their clever little hands to unzip my panniers and handlebar bag and stole the bagels, the cheese, the sausage and all my M&Ms! Jerry and JoAnne came over to commiserate (they'd used their BOB trailer as an anti-raccoon fortress) and offer up some of their food, but the roll-tops of Christine's panniers had resisted the raccoons so we did have some granola bars and Christine's munchie mix to get us on down the road.
It was another stunning day on the coast. Seal Rock attracts photographers and artists from around the world and even my cheap little camera captures some of the majesty of the morning.
Waldport reveals itself to be yet another quirky coastal town and we wisely stop at the SeaDog Bakery. Jeremy is friendly and for reasons I don't understand, wears a chicken cap. There is a chicken theme going on and the bakery features egg cartons on the walls. I do know that Jeremy makes some of those eggs into a really good breakfast. We also replace much of the raccoon-raided supplies with baked goods from Jeremy's place.
South of Waldport there are still more beautiful coastal views.
We stop at the small town of Yachats to pick up a few things for supper and then roll to our final campsite at Carl Washburne State Park.
The campground is on the inland side of 101, but a beautiful trail winds through the woods and leads to a wide wonderful beach. Walking with my lovely wife I know there is no better place I could possibly be.
Our friends Michael and Jennifer come and pick us up the next day and haul us back to Portland. We thank them as best we can with a bit of money for gas and we buy them pizza and tell them stories of our trip, but trips like this are always gifts that can never fully be repaid. The next day Michael rides with us to the Amtrak station and Amtrak and Sound Transit get us back to Issaquah. We are so thankful for the friends who made this trip possible and all the wonderful people who made the Oregon Coast such an amazing place to ride.
In the course of six days we rode 205 miles. This was the longest tour Christine has done to date, but we are already plotting our next journey. Those wheels, you know, they have momentum, and once you get rolling, it can be hard to stop.
We're paused for now but we'll keep 'em rolling.
Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA