Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oregon coast tour

Our bikes were taken to Oregon by the good people at Amtrak. The Weasel and I flew to Portland, where we retrieved our bikes at the Amtrak station just in time to load them on a bus for the coast. Our bikes and gear were in cardboard boxes, but several others packed their bikes into the cargo compartments of the bus without a box - a convenient (and cheap) way to escape to the coast if you live in Portland.  Anyway, we arrived in Astoria, exhausted from a long day of air, foot, and bus travel. We assembled the bikes and loaded the bags onto them, and were on our way in search of an accommodation for the night. We stayed in a motel not far from where the bus dropped us off in the misty darkness.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a local cafe before heading up the long and steep hill to the Astoria Column. Bicycling up the hill and climbing the 164 steps to the top of the column was a good way to start the tour. Despite my acrophobia, I managed to lose myself in the making of photographs and just admire the 360-degree panoramic view.

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See that ship down there? I learned later that it is a Japanese boat loading up with local tuna. It was reported to us by a local character that the earthquake in Japan devastated the tuna industry in the country. Another notable observation - from the column I could hear the barking noise of seals or sea lions. During the trip, we weren't fortunate to see any of these animals, but we heard them in Astoria.

After the visit to the column, we headed down the coast. Traffic was heavy and the shoulder was narrow. I was hoping it would let up once were were away from Astoria and the junction of various highways in that area. We took a break at Cannon Beach for lunch at a Mexican joint and a walk on the beach near Haystack Rock.
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Back on the road, we decided that our destination for the night would be Nehalem Bay State Park. We stopped in Manzanita, a quaint town near the state park, to stock up on food to last the next 24 hours. It was at this point that we learned about the wonders of the Oregon State Park hiker/biker sites. The sites are low-cost, semi-primitive camping areas specifically for hikers and cyclists. The rest of the campground is full of RVs and utility hook-ups, but the hiker/biker sites provide a somewhat closer-to-nature experience. Nehalem was gorgeous. After setting up my tent, I took off my shoes, grabbed a camera and tripod, and headed down the hill to wet my feet in the surf and take pictures.

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It should be noted that my "serious" camera on this trip was a Nikon FM, a fully manual 35 mm SLR. Yes, film. Believe it or not, pickings are getting slim for film in convenience stores. Even two camera shops in downtown Portland failed to do better than Walgreen's or Target in terms of color film selection, especially for film slower than ISO 400. It seems like online is probably the way to go for buying film nowadays, unless you happen to live near a really good camera shop that still stocks the stuff. Anyway, none of the 35 mm photos have been developed yet, so what you see in this post is all from my iPhone camera.

We had encountered some other cyclists on the road earlier in the day. Donny and Sarah had recently embarked on their first ever bicycle tour. They weren't more than casual cyclists when they bought new Surly Long Haul Truckers and set off from Alaska on a trip to the bottom of South America. Sarah said she cried a lot the first couple weeks, but by the time they hit Oregon, they were seasoned travelers, having the time of their lives. When we met them, they assumed we must be with some other cyclists from Minneapolis they'd just met minutes before meeting us. Later we met these other Minneapolis cyclists, Brent and Katie down the road a few miles. At Nehalem, we met Rose who was heading home to San Francisco after a summer working in Seattle, Peter and Franzisca (sp?) from Switzerland, and Wayne, from Canada. It turns out that there are certain popular campgrounds along the coast, and if you ride at a normal pace (45-60 miles per day), you will tend to camp with the same people every night. Rose, who is smart and fun, made a friendly gesture of starting a fire at Nehalem and inviting the rest of us to enjoy it.

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By the end of the night, we were all friends.

After a good night's sleep, we commenced the first of several excellent campground breakfasts, most of which included eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes with melted cheese, all cooked on my recently acquired Trangia stove.

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I brought a French press for making real coffee. Yes, we eat well on the road.

I had a strange experience that morning. I thought back just 24 hours to my previous breakfast in Astoria, and the "epic" climb to the Astoria Column...and it seemed like it was weeks ago. Being along the coast had a funny effect on perceived time. Everything seemed very much "in the moment".  

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The next day, we set out for Cape Lookout via the Three Capes scenic loop. The biggest town in the vicinity is Tillamook, which is famous for cheese. I'd been buying Tillamook cheese at a local grocery store for years, but hadn't realized it was from this small town in coastal Oregon. In Tillamook, we again saw some of our friends from the previous day, and they advised us that they'd heard a rumor that the Three Capes road was closed. After destroying a pizza, The Weasel and I headed toward Cape Meares, which was the first of the three capes on the loop. We noticed orange construction detour signs, but they directed us down the roads we'd already planned to use, so it wasn't actually a detour for us. The hill climb near Cape Meares was a challenge, much larger than any hill we have in Minnesota. After that climb and a few more stout inclines, we came to a sign that said "road closed 1000 feet". We weren't eager to turn back to repeat those miles and those hills, so we rode around the road closure signs. Luckily, the road was still open for bikes.

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It was a nice view.

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Cape Lookout campground was even more delightful than Nehalem Bay.

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Immediately out of Cape Lookout the next morning, we gained 900 feet in 4 miles. Not in Kansas anymore.

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From the small town of Neskowin, we were advised by a friend and by an Adventure Cycling Association map to take a detour from the main highway. I was reluctant to follow this advice because were were running short on time for the distance we wanted to cover, and for a change we had good pavement and a comfortably wide shoulder. The Weasel and I deliberated on this point for a few minutes. Soon our old friend Rose caught up to us. When we reached the turn-off for the detour, Rose thought it looked pretty good, so we took it. This was easily my favorite ten miles of the trip. The road twisted uphill through giant moss-covered spruces. We stopped to pick berries. I got excited when I discovered thimbleberries, which I've only seen in my ancestral homeland of the U.P. There was a moss-covered bridge.

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We were advised to press forward 70ish miles from Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach, but with our leisurely attitude and pace, we made it only 50 miles to Lincoln City and Devil's Lake State Park. Not a great campground, but the food was good.

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Rose was staying with friends in Lincoln City, but out other old friends, Brent and Katie from Minneapolis pulled in just before dark. I was happy to see them again, and we all stayed up late talking around the fire. The next morning, B and K would continue down the coast. The Weasel and I, on the other hand, were contemplating alternatives to another day of high traffic on highway 101. We decided to head inland, back to Portland. The coast was wonderful in many ways, but the nation's best cycling city beckoned, and I was eager to spend some time with friends who live there (sorry I couldn't make time for everyone I know who lives there). An easy day-and-a-half of not-terribly-exciting riding took us to Portland by way of McMinnville.

At a Motel in McMinnville, we discovered the Lingerie Football League on TV. I suspected the motel room next to ours was being used to film a porno movie. We met some nice people at a local bike shop.

Once in Portland, we rode around town a fair bit, including a jaunt to the top of lovely Mt Tabor. For the most part, our time in Portland was spent socializing, eating, and admiring the local bike culture. It seemed sort of low-key after the spectacular scenery and stressful traffic on the coast, but it was exactly what I needed.

Would you believe I'm already contemplating the next adventure?

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9 comments:

Chris said...

great write up! RE: the Sea Lions in Astoria.. if you look to the right of your pic from the column, you would be looking at the Sea Lions... they have taken over a bunch of docks at the fishing pier...

wish I had been cycling when I lived there...

Chhris

Aaron Thomas said...

Reading this post elicited a craving for cheese that had to be satisfied. I didn't have any Tillamook, but I made due with what I had on hand.

Some stunning scenery. I can only imagine what you have on your real camera.

Nick said...

I biked across the big bridge in Astoria this July. That was something, It's around 4 miles each way with a 6 inch shoulder. A little dangerous but worth every second.

RoadieRyan said...

Great write up Jim glad you had a such a great trip in two of my favorite places on earth - The Oregon Coast and Portland. Next time you go through McMinnville check out the Hotel Oregon a McMenamins establishment. Great views from the rooftop bar and great beer. .http://www.mcmenamins.com/441-hotel-oregon-home

Mark said...

How did the Crosscheck work as a touring bike for you?
Looks like a great trip! I'm eager to go to McMinnville some day to sample some of the fabulous wine that's made in that area!

Anonymous said...

Were you wet and misty every morning? How did you dry out your tent?

Jim Thill said...

Re: Cross-check as touring bike. It was definitely flexier than my companion's LHT, but handling was great, and it was comfortable for me. Regarding flexiness comparisons, it should probably be noted that the CC is stiffer and in general "better" than many of the iconic touring bikes of 25-35 years ago.

Chad Parrish said...

Looks like a great trip. Count me in for the next one !!!

adventure! said...

Ah, that happens to be my favorite part of the Oregon Coast. And how convenient that I live in Portland, so I have easy access!

Re: Hiker/Biker site at Cape Lookout, I hate it. Hate it because it spoils me, and makes all other campgrounds feel inferior.