Dear reader. By now you have probably come to expect quite a delay in my reporting back on our progress and so I will stop apologising for this. No doubt you’re desperate to know where we are at every point along our trip so have a look at our snazzy map which we try to update more regularly. On this occasion we find ourselves sat in a tourist lodge towards the grand and incredibly famous (not to mention busy) Yosemite National Park but I’ll tell you about that another time. For now we’ll return to Oregon, our second state in the US.
According to the Adventure Cycling Association the Oregon coast route, down highway 101 from Astoria in the north to Brookings in the south, amounts to just over 360 miles. Somehow or another we managed to cycle over 700 miles, maintaining our title of slowest and heaviest bike tourers on the pacific coast route. Our entrance into the state began with a dramatic race to the ferry at Cathlamet for a pretty crossing over the mighty and historic Columbia river. After a week or two cycling around the Olympic peninsular in Washington we were ready to binge on some quality veggie fare and take a short break from the road for Alyce’s birthday. We headed for Portland.
Stuff we learnt in Portland:
- The TV show Portlandia is an almost 100% accurate portrayal of at least some parts of the city (based on a somewhat brief and incomprehensive viewing of the show – and city for that matter).
- Voodoo Doughnuts is probably the most popular food outlet in the city, offering vegan and un-vegan options of some of the most flamboyant and extravagant baked goods on the planet. E.g. Their signature doughnut is a voodoo doll shape with jam filling that comes equipped with a pretzel dagger to jab at your doughnut and make it bleed. Another option that Alyce kindly picked for me was a cock and ball shaped doughnut with a custard filling. Get it?
- After about 1.5 doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnuts you’re ready to never eat another doughnut again in your life.
- Unless you have a coffee in your hand, have just been for a coffee or are about to go for coffee in one of Portland’s seemingly infinite number of coffee shops you have no right to consider yourself a Portlander whatsoever.
- Powell’s books – the biggest new and used bookshop in the world – requires more than a fleeting 30 minute visit. So much so that we extended our stay in Portland by a day just to go back and have a proper look through. A highlight was the old and rare books section where we saw a first edition of The Great Gatsby – yours for just $4500.
We very much enjoyed our stay in Portland, thanks to a large degree to our great Warmshowers hosts David and Edna who showed us around and even drove us out to the Columbia river gorge for amazing views, the biggest and gnarliest fish (Sturgeon) we’ve ever seen and a sunset so orange it made me look like a David Dickinson wannabe.
From Portland we gladly took an offer of a drive out to Banks, west of the city. From here we joined David and Edna for a day ride over to Vernonia on a lovely converted railway trail with their recumbent club (plenty of upright versus recumbent banter ensued). From there we continued west back to Astoria in the northwest corner of Oregon and finally began the above mentioned coast route.
The ride south was just as beautiful as everyone we’d met so far had told us it would be. Save for the city-size campground at Fort Stevens state park and some 4 lane highway riding on the way to Cannon beach, the coast route was incredible. In fact, it took about 15 minutes of coastal views overlooking powerful surf to convince me that I needed a surfboard. For the next few days I found myself daydreaming about how I could carry a board and whether or not that would be a realistic prospect. I decided it probably was and so began the hunt for a trailer, a wetsuit and a surfboard.
This hunt led us to the conclusion that we would need to do another side trip into Eugene, a small college town 60 miles or so inland. We’d heard good things about the place and I’d found a cheap second hand BOB trailer online that I could pick up on the way in. The side trip turned into one of the highlights of our journey so far. Thanks to the gods of phone signal we were lucky enough to stay with Hal and Tonia up at Big Bear camp near Walton on the way to Eugene (again via Warmshowers). We were welcomed with hugs and quality craft beers and stayed in a cosy converted trailer after a delicious dinner cooked in their grapevine-shaded outdoor kitchen. After 6 weeks camping without a proper bed, you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. These guys had built the whole camp themselves, with yurts and a beautiful lodge full of Tonia’s artworks. We loved our stay so much that we returned on our way back from Eugene, staying in a yurt this time, and even then found it difficult and sad to leave. The fact that their place was up a 5.5 mile hilly gravel road and we still wanted to come back is testament to the legendary and magical status of Hal and T and Big Bear Camp.
As it turned out Eugene was like Portland’s little sister, with enough veggie food to make meat eaters feel like a minority and incredibly kind and generous fellow cyclists to hang out with: we bumped into George on our way into the city and he rode over to a cafe with us and showed us around town, offering a place to stay. We’d already organised to stay with the wonderful Tomoko, however, and again received a warm welcome into her home – including her wipping together some sourdough for us to cook pizza in her outdoor brick oven. She knew how to please hungry bike tourers. Tomoko – we salute you!
Also, when agreeing on a price for the second hand BOB bike trailer, the lovely lady selling it (who I hasten to add must have been somewhat charmed by our British accents) told me, “make me an offer and I’ll say yes!” (which sounds so much better with an enthusiastic thick Oregonian accent). To say that our faith in humanity was restored after all the Trump signs and bad luck in Washington would be to understate our feelings. We were positively inspired and in awe of the kindness that was coming our way in Oregon.
After picking up the trailer, a wetsuit, boots and a hood in Eugene, we headed back out to the coast via Big Bear Camp and cycled one of the most tranquil and fun roads of the trip so far. We’d heard about the fabled Smith River Road in Eugene but weren’t quite sure if there was a paved route to it from the Big Bear Camp in Walton. With not much to lose but around 20 miles of back-tracking if the road didn’t connect, we headed out and up a mountain before descending the windiest road of all time back to the coast. I reckon we saw about 4 or 5 cars going past in either direction in about 2 days of riding down these roads – blooming perfect riding conditions.
Back on the coast we were again southward bound and having picked up a board in Coos Bay I got in a few surfs before hopping over the border into California. The southern Oregon coast was another highlight, with more beautiful coastal vistas and perfectly spaced state park campgrounds offering hiker-biker camping for $5 per person. It doesn’t get any better than that for and we could see what all the hype was about.
With all the great experiences and friendly folks we’d met in Oregon and the prospect of the biggest road climb of the pacific coast route to come in California (not to mention the dense population further south in the state, with the busy roads that come with that), we were a little apprehensive for what was to come. We’d become soft in Oregon. It was all just too easy. We’d become used to not planning ahead and just heading down the same road every day with more great views and easy camping. California would be different, we knew, but that didn’t make Oregon any less special.