Portland – Astoria – Brookings – 778Km (Total 3026km cycled)
Highlights: Rain, cheese, orca whales and, most importantly, being on the road again!
Day 141 – May 28 : Leaving Portland
True to form, we left late from Portland because we were chatting to our hosts Paul, Lena and Elo and couldn’t tear ourselves away from their great company. We went hunting for the TriMet light rail so that we could take the train out to Hillsboro to save us some miles and a ride through the less-interesting suburbs of Portland.
Riding out of Hillsboro towards Banks was through some nice rolling countryside, past a little airport with pristine grassy lawns, where the planes were parked in the garages of the local houses. The roads were lovely and quiet with it being a national holiday, so we were peacefully able to get used to a new way of riding, and had a chance to enjoy the view and the cool sunshine.
In Banks we found the Banks and Vernonia State Trail, a disused railway line which gently climbed all the way to our first campsite, making a very enjoyable and traffic-free afternoon’s ride. We camped in a State Park with limited facilities – just a long-drop loo and benches. But, compared to our wild camps in South America, it was luxurious. It was set in a forest next to a pleasant river. For the first time, we hung our food panniers in a tree out of reach of any hungry locals. I think we’ll be getting used to this routine in the next few months.
Day 142 – May 29 : Logging trails
As we rolled out of the campsite I began to realise that Google Map and Open Street Maps were not 100% accurate in their description of road surfaces. To be sure we’d be able to pass through my planned route, I consulted the campsite caretaker to see what the roads had in store. The answer: a labyrinth of rough logging trails and fire routes, but he was reasonably sure that we’d make our way out the other side and find the town of Astoria, on the other side of Clatsop State Park. I pressed him for details, and was eventually reassured that we wouldn’t run into any rough roads like we had in South America.
We ended up on tracks made for logging trucks. You’d think these would be pretty poor surfaces but, bar a few pot holes, we had nice and smooth gravel surfaces that made for pleasant riding.
What we did have to contend with, however, were some extremely steep hills. On the plus side, we had stunning views (and many stops to check the GPS and put our lungs back into place). At one point I was enjoying the view a bit too much and missed a turn. We were flagged down by a friendly local chap who told us that the road would end up pretty much in his back garden and that we should turn around, which we dutifully did. Some of the trails and track are leftovers from the logging trains that covered the whole area back in the day, he told us.
We headed back only a few hundred yards and got back on track only to find a mile or so up the road that, uh-oh, someone had dug up the road. Open Street map told me that the road definitely continued in this direction, so we, huffing and puffing, carried our bikes through the several ditches which caused the obstruction, and we were on our way. After all, why take the easy route when an exciting off-road version is available?!
The zigzagging, steep hills and the view made the riding slow so we were hunting daylight and rather tired when, over fifty miles later, we arrived at the next state park camp ground. Again, however, our maps and information we’d found online didn’t tally with the reality on the ground: we just couldn’t find the campsite. Eventually, we asked for water at a nearby house, and the friendly chap there advised us just to find a hidden spot in the state forest for the night. So, we hiked up a nearby hill, camped under a large electricity pylon and prepared to get up early.
Day 143 – May 30 : Breakfast Cafe
The next morning we had just five miles to reach the pretty little town of Astoria, where we’d planned to tuck into a big breakfast, having not eaten much dinner the previous night. We found a diner and settled down to a feast of massive omelettes, hash browns and toast. The meals tend to come in good sizes over here, not often do you need to ask for a side dish to feed your cycle touring needs.
While eating we met Ric from Reno who would be cycling with his dog in a trailer to San Francisco. He would take his time at first, since it was his first time cycling for a while, and his dog’s first time camping. We pored over a map with him and gathered some helpful tips.
After a quick detour to say hello to the boisterous and noisy – but very endearing – sealions, which sun themselves at the harbour, we headed out of Astoria and started to follow the American Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Pacific Coast Route south. The route at first takes you along the flat river delta towards Seaside on the coast.
This is where we started to see some of the vehicles we’d have to contend with on our journey: logging trucks, simply MASSIVE RVs (Recreational Vehicles, otherwise known as Camper Vans) and 4x4s. The trucks weren’t that much bigger than the ones in Europe. The RVs, however, shocked us. They are astonishingly huge – just like the buses and coaches we use to transport 60 passengers in Europe. And, that’s not all. Behind them they generally tow a little “runabout” vehicle, so they can set up their RV as basecamp and tour the local area (or just nip to the shops) in the smaller car. What’s more, this tagalong car is actually not that small – we often saw large 4x4s, or even monster trucks, being dragged along behind (we learned that in the US, these are known as ‘mid-sized’ vehicles). The worst case we have seen is a huge RV towing a huge 4×4 with a little golf cart strapped on in between. RV parks (campsites catering for these huge vehicles) promote themselves by offering ‘pull-thru’ facilities – so the driver doesn’t have to manoeuvre his massive vehicle train in any direction but forward. The whole thing is really quite obscene.
In Seaside we set up camp at a RV camp ground. For once our palatial Hilleberg tent was dwarfed by our neighbouring campervans.
Day 144 – May 31 : The wet coast
We had been warned: if you cycle the Oregon coast you are bound to get wet now and again. Sure enough, setting off in the morning we were riding into a thick, wet mist which hung around all day.
We spotted a few other cycle tourers, none of whom wanted to stop and chat. At first, we thought it was the rain, but over the next few weeks we learned that it’s not really something you do on the Pacific Coast. You chat when you meet up at campsite but not en route, just a wave or a shout hello. This was rather a contrast to our time in South America, where spotting a fellow cycle tourer was a big event, involving the swapping of life stories! As there are far more cyclists on the routes in the US compared to the remoteness of Latin America, I suppose it would just take up too much time to greet everyone that way. It has taken some getting used to, though.
At Nehalem Bay State Park we used the “Hiker-Biker” campsite. You often get a more secluded spot away from the other campers in RVs etc but have access to the facilities, like the showers and loos. Oregon State Parks were some of the best parks we’ve ever stayed at. Warm showers, very clean facilities and a welcoming smile from the Park Rangers. And all this only $5 per person per night. Oh, yes, but do remember your DEET insect repellent, all the parks we visited had BB’s in their millions.
Day 145 – June 1 : Raining day
We got up in the dry, but no sooner had we set off it started to rain again. Not hard, just a stubborn, solid mist which saturates you good and proper.
Oregon Coast roads are generally pretty good with plenty of shoulder to ride on, though at times these can be narrow and full of debris. We were glad of our hefty Schwalbe tyres. And, most of the time, other road users gave us plenty of space. But the water spray from the passing cars made the ride that day rather miserable.
We had been told, by our warmshowers.org host in Portland, that we should do the Three Capes route but after two days of rain it looked like we wouldn’t see much when we got there. But we kept our fingers crossed.
Day 146 – June 2 : State Park Day = free camping and beer!
Happily, the sky cleared up as I waited outside the supermarket where we stocked up. This was a new concept for us, being able to get food every day and not carrying 5-10 days worth in our panniers. While we packed our panniers with goodies, we chatted to Joe who had cycled from Montana to Portland and was also on his way down to California. In the coming days we were to zig-zag with him quite a bit.
The closer we got to the Three Capes, the bluer the sky became, and we could see why we had been told to go there – great views and good riding. At Cape Meares lighthouse we had our lunch of bagels, peanut butter, nutella and raw carrot (we have odd tastes) while enjoying the view “towards Japan”. (I think) I spotted in the distance the fin of an orca AKA the Killer Whale! We could just make it out the fin with the naked eye and the camera did a little better job.
We also met Auntie Wendoline and Nephew Barry, from Holland, who were also doing the coast but taking the lightweight route and staying in motels rather than camping. We looked rather enviously at their lightweight set-up as we prepared to tackle the hill back to the main road.
We had a couple of nice surprises later that afternoon. While digging for money at the Cape Lookout State Park to pay for their Hiker/Biker camp ground we were told, “Don’t worry! It’s ‘State Park Day’ today so all camping is free”. We found a nice spot in the Hiker/Biker area tucked away amongst the trees, next to the beach, with a bench, room for our long tent amongst the trees and a cold beer left behind by the previous occupants. Now, that is good camping for you.
We showered up in the good showers, Peli cooked up a storm of pancakes on the camp stove while I enjoyed the free beer. We later enjoyed the sunset with Joe, before crawling to bed away from the BB’s.
Day 147 – June 3 : Devils Hills
We tried our best to get up and going early but that isn’t something we find easy, so our early starts tend to be around 10am. Leaving Cape Lookout we had one of the big climbs to start with, Joe told us that it would be a hard one since he wrongly came down it the day before. But, honestly, the hills were never that hard on the Oregon Coast, the steepest sign I saw was 7%. We managed them just fine on our heavily-loaded tourers with wide off-road tyres.
The rolling hills just kept coming and the good views and road surfaces made it easier. The ACA maps, when they can, take you off the 101 Pacific Highway and we enjoyed some quieter roads now and again. The “bypass” around Devils Lake near Lincoln City took its toll a little bit, since to get there we had to ride for a mile into the wind. Clearly, we’d chosen the right direction in riding south! Had we gone north into the wind, I’m pretty sure that even with the training in South America and the good road surface in North America we would not have enjoyed it as much as we did.
At the camp ground we met the Starving Cyclist, who is planning a tour around the USA before heading down into the unknown.
Day 148 – June 4 : Bike Newport
We got up to yet another wet day and as the miles rolled on the wetter it seemed to get. I’m sorry to say that if there was anything to see along the coast here we missed it completely due to the weather, there was no holding back on the tap here. Best of all, we arrived into Newport and visited the brilliant bicycle shop called Bike Newport. This place provides a “day hostel” for wet, cold, smelly and hungry cycle tourers where you can have a shower, get bicycle parts and a good old chat. We used the fantastically hot and powerful shower and then washed and dried our wet clothing while we fed ourselves in the diner across the road. Now, even as a hungry cyclist who’s been known to put away a fair bit of food, I played it safe and only got the third biggest burger with chips and some of the pancake that Peli let me taste. I wonder if anyone could actually finish the biggest one which offers seven pounds of meat (the one I had was only a three pounder)?
We returned to Bike Newport and enjoyed the sofas, wifi and bike talk while hiding from the rain. But, as closing time came around, we had to brave the horizontal rain for another three or so miles to the State Park south of town. On nearly all the bridges and tunnels we crossed there is a button to press to start a flashing light to warn other road users of your presence. We were standing at the side of the road, wondering how to tackle the bridge, since the wind and rain were terrible, and the pavement on the bridge very high and narrow.
But, have no fear Bike Newport came to the rescue again. The owner, Elliott, was driving home at the same time, so kindly offered to provide us with an escort, driving behind us with his hazard lights on like a professional team car. Thank you, Bike Newport!
Despite the short distance, we were soaked to the skin when we arrived at the South Beach State Park, the rain on the coast does get in everywhere. A handy shelter protected our bikes for the night, though there was no escaping the HUGE mosquitoes.
Day 149 – June 5 : Doping with ice cream
Finally a sunny day dawned, and we were treated to some beautiful views of the coastline. We dried the tent out in the sun while eating breakfast. One great thing about the Hillebergs is that they dry in the blink of an eye as soon as they see some direct sunshine. We were warned by the ACA map that we’d have to tackle four lumps south of Yachats before we reached to a long downhill into Florence. The ACA route graph does make it look worse than it really is and was wrong on the altitude on one of the hills by nearly half the height.
As we rolled into Yachats Peli said the “I” word and we enjoyed two scoops of peanut butter ice cream. Joe rolled up a few moments later and told us that he’d bailed out from the rain and got a Yurt in the same State Park we’d been at the day before. If you’d seen the size of his tent, you’d understand his decision!
Since Joe is travelling light on a beautiful Fuji road bike he climbed the hill faster than us (not to mention that he’s fitter). We stopped to slap on the suncream and were joined by Kelvin on a lovely Brooks-equipped black Surly. He rode with on the next section of the ride, over a few more lumps and down the long descent with great views over the Oregon Dunes. I’m sure he was thinking that we were fit as anything riding that last bit into Florence and the Honeyman State Park, because I was flying high on ice cream and tailwind.
Day 150 – June 6 : To the rescue!
Joe and Kelvin got up much earlier than us, must be their military training still in them. But, then again, it’s generally not hard to get up before us. We set off at our soon-becoming-normal time of 1030-11am (this isn’t supposed to hurt, after all), and I was suffering from the ice cream-fuelled sprint we did yesterday.
We spotted a cycle tourer on the other side of the road, looking like he had problems. We crossed the road to learn that his wheel on his trailer had come off the day before. He had then ridden into town to order a new wheel, camped at a state park and was now trying to get the trailer back to town to fit the new wheel. We couldn’t really help other than advised him to hitch a ride as riding or rather dragging the trailer would damaged it beyond repair.
The bridge over Coos River into North Bend was a bit too long and high for us to ride over with the traffic coming into town, with the sidewind pushing us about. The last 12 or so miles took their toll, late start, not eating at the right time and the wind that suddenly came from the south. So, we rolled through Charleston and into Sunset Bay State Park rather tired.
Joe and Kelvin were already there, chatting to Justin and Jamie who also were also heading south on the coast. Some chat, shower and food later we all crawled into bed, hoping that the rain that was due wouldn’t arrive.
Day 151 – June 7 : Rest day
Right on cue, the rain arrived in impressive quantities during the night. In the morning, we couldn’t hear the telltale sounds of zips on fly sheets, tent poles being folded up and the cleaning of tent pegs, so we knew that others had had the same idea as us: a rest day!
So, a long sleep-in with an afternoon snooze was enjoyed. We all had the “Seven Devils Hills” to look forward to and didn’t fancy riding them in the rain. We had a little walk down to the beautiful Sunset Bay in between the showers, but missed out on the low tide to see the rock pools.
Day 152 – June : The Funny little Devils
The sun came out enough the morning to cook and nearly dry the tent fully and fool us into thinking it would be a dry day. Well, we did see some sunshine, but not before we’d been soaked while grunting up the Seven Devils Road. Someone who had ridden it before us even had time to write funny little notes on the road, TdeF-style, and count the hills for us as we cycled over the Seven Devils. These provided much-needed encouragement as we toiled up, down, up, down, and yet again upwards. Though, I counted at least 15 peaks on this rolling bit of the coast, not seven. Yes, little devils they are – telling the unwitting cyclist one thing, and giving you something else.
In Bandon, while we were doing the usual cycle tourist thing of hanging around outside supermarkets, stuffing our faces with recently-purchased calories, a lady called Nicole introduced herself and asked if we were heading south. If so, we were very welcome to drop into the new cyclists’ hostel which she and her husband, Bryan, veterans of the warmshowers.org site, had just started in Port Orford, Far West Hostel. This sounded tempting, but as it was another 25 miles away and we were already tired we said we’d give them a bell if we made it that far.
South of Bandon the rain came back and soaked us and we cycled through Denmark, Oregon. There’s nothing much left of this settlement started by, yup, you guessed it, Danes.
We had planned, if our legs had it in them, to stop at Cape Blanco State Park, the destination of the other tourers we’d met. But, the lure of chocolate chip cookies and a dry room was greater, so we forced our weary legs to pedal us as far as Port Orford. We later learned that we’d made the right choice, since the ACA maps tend to place the campsite marker at the entrance to the State Parks, rather than at the location of the campsite itself. An extra two miles of steep climbing into a strong headwind would have greeted us if we’d chosen the State Park option.
It was getting late in the day when we gave Far West Hostel a bell and arranged to meet at a local supermarket so Bryan could escort us there. A delicious smell of freshly-baked cookies, a specialite de la maison, was wafting about as we made our way into the hostel complex, which is a former motel set amongst beautiful tall trees with a meadow behind. Since Nicole and Bryan have only just started this place it was still something of a building site, so we could either choose to camp in the huge garden or stay in one of the unfinished rooms. We plumped for having a roof over our heads for the hard roof for the night – our first since leaving Portland and a welcome break after so many nights in the wet!
We were truly welcomed by our hosts and Don, the other cycle tourer there, who was heading north on the 101 before he emigrates to Japan. In the future the hostel will offer cycle tourers showers, bunk beds, bunk beds, camp ground with nifty portable wooden tent platforms, communal kitchen, and of course a warm welcome and local knowledge. If you’re ever cycling the Oregon Coast it’s definitely worth a stopover here. We wish Nicole and Bryan the best of luck with Far West Hostel. And Don, your vegan versions were very good too, even with an uncooperative oven!
Day 153 – June 9 : Bratwurst
Today was a short day. The wind was coming in from the south for a change, and that coupled with the long day before had taken its toll. So, after a morning ride we treated ourselves to a leisurely afternoon in the Honey Bear RV campground where we had the whole tent field to ourselves. This immaculate place is run by a German couple, so we were able to get our hands on some Lindt chocolate (for Peli) and Bratwurst sausage (for me). We even met a lady who makes the raisins for Sun Maid.
Day 154 – June 10 : Sunset
Rolling into Gold Beach we spotted the Dutch Aunt-and-Nephew pair again, and prepared to climb out of the town. This is the point where if you don’t keep on top of your blog or make detailed notes, you forget what happened that day. We honestly can’t remember much of it at all. We do know, however, that this section had one of the best views of the entire coastline, at Hunters Cove (which I think features on the front of one of the relevant ACA map). Two speedy ladies zoomed past us on their bikes as we stopped to do some touregging and take pictures. They were going so fast, they sadly didn’t seem have time to stop and enjoy the view – not our style of touring! We later saw them camped up in the Hiker/Biker area at Harris Beach State Park, where we were also reunited with the ‘Three Js’, Joe, Justin and Jamie, and were told that Kelvin had already sped way ahead. We enjoyed the view and sunset with the Three Js, before hitting the sack.