Monday, October 19, 2015

Alternative Route

The majority of our route to date has followed the busy and traffic dense US 101. Although safe, it requires a certain level of concentration to maintain our course with cars constantly whizzing by. Whenever we can, we try to take an alternative route. 
Sometimes these routes are slightly longer and usually involve much more climbing, but they are usually quiet and allow us some solitude away from the traffic. Our favorite so far have been parts that are labeled as the "old highway". These sections were part of the original route for 101 but have been bypassed with a new highway designed for larger and faster moving vehicles.  
 These winding roads climb at a more enjoyable pace and hug the headlands. Sometimes they deteriorate into single lane roads or even gravel and always are cracked and slumped where landslides have pushed the road surface down. Our wide tires and steel frame float over these road obstacles with ease and relative comfort.

It's amazing how technology has evolved since the last time I was on an extended tour. I was without a cell phone and no one in our group had a smart phone. Now, we are traveling with a tablet and have the ability to download high resolution maps (using app) and plan our route. I am able to find quiet backroads quickly and easily just by zooming in to an area.
Some of these alternate routes are well known in the cycling community and are named: 3 Capes and 7 Devils. (Named for the number of difficult climbs) Others are more generic: Scenic Route or Ocean View. Some wind through small towns on side streets and will go by parks and scenic overlooks. Sierra and I always are ready to take a break off the bike for another scenic overlook.

Sometimes technology only helps so much when planning these small adventure detours. Our guide book described one of these alternate routes as a gravel road detour designed for mountain touring bikes. I wanted more details about the conditions before attempting something that was beyond our comfort level. We found the Redwood Information Center in Crescent City. The ranger on duty was helpful and said that the route we were looking at was a quiet gravel road that ended with a gated trail that was an old road that had some washouts but bicycles and hikers were allowed. This sounded perfect for the solitude we were looking for. The ranger followed that if we were up for this kind of riding, we should take a hike/bike trail that heads down to the coast from the Redwood Highway. We would be able to take the back way into the Fern Canyon (a place Sierra and I wanted to see). We left excited about some solid miles away from US 101.
Just after Klamath, CA, we turned to the coast and began a quiet climb through huge stands of redwoods. It felt like we had a private tour of a secret place. The sun was drifting down through the towering trees and a small creek flowed beside us. The climb topped out on a cliff with incredible views of the Pacific hundreds of feet below. The gravel road section was an adventuring tourist dream. Behind the gated road, we had miles of car free gravel road. Leaves crunched under our tires as we followed one of the oldest roads on this section of the coast. We were following a gold prospectors route from the 1850's and shared the same ups and downs that horse drawn wagons did 160 years ago.
Eventually the trail ended and we returned to a quiet paved road that meandered back to the main scenic drive.
The next section of adventure was a different story. We left the main road again for a trail that led down to the beach and followed the beach to Fern Canyon. Immediately we knew something was different. Instead of an old road, we were on a dirt single track trail. Our tires are wide, but not specifically designed for "off road" riding. Still spurred on by the ranger's suggestion and the previous glorious adventure, I thought that if we could get down to the beach, we would pick up the road again. We descended 500 feet in just a few miles. We were forced to stop three times to let our rims and brakes cool down from being too hot to touch. Finally we made it down to the beach, but instead of a flat gravel road trail, only single track loomed ahead. This would have been fun on a unloaded mountain bike, but for our tandem, it was a different story.

We pushed our tandem up steep sections of trail with blackberry and nettles biting at our legs. Twice we had to lift our bike over roots and over rocks. There was no option to turn back. It was only to go on or stop and sleep. We still had plenty of daylight so we pressed on. When we came to the first tree that was over the trail, our frustration levels were maxed out. We unloaded the bike and carried bags and then the bicycle over two large trees wondering the whole time what we had gotten into. The trail edged closer to the beach and became sandier and less stable. On a short steep section we stopped to get off and push the bike, but when we put our feet down on the ground, the side of the trail gave way and the we toppled over into the brush with our fully loaded bicycle on top of us.
I could feel branches breaking under my weight. Somehow Sierra and I both unclipped from our pedals but I was pinned upside down holding the bike from sliding further down into the ditch. Sierra was first up out of the ditch and started pulling the bags and bicycle off of me so that I could get to my feet. We were covered in dirt and twigs. We brushed ourselves off and looked over ourselves and the bicycle. Nothing was bent, broken or bloody, but we were bruised and shaken by the event.
Still the only option was to press on. The trail finally became flatter easier to ride. Our large bags fitting between logs, trees and huge sedges with only inches to spare. Eventually we could hear voices from around a clump of trees and we saw people walking toward us. They were shocked to see our fully loaded train heading down the trail but reassured us that we were almost back to the main road. We only had one more creek to cross. Balancing on a log while pushing our bike through 6 inch deep water we made it with dry feet to the other side.

Five minutes later, we entered the campground, found our spot and set up camp. We were sharing a spot with two backpackers from Australia and New Zealand. They built a huge fire and offered us sips from their bottle of spiced rum: two things that we were craving more than anything else.
We turned in for the night and decided to take a rest day in the morning, before heading back to tamer roads.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

All About Oregon

It's hard to believe we have been on the road for two weeks! Time is really flying, as are the miles. 

After a blissful rest day in Cannon Beach, we hopped back on our bike and turned our wheels South. It felt good to get back  on the bike, and our legs felt strong as we cycled up and over the rocky headlands. The warm, sunny weather didn't hurt either, and we took many opportunities to stop for photos of sea stacks and bays. We rode up and over Neahkahnie mountain in the hot sun, and cruised down into Manzanita Oregon where we stopped for a cup of coffee and a bagel before heading out to camp just outside of town at Nehalem Bay state park. 

Manzanita is located against a stunning backdrop of forested headland and sand dunes, and we took advantage of the 80 degree weather to walk into town along the soft sandy beach. After an afternoon spent grocery shopping and using the library WiFi we returned to camp to find that we had company! We only saw four other bike tourists while we traveled through Washington, but now that we are south of Portland we are seeing more every few days. We met Dennis, a solo traveler biking from Bellingham, WA to Phoenix, AZ by way of the Pacific Coast, and Monica, another solo traveler from British Columbia, Canada making her way to San Diego. We haven't seen Dennis again and expect he has already reached California, but Monica has become our buddy since we are traveling at the same pace. It's been really fun talking over dinner in camp and sitting around campfires.

Every day seems to bring new challenges to overcome, which on tandem means plenty of communication. Every decision to coast or shift has to be stated, which has its challenges when the noise of traffic and wind limits conversation. My stoker's saddle still isn't perfect, and only lasts me 25 miles every day before I start hurting - not ideal. I bought a gel seat cover while in Newport in the hopes it would get me off the rails, but that didn't cut it. After much deliberation I ordered a wider Brooks saddle that we will pick up from the Post Office in Brookings Oregon on Tuesday, and I very much hope that it will be the answer to my saddle woes. Either way we'll be carrying an extra saddle for a while until I break the new one in.

We have fallen into a daily rhythm where we leave camp by 9am every morning and reach camp between 1-4pm depending on our daily mileage. The Oregon coast has a great many breweries and lighthouses, and we have made a habit of stopping at all of them that work with our daily schedule and route plan, and have sampled many delicious brews and learned a LOT about late 1800s lighthouse operation on our trip.

Currently we are holed up in Umpqua Lighthouse State Park for our weekly rest day, where we are tent bound as the remnants of a tropical storm  batters the Oregon Coast. It's much nicer to spend our day eating and loafing about instead of battling 20+ mph gusts of wind from the South with driving rain! Tomorrow we head out through Coos Bay, and will be in California by Wednesday!

Trip highlights by day:
7. Cannon Beach to Nehalem Bay State Park, 17 miles. Hot sunny weather and long sandy beaches!
8. Nehalem Bay to Cape Lookout State Park, 40 miles. More warm weather, and a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory with FREE SAMPLES and huge ice cream cones. Incredible sunset over the Pacific, followed by an intense campsite invasion by a pack of insatiable raccoons.
9. Cape Lookout to Devil's Lake State Park. Enjoyed a beer at Pelican Brewery in Pacific City and visited McMenamins in Lincoln City. Had a quiet backroad climb up Slab Creek.
10. Devil's Lake State Park to Newport, 29 miles. Rainy start, with views of grey whales spouting off Depoe Bay, a magnificent climb up Cape Foulweather on the old scenic highway, a living history tour at Yaquina head lighthouse, drinks at Rogue Brewery. Stayed the night with our dear friend Angie in Newport and ate delicious thai food!
11. Newport to Carl G. Washburn State Park, 36 miles. Visited the Newport Aquarium before leaving town late. Had a beer at Yechats Brewing Company, followed by a gorgeous late afternoon ride along the coast in the Siuslaw National Forest with quiet roads.
12. Carl G. Washburn to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, 35 miles. Stopped at the Heceta Head lighthouse, and visited the Sea Lion Caves. Strong headwinds made descending difficult. Lunch and coffee at Siuslaw River Coffee Company, followed by rain in the afternoon and steep hills just before camp!
13. Rest day at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park! Nice tour of the lighthouse, views of large waves breaking at the mouth of the Umpqua river, and afternoon naps in the rain.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Washington to Oregon

Friday morning marked out final day in Washington until we return on December 15th. Our tour south along the coast has been extraordinary! Each day we are adjusting to life on the road as our bodies and minds get used to riding every day.
We left Thompson Custom Bicycles late on Friday after a final packing extravaganza. Neither Sierra or I could believe that all of our belongings would actually fit into our four Ortlieb panniers, but when we looked around, there wasn't anything left. Our first arduous task was to get this heavy load up to the top of the steep driveway. We were quickly out of breath, but without a pause, we gave a final wave and set off down the street (and up another hill). 
And we're off!

We weren't in any hurry to get out of town and wound our way through the trail on Evergreen Parkway with a dappled sun piercing through the trees. The day was warm and sunny and after days of sorting, packing and stressing, we were on the road.
Pacing is important on tour. The rhythm of the ride is different from that of everyday life. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a bubble looking out into the busy days people are having and feel like I too should be in a hurry to get somewhere. Then I realize that here and now are the only place and time I need to be. 
Riding South to Raymond WA

We pedal at our own slower pace and eventually we find ourselves at the top the hill and are ready to coast down the other side. It is exciting to see familiar roads at this slow pace and we stop and explore places that I have never taken the time to see before, like a sunny lunch break at a park in McCleary. There is an old steam locomotive on display. It reminded me of our tandem loaded down with gear. The sign indicated that the old engine was reduced to a yard worker because of its faulty designed breaks that weren't powerful enough to stop on the steep grades of the logging operations. This was a fate I hoped our tandem wouldn't share.
Dusk from Bush County Park, with a panoramic view of the day's ride

We have adapted our lives to the sun and haven't needed an alarm clock to get up a 7am each morning. The ocean air is usually thick with fog until late so we warm ourselves with a hot cup of tea and hot breakfast each morning. After a few hours of riding, the sun is out and our bodies are warm and our stomachs start grumbling. Hunger seems to be a constant battle and snacks are a requirement to keep the energy levels high. We break again at noon for lunch and usually again in the afternoon for another snack. Our goal is to get into camp before 4pm to have some time to go for a small walk and start making dinner before it gets dark. We sit out and watch the sun set and warm ourselves next to a fire and watch the stars come out.
Bush County Park

This blissful experience is balanced with the growing pains of riding a bicycle every day. Each morning we put on a damp bicycle clothes, still sweaty from the previous day. Saddle sores and hot spots challenge the time we can spend without a break from riding and our muscles still burn when the climbing starts. We are constantly spurred on with each friendly wave we get and the thumbs up and cheers of encouragement from people we see along the way.
Snack stop in Seaside, Oregon

So far, our trip has been broken down into the following days:
1. Olympia to Lake Sylvia State Park, 45 miles, highlights: beautiful 1.5 mile hike around the lake and awoken by a loud owl in the night.
2. Lake Sylvia to Two Harbors Sate Park, 35 miles, highlights: sunny nap on the beach, beer and pizza at Bog Water Brewing. For those traveling to Westport, we highly recommend a visit.
3. Two Harbors to Bush County Park, 52 miles, highlights: Grayland Cranberry Museum, cycling through cranberry bogs at harvest, pelicans at Tokeland Point.
4. Bush County Park to Cape Disappointment State Park 46 miles, highlights: Willapa Bay, 2.4 mile hike to Lewis and Clark Museum, North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment Lightouse
5. Cape Disappointment to Cannon Beach, 40 miles, highlights: Surviving Astoria bridge, meeting a new friend Jay at
Columbia River Coffee Roasters (bought our coffee and swapped stories of bicycle touring), surviving our first rain showers and arriving at Alan Woods' beach house.
6. Rest Day in Cannon beach. Walk along beach to Silver Point and haystack rock. Good food, clean laundry and excellent company!
The weather forecast looks sunny and the winds are out of the north as we pack up and prepare to continue south. Until next time...

Our wonderful hosts Diane and Alan!

Willapa Bay

Cannon Beach

Plenty of sea anemones in the tide pools

North Head lighthouse at Cape Disappointment