I find it ironic that despite living in a coastal state (and I’ve always lived in a coastal state), it’s so rare for me to go to the actual coast. Yes, I did go up to the Puget Sound in August, but that’s a sea, an inland arm of the ocean, not the full ocean itself. Before the Labor Day trip, the last time I had been out to the Pacific Ocean was in fall of 2013, and that was the only time I went out there that year. And while I do love the coast, part of the reason why I don’t go out often is the logistics. Since I don’t own a car, I’m looking at either a full day bicycle ride (augmented with light rail use) or a couple hour bus ride. To make the trip worthwhile, I want to spend a couple days out there at least.
This year that window of getting the right amount of time off didn’t hit until Labor Day weekend. Surprisingly, I managed to snag the entire three day weekend off, which is a mean feat in itself at my job. Cycle Wild was planning their Cape Lookout trip to the coast, so why not go?
Cape Lookout State Park is one of my favorite places on the Oregon Coast. Not only does it feature the stunning coastal scenery one would expect in this area, but It has one of my favorite hiker/biker spots anywhere. The sites are interspersed in a coastal forest of Sitka Spruce and salal, and the campsites are mere yards from the beach itself. One hears the roar of the ocean the whole time they’re there!
There were three main riding options for getting out to the coast: Routes 8/6, the most direct way, but also the busiest. Nestucca River Road, pretty quiet but more (and harder) climbing, and the Trask River Road, an unpaved, rough, and steep logging route. I had already done the first two, so I was intrigued by the Trask route that my friend Brad was leading. The main problem was that he’d be leaving early on Friday, whereas I had to work until the afternoon. I thought about going on my own after work, but worried about the confusion of roads to get to the summit (everyone recommends GPS for this, something I don’t own), at the last minute I decided to cheat a bit and take the bus out to the coast Friday night. This was good for another reason: I intended to an extended, two-day ride back home starting on Sunday, so this way I’d have two full nights plus all day Saturday to lounge at Lookout.
The bus ride was pleasant and easy, and around 6 pm I arrived in Tillamook, ten miles from Cape Lookout. A quick stop at Safeway for supplies, and I got into camp around 7:30 pm, just before sunset. (Unfortunately there wouldn’t be a “true” sunset due to the fog.) There were a few friends of mine who were there early, plus a few other cyclotourists spending the night on their journey down the coast. I made dinner, drank beer and wine with everyone else, and called it a night.
I awoke early on Saturday to the sound of rain on the tent. Ugh. The weather forecast was iffy for the weekend, but I had hoped we’d only see some light rain. Not so, and water started to pool at the foot of my tent, so I had to move it. What bike campers remained headed over to the covered picnic shelter in the day-use area, about 100 yards away, to make breakfast without getting rained on. The power outlet to plug all our electric devices into was a nice bonus, of course.
Thankfully, the rain we got in the morning was the only real precipitation we’d see over the weekend (it was a bit foggy on Sunday morning, but it is the coast after all), and the rest of the day turned out pleasant. I spent the rest of the day either walking the beach or hanging out in camp, waiting for everyone else to arrive. And arrive they did! Riders from the three different “Cycle Wild” groups filtered in, filling the campground along with other people on bike tours. Filled up so much that we maxed out the capacity of the (already largish) hiker/biker site, spilling over into the adjacent day use area! The rangers had never seen the hiker/biker site beyond capacity before, and a couple of them were, how you say, a bit irritated by it. What can I say: people are getting into the whole bike camping/touring thing, especially in Portland. And Cape Lookout is a great spot to go for a holiday weekend!
After a great sunset on Saturday followed by some great star action, I awoke on Sunday morning and packed up the tent. I was going to ride the Nestucc a River Road route back up into the Coast Range, then turn onto Bible Creek Road to get to Willamina where I’d spend the night. Kate and Mike were also heading back via the Nestucca, so they accompanied me part of the way. Leaving Cape Lookout State Park, the first obstacle to surmount is the cape itself, involving climbing 800 feet in three miles to summit. Then more rolling roads and a three mile section of US 101 to get to the junction of the Nestucca Road at Beaver. US 101 is fairly nasty here: windy and no shoulder. Thankfully because it was a holiday Sunday, there wasn’t much traffic to deal with. But that ain’t always the case!
Nestucca River Road was great. The traffic dropped off dramatically (though we saw 10 bike campers/tourers heading towards the coast) and the scenery bucolic as the road gradually climbed up into the Coast Range. I bid Kate and Mike adieu at the turnoff to Bible Creek Road, as they would camp at one of the BLM campsites further up the river. Bible Creek was 4 ½ miles of good climbing, sometimes about 8%, often mellower, and I summited the Coast Range at about 1650 feet. Then it was a thrilling descent back down into the Willamette Valley. The road eventually followed the course of Willamina Creek, a nice brook if I do say so, with a cute park, Blackwell, good for a break. (Wish they had water, though.) Soon I found myself in Willamina, where I’d be staying in a little hostel!
This has been something I’ve been looking forward to for awhile. The owner of the Wildwood Hotel in Willamina contacted me earlier this year to let me know about the hostel they were setting up adjacent to the hotel. And the hostel was going to cater especially to cyclists! The hostel itself is a simple but nice affair in a small brick building around the corner. It can sleep five, and has it’s own bath/shower and kitchenette. It was definitely a great place to crash for the night. I ended up eating dinner and breakfast at the Wildwood Hotel (Willamina is a tiny town, so there’s not a heck of a lot of options) and relaxing in the hostel itself.
On Monday morning I took off, heading back towards Portland. The day’s ride was a mixed bag. The first few miles were okay, passing by many a lumber mill and through the small town of Sheridan. I had to get onto Route 18 for a bit (Willamina and Sheridan are on Business 18, not the main route), and while the shoulder was ample, the riding was still not fun due to the fast and frequent traffic zooming past me. Eventually I got on a side-road, pausing at Erratic Rock State Natural Area, a boulder dropped on a hillside by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age. And I stuck with side roads for the majority of the day, skirting McMinnville and finding some gravel too (Hill Road). Still, some of the “back roads” through this part of wine country were a lot busier than I hoped (or wanted) them to be, especially since none of these roads had shoulders. While the scenery was great and the weather nice, the busy roads brought my level of enjoyment down at times.
And me being me, I couldn’t just take the easiest way back to Hillsboro, where I’d catch the MAX lightrail home. Nope, I wanted to summit the Chehalem Range, a small mountain range that splits the Tualatin Valley from the Yamhill Valley. The Chehalem Range isn’t particularly wide (maybe 5 miles) or high (1,650 feet at its highest),but there’s not a lot of “gentle” ways over the Range. I picked Kings Grade, which was great because it was mostly gravel (low cars) and had good sweeping views of the valley below. While much of the climb was manageable (5-10%), the last section was maybe 15% or so, steep enough that I couldn’t stay on my bike, so I ended up pushing the bike at 1 ½ miles an hour for maybe ten minutes. That really wiped me out!
Thankfully a respite was ahead. I fought the urge to climb the extra 400 feet to Bald Peak, the highest point in the Range, (I’ll conquer you at some other time, Bald Peak!) and descended on Holly Hill Road, more gravel. And nicer gravel than I had dealt with all day. (Holly Hill Road was mostly in Washington County, whereas everything else was Yamhill County. I guess Washington Co. takes better care of their gravel roads.) I got a great view of the Tualatin Valley, and when the pavement started again, I was treated to a thrilling descent!
It was maybe 6 pm when I reached the bottom, and already 55 miles in. I fought the urge to try to ride all the way back home (maybe another 20-25 miles) and headed back to Hillsboro (about five miles) to catch the MAX. All in all, a good ride back, despite the shortcomings.
Hopefully this won’t be the only time that I go out to the Oregon Coast this year! But right now it’s time to gear up for the big bike tour of 2014…