Oregon Coast Bike Tour 2021: Reflections

Emee and I overlooking Yaquina Bay, Newport, 14 August 2021. Olympus XA2/Kentmere 400

It’s a little over three weeks since Emee and I wrapped up our Oregon Coast Tour 2021. This is a good amount of time to reflect on this trip. If I was going to give it a star rating, I’d say 3 out of 5 stars. If I was going to rate it like a Seattle band would, I’d say it’s Ultramega OK. Huh? You see the beautiful pictures and think, why only three stars, Shawn?

Yes, there is immense beauty on the Oregon Coast. That’s why Emee, myself, and many Portland people return to it, time and time again, bike or no. There’s moments of beauty up and down the Pacific Coast, but there’s a heck of a lot of it concentrated in Oregon. This tour hit up some of the highlights, like Cape Lookout (the beach side), Cape Foulweather, and the about fifteen mile stretch from Cape Perpetua to Heceta Head. These are places I fell in love with during my big coast tour in 2006, a thousand-mile excursion from Tillamook to outside of San Luis Obispo. Seeing them again never gets old.

What gets old, and what brings down the rating is the riding experience. If there was ever a popular touring route with the biggest dichotomy between destinations and the ride, it’s gotta be the Pacific Coast Route. There are some truly sublime moments of biking, but most of the ride (in Oregon, at least) is on US 101, the only coastal through-route. It’s busy enough in the winter, but in the middle of summer it’s basically a wall of traffic. There is usually a wide shoulder, but the constant drone of passing vehicles can wear. Then there’s the moments where that shoulder disappears and you hope the vehicles can pass safely…In any case, it’s touring like this which makes one consider off-road bikepacking instead.

We got off 101 at every opportunity. That’s no guarantee of a great ride, as we got buzzed (and coal-rolled) while between Cape Lookout and Pacific City. And the climb over Cape Lookout was no picnic, but if we were in better shape, it wouldn’t be so bad. Being in better shape for the other portions just means getting through it faster.

I planned for a tour with short days, but some of them weren’t short enough. In hindsight I would have tried to end Day 2 around the 30 mile mark, as that day took a lot out of us. We managed to make up time and get to our hotel in Lincoln City by taking the bus, which we were thankful for. But we then missed possibly the nicest part of the Oregon Coast Bike Route on the Central Coast: The climb over Cascade Head via Slab Creek Road, the old US 101. It’s peaceful and beautiful, and not too bad of a climb either.

After the quick bike overnights of the past couple years, this was the first time I’ve toured “fully loaded”, which for me is handlebar bag, two front panniers, and rear transverse saddlebag. It gave us more cargo capacity, and my bike handled well. But it’s annoying when we had to take buses, which happened thrice on this trip (one on the way out, one on the way home, one to make up lost time on Day 2). It’s a chore to unload a bike, bring all the bags on the bus, then get off and load up again. It’s made me think about how my next actual tour will be like. As long as I don’t have to do too much bus riding and/or switching between transit modes, I should be okay with the full setup, otherwise I’ll think about going with a more lightweight setup.

Despite the negatives, it was still a good trip. Nothing bad happened, the weather was good (especially in comparison to Portland, which hit 103F/39C when we were away), and we got to take in some spectacular scenery. Plus, there’s something about the smell of wet coastal forest and falling asleep to the roar of the ocean. I’m sure we’ll forget enough about the bad parts of the ride, so much so that in another 3-5 years we’ll want to do it again, and maybe past Labor Day, when traffic dissipates. That’s how it seems to work…

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