Sunday, July 21, 2013
The mid-day temperatures creeped into the nineties as Jen and I crest the west hills of Portland and make a fast decent into the sprawling metropolis of Beaverton and Hilllsboro beyond. Sprinklers splashing uselessly on baking asphalt during the peak heat of the day begged for a run through. Strange stares from drivers of air-conditioned cars fell upon us with little concern as we basked in the fountains of their manicured lawns. At least I left my pants on.
The Yamhill Valley runs north and south along the eastern flanks of the Oregon Coast Range. The hot days and cool nights of this region make it an ideal place to grow Oregon's famed Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wine grapes, hazelnuts, and raspberries. Million dollar houses towering on the steep hills surrounded by hundreds of acres of vines overlooking crumbling barns and abandoned milk parlors in the valley below tell a story of a what used to happen here and a changing agriculture industry in Oregon. Shadows grow long and the evening light paints fields of wheat grass golden yellow as Jenny and I climb the hills just outside of Carlton.
You are way cuter than me, I respond to Jenny when she asks if she or I should knock on the door of the farm house to ask if we may pitch our tents among the towering fir trees in the corner of their field. I can hear the conversation from the road where I wait.
Oh, sure no problem, the young woman responds to Jen's polite plea. One time this really creepy and dirty guy came by here asking the same thing. I called my Dad at work and asked him. He said it was fine, but told me to lock all the doors.
I looked down at my outfit and took note of my questionable personal hygiene; good thing I sent Jen to the door.
The Nestucca River National Backcountry Highway cuts across Oregon's Coast Mountains and provides the cyclist a serene and low traffic route from Oregon's interior to the coast. The 2000 foot climb passes easily under our strengthening legs and beautiful campsites tucked along the headwaters of the clear Nestucca River lure Jen and me into a day of short miles and a long afternoon spent swimming and drinking cold beers by the river. Small salmon fry dance around my feet in the cold water as Jenny draws pictures of the landscape in her journal. A two hour game of scrabble as I nurse my emergency rations of whiskey. The pace of the tour has definitely set in.
Morning dawns cold and cloudy and the air has a familiar heavy moisture that forewarns of the approaching coast. The Nestucca picks up tributaries from the surrounding hills and grows steeper and wider as we descend into clearing skies. Beaver Oregon arrives and we stop for a snack at the small town grocery. Adjacent to the cooler where I choose between chocolate or strawberry milk, boxes of ammunition, Glock handguns and AR-15 assault rifles line the walls. I can only imagine what a traveler foreign to our strange cultural icons must think when he stops in a roadside market for potato chips and a coke and encounters the armory of weapons available to average citizen of this country. I somehow doubt this was the intention of our forefathers.
Highway 101 into Cloverdale and a rural bypass road follows the twisting Nestucca River west ever closer to ocean. The heavy smell of the Pacific greets my nose before my eyes fix on the white sand beaches of Pacific City and the vast emptiness of blue stretching beyond into the horizon. Jenny and I celebrate our ocean arrival with a beer and nap on the beach.
We turn south and the wind blows hard on our backs; we sail into the town Neskowin. We cruise the vast miles of beach houses and push our bikes through a quarter mile of sand to perch our tent hidden among thick junipers overlooking the ocean and are rewarded for the effort with a magical sunset and the report of crashing waves lulling us to deep sleep.
Marine clouds swallow the morning and the strong north wind blows sand through every recess of our gear and bodies alike. A morning routine of several cups of strong coffee motivate us to the road and the wind carries us further south through dried up coastal towns filled motels and diners that must have seen better days. The traffic along 101 remains steady and the shoulders reasonable as we pedal into the clearing afternoon sun. We camp hidden among the tall seaside grass of Beaver Creek.
In the morning we wake early under grey skies and a cold wind. We roll south a few miles to Waldport and stop for more hot caffeinated motivation. We meet a young touring cyclist from Port Townsend and team up with Ryann for a spectacular stretch of coast riding into Florence and Honeyman State Park. Meeting folks on the road fired up about their journey renews my own enthusiasm for the the adventure that Jen and I are on. Cyclist share isolated biker/hiker sites in Oregon State Parks and a sense of comradaderie permeates the atmosphere. The common link of bicycles puts everyone on the same team and it is hard to imagine folks in SUV's get to know fellow traveler well enough to exchange hugs and contact information upon departure. Despite the inherent difficulties and dangers of travel by bicycle, there is something special about it that defies explanation. Bikes are a great equalizer and create fast friends out of people from vastly divergent walks of life.
I celebrate my 36th birthday today and feel privileged to share it in the company of my wonderful wife living life as simply as I am able and fulfilling a longtime dream. Wednesday will mark three weeks on the road for Jen and I. Spirits are high and our not-so-young bodies are holding up reasonably well. Tomorrow we head south into the great coastal sand dunes of Oregon with our eyes towards California and the rhythm of the road drumming steadily on our hearts.