A Pacific Northwest Coastal Ride

Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon, USA  950km
10 riding days, 1 rest day, 1 travel dayNW Bike Trip Route

We set out recently for a late summer jaunt to see a bit more of our neighbours to the south. After Central Asia in 2009, what simple logistics! We started from our front door, pedalled to Tsawassen, and took the ferry to Vancouver Island. After spending the night in Victoria with extended family, we took a second ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, to reach the US Pacific Coast route. We dined on the first ferry (BC Ferries) with a German cyclist couple, kindred travellers Verena and Helmut, and rode into Victoria with them.

Helmut, Verena, Margo and Chris

The route along the Pacific Coast of  the USA is a fairly standard bike touring route as laid out by the Adventure Cycling Association, and as described in Bicycling the Pacific Coast.  It’s most often ridden in a southerly direction to take advantage of prevailing winds. We stayed in State Park and National Park campsites, as well as the odd motel. It was certainly a change of pace from our 2009 journey, but it left us, as do all journeys, with it’s memories of landscapes and of people.

In Washington, the road touches the coast periodically at sweeping beaches, but veers inland through extensive clear-cuts and through towns with challenging aboriginal names. At Kalaloch, an Olympic National Park campsite, where most sites are booked well ahead of time, we were slipped into a site held specially for self-propelled late arrivals. After three days’ riding, we planned to rest and spend a second night, so the next morning we picked a new site as the car-based campers made their exodus. The ranger set out tags on sites with the names of the incomers who’d reserved them, and we recognized an uncommon (or was it Comyn?) name posted on the site next to ours. After speculating about the odds of it being a couple we know, they indeed turned up! We spent a sociable evening toasting s’mores together, since a departing camper had left us supplied with marshmallows, graham crackers, and a supply of firewood. We added chocolate to the list so as to complete the traditional Girl Guide sticky treat!

Chasing seagulls at Kalaloch Beach

After our rest day we rode two longer days (123 and 129 km) that we broke with a motel night in Aberdeen, a town that looked as if it had been badly affected by the recent economic downturn. We were headed for Cape Disappointment, the Southwestern tip of Washington at the mouth of the Columbia River, where we camped and visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The explorers Lewis and Clark are iconic to Americans as Sir Alexander Mackenzie is to Canadians, and we were happy to broaden our knowledge.

The 1795 version of Old Glory has 15 stars and 15 stripes

We crossed the mouth of the Columbia on the four mile long Astoria Bridge, with a flock of pelicans flying above us. In Oregon, the road followed the coastline more closely, and we climbed over rocky headlands only to descend in sweeping curves to broad beaches. Many beaches were dotted with seastacks that support thriving seabird colonies, and some of the rocky capes jut out to form sea arches.  The coastline is dotted with historic lighthouses and river mouths are spanned by dramatic art-deco bridges which were first built in the 1930s. More recent replacement structures try to reflect the original style.

There were lots of other cyclists, and we fell into a rhythm with some who were headed our way at a similar pace. Paul,  Claude and Gerard were a French Canadian trio we first met on the ferry, and we camped with them several nights. We cycled part of one day with Dave from Pender Island. We met Cheri, a yoga intructor from Wisconsin who had rented a bike in Portland, and  Kirsten, who was hiking the Oregon Coast, mainly on beaches,  a journey that would take several months. Most of the bike traffic was flowing southward, but we also saw cyclists heading north. One pair consisted of a bearded gent who bore a striking resemblance to the late Sheldon Brown, accompanied by his wife on a recumbent tricycle; two brightly coloured fish flags were held aloft by wands at the back of her trike. A group of about five cyclists headed north included a woman who pedalled in a long flowing dress. The group had a definite counter-culture style,  looking for all the world  as if they’d ridden out of San Fransisco in the mid-sixties!

Welcome to bike-friendly Oregon

Our last coastal campsite was just south of Florence, at the northern tip of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We arrived at the same time as cyclists Tom from England and Andy from Tennessee. The two had met on the road the previous day, and they carried sandboards -rented from a local surf shop- strapped to their bikes. Unfortunately for their sandboarding and our hiking plans, the heavens opened that night. We spent the grey morning in our tent, listening to the rain and waiting till the lake, which had flooded one of our vestibules, began to recede. My early morning trip to the woods to answer nature’s call rewarded me with finding a delicate juvenile specimen of a  rough-skinned newt. I insert the link because Chris was too sleepy to take a photo, and I was standing (scantily clad) in the rain as I showed off my find. After emerging in mid-morning to pack soggy gear, we headed to Starbucks in the Safeway in Florence to dry out and examine our options.

Andy from Tennessee with his Hennessy Hammock (good in the rain) and his sand board

Since the inland forecast was more promising than the coastal one, we headed for Eugene, breaking the ride into two shorter days and camping at a Bureau of Land Management campsite. There is less structure at these than at State or National Parks, because our evening was punctuated by much loud profanity from unruly yobs, who went without reprimand from the “camp hosts” …probably out of the hosts’ justifiable concern for their personal safety.

The coastal portion of the ride follows highway 101 for the most part; it has a generous shoulder that essentially constitutes a bike lane respected by the vast majority motorists. Still, the traffic beside us was heavy at times, and an RV or logging truck would occasionally come just a little too close for comfort. The segments on quieter loops of winding coastal road to the west of highway 101 made a pleasant change, and our turn inland at Florence toward Eugene  made us wonder whether, if we were to a later continue southward, we wouldn’t follow Adventure Cycling’s Sierra Cascades Route. Perhaps we’re spoiled by the quieter main roads of the developing world, and the various back-road options which become available where there is a well-developed network of roads as there is in Western Europe.

Once in Eugene, we found our way to the Amtrak station, but learned what we should have known: We could not get from Eugene to Vancouver with bicycles in tow on the Friday before Labour Day weekend without having made a reservation well in advance. Our fall back was to take the Greyhound bus. This meant purchasing boxes from a bike shop, boxing our bikes in a motel room, depositing bikes at the Greyhound station that evening, and getting ourselves onto a bus excruciatingly early the next morning. We were alarmed when we saw that our bikes had departed from Eugene without us, and the station was closed so no-one was there to reassure us they were on their way to Seattle where they would be reunited with us before the border crossing. During the twelve hour ride, we were repeatedly exposed to the dramas other people’s lives as they made cell phone calls. We arrived home tired but tanned, and our bicycles emerged from their boxes unscathed by Greyhound.

See more photos in our Flickr Set.

















































larger map

2 responses to “A Pacific Northwest Coastal Ride

  1. I recognize that wooden bridge! I took the picture of the Castafiore that hangs on my wall (both the picture and the Castafiore) on that bridge! 😉

  2. Pingback: Off Again « candmwanderings

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