As was the case yesterday, today began with a slow roll into town to get coffee. As mentioned in the previous post, it wasn’t the ideal time for sightseeing in Portland. Not only were many of the sights affected by closures due to Covid 19, but there were also the series of riots that were periodically flaring up between left and right wing protestors.
Instead, I settled myself for a drive-through of Alberta – a quiet hipster neighbourhood in a more suburban part of North Eastern Portland. I don’t get tired of repeating myself, so here goes. I find a good way to find a hipster area while travelling is to look for a fancy coffee shop. Recently an even better filter was to look for coffee shops that do pour-over! Anyway, I ended up at Proud Mary Cafe, which turned out to be an Australian cafe – so, all bias aside, I knew I was in for some good coffee (and smashed avo on sourdough, with a little bit of dukkah, and maybe a poached egg). The neighbourhood (and its inhabitants) was absolutely Portlandia in-real-life, and I was loving it.
We’d reached the Pacific coast, and now the journey was headed southward. Cannon Beach was not quite what I was expecting. Well, the giant Haystack Rock was pretty much as I’d expected, but the whole seaside-resort feel was a bit of a surprise. There were throngs of families, with restaurants, bars, hotels, and souvenir stands. I guess this is where Oregonian families come for vacation.
I also wasn’t expecting the beaches to be so wide and sandy. It might not have been the beautiful golden sand of home, but it felt more of a beach than most I’ve been to in California. It was fun dodging the groups on their recumbent bikes/trikes as they raced along the smooth flat sand, aware that there were pedestrians, but unconcerned about keeping some distance from us.
Though, walking around with a down jacket on isn’t how I usually visualise ‘beach’, and the only way I was going near the water was for a bet/dare/bribe – there was no thought of doing it for my own enjoyment.
Haystack Rock was impressive, standing so prominently and alone (ish) just off the coast. It certainly makes the beach memorable. And, no, I didn’t find any treasure from Goonies.
The wide sandy beaches continued on and on for quite some time, and I was starting to wonder if my idea of the Pacific Northwest coast needed to be reevaluated. I had it in my mind that it was rocky islets, fringed by pines, with cold skies and dark waves. Unsurprisingly, it was essentially identical to the California coastline – at least so far.
Oh yes, the foreshadowing. As we continued to drive south, the coastline changed. There were less stretches of sand, and more pine-fringed rocky coves. To break up the monotony of driving, we stopped to enjoy a small scenic portion of the road by bike. Thankfully the small loop at Otter Crest was off the main 101 highway, so traffic was pretty minimal – and speeds were safe. Big Sur doesn’t have anything to worry about, but it was a worthy little excursion.
Another little excursion was to Yaquina Head Lighthouse. But, it was shut, so I just had a look at the coastline and the lighthouse from a distance. As we were returning to the RV, I could hear the thwomp-thwomp-thwomp of a Chinook. I don’t know how I knew it was a Chinook, but, somehow I just knew. Sure enough, it was a Chinook, just cruising up the coastline. The birds might have hated it, but I was mesmerised.
Oh, and eventually as it passed by, I got a glimpse of the rear of the giant cargo carrying chopper, and saw that there was a man just sitting on the tailgate, watching the world pass by, and I couldn’t help thinking what a magical experience that must be. I also couldn’t help but imagine him listening to Flight of the Valkyries at full volume.
Rather than camp this evening, we’d booked into a cheap motel a little further down the coast. The sun was starting to set over the ocean, and rather than continue driving, and eating dinner in the dark at the destination, we pulled over and enjoyed a magical lightshow.
We’d booked a hotel because Jane had an important work meeting, and needed to be somewhere with reliable power/internet connection. Since I had no interest in sitting around while this was going on, I had a look for interesting places to ride my bike. Strava had started a new feature, attempting to create routes, so I thought I’d give it a try.
It started out nice and easy, following the Siuslaw River upstream. It was flat, the weather was calm, and traffic was minimal. Most importantly, it felt like a new experience, riding on new roads, with new views.
The route turned away from the road, and started on some gravel roads (which was by design – you can prefer dirt and hills in the route generator!). It was blissfully quiet, with small lush rivers, and gravel roads that felt like they only existed for my enjoyment.
I had noticed that the roads started showing less and less signs of use, with more and more greenery in the road.
The firetrail turned to double track, and before long, it was singletrack. By this point, I’d fully committed, and just kept wilfully pedalling away, waiting for this trail to either get larger, or to merge back onto a main trail. But, no matter how much I willed it, the trail continued to become more and more overgrown, to the point that I was no longer able to ride the bike, and was instead forced to get off and walk. Of course I was offline, so I had to try and do my best to guess on when this trail might join a larger trail, and what alternative options I might have. I briefly considered turning around, and heading back into town, but it was starting to get a little late, and I didn’t have a heap of water left. Plus, it looked like I was nearly at the top of this climb.
So, I crawled and dragged the bike through the ever thickening foliage, which was really starting to tear at my flesh now. I continued to try and estimate how much progress I was making, and more importantly, how much further I thought I needed to push through this mess. At best estimate, I had another 500m of this to go. I could do it, I wouldn’t need to turn around. Yet, that 500m took an eternity, and left me absolutely exhausted mentally and physically. When the trail eventually opened up and I was able to get back onto the bike and start riding, my mood lifted immeasurably. In time, I came across a closed gate that was preventing access to this road, which explained why no one was using it.
However, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The route that I created didn’t actually match the roads that I could see. It signaled a turn down a path that I couldn’t find, and again, I was left with a choice – continue on a road that existed, or chase a non-existent road in my route. Worse yet, the road that I was on didn’t exist in Google Maps, so I wasn’t able to guess where it might end up – or even if it went somewhere.
Hoping for the best, I continued. Every hill that I came across felt personal. The trail kept twisting and turning further away from where I thought I needed to be heading, and I was getting further and further from the route that I had created. But, it was a real road, and there were tyre tracks, so I continued.
Eventually, there was a small clearing, and I could see down to where I needed to go. It wasn’t the direction I wanted to head, but it was going to get me back into town. And then I noticed the dozens of shotgun shells littered around a campfire, and had sudden pangs of fear that I had no idea where I was – and whether or not I was even on public or private land…
But, the road descended, and joined a real bitumen road, that actually existed on Google Maps, and then it was full gas back into town. I looked like I’d been attacked by feral cats, and was crusted in salt. I was trying to look back and think if I had fun, and I think it was one of those rare Type 3 rides, that was neither fun at the time, nor fun looking back. I guess Strava’s routing feature is still in Beta…
But, before leaving, I had a quick visit to the historic district by the river, with its wooden buildings selling arts/crafts, and I settled for a very average cappuccino and the biggest chocolate brownie I could find to try and refresh and refuel.
Oregon was in the midst of a heatwave, which conveniently meant that it was hot enough to want to go to the ocean. A short detour off the Highway 101 was what looked like a recommended beach – creatively named Sunset Beach. Sunset Beach was a small sandy cove, with shallow waters, and greyish sands. But, it was warm in the sunshine, and it tricked me into trusting that the water would be anything other than freezing.
The daylight hours were still long, but rather than push on and drive until dark, when we came across a nice open space by the side of the highway, with views out over the Pacific Ocean, we decided to call it a day, cook dinner early (relative to sunset – it was still dinner time) and enjoy the eventual sunset without having the stress of finding a place to view it.
And, speaking of finding a place to view the sunset, I was quite thankful to whoever placed this chair here to maximise the sunset viewing pleasure/comfort. Maybe I was a little crazy to trust that it wasn’t going to tumble down the side of a cliff…
Another day, another day on the bike. It was just a short ride, traversing a section along the shores of the Rogue River.
My glee at the heatwave was starting to come back to bite me. It was hot, and coming from the 24/7 air-conditioned climate of SF, I wasn’t used to sweating. While the pace was exceptionally mellow, just being in the sun was enough to cause the sweat mixed with sunscreen to flow and attack my eyes.
But, toughening up, ignoring the minor discomfort to my body, it was a gorgeous ride. Sure, there wasn’t the widest of shoulders (or the most courteous drivers). And, there were the frequent jet boats screaming up the river. But, it was easy enough to just ignore it all, and instead take in the pine trees, the river, and the brilliant sunny skies.
But, there came a point where the water was more than just something pretty to look at. It became enticing, and almost became a motivator to keep riding in order to find a way to get down to the shores and cool off. Actually finding a way down there was easier said than done, but, in time a gravel road presented itself, and after ignoring the signs about it being for country club guests only, we’d found some small respite from the heat. Oh, and to understand just how soft I’d become, it was only mid-30s.
While bike pants might not the most pleasant thing to be swimming in, entering the chilly water was heavenly. It might just have been the first time in a very long time that I willingly went swimming to cool off here in the US.
The drive down the coast continued to provide little pockets of rocky islets, becoming the kind of scenery that I’d expected in Oregon. After a while, I stopped stopping at every beach and viewpoint, although I continued to just drink in the views (at 50mph).
I had been looking for potential camping sites in iOverlander for this evening, and a curiously titled Secret Beach site caught my attention. It was too early to stop for the evening, but the description of this ‘secret’ beach got my imagination and sense of adventure flowing.
Access to this beach involved a steep descent on loose unimproved trails, along rapids and small falls, before arriving at sheltered rocky cove. Of course, I’m dumb enough to not be worried about people saying the hike was difficult, but it was still comforting to see people returning to the car park wearing unsupportive footware.
I have to say, once again the actual beach exceeded my expectations and imagination. It felt like something out of an Oregon tour brochure. In fact, whos to say that it isn’t. This was exactly what I was expecting to see along this drive.
It was still hot, and even though the trail was a downhill scramble, I was still hot enough to willingly go for a swim. This time, it was more than just a mad scramble in and back out, but instead a chance to just float and relish the views (while my lips slowly turned blue).
The beach was undeniably beautiful, but the parking area was unarguably not. So, rather than stick around on the side of the highway, with nothing but trees and discarded rubbish to look at, I continued southwards towards the California border.
We grabbed a simple Fish and Chips meal from the exceptionally popular/busy Chart Room in Crescent City, laughed at the sea lions, and stopped for the evening at Wilson Creek, parking alongside several other RVs and vans also settled in for the evening once the hues from the beautiful Pacific Ocean sunset subsided.
Avenue of the Giants
I’d wanted to visit this part of California since I had arrived, though bad luck with timing had meant several past attempts were unsuccessful. It’s not all that far from San Francisco (as in, it’s possible to do it as a very long day trip), but it’s also far enough that you need to plan a visit.
Anyway, backstory and logistics aren’t important. Almost immediately upon entering the northern entrance to the park, I was awed by the truly unfathomably tall trees. You can read that they are 100m tall, or 4m wide, or 12m circumference, or even look at the photos while reading these stats. But, until you stand below, and stare up with craned neck, squinting to even see the lowest of the branches, it’s incredibly difficult to fathom just how giant these redwoods are.
The Avenue of the Giants is now a scenic road, which was actually the old highway (which thankfully now bypasses the forest). Rather than just settle for driving through, I chose to ride my bike, to both give me the time to take in the views, but also the ability to be fully immersed in the splendour and majesty.
At least that is how it started. Then I got greedy and wanted to go on a bigger mission chasing views from nearby peaks, and having remembered nothing from the ride two days ago, I started turning the ride into a sufferfest. Jane knew better, and opted for a scenic ride.
The road wasn’t entirely inside giant redwoods, with frequent excursions into open fields, giving views of the sunny sky – and also losing the cool sheltering shade.
Around midway through the AotG, I took a side road along Bull Creek, and this was arguably the most mesmerising portion of the ride. The road here was narrower, and quieter, and it truly felt like I was inside the forest. The single lane weaved a path through the trees, rather than cutting a path through. It was blissful, and the ride was still unquestionably Type 1 Fun.
I made a quick lunch/restroom stop at the Albee Creek Campground, and a ranger happened to ask where I was headed. When I mentioned that I was planning on going to the summit of Grasshopper Peak, I was warned that it was going to be long and steep. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them, it was that I thought they underestimated my determination/stupidity.
Right off the bat, the trail featured extended sections averaging over 15%, and I began to think that maybe the ranger knew what she was talking about. But, with ambition clearly outweighing awareness of talent, I continued on, and after a few kms, the trail relaxed, lulling me into a false sense of confidence that I could make it.
The road took a violent twist, and started ascending again with vigor. It was hot, my legs were cooked, my heart rate was at its limit, and I rapidly ran out of gears. It became a struggle, and I was now forced to either concede defeat and turn around, or to accept that I was going to have to stop to push the bike through some of the steeper pitches. I continued to check my bike computer for signs that I had managed to make progress, and I realised that was little over half of the height of the ascent. The brutal climbing was going to continue for nearly another 4km.
As my mind continued chewing over this fact, delaying the decision making, I came around a corner and saw what looked like two large black dogs playing. I then quickly realised they weren’t dogs, but were bear cubs, and while it was amazing to see these two animals so close in the wild, I quickly snapped out of awe and into fear, once I started to wonder where the mumma bear was. I started shouting and hollering, and the previously ignorant cubs took notice of me and took off into the trees. Any sense of fatigue disappeared, and I immediately picked up pace. Hindsight is a funny thing, but at the time the thought of stopping and turning around didn’t even pop into my head, just to get up that hill and away from those cubs (and the unseen mumma) as fast as I could.
After what felt like a minute or two of madly mashing on my pedals, the adrenaline had well and truly worn off, and I was feeling the results of that sudden burst of effort. I was exhausted, and I no longer wanted to be out here on my own, slowly climbing up this torturous road for no real reason. I wanted to go back down. So, when I noticed a hiking trail off to the side, I decided that I would take it back down. I didn’t exactly know where this trail went, but I was oddly confident that it was going to be OK.
It was a narrow hiking trail, and at times I forgot about my fear from those bears and started enjoying the downhill trail. And then I would see large piles of droppings, which didn’t look human, didn’t look like it was from a horse, and didn’t look like it was from a dog. And the panic would once again set in. I spent the next 7km of what would have been blissful flowy singletrack descent, yipping and shouting, trying to make sure I didn’t stumble upon any bears. People here in the US make jokes about the snakes and the spiders in Australia, but I’ve never given them a second thought while out riding. Bears however terrify me. The signs of Mountain Lions on the MTB trails in Mt. Sutro in SF also terrify me.
But, eventually the descent ended. I was back into more heavily trafficked trails, and my not-entirely-irrational fears subsided. It helped that I was being awed by the giant redwoods, distracting my frazzled mind.
I was mentally and physically exhausted – and I still had to return 30km back to the car. The temperatures were still quite warm, and again the combination of sweat and sunscreen was starting to drip into my eyes, stinging like crazy. I was running short on water, and tried stopping in one of the small stores along the AotG to get a bottle of sports drink – though, I wisely chose to leave my cash/cards in the RV, and the stores didn’t accept contactless payments from my phone. It wasn’t desperate though, and managed to push on back to the car without cramping up. It was a ride that ran the full gamut of fun – a long initial stretch of Type 1, some Type 3, a little Type 2, and then another stretch of Type 3 back to the car. And now I was wishing I had taken some photos of those bears.
It was now late Sunday afternoon, and we were still nearly 400km from home. It became a long battle to stay awake and focused on the highway, but before I knew it, I was back on familiar roads. The sun was starting to set, so once again, I thought it a good time to pull over for dinner and enjoy the light show.
However, my choice to just park near a winery and enjoy the sunset over views of rolling hills of grape vines was met with an angry man in a very large truck not mincing his words in asking us to leave. Even attempts to explain that we’d just pulled over to cook dinner before continuing to SF were met with incredulous replies about the entire area being private property, and that we were not welcome guests. “Ya can’t be here, you’ve got to leave. Now.”
So, the dinner that was mid-cooking was packed up, and I drove to nearby Healdsburg, parked by a park, and cooked what was maybe one of the best mac-and-cheese meals I’ve had. This was either due to hunger (lunch was just some muesli bars and sports drink), or my secret addition of Cheetos on top.
And, now with a cheesy carb induced coma rapidly setting in, I attempted the final push to SF. It had been a long scenic journey, but even so, and even after all the times I’ve ridden across, there is something amazing about crossing Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.